Tag Archives: Media Education Lab

Preparing for a Clash of MOOCs

ETMOOC LogoWhile I am absolutely loving my experience with ETMOOC, I am about to try my first run at an xMOOC. Tomorrow, I will begin a HarvardX course, HLS1x: Copyright. I am excited.

Copyright is a topic that I have been chasing on my own for a few years now and one where I think that educators must have greater command. It seems professionally irresponsible to remain ignorant on the subject anymore. Moreover, while I like Creative Commons, I reject it as the safe and easy option as it is routinely presented in the edtech arena.

On the most fundamental level educators need to now more about copyright not only to help ourselves and students avoid infringement, but exercise our rights to fair use and resist the longstanding encroachment on that provision. I have long admired the work of Renee Hobbs and her Media Education Lab, now at University of Rhode Island. For any educators keen on learning about copyright, I recommend you start there. Yet, this Harvardx class will be a much deeper dive into the subject than Hobbs’ must-read Copyright Clarity. It is a course being offered via the Harvard Law School for one. Plus, the list of guest speakers is impressive, including the likes of Lawrence Lessig and Shepard Fairey among others.

In spite of my excitement, I must admit that I have developed a bias for the cMOOC variety. Of course that is what I know best, having engaged in about six or seven of them with varying degrees of success. So I am reserving some judgement but wanted to start some comparing them for my own understanding as much as anyone else’s.

ETMOOC is fostering such a magnificent community of open-thinking educators from all teaching levels and tech savviness. Loosely connected as a “course,” it is warm, inviting, and filled with innumerable learning opportunities. It is a grand invitation to self-directed wayfinding in a virtual space that hinges on a hashtag. Focusing on education technology, which is much broader and already begun tangentially addressing the legal concept of copyright, the experiences between the two are already so different.

Diagram: Why MOOC Design

While ETMOOC is completely open and proving to be quite adept at building a massive tent to include all those who wish to  participate, HLS1x: Copyright was subject to a pretty serious winnowing process. Thousands of applications were submitted for only 500 spots. So I guess I got pretty lucky. I certainly feel that way. Upon the invitation letter to join the course, however, there was a four part follow-up to secure the spot, including a 20 minute pre-test.

As one of the 500, I am already subdivided into a section of 20, complete with a juris doctor teaching fellow to lead the group, a bit different from the conspirators of the ETMOOC variety so far as I can tell. I have already received a handful of preparatory messages and documents prior to the class start. At the conclusion of the course, I am invited to take a four hour written examination. If my performance in the discussion forums and on the exam are satisfactory,  I can earn a certificate of completion.

It is a given that these two MOOCs are very different. HLS1x: Copyright is a course that really is primarily about content. ETMOOC is less about content and more about discovery, in a variety of forms. Both are genuine opportunities for deep learning and professional growth. Yet, I can’t help feeling a bias in favor of the xMOOC, even if I might be falling prey to it.

The level of commitment that is being requested in the HarvardX is formal, demanding, and leverages the prestige of Harvard University. It is highly focused on the accrual of knowledge, includes an already potentially intimidating test, and even offers a credential, for whatever that is worth.

All of these factors led me to ask my employer for some professional development recognition upon completing the course, as if I was taking a typical graduate course. Graciously, the decision maker in my district granted the request. However, I cannot imagine that the same administrator would have gone for the similar request regarding a cMOOC. Eventually, I will make a the same plea, but figured this xMOOC wasn’t too far of a departure from the known way of doing the business of education. Plus, living in the Boston area, Harvard has even more clout, helping my pitch.

Still, I wonder which experience will ultimately prove most valuable to me. ETMOOC already strikes me as the kind of experience that may have much longer legs than its scheduled 11 weeks. I am waiting to see what HLS1x: Copyright holds. I will  be interested to see what kind of community is created in the course, especially among the cohort of 20 to which I now belong.

On a side note, part of my cMOOC fancy has to do with my increasing aggravation at how much the mainstream press has for the most part completely disregarded them, instead lauding the revolution of the prestigious and for-profit ventures. Friedman’s piece in today’s New York Times is just another egregious example. It is as if cMOOCs never really existed or at least those reporting aren’t even aware of their existence.

Almost all of the press coverage advances a bias about education that I will have to return to in a separate post. Safe to say, the bias is what influenced my effort to pitch my employer on the xMOOC for credit over the cMOOC. Friedman’s understanding articulated in “Revolution Hits the Universities,” with its courting of Coursera isn’t nearly as revolutionary as Couros, or Siemens, Downes, Cormier, Groom, Levine, and all the other practitioners of this new educational phenomenon. At some point, I hope to press the case that the experience offered in a cMOOC is just as valuable, arguably more so, and just as deserving of consideration for some means of professional development recognition, regardless of whether it is affiliated with a credential granting scheme or university, prestigious or not.

Reviewing the Notion of Digital Citizenship

Chapter five of the forthcoming Flat Classroom book is squarely focused on what Vicki Davis and Julie Lyndsay call Digital Citizenship. I know it is not exactly a new term but I must admit I struggle with it. It seems inadequate in its characterization of the nature of  citizenship, which is tied to our conception of the state. Also, I feel that we may have exhausted the word digital as much as we have the letters “i” or “e” extraneously prefixed onto words with their own utility. The only reason, I even include this point is that labels matter, words matter, and in the last decade or so we have not completely risen to the challenge of freshly minting new vocabulary to meet the evolutionary needs of our dawning experiences in the virtual realm.

Regardless of these semantics, this chapter is an impressive synthesis of sources into a cogent pedagogical framework for developing what might be thought of as a kind of meta-citzenship, although I am not entirely are that terms is any better. It’s just that I have been doing everything I can to resist dropping the ineffectually feeble phrase “21st century skills” into the mix.

In the interest of confidentiality about the forthcoming book, I feel compelled to be more general in my comments. Nevertheless, by parsing Five Areas of Awareness that underpin behaviors and decisions related to life online a defining foundation is established. What I like most about the areas is that they are expansive and holistic, taking into consideration the broader, international reality the Internet fosters. Moreover, they are combined with Four Competency Areas inspired by some of the work in Don Tapscott’s Grown Up Digital.

Together these areas of awareness and competencies are used to comprise tables which serve to problematize the aspects of what they have defined as digital citizenship. This combination is, in fact, one of the deft strokes on the part of the authors. By presenting the tables with questions at the intersections of the elements, clear problems or challenges are established that demand thoughtful answers. Again, this is the kind of quality guidance that this text will support for an educator looking to develop internationally collaborative projects using the Web . Of course, there may be some elements, either in awareness or competency, that might be added, but, as I eluded, the list included is quite ambitious and covers lot of ground. Having worked with both of Davis and Lyndsay on a couple of projects, I must admit that I found the table presentation charmingly familiar, considering a substantial matrix is one of the key organizational tools for managing any of the Flat Classroom Projects.

One of the competencies included involves legal compliance and copyright. I will say that this is a topic that is critically important to me, if for no other reason than the sheer volumes of misinformation and ignorance that it encompasses. I spent years slowly investigating the Gordian Knot that is American copyright. It was inexperience that was fraught with a lot of fallacious and inaccurate information, as well as a substantial amount of propaganda from mammoth media conglomerates.

Due to the subtlety and flexibility of the law, it is a topic that really demands its own separate and in-depth inquiry. So, while I understand why it is included with the rest of the list, its complexity and consequence simply demand deeper understanding on the part of educators and students. For starters, I would encourage anyone to begin with Renee Hobbs, founder of Temple University’s Media Education Lab. The resources available there provide a blade to cutting the knot and gaining some understanding.

All in all, this chapter may well be the most original and interesting work in the book. It certainly has been the most intriguing and new for me yet.