Saturday, August 18, 2012

A MOOC MOOC and a MOOC for Launching Online Programs at HBCUs

The MOOC MOOC, organized by the good folk at Hybrid Pedagogy, began last Sunday, August 12th, and ended today, August 18th. It was billed as a MOOC about MOOCs. In other words, it was  an introduction to MOOCs in the format of a MOOC, i.e., a massive open online course. But for me as a student/participant, it turned out to be an intense, chaotic, catalytic learning experience that greatly accelerated my thinking about how to facilitate the launch of a comprehensive set of online and blended degree & certificate programs at my own HBCU, an initiative that began in January 2011.

A. Background
If I had known in January 2011 what I've learned in the last week, I would have followed a strategy akin to the one that I'm about to sketch in this memo. Going forward, I will try to incorporate some elements of this preferred strategy into my ongoing efforts as the director of my own HBCU's online efforts in the months to come.

Participation in one short, but intensive MOOC about MOOCs doesn't make me an expert on MOOCs, nor does it even provide me with sufficient expertise to organize an effective MOOC. So I will punctuate the following draft with italicized "comments" that underscore uncertainties in my knowledge. I will also highlight some unresolved questions I still have as to how the potential effectiveness of MOOCs, as I currently understand them.

At this point I'm going to pause and impose upon my readers by asking you to make a brief digression before reading any further.  I ask you to please read my previous post on this blog that contains links to  four short videos.  Yes, I could restate these ideas in my own words, but I don't think that's the most effective way to present them. Indeed, I found these videos to be far more persuasive than the experts' own printed statements in the reference articles that student/participants in the MOOC MOOC were asked to read.
==> Please click this link to the "Video Introductions to cMOOCs for HBCUs"

B. cMOOCs for Launching Online Programs at HBCUs
If you watched the videos, you understand that MOOCs can be many things. They don't have to be "courses" that transfer knowledge about specific content from "experts" to "students".

cMOOCS can be organized as learning processes whose participants share a common interest in a set of issues, but the desired knowledge about these issues may not have been assembled or even identified by anyone before the cMOOC began. In other words, there are no experts who have all of the answers.  The participants in the cMOOC become a learning community by establishing connections with each other and with other sources of information relevant to the knowledge the participants seek to acquire.
cMOOCs don't have to be "massive" ... but ... Launching an array of online programs is a complex process that requires inputs from a wide range of subject matter experts and careful consideration for the concerns of a wide range of stakeholders -- faculty, staff, administrators,  students, alumni, and members of the HBCU's Board. The capacity for cMOOCs to be "massive" makes it possible for them to include all of the stakeholders who want to participate in the process, not just a small set of carefully selected representatives.

C. First Steps --  an Introduction to cMOOCs via a cMOOC
Rather than begin with the cMOOC that would enable an HBCU to become a learning community as it grapples with the complexities of developing a plan for  its online programs, the process should start with a two or three week "MOOC MOOC" -- a cMOOC about cMOOCs that would explain the overall rationale for cMOOCs and would enable its participants to become familiar with the IT applications that would be used most frequently in the subsequent cMOOC for online programs.

Although some faculty and academic support staff would be familiar with some of these tools, it's highly unlikely that any of them would have extensive prior experience with all of them, e.g., a Webinar platform (e.g., Insttucture's Canvas, or Blackboard's Collaborate), Twitter, Google Docs (with comments and collaboration), Storify, blogs, discussion forums, wikis, Google+ Hangout, video capture/editing, YouTube, etc. (Note: HBCUs that have extensively deployed Microsoft's applications can capture most of this functionality by linking Micorosoft Office applications via SharePoint.) Whichever of these applications is selected for use in the cMOOC must be thoroughly tested for bugs and workarounds, separately and in combinations together.

Given the widespread interest in MOOCs in the wake of the extensive headlines in the media for the last year or so, invitations to participate in this introductory cMOOC should be sent to all of the HBCU's faculty and academic support staff. Some might be interested in developing complete online programs for their departments; but others might only be interested in offering a few courses as cMOOCs or even as xMOOCs, where xMOOCs are massively enrolled online courses that focus on the traditional objectives of enabling subject matter experts to teach selected topics to their students, the kinds of MOOCs that most of the headlines in the media have referred to.

Comment #1:  I assume that most cMOOCs begin with descriptions of what cMOOCs are all about. However I was concerned by the frank admission of some of the organizers of the MOOC MOOC and some of its MOOC-experienced participants that participants in cMOOCs often felt overwhelmed by a sense of "chaos" when the cMOOCs began and that many participants subsequently drop out. Obviously, there are many reasons why participants might drop out of a cMOOC, including scheduling conflicts with their job or family responsibilities; so confusion is only one reason.

Indeed, I myself felt overwhelmed in my first two days as a participant in the intensive MOOC MOOC. But as an experienced IT professional, I wasn't tempted to drop out because I'm familiar with these temporary feelings when learning complex new applications.  However, as an experienced IT professional, I am also aware that most non-IT professionals have a very low tolerance for "chaos."  Hopefully, a carefully paced introduction to cMOOCs that discussed the rationale for their flexible collaborative procedures and provided step-by-step introductions to the specific tools that would be used by the participants in the subsequent "Online Programs cMOOC" would minimize their feelings of confusion.

D. Themes, Schedules, Tools, and Working Groups for the "Online Programs cMOOC"
Once the prospective participants have completed the introductory cMOOC, the real work can begin. 
Although cMOOCs are flexible enough to be many things, they are are not random walks.
  • All MOOCs have a family resemblance to traditional courses in that the facilitator/organizers identify a sequence of topics or themes that the participants will focus on for a few weeks at a time. Given that the main cMOOC 's purpose is to help an HBCU community plan an array of online programs, some less tractable themes may have to be revisited, perhaps more than once.
  • The facilitator/organizers may also recommend specific tools that could be applied to each theme as it becomes the focus of the community's attention.
  • From time to time the facilitator/organizers may also suggest that the participants be divided into working groups that reflect a commonality of interest.  The main cMOOCs purpose being to plan for the development of an array of programs, it will sometimes be useful to enable the participants from the HBCU's professional schools and colleges to work together (e.g., medicine, nursing, pharmacy, business, law, and education), to group the participants from the academic STEM programs together (e.g., physical sciences, social sciences, and math) and to group the participants from the remaining academic programs together (e.g., arts and humanities)
The themes that would be addressed by the parcticipants in the cMOOC are listed in Table 1 (below), together with the suggested number of weeks to be devoted to each theme.

Table 1. Themes to Be Addressed by Participants in the Online Programs cMOOC

Themes Weeks Brief Descriptions
Rationale for Online Programs 1 The most common reasons: (1) Increased enrollment (2) higher educaton opportunities for non-traditional students (3) additional revenue (usually from programs for non-traditional students)
Accreditation, Organization, Quality Control, & Governance 2 How should online programs be accredited? Should they seek separate accreditation like UMUC for programs for non-traditional students? How should the office of online programs be organized? Who should approve which courses and programs will be offered? Who decides if courses are "good enough"?
Course Formats (for non-traditional students) 1 Online vs. blended; synchronous vs. asynchronous; cMOOCs vs. xMOOCs; length of course session; maximum course loads; sequencing of courses
Course Development and Faculty Training 1 How should faculty be trained and certified to develop and teach online programs for non-traditional students? 
Tuition, Intellectual Property, & Sharing Net Revenue 2 Shoud tuition be the same for all courses or should it cover the actual cost of offering each course? Who owns the intellectual property embedded in each course? How should net revenue from courses be shared -- university vs. school/college vs. department vs. faculty/developer?
Competency-based Credits 2 Should credit be awarded for prior life experience?  Military service? Courses taken at other accredited institutions? Free non-credit MOOCs offered by Coursera, edX, Udacity, Udemy, etc? How should this outside learning be assessed?
Local Servers vs. Cloud Services 1 Should courses be hosted on the HBCU's own servers or in the cloud? 
Market Research, Marketing, & Recruitment 1 Should additional staff be hired to manage these functions for programs offered to non-traditional students or should these services be outsourced?
Strategic Partners 2 Should the HBCU engage an online service provider to assist in course development, market research, marketing/advertising, recruitment, and other services for non-traditional students in exchange for a negotiated share of the tuition revenue? 
Related Notes: