Category : Featured

Much has been said

imagesMuch has been said about MOOCs in terms of technology. At the same time, surprisingly, MOOCs are quickly disappearing from the Gartner hype curve. But are MOOCs a technology? Why such a rapid disappearance?

I have a very simple explanation: MOOCs are a means to learn and to acquire knowledge through already mature technologies but they are not a technology by themselves, thus no reason to follow the hype curve. And if they do, it will be at the pace of the pedagogy, i.e. a very slow pace, as usually do all transformations of human societies. The tsunami is yet to come.

So what did the MOOCs brought in terms of technology?

Since the beginning of this century, I have been using four different well-known Learning Management Systems and I can testify that, up to now, the new ones, being developed for MOOCs, did not bring much as novelties for pedagogy. Pair assessment was quite an exception and the development of this new tool was mainly motivated by the fact that it was unrealistic for the teachers to review hundreds and thousands of copies. The LMS communities reacted quickly and integrated this tool in their latest edition. And then, teachers started to imagine how to use it and how to make it part of their blended pedagogy, not to let the students do their job, but to introduce a new form of participation and collaboration between them. At the same time, the appearance of MOOCs had the effect of amplifying the collaborative and social use of conventional platforms.

This is rather funny because the social dimension of MOOC platforms was presented as the main improvement over the previous generation of platforms, but in reality there was nothing new! MOOCs are using the good old forums, which already existed in Moodle, Claroline, Sakai, WebCT (I quote the platforms I know) and many others tools, which existed in these platforms, were ignored, such as chats, for instance. In the past the forums had little success. I remember a WebCT user conference, around 2005, in Barcelona, ​​where many of us complained about our empty forums. Only those responsible for distance education could boast genuine exchanges. The reason for the success of forums, nowadays in the MOOCs, is the distance between the participants and the desire to share in a community. I doubt that they are much successful in SPOCs, i.e. in blended learning, because students have many opportunities to meet and exchange on the campus. I would be very pleased to receive more information about this. Many teachers supplement their MOOCs with Facebook groups, without forgetting the Google+ Hangouts and other systems to distribute live video. There is therefore an obvious lack of social tools in the MOOC platforms today. This is not a criticism. The development of a platform, with all its richness and its pedagogic nuances, is much trickier than the developers think: so it takes time.

The only novelty of modern platforms is their ability to hold a large number of students simultaneously. Which is a good reason to continue to use the old education platforms, which now are implemented in most universities and schools, when one want to create a SPOC for blended learning.

The MOOC platforms are still in their infancy.

A learning platform is a set of digital tools … used for learning and teaching, which implies that these tools are designed with an underlying vision of a pedagogy. Thus, using a platform implies to join this vision. Teaching cannot be reduced to a singular approach because there is not a single method for teaching or learning; pedagogies are diverse. A given LMS tries to answer, as well as possible, to the expectations of its developers. Designers translate their vision in their tools. I remember a very interesting exchange, at EUNIS 2005, in Manchester, between those responsible for Moodle and Sakai. After a passionate debate, they came to the conclusion that Moodle is organized around a fairly constructivist pedagogical vision and imposes a fairly well defined pedagogical approach. Sakai is much more liberal and rather emphasizes the collaborative aspects. For instance Moodle has several tools for building questionnaires, each thought with a clear different vision on how to build an assessment; Sakai has a unique tool, which mixes all approaches. Using a given platform, the teacher must accommodate his/her vision with the underlying vision of the platform! This is not always easy and, in a given university, not everybody will agree on a single approach and a single platform cannot please everybody. When the vision is strict, some teachers may complain that they are confined but the use of the platform is simpler: the number of choices being limited avoids exploring a number of possibilities. When the vision is more liberal, the use of the LMS is more difficult because teachers must make a choice among numerous features. From the educational point of view there is therefore no ideal platform. Each LMS offers its own vision, which is deeply carved in its tools and services. It always irritates me when I read reports, comparing platforms, mainly as a catalog of existing or non-existing services and little or nothing is said about the versatility in their use, the options to get out of a scheme and about the pedagogical approaches. Assessing the underlying pedagogy is the very difficult because a good test would be to design several courses, with different teachers, and to use them with students in the different platforms. So I refute these reports, which consist mainly of tables checking the existence of tools and services, like for ordinary software. And a LMS is not ordinary software!

A good LMS would be like a bouquet of flowers: the teacher would assemble services like choosing colors, shapes and fragrances. He would no longer be forced to a limited set of services strongly linked to only one platform and would be able to assemble the ones of his/her choice: a mixture of Moodle, Sakai, Claroline Connect, edX and many others. This is a dream today but may become a reality if the developers want to. Standards, such as LTI, define interfaces that allow various tools to communicate. The concept of virtual machines, in the cloud, allows designing the platform of the future as a set of virtual servers, each allocated to a single function, dialoguing with all the others, and not as a single bundle as today. Building a LMS will be reduced to interconnecting the servers of his choice.

We must pay attention and encourage open source consortia as Apereo trying to put under one single roof various initiatives, advocating complementarity rather than competition. The true open platform of the future will be a learning platform made of different brands and names.

The expert teacher will compose his/her bouquet; the non-expert will choose among bouquets already prepared by specialists. It means that, in universities, we must recruit or train new professionals, both pedagogical designers, computer scientists and also with an experience of teaching, who will be responsible for building bouquets on demand according to the professors and students expectations. This will allow all kinds of pedagogy, a mixture of c-MOOC and x-MOOC.

To summarize, what shall we remember about the impact of technology on MOOC educational platforms? It is not their ability to hold the load of thousands of learners. It is the possibility, very soon, to customize them according to the desiderata of the end users, i.e. the teachers and the students. But as this customization will be too complex for most teachers, it will be necessary for them to work with other people, specialists in technology and pedagogy. Their courses will become a group project!

Teaching will be less and less the isolated act of a single teacher in front of his students and sole master of the place. This is becoming the project of an entire team, as it is already the case for the MOOCs. It is maybe one of the most important features of the MOOC revolution and we must be prepared.

CRIS/IR survey in Europe and the Membership Meeting, Paris 11-12 May, 2015 at AMUE

Dear colleagues,

Following the Partnership Agreement signed in 2014 with euroCRIS, the European Organisation for Research Information, we are pleased to announce the launch of the first joint initiative: a comprehensive survey aiming to collect as much data as possible on the information systems currently in use to support the Research Area.

To have a clear and complete picture of the role of technology in Higher Education Institutions, all aspects require in-depth analysis. The Research Area is a crucial one for Universities and Research Centers and it is becoming increasingly important thanks to the diffusion of both Repositories and CRIS (Crurrent Research Information Systems).

Both the CRIS and repository communities have grown remarkably during these last few years, the systems’ functionalities have been extended and their role within the Institutions is changing due to new policies on Open Access, National Assessments and Research Fundings. As a result of this still ongoing evolution, we have now CRISs acting as repositories, repositories with extended data models, a wide range of interoperability features between co-existing CRISs and repositories and even a new species in the ecosystem that claims to be both a repository and a CRIS.

The scope of this initiative it is to collect information on technological solutions that support Research in order to analyse their relations with the other systems used within Higher Education Institutions: how they interoperate, which data and metadata are available and how they can be used.

 A set of questions has been put together to collect a detail account of the running CRIS/Repositories systems at European institutions and made available online via a LimeSurvey platform.

 The survey can be found at this link:

 It will remain open for two months until the end of May and should not take longer than 15-20 minutes to complete.

After collecting such information, ERAI (the EUNIS Research and Analysis Initiative) will work with euroCRIS in order to analyse the results and create comparative studies and find valuable use cases and best practice to share with the Community.

 The preliminary results will be presented at the forthcoming euroCRIS membership meeting in Paris next May and a presentation of its full outcome will be delivered next June at the EUNIS annual Congress in Dundee.

To remind: euroCRIS Membership Meeting will be held in Paris, 11-12 May, 2015 at AMUE. More information here

 Thanks in advance for your collaboration.

EUNIS pre-Congress E-Learning TF Workshop: 9th June 2015, Abertay University

Electronic Management of Assessment and Assessment Analytics

EUNIS E-Learning Task Force Workshop will be held at the Abertay University, Dundee (Scotland) on 9th of June 2015, 10.00-16.00.

The workshop will explore how technology can be used to enhance assessment and feedback activities and streamline associated administration and how we might make use of assessment data to improve learning. Across Europe universites are struggling with similar issues of bringing assessment and feedback practice up to date and meeting student and staff expectations.

Read more…

Register for the event

MOOCs, SPOCs and behind

imagesIn my last post I imagined how universities and Higher Education, more generally, could benefit from a blended education, partly as SPOC, i.e. small online courses, and partly face to face.
Apart from thedisruption oflearning and teaching methods, the financial costs and human resources required to generalize the use of SPOCs will forceour institutionsto cooperateto build anduse common courses in their curricula. For those attending EUNIS congresses, this is not new: our colleagues from the Bavarian Virtual University build courses for all Bavarian universities. However, for most universities, this will bea significant changeof the current paradigmof the teacher,alone, facinghis studentsin the amphitheaterand of the students using only the notes provided by their teachers.Thus building and sharing online courseswill be an interestingtransformation of the modeof operationof our venerableinstitutions, butit goes muchfurther.

The revolution of MOOCs will have significant side effects.

A MOOC or a SPOC is active over a limited period of six to eight weeks. A conventional teaching module covers one semester. So there is a gap between the durations of these two types of events. The MIT has already thought about this contradiction: it is reconsidering the organization of all of its teaching modules to turn them into shorter units, so as to be able to switch some of them online, whenever decided. My interlocutors at MIT told me that it does not mean that all modules will be transformed into SPOCs but they want to remove any obstacle for any move in new ways of teaching

So I have the feeling that the massive introduction of SPOCs will quickly lead our universities and colleges to the same conclusion and that it will induce a new organization of the university year and of the delivery of grades. This is far from neutral and represents much more than just an administrative reorganization!

A very interesting change is that it will allow a greater diversity of the curricula. The combination of shorter modules will allow to better adapting the studies to the students professional projects and will. The ability to remotely participate to some courses will facilitate the diversity of curricula since collisions in timetables may be avoided.

Universities are the warrant of the consistency of the curricula and do not graduate collectors of a scattered knowledge. Their responsibility is to build and to offer curricula that combine both fundamental knowledge, that allow everyone to progress throughout his/her life, and to learn professional skills for immediate employment. Therefore, by nature, they must build and offer coherent combinations of courses that make sense. The best universities will be those that simultaneously allow personal enrichment and preparation for the careers of today and tomorrow. For instance, a student with a major in physics may be interested in philosophy and management as another, with a major in law, will choose to learn sociology and mathematics! Rare, highly specialized disciplines will be better preserved because distance learning will allow gathering the necessary number of students in one single course. Videoconferencing will permit to teachers and students to interact enhancing the interaction of a classical SPOC. My personal experience, in my university, is that it preserves most of the interests of face-to-face exchanges. Blended learning and online courses allow new exciting combinations of courses and the top universities will be those that can offer consistent rich learning pallets.

These perspectives fit the spirit of the designers of the Bologna process because, if universities agree, students will be able to build their curricula with courses taken in different universities in Europe. This is a key factor in building a true European training: today a number of students are not able to study abroad because of a lack of financial support. SPOCs and blended learning will open new opportunities to a majority of European young people. Agreements between universities will attract a number of students interested in building true European curricula. Do the universities loose their role? Not all: the university will not only be a place to study but also a meeting place and a hub to exchange and pursue larger international studies.

This is also a very exciting challenge for the libraries: all experiments show that purely remote participants feel the need to meet. Students, enrolled in SPOCs, will love to encounter their fellow participants on the campus and there is no better place than the libraries. At EPFL, which has already switched to blended learning for its first year, students come, even when they do not have classes, to watch videos of their courses and work together. Coursera and EDX know that very well and are implementing rendezvous places all around the world.

Lecture halls will become empty and libraries will be filled. We must therefore quickly review the architecture and the organization of the buildings of our cherished institutions.

Let us go a step further. If the curriculums are organized as short modules of six to eight weeks, what is the meaning of the term? Nowadays students, who have failed a module, must wait until next year because most universities do not have the staff to repeat the same course twice a year. A SPOC can be easily replayed as a MOOC the next semester for a very low expense. This is not as good as a real blended learning course but, for the students who failed, it is much better than losing the rest of the year. Thus we may imagine that online courses will start at various times of the academic year. SPOCs, replayed as a MOOC, to the attention of the too many students who missed their exams, which is especially true in the first year in the university, will bloom from January until the summer.

As for the examinations, whose passage must continue to be monitored, we may also use the libraries to organize them, like in Telford College in Edinburgh, UK, (which I had a chance to visit, thanks to Gill Ferrell). The exams are taken online during a given period, students have an appointment in a special room, always under the supervision of a proctor, settle all means of communication at the entrance in a locker and work, out of sight of each other. So, what will remain of the famous university tempo? Courses may start at any time during the year; exams may be organized by appointment (or not). The organization of the year will loose almost all its meaning.

The MOOC will revolutionize the university well beyond the facilitation of new forms of pedagogy. Our campuses will become places of meeting and exchange as well as places of learning. This will upset their architecture and our planners would do well to think about it now.

The academic time will be transformed. We may imagine being able to deliver courses mostly all along the year without increasing the burden on the teachers who, I must recall it, are also researchers. Introducing SPOCs, MOOCs and all kind of online learning will rather allowing them greater flexibility in their two activities.

A downside? Yes. I am very afraid that enrollment and all kind of administrative procedures may introduce a major barrier in this beautiful dream. In many universities it is urgent to completely rethink our organization and our management systems by truly student oriented systems and no more thought to address all kinds of regulations. But I am much more pessimistic about this!