Here Come the OOCs

Gardner Campbell (left) and Christina Engelbart.

Gardner Campbell (left) and Christina Engelbart.

Is there such thing as an OOC? We’ve all heard of MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses). But what do you call it when the enrollment in an online course that’s open to the public but only 100 students sign up? An Open Online Course?

Whatever you call it, Virginia Commonwealth University taught such a course over the summer entitled, “Living the Dreams: Digital Investigation and Unfettered Minds.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch profiled the course today.

VCU officials refer to the course, properly speaking, as a “connectivist” MOOC. “It’s not about content delivery. It’s about being able to act as individual learners in a shared conceptual space,” explained course designer Gardner Campbell, vice provost for learning innovation and student success. The idea, as the T-D paraphrases him, was to teach students how to use digital media to to think more deeply about problems and share solutions on a global scale.

A second course this fall connects VCU students with local non-profit organizations to develop social media strategies for The World Pediatric Project and the Preemptive Love Coalition, both of which provide medical services to children overseas. What makes the courses different — and potentially valuable — is that they are open to non-students, including professionals working for the non-profits.

“Technology was just a steppingstone for the real vision, which was to help the world become a better place by figuring out better ways that we can all come together, work together, think together to solve big problems,” said Christina Engelbart, daughter of the man who invested the computer mouse and graphical user interface among other things, who provided $10,000 in scholarships to support the VCU program.

I’ll admit, that sounds a little too idealistic and kumbaya for my taste. But that’s OK. It doesn’t matter what I think. What’s important is that VCU is joining other universities in experimenting with what online courses can accomplish. I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of linking students with non-profits to accomplish real-world goals. My hunch is that MOOCs (or OOCs) will morph into hundreds of different forms, customized for the specific task at hand. For mastering some bodies of knowledge, OOCs and MOOCs will never replace traditional classroom learning. But for others, they will. Education will be richer as a result.

Now, if we can just find a way for OOCs to make education less expensive.

— JAB

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9 responses to “Here Come the OOCs

  1. There are more and more resources available to students who :

    1. – are competent readers have mastered learn-to-read and now can read-to-learn

    2. – have the ability to use their reading skills to understand mathematical and scientific/technical concepts

    3. – have a computer and access to the internet

    so I continue to ask – what is the purpose of a teacher in high school and college if a student has the core competencies of reading, writing and ability to grasp and understand math and scientific concepts?

    why do you need a teacher for the well-schooled and self-motivated student?

    Any school in Va with internet access should be able to offer – literally hundreds of “electives” for those kinds of students.

    and in the end – special software is going to take over teaching the harder-to-teach kids … much like we’ve seen with the revolution in teaching autistic kids:

    it’s called adaptive computer learning and it’s going to revolutionize teaching of kids that are harder to teach:

    http://www.dreambox.com/adaptive-learning

    • Gee, all I can read about from your link, is that you finally recognize that all kids are different, a real eureka moment!

      • HCJ – I never said kids were not different.. I said that you could figure out how they were different, what their learning deficits are – and provide them with the resources they need to be successfully taught.

        it’s more expensive to do that -requires Title 1 and allied specialists because each child has to be correctly assessed and provided with specific help.

        that’s harder to do in schools in the poorer neighborhoods because your veteran teachers – with higher skill levels – if they have a choice – will not take the harder assignments for the same money… and school systems will often staff those schools with people with less experience and skills.. because that job for them is a take it or leave it job.

        what I like about adaptive learning software is that it can take the place of some of the assessment as well as some of the teaching once it figures out the deficit and learning resources needed. It won’t replace skilled teachers but in schools where they don’t have enough of it – this could become a force multipler…

        and I’m all in favor of whatever innovations “work” to help with this problem because in the longer run – we do have the opportunity to create more tax payers and less entitlement takers.. and that’s a goal we should all want.

        • Isn’t VDOE heading in that direction?

          Computer adaptive testing is part of VDOE’s continuing effort to improve the testing experience for students. Computer adaptive testing provides a customized assessment experience for every student. How a student responds to a question or problem on a computer adaptive test determines the difficulty of the next item. A correct response leads to a more challenging item, while an incorrect response results in the selection of a less challenging item for the student.

          • geeze .. I don’t know what to say – a REAL conservation!

            yes.. VDOE and some schools are headed somewhat that way but don’t confuse computerization of a test or other functions as “adaptive”.

            If you are quoting something from DOE – can you provide a link?

            I have almost no luck using DOE’s own search function… I have better luck using GOOGLE’s “site” search sometimes.

            but you and I and Jim talk about what schools can AFFORD to do to teach the harder-to-teach – because part of the problem is that the economically disadvantaged are needing what their parents did not provide – some one-on-one help with reading and other core competencies and the fundamental purpose of Headstart and Title 1 is to provide more direct teacher-to-kid help.

            it’s expensive. it has to compete with other spending. It’s hard to find skilled teachers that want to get transferred to a school that has school-wide problems with literacy – no additional pay and serious threats if you don’t perform even if you have a horrible class.

            Huge breakthroughs have occurred with tablets and autistic kids – kids the public school system and others said – could not be taught.

            computer adaptive learning – done right – and we are still working on the “right” part – has enormous potential – actually for everyone but especially those that are behind and need help. It becomes a de-facto skilled tutor that pays attention to what you have learned and what you have not and mentors you through it – …

            but the infrastructure for this needs more work. the tablet has to being able to talk with a wi-fi – to upload results so the human teacher can see them and download new lessons – and the tablet can go home and have homework down on it then come back, upload, etc… until that happens – a human teacher will have to look at the tablet itself (or upload the results to a school server to view).

            it does not replace teachers per se – it actually requires teachers learning a new and different way to help kids that are behind.

            for this reason – I do not see the public schools being the first adopters but rather private providers and home-schoolers.. charter schools, etc.. the public school system is too unwieldy, inflexible and resistant to change… it’s very slow to adapt to changing needs.

            Anyone – who says they are a fiscal conservative though:

            1 – needs to acknowledge what happens when uneducated kids grow up to need entitlements and/or incarceration –

            just total up 20 years of entitlements and prison and tell me it’s too expensive for schools to find better ways to educate those with one parent and “cultural” impediments.

            2. – trying to teach these kids with human teachers – on the cheap is dumb – it’s as dumb as some of those kids are

            3 – we “invest” a hell of a lot of money in kids right now … it makes no sense what-so-ever to spend 10K on a child, fail to provide them with core competencies in grade school and say we’re done when we know that the vast majority of them CAN be taught – we know this from schools around Virginia that do exactly that with their 10K per kid.

          • a search of the VDOE site for the phrase “adaptive learning” turns up one aberrant entry not related to the actual discipline.

            a GOOGLE search of the phrase “adaptive learning” turns up 982,000 hits.

            a GOOGLE SCHOLAR search of ” “adaptive learning” “elementary education” ”

            turns up 382 hits.

            Adaptive Learning – software put on a computer tablet – is software that does the things that a teacher does when trying to determine the learning deficits of a child.. often done by administering assessments manually.. and then manually obtaining the material at the level the child does understand to let the child progress.

            some of these things cannot be easily computerized and will remain the purview of human teachers, but other things can and as much that can be – it frees up the teacher to do the things the computer cannot.

            that’s a force multiplier of – scarce and expensive resources – that some schools cannot seem to acquire.

            a highly skilled teacher can now do more of what only they can do – once a computer does the things it can do – and take those tasks off the plate of the teacher. That would be manual administrative type things.

            It ALSO can protect a teacher from adverse actions if that teacher is following the protocol and that will make that job less a threat to one’s career.

            I fully expect, at some point – that schools that have accreditation problems – are going to become pilots for adaptive learning software – especially if those schools have failed 4 years in a row and are denied accreditation and become the subject of increasing sanctions from VDOE.

            I would also fully expect – if schools do not embrace this – that the pro-voucher folks will see a way to more effectively educate harder-to-teach kids and challenge the state to provide voucher money for adaptive learning if it proves to be a cost-effective alternative to a failed public school.

            there are going to be intermediate failures – two steps forward, one step back as adaptive learning products try to do things they can’t and have to re-trench… it’s territory we don’t know all the answers to but we need to push the envelope if we are going to make progress over time.

            there will be winners and losers – but the winners will be recognized for their efficacy and will be adopted – and perhaps provided to and/or available to – ANY child in a failed school with a specialist who knows how to interact with the computer software – either provided by the local school system or if they will not – then provided by mandatory VDOE specialists.

            Bacon and others blather about “disruptive technologies”.

            this is going to be one and if it optimizes – it may well end up replacing lower skilled and less educated teachers… like has happened in other industries.

            VDOE bends over backwards to stay out of local school districts affairs.. allowing a school to fail to be fully accredited 4 years in a row before the state steps in – is an example. Think of how many kids – in that four years – fail … to acquire basic core competencies.. and are likely doomed in high school.. and after high school.

  2. Many institutions have experimented with on line learning.Sounds great. The problem appears to be how many students actually finish the programs they start. Some articles that I have read say the completion rate is low.

  3. If a student is self-motivated and does not finish the course – we might need to take a closer look at what is missing that would compel them to finish and not drop it.

    this goes to two important questions:

    1. – what is the purpose of a teacher – in such learning environments? what do they do or could do that would encourage higher completion rates.

    2. what does class size have to do with this – or for that matter class size in the wider realm of education once you get to courses beyond the core competencies?

    first year in many colleges – the class size is one or two hundred to one…and the students – sink or swim.. without near as much hand-holding from the “teacher”.

    Can that approach work in high school for motivated students taking electives – that would also include OOCs?

    there are huge potentials here in terms of dollars – dollars save but also dollars freed up for more at-risk teaching in the earlier grades.

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