Life by Design

edtechsec.blogspot.comHow will MOOCs — Massive Open Online Courses — continue to change the marketplace and reshape competition in the higher education industry?

If you’ve been following the stream of articles on digital education, no doubt you’ve run into the frenzy around MOOCs. MOOCS represent a new form of online education deliverable to students worldwide for a low- to no-cost and can provide, in some cases, college credit.  Students can access educational content delivered by some of the most prestigious universities in the world on their time and from multiple devices.

So far, MOOCs have already opened accessibility to higher education for millions of students; according to Coursera over half of these students are over age 26. [1]

As with other disruptions, controversy swells after initial launches, and MOOCs are certainly no exception. Recently, a group of philosophy professors at San Jose State Universitywrote an open letter to Michael Sandel, a government professor at Harvard University, for his offering of a MOOC through the provider edX that had its beginnings at Harvard.

The issue? Concerns the collaboration between schools via MOOCs could represent the beginning of a trend to “replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities.”[2]

In early May, several dozen professors in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences signed a letter to their dean asking for formal oversight of the MOOC offerings through edX, a MOOC provider co-founded by the University.

The Harvard professors alluded to “many critical questions,” as yet unanswered, about “the impact online courses will have on the higher-education system as a whole.”[3]  Some outsiders comment that Harvard (and other large tier-one universities) may become the Wal-Mart of education, impacting branding, and moving to a corporate model, which could exclude the original values and mission statement of university education. Critics argue that professors who object to the emergence of MOOCs may be more concerned their scholarly works may come under much more scrutiny when their classes open to the world.

Financially and politically, the MOOC movement recasts itself almost daily as the big players jostle for position to become a top-tier provider of online courses that can be offered either as the main course or more of an appetizer in a flipped classroom setting.

Some higher education forecasters believe this is the future of public education. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is supporting the Massachusetts Bay Community College experiment where MOOC delivery is happening in addition to face-to-face classroom instruction, has devoted millions to seeing if MOOCs produced by elite universities could help boost student success at financially-strapped state colleges.

The MOOC style of delivery is no doubt highly popular among students and lifelong learners. More than 900,000 people are now registered users of edX, and President Anant Agarwal said it plans to generate revenue — through selling validated certificates to those who complete courses and charging licensing fees to colleges that teach courses based on its videos — are on track.

Coursera, another highly popular MOOC provider, adapted its original vision to a new platform, offering credit-bearing courses for students enrolled in multiple campuses within a public university system beginning in May 2013.

The company’s partners in this are the State University of New York System, the Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee System, the University of Colorado System, the University of Houston System, the University of Kentucky, the University of Nebraska System, the University of New Mexico System, the University System of Georgia and West Virginia University.

Critics claim the real impact of MOOCs may not be in educational pedagogy, but in the altering of the financial and political systems tied to higher education.

Faculty are concerned about job security, academic freedom and the general dismantling of a very entrenched traditional version of higher education. Other newly-arising and hotly contested issues include: whether a professor who creates content delivered on a MOOC platform is responsible for the full impact of disruption created at another university or community college; whether students are actually learning anything; and how credit administered for these courses would compare with credit delivered for face-to-face classroom instruction.

Chandrakant Panse of Massachusetts Bay Community College said, “The MIT certificate has a lot more value in the marketplace than three course credits at MassBay — absolutely.”

In the context of a student’s job search, says the professor, an edX certificate “is going to matter tremendously more than saying. ‘I have three credits at MassBay for doing a programming course.’”

Because of the paucity of secure and psychometrically valid learning outcome assessments, it is difficult to determine the value of MOOCs. Some see it as a new form of entertainment, with some students around the world competing to obtain the highest numbers of letters of completion.  These so-called hardcore students have, in some cases, taken more than 30 courses and describe themselves as “Coursera addicts.” They argue this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from some of the most prestigious universities in the world … for free. And they worry this free admission to high-quality education may not last for long.

New research published by the Journal of Research and Practice in Assessment is among the first peer-reviewed studies based on MOOC data. The study discovered online learners performed better when they worked with the course material offline, either with a peer or with someone trained in the area of study. The course reviewed was “Circuits and Electronics” from MIT.

In this article, we must also visit the issue of cheating online, as it is easy to do so in a MOOC.  “Understanding Cheating in Online Courses,” an eight-week course, explores the vocabulary, psychology and mechanics of what Bernard Bull, assistant vice-president of academics at Concordia University Wisconsin, calls “successful cheating” in online learning.

Not all academics are critical of MOOCs. In fact, some of them welcome the movement as a way to augment their already-established courses. Khosrow Ghadiri, a lecturer at San Jose State University, said the edX course works perfectly as an additional classroom resource.

“It’s a talking textbook that you can pick up any chapter of it, augment it the way you want it, add lecture to it, and use it to teach your students effectively,” he told The Chronicle of Higher Education. [4]

Last fall, Ghadiri began using recorded lectures by edX’s Agarwal in his introductory course in electrical engineering. Students passed at a much higher rate than usual — 91 percent compared with 59 percent and 55 percent in two other, more traditional sections of the same course.

“We need a talented faculty to engage with the students,” said Ghadiri. “The only thing that I see in this pilot experiment is that the faculty get more time to spend with the students one-on-one.”

Clearly, the emergence of a trend such as the MOOC is indicative of unmet educational needs worldwide. Societal changes are forcing time-tested traditions to yield to the demand for more relevant models. The disruption presently created by the MOOC movement can be a time for fresh debate and an emergence of completely new models that serve both instructor and student more effectively in the 21st century.  As with many things in our societies, embracing change promotes growth, both personally and professionally.

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Article originally posted on The EvoLLLution at


[1] Allison Morris, “The Minds Behind The MOOCs,” Online Courses, June 4, 2013. Accessed at

[2] “San Jose State Department of Philosophy – Open Letter to Professor Michael Sandel From the Philosophy Departemnt at San Jose State U,” RapGenius, April 29, 2013. Accessed at

[3] “Letter from 58 Professors to Smith Addressing edX,” The Harvard Crimson, May 23, 2013. Accessed at

[4] Steve Kolowich, “Outsourced Lectures Raise Concerns About Academic Freedom,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 28, 2013. Accessed at

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 2.23.19 PM In this day and age, ‘innovation’ is certainly the buzz word especially  with new modes of educational delivery given the discovery that in a myriad of ways that traditional models are not serving the student and preparing them for their role in the 21st Century global marketplace. While we need to embrace traditional learning theories, we need to build new houses on these trusted foundations. Houses that are engaging, collaborative, social, and challenging students to use knowledge to solve real world problems. Many instructors of varied content areas are looking for new ways to develop and deliver courses. We are no exception here at the Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon. We specialize in developing new and better ways to teach foreign languages.

In this article I want to share three current challenges as we move forward with developing online modules in Chinese and soon, Swahili.

  1. The team is challenged to grow and it is human nature to take a step forward into the unknown and then shrink back to the familiar
  2. Blending two theoretical models – Instructional Design and Foreign Language Acquisition Learning Theory
  3. Preparing students in advance to become independent learners as opposed to the historical model where the teacher is the only resource for learning

Our Chinese content team consists mostly of native Chinese speakers, all of whom are well-educated and trained by the best standards. Now, that we are in the stream of innovation, it is a challenge to have this team try out completely new models of educational delivery with some of the most creative Web 2.0 tools available. In the face of change, it is human nature to intellectually want to change and grow, but on other levels we often retreat to what’s familiar. We want to create something ‘insanely great’ to quote Steve Jobs, yet how far can we push the envelope? How can we stay grounded in fundamentals, yet take the roof off of brick and mortar instruction so that students and instructors can breathe?

The second challenge is to mesh two theoretical models, one of Instructional Design and the other of Foreign Language Acquisition . We think we have discovered some points where these two models touch, but again are breaking very new ground.  Our desire is to deliver something completely new and different. Can we take the best of both models and find a way to fit one with the other for a dynamic delivery?

Lastly, it is no secret that students of today for the most part have been taught by traditional means and rely on the teacher to not only be the sole deliverer of content, but to also be the subject matter expert. If nudged in a new direction to see themselves as responsible for not only the quantity of their learning, but the quality of their experience, can and will they do it? Self-discipline and self-motivation are traits that some naturally are born with and others acquire meeting the vicissitudes of life. We plan to meet our student cohort early in the development of our project and discuss this topic among others. It is my hope to prepare them mentally and emotionally to take an evolutionary leap forward in becoming in charge of the quality of their own learning experience. I do not think this is too much to ask. In my own academic life, the points of greatest satisfaction.


At the Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon a grand experiment is taking place.  Due to the impact of recent budget cuts in education both at the K-12 level and in higher education, foreign language courses are being dropped and students are scrambling to find new and different ways to access these necessary courses.   The courses are not only necessary for college admission, but to adequately function in the globalized job market of the future.   Some high school students in our state are going to community colleges for classes, while others are taking online courses developed by educational corporations.

We have assembled a team of Chinese specialists in curriculum and pedagogical design and along with myself working in instructional design and technology, we are preparing online modules in Mandarin for both high school students and the national Flagship program which supplies classes that deliver both content and high level Chinese language instruction to college students.  Our goal is to create a completely new format that offers the best of language instruction and enriched technological media for high student engagement.

Being in a pioneering field is both exciting and daunting at times.  One of the greatest challenges we have faced is exactly how to blend the philosophy of sound evidence based language instruction with best practices in Instructional Design.  There is an art and science to both good language instruction and engaging instructional design and finding the exact points where these two disciplines intersect has been fascinating.

Communication is key.  One would think that it would be easy to communicate the needs for an online module to a content development team.  But without having taken an online course, the members of the content development team rely heavily on my expertise and understanding of how the course will unfold in an asynchronous online setting.  By contrast, not speaking a word of Mandarin, I rely heavily on the team’s expertise in developing both content and curriculum that will meet national and international standards of language instruction.

Working with native speakers from China and Taiwan, I have discovered their learning styles and their great attention to detail.  While it has been mentioned in the literature that Asian cultures by nature may not necessarily be innovative, I would disagree.  What I have noticed is that their ability to revise, refine and innovate is keen on models that are already created.   The areas where I see our team being stretched is in using new models of teaching, such as project based learning and folding in Web 2.0 tools, the quantity of which grows by the day.

It is immensely rewarding to work side by side with colleagues from China and Taiwan as we move forward with our online initiatives.  The various perspectives, skill sets, talents and viewpoints help to create an enriched learning experience that we are eager to sample with student groups soon.

Image courtesy of:

Extracted: 3/30/12 at 11:34 AM (PST).

Assessing a Collaboration Project


For this discussion post, you are in the role of an online instructor who has assigned a website to be built by groups comprised of four students each in your course in Multimedia Web Design. This is a capstone project for the course and you have had the opportunity to observe each student’s level of cognitive attitude, technical ability and participation in the course through other collaborative projects, like the Discussion Board. You are entering the last two weeks of the course, and by now, peer to peer relationships have been established and your role now is to function as a learning guide.

Reflect on your role as a learning guide and how best to approach your students, now that they have become more independent. In your previous online courses, reflect upon an instructor who has handled this transitional role well and draw from it as you develop this week’s post.

Reflect on your role as a student and how it has been for you working in groups for academic projects in the past. What have you learned that you can take forward with this assignment?

For this week’s post:

Please describe how you would:

  1. Form the groups for the Captstone Project
  2. Communicate Best Practices for helping the group to manage the project
  3. Establish roles for the project
  4. Assess both individual and group performance
  5. Design rubrics for this assessment

Here is the rubric that your post will be evaluated by the following rubric.  Click on this link, scroll to the very bottom of the page and locate the rubric for Discussion Posts.

Post by Wednesday: Please post your response to the class Discussion Board by Wednesday of this week.

Friday: Review the Discussion Board posts and enter in to any discussion to add and expand the discussion.

Sunday: Again, review all the responses to your initial post and follow up with any conversations that you have been participating in to date.

(Cartoon thought bubble reads: ””;)


With the explosion of online learning in both K-12 and higher education, there too, has been an explosion in plagiarism and cheating.   While the motivation for cheating has not changed over the years, the realization that one has cheated, especially in the digital world, has, as it is much more visible in a cyber based classroom.  Most students do not realize that by cutting and pasting text from a website into their research paper without citation represents plagiarism and cheating.

In an interesting survey of approximately 50,000 students from more than 60 universities students believe: ‘cut & paste’ plagiarism – using a sentence or two (or more) from different sources on the Internet and weaving this information together into a paper without appropriate citation – is not a serious issue. While 10 percent of students admitted to engaging in such behavior in 1999, almost 40 percent admit to doing so in the Assessment Project surveys [2002-5]. A majority of students (77%) believe such cheating is not a very serious issue (CAI research, 2005) as cited in Jocoy & DiBiase (2006).  Why has cheating become ‘not a very serious issue’?  It appears both the expectations and enforcements of facilitators/educators has fallen off.

According to Jocoy & DiBiase (2006), it is much harder to detect manually as well.  With budget cuts, shorter teacher days, higher enrollments, it seems plausible that a lot of cheating is going unnoticed.  Thankfully, plagiarism software is now available to online instructors that can check for plagiarism.  Turnitin is a good case in point.  Other methods include Google which allows instructors to track down copied phrases and online services such as EVE actually compares student papers to Web documents and/or to essay databases to find and report instances of matching text.  In their study, Jocoy & DiBiase(2006) did notice a difference in detecting instances of cheating by using digital resources.

Our authors, Palloff & Pratt (2011), discuss the importance of creating an assessment that is highly individualized.  For instance, rather than creating a multiple choice test, design the assessment so that the student has to write a personal reflection paper that demonstrates how they would apply the knowledge gained in the course to their everyday lives.  There is an argument for preparing students for the work world in such a way that collaborative research, and fact finding becomes a norm.  Right now in my son’s 7th grade class, the math teams occasionally take a group exam and each member of the team can contribute their knowledge to the exam.

As an instructor, there are several remedies than can be implemented to cut down on both plagiarism and cheating.

First of all, the instructor holds the expectation that students will not cheat and that there will be enforcements and consequences if students are caught.  The announcement of assignments being processed by Turnitin should be enough of disincentive for a student to go down that road.  More use of librarians can also be helpful, as many current students do not really understand the nature of plagiarism.

As an online instructor, examinations can be made of documents side-by-side, discussion posts can be compared to one another, unusual wording or lengthy wording that differs from the student’s ‘signature style’, and even a mix of fonts and type style in one paper are all ways that an instructor can possibly suspect cheating.  If it is suspected, it is best that the instructor addresses the issue with the student offline and explains the situation and asks for an explanation.

The online instructor has the responsibility to set the tone of this issue early on in Week Zero in the course policies of what the expectations and consequences are for cheating.

The student who cheats only cheats him or herself on really knowing the material that will benefit their life somehow in the future.  That is a real loss for that individual and needs to be prevented.

As I look to the future of online learning, I really like the idea of designing assessments that are as individualized as a student’s fingerprint.  Design the assessment so that the student is forced to engage higher level thinking skills and demonstrate metacognition.  Reflecting on one’s experiences in life or applying the content information to one’s life are excellent ways to measure learning and guarantee that the student has delivered original thinking and truly contributed something unique to the learning community of the course.


Cartoon courtesy of www.  Extracted from:  Google Images. 04/07/11

Jocoy, C., & DiBiase, D. (2006). Plagiarism by adult learners online: A case study in detection and remediation. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 7(1), 1–15.

Palloff, R. & Pratt, K. (2011) Plagiarism and Cheating. Laureate Education Inc., Video Production.

Today, instructors who are looking into online education may or may not be well aware of the vast array of technological tools available for the function of online courses.  The value of these tools which include:  LMS (Learning Management Systems such as Blackboard, Sakai, and Moodle), Discussion Board forums, wikis, email, blogs, video lectures, YouTube, synchronous collaboration tools, webinar and online chatting apps all help to create one of the most essential functions of online learning, and that is, to build a community of online learners.  These tools also increase learner engagement, which inspires and encourages the learner to rediscover their natural love for learning and ignite the curiosity that is still present about things unknown.

For a new online instructor, the exposure to these tools can be overwhelming and daunting and may deter the instructor from moving to an online format.  The key is to try just the essentials the first time around.  Those essentials would be:  email communication, Discussion board forums and the grade book.  With each version of the course, learn another tool that will add another dimension to your course.  But always remember, the content is what is most important.  All the enticements of the technological tools are secondary to the content and the instructor’s responsibility to build a close-knit community of learners.

We have to keep in mind that online learning opens the door to students who may have disabilities of various kinds; so again, the technological tools increase accessibility and usability of information.  Tools like, Text to Speech, Close Captioning for videos, and font and design tools that can build and simplify the appearance of websites for these students.  Building online courses that are both usable and accessible increases the success for all learners.  In their article, Cooper, Colwell & Jelfs (2007) make a compelling argument that by making elearning both useable (effective, efficient and satisfactory in a specific context of use) and accessible, which allows the learning system and environment to adjust to the needs of all learners, everyone wins.

As I move forward with course design myself, I am particularly excited about Learning Management Systems that are modeled after Social Networking sites because they are intuitive, fun and excellent at building communities.  I also think blogging, webinars, online chatting and having classroom lectures in virtual worlds such as Second Life and other SIM environments are exciting possibilities.  From what I have learned, the more you learn about technology, the more you can learn.  Challenge yourself to try something new each day, and before long the courses you design will be amazing, educational and support your students in rediscovering their natural curiosity and love for learning.

For instance, this video shows a fascinating animated look at the role of antibodies in our body.  Media like this certainly engages the learner and tells a story that no words can!

Click here to view:;jsessionid=qQe1JtsRQ+h8BltDfNlOPA**?action=2&discussion.ascdesc=ascending&discussion.listtype=threaded&resid=19623


Boettcher, J. & Conrad, R. (2010) The Online teaching Survival Guide. Josses-Bass.

Cooper, M., Colwell, C., & Jelfs, A. (2007). Embedding accessibility and usability: Considerations for e-learning research and development projects. ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology, 15(3), 231–245.

CTE Online (2010) Antibody Animation.  Extracted from:;jsessionid=qQe1JtsRQ+h8BltDfNlOPA**?action=2&discussion.ascdesc=ascending&discussion.listtype=threaded&resid=19623

If you are one of the growing numbers of instructors who are curious about facilitating online learning or are actually being mandated by your institution to do so, this blog post can give you a few pointers to get you on your way.

The first thing to know about online learning is how very important building a learning community is for the success of the course itself and for what every learner will take into the future.  Because of the isolation factor for both student and facilitator, it is essential in Week Zero to make these connections happen and build on them throughout the entire learning course.

How to do this?

The first step is for you, as the facilitator to write a bio about yourself.  Your students will be much interested in you as the person rather than you as the academic, so concentrate on a photo, image or avatar that represents you, your hobbies, places you’ve traveled, your favorite professional organizations and journals, and other photos that can tell a story of you to your students.   Here are some personal photos I use:

Next, create an Icebreaker for your students.  There are a variety of options here, but the most common are to ask your students to create a bio of him or her with a photo, image or avatar to represent themselves and information about their hobbies, family life and the ‘view from their window’.    You might pose an interesting question like:  “Besides your real birthday, what is one other date on the calendar that you think would have been a great day to be born and why?” (ChatPack). This request will create social presence for your students.  You must also ask them to comment on their learning goals for the course, what they know about the current topic now and what they intend to do with the knowledge they hope to acquire.  This creates cognitive presence and will give you an idea of their zone of proximal development.

Become a Social Negotiator and a Structural Engineer

Within the first two weeks, your role as the facilitator is to be the ‘social negotiator’, connecting with each student via email, online postings on the discussion board or the Q & A chat room and mentoring these connections happening between the students themselves.

With online learning, you have a wealth of technological tools to assist you in this process…everything from discussion boards, to blogs, wikis, instant messaging and live chat rooms.  In the beginning, keep it simple, working with the technology you know and can learn easily. By the second or third iteration of your course, you’ll find yourself adding more interesting ways of using technology.  The use of these technological tools fosters good textual communication between you and your students.   This is essential for online success.

Along with the initial introductions in your virtual classroom, you will need to be sure to establish clear expectations for the learners.  Again, because of the isolation factor and the fact than many students have never done this type of learning before, having your expectations clear and unambiguous, reduces the stress of participating for the student.

In addition to these points, here are some additional considerations when establishing your course:

  • Make sure you have clear contact information not only for yourself, but also for technical support, the library, and other student services.
  • Be sure to include policies, procedures and the mechanics for communicating in a virtual classroom.  This would also include the topics of netiquette and plagiarism.
  • The student needs to be advised before the course starts on all the technical requirements for the course including computer, browser and bandwidth considerations.
  • Provide a brief orientation for students who have never been online learners before.  An orientation like this would cover such topics as:  time management, becoming an independent learner, navigating the Internet, accessing the online library resources, getting online to the university portal to the online course, and posting to a discussion site.
  • Provide a textbook that a set of enriched materials online and one that offers several formats.  Currently, many textbooks have online links provided by the publisher that can add a rich array of media to enhance your course.
  • Focus on creating engaging, challenging and thought-provoking discussion formats.  The threaded discussion is the centerpiece of your weekly lessons allowing the students to build knowledge together, connect with each other and further establish cognitive presence.  Your role is to facilitate this discussion and encourage the students to reach further themselves by bringing in additional resources, related viewpoints and personal experiences.

These abovementioned items represent some of the basics to help you begin your online teaching journey.  As you go along, of course you can experiment with adding in more media materials, links to compatible websites, video interviews you create yourself and so on.  It is really limitless.  Above all, though, make if fun for you and your students!

As I continue to read and learn about techniques of online course design, I get more and more enthusiastic about what the future of education holds for all learners.  Once you learn the basic steps, online course design is a very satisfying experience that can make learning accessible for students that otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn!  This field will continue to evolve as technology evolves and perspectives and attitudes change to accommodate the 21st Century student.


Boettcher, J. & Conrad, R. (2010) The Online Teaching Survival Guide.  Jossey-Bass.

Chat Pack.  (n.d.) Fun Questions to Spark Conversations.  Questmarc Publishing.


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