Digital Scholarship and You (or me!) in #change11

This week in the free online course #change MOOC, the focus was around Digital Scholarship. Based around the work of Martin Weller (who facilitated the session) and his book The Digital Scholar (which is currently available open-source on the publisher’s website), the focus was around some of the changes technology is bringing to higher education and scholarship. As my research has been in the area of networked learning and online identity development in higher education and doctoral studies, this is a fitting place for me to delve into this online course content.

In this context, Chap 5 of the text makes an interesting claim that is somewhat applicable for my own doctoral research:

There is a general suspicion around using social networks to share findings, although many researchers use them for personal and professional networking (James 2009; Carpenter 2010). Carpenter et al. describe researchers as ‘risk averse’ and ‘behind the curve in using digital technology’. Similarly Harley et al. (2010) state that ‘we found no evidence to suggest that “tech-savvy” young graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, or assistant professors are bucking traditional publishing practices’.

I use social networks for both personal and professional networking (though I still do not like the term networking, as I often consider it rather one-sided–people network to get, and not to give or share or collaborate), and I also find such networks fundamental to identifying and accessing research participants themselves. On top of that, I even use these technologies (especially through my Twitter account) to help myself think through and initiate research projects. The most valuable of these online communities I have found for my doctoral research is the Twitter-based #phdchat, what has become the hub of my online presence for personal and digital scholarship, support, and friendship. 

As an early career researcher myself, I find the related JISC-funded The Lives and Technologies of Early Career Researchers. As the study (pg. 1) found:

Despite many ECRs being interested in trying out new technologies, 72% of early career researchers reported that they did not even use Web 2.0 or social media to share their research. This may reflect the many and varied constraints which limit ICT take-up amongst early career researchers, perhaps including norms of secrecy in research practice; this study found social, confidence, skills, institutional and participatory constraints on technology use by ECRs.

This gets me thinking–I use these technologies to think through and clarify my research direction, along with access partipants and then get feedback on the process and my research design. I do not ordinarily share results online. I wonder if this is due to the great gap in time between those first steps and the findings, or perhaps because, here in my doctoral work, I do not yet have findings to share? Only time (and more discussion, perhaps) will tell.

Goals and Expectations (Finally!) for #change11

OK, so here we are into Week 3 of the of the #Change11 MOOC, and I am finally ready to articulate my own personal goals and expectations for the course. Unlike most courses, there are no stated objectives or expectations for a MOOC. As I quoted from the MOOC Model document in my post Clarification on the question,“What is a MOOC?”, “MOOCs build on the engagement of learners who self-organize their participation according to learning goals,prior knowledge and skills,and common interests.” In other words, I need to set my own objectives and expectations for this year-long course.

While I work professionally as an Instructional Design Project Manager, clarifying learning needs and then building objectives to meet them is something I frequently engage with. However, this is flipped on its head when we establish our own goals for our learning.

Perhaps, however, this is really not that unusual. Consider this–even when we attend traditional courses that have clearly defined learning objectives, we have to remember that those are the goals of the teacher, facilitator, or program–they are not necessarily the goals of the learners themselves. Course goals are not always agreed with or understood in the same way by learners as they are by those facilitating the course. Without dialogue and agreement about this at the very beginning, it is challenging indeed for all participants to move toward the same goals (as nobody has the same goals). Let me state this even more strongly–without discussion and individual agreement–all learners in a course work toward different, and often unstated, goals for the course. 

This is one of the refreshing things that this MOOC has done–it has empowered attendees (learners) to articulate and state their own goals for the course. With this stated, these are my #change11 goals and expectations. By the end of the #change11 MOOC, I will be able to:

  1. Assess the impact and influence of this global, unstructured learning on my PhD Research
  2. Practice an openness to diverse perspectives on learning
  3. Revise my network to be wider and more inclusive

Now that I have stated these three objectives, I feel I am actually starting to expand my learning and practice. What better way to do so than by formulating, and then publicly sharing, these goals for the course?

Networked Learning Conference “Hot Seats” Now Open

The Hot Seats, an informal and free series of online discussions by international researchers in the area of networked learning, are about to begin in the Hot Seats Ning page. This is a lead-in to the 8th International Conference on Networked Learning, scheduled for Maastricht in April 2012.

What is networked learning? According the call for papers (which are due in about two weeks), networked learning is:

learning and teaching carried out largely via the Internet/Web which emphasises dialogical learning, collaborative and cooperative learning, group work, interaction with on-line materials, knowledge production and design for learning

Participation in these online discussions, based around the research of a number of very interesting scholars and led by the authors themselves, is open to anybody; conference registration is not required.

While this is more focused than the #change11 MOOC that is stretching over the same period, there may be an interesting overlap between participants in both online learning events.

Clarification on the question, “What is a MOOC?”

I have been thinking more about the question “What exactly is a MOOC, anyway?” related to the #change11 course that started last week and which I am engaging in (in my spare time, ha!!). While I spent some time considering some of the ethical and privacy issues involved in this research, I have conveniently side-stepped the question about what this thing is, anyway.

This may not be a big issue, but when I mentioned this to a F2F colleague this week and was asked what this thing is, I just stood there, speechless.

I have participated in a rather interesting discussion about some of these issue on Frances Bell’s blog, though even there we skirted the issue of what this thing is. So, searching for the response from the facilitators themselves, I came across The MOOC Model for Digital Practice as I reviewed the Week 1 course Orientation page, and came across the following  useful definition which I will quote here at length due to its comprehensive form and complexity (pp. 10-11):

What is a MOOC?

A MOOC is an online course with the option of free and open registration, a publiclyshared curriculum, and open-ended outcomes. MOOCs integrate social networking, accessible online resources, and are facilitated by leading practitioners in the field of study. Most significantly, MOOCs build on the engagement of learners who self-organize their participation according to learning goals, prior knowledge and skills, and common interests. The term came into being in 2008, though versions of very large open online courses were in existence before that time (McAuley, 2010). MOOCs have been offered in conjunction with academic institutions and independently by facilitators: to date, topics have remained within the E-learning and educational technologies fields. Some MOOCs have had upwards of 2000 registrants. MOOCs share in some of the conventions of an ordinary course, such as a predefined timeline and weekly topics for consideration, but generally have no fees, no prerequisites other than Internet access and interest, no predefined expectations for participation, and no formal accreditation (there are several instances of MOOCs that are affiliated with a university and provide learners the option of enrolling formally in the course and submitting assignments for marking).

News that a MOOC will be offered is typically spread through online social networks and email lists. Registration and course topics are offered through a central course site developed by facilitators: participants can use the central site to interact and discuss ideas, or may share their contributions from their own blogs and develop and maintain ties through other technologies such as Twitter. The course operates on an open and a-hierarchical invitation to participate in and scaffold activities and discussions: a true “teacher as learner as teacher” model (Siemens, 2006). Participation in a MOOC is emergent, fragmented, diffuse, and diverse. There is no credit or certificate offered for completion. Facilitators of MOOCs volunteer their time, and comment on participants’ input, but it is expected that the community of participants will be the primary source of feedback for the majority of work contributed. This is in keeping with the participatory collaboration and commenting norms within social media.

With this stated, it seems to me that, in a nutshell, a MOOC is:

An open online course on some topic around which participants interact with one another where and when they want, based on the strength of the connections between participants who self-determine their interaction. The connections between social media and other websites can be traced through links and a tag (#change11).

While I do not want to be locked into a definition, as a MOOC is a moving target, I do want to have a clearer ideas of whaty this thing is that stretches out for months and months ahead. How does this seem to others participating in this?

Privacy and Research Issues in the #change11 MOOC

I am participating in the #change11 MOOC (massive open online class) as I mentioned last week, and while I am still not sure what sort of time or resource commitment this will mean for me in practice, I think it may have some potential usefulness for my doctoral research.

With this stated, I am very interested in how the facilitators of the course will use the information provided, so was happy to read the posting of privacy information that was shared with participants. Good for them to discuss this all so openly at the beginning of the course.

If I am reading this correctly, the researchers who are facilitating this course state that anything publicly shared that is related with the course (most readily identifiable by the #change11 tag), can be used for research purposes. This seems consistent with the current (though somewhat dated and in the process of revision) Association of Internet Researchers guideline for ethical researcher and participant consent – Ethical decision-making and Internet research: Recommendations from the aoir ethics working committee document.

I am wondering what sorts of ethical issues around consent or identification may surface in this, especially given the enormous data set that is being created related to this course? For example, I published this posting (anybody can see it), it is tagged with the course (#change11), and is identifiable (my name and picture are on this site). Does that mean the researchers can quote me or otherwise identify my if they want to in their research around the MOOC? Do they need my permission to quote me, given I am saying this publicly? Will I know this even happens? If I am stating all this publicly, is that my default consent? Is anything online really ever private?

These are not easily answered, and having engaged in Internet research myself I know that various ethical boards will interpret these questions in different ways, I do think it is valuable to ask them, especially as (I suspect) many participating in this course will not even consider them . . . until they get quoted or referred to, of course!