Why we shouldn’t fear MOOCs

We are at a significant crossroads in higher education, in the liberal arts especially. A staggering economy for graduates combined with public outcry about high tuition and student loans is all bringing the value of a liberal arts education into question: a perfect storm. What’s most disturbing is a lingering doubtful perception about the return on investment made manifest by many media sources, occasionally influencing elected officials to poke fun at the arts and humanities. While many lament the advent of MOOCs, online learning has been around for nearly two decades. It’s yesterday’s news. But as Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan, has elegantly written, the liberal arts DO matter now more than ever. So the current promulgation and growing abundance of freely available content is a powerful incentive and opportunity to re-visit and re-invigorate traditional entry-level curricula in new fruitful directions. History 101 can shed the first 4 weeks of materials, mostly review content that’s easily flipped, and develop new, higher quality activities in class.

Beyond the hype, at the core of MOOCs, especially connectivist MOOCs, is a genuine community sharing of open resources, an extension of the historical mission of 20th century public libraries with print publications, to connect citizens with electronic access to assets of knowledge.  The real value of open online learning is that it has solved the access issue for knowledge-thirsty netizens around the world. There’s a subtle efficiency at play here. What’s to come? Motivated self-directed learners will find ways to imbibe introductory level course materials that will push faculty to redesign richer learning goals in first year seminars. These future students will be there, and we want to attract them. It’s an exciting time for Ed Ttech folks, especially those of us just getting started in earnest with blended learning efforts, to revisit why we used technology in the first place, namely to assist and augment sound instructional design. Open online courses will not destabilize the foundation of higher education. It’s natural to be fearful at first, and it’s even healthy. The natural instinct of self-preservation brings out the best in everyone. But as we let go of this panic, there is much to reflect and build on. As George Siemens points out in a recent interview:

MOOCs are not replacement models. They don’t replace the existing university systems. They augment it and help those universities become more relevant in the digital space. We’ve known in online and distance learning for 20 years or more that students who are at risk, you can’t just give them access. There have to be support systems in place that help those students to succeed.

Not to fear, the ominous specter of online learning, free or otherwise, will not impact the tremendous value of personalized, meaningful relationships between faculty expert guides and students in our classrooms. The abundance of open materials reveals that content is no longer king; relationships and networked connections between faculty and students matter much, much more. As Harold Jarche shared on Twitter:

Relationships cannot be automated; drones and droids won’t even come close. What’s certain, some schools are going to close; but as history will show, institutions that collaborate around the sharing of knowledge and resources with an eye toward the distribution of course redesign efforts have much to gain.

ETMOOC assignment #1

Hello! My name is Ben Harwood. I’m looking forward to #ETMOOC, the massive open online connectivist course, which begins today. Many thanks to Alec Couros, Cogdog and other stellar and generous colleagues who are making ETMOOC happen auto-magically for me and other open online participants. Please listen to my SoundCloud recording in which I introduce myself to my colleagues and classmates. In the recording, I mention my homework assignment from last week’s MOOCMOOC.2013/365 The Abominable Snowman

All the best in 2013!

MOOCMOOC Homework assignment

I participated to some degree in the week-long MOOCMOOC. Here is a link to my Homework assignment for Day 2 in which participants were asked to either record a video clip or xtranormal animated visual that captures one’s thoughts about connected and networked learning and MOOCs in general. That was certainly how I interpreted the assignment perhaps mashing it up as I went along. So I opted for the xtranormal assignment. What a great tool! You can read more about MOOCMOOC and the Day 2 assignment.

GIF’in out in the New Year

Over the holidays and between trips to visit friends in New York City and Rhode Island, I continued discovering how much fun it is to explore the creative power of generating animated gifs in the little free time I have on my hands. This is my take on the DS106 assignment, “Summarize a movie with Animated GIFs to tell the story of a movie.” I’ve taken a slight deviation from the directions using three movie trailers that feature protagonists finding their way forward in times of great challenges. These examples hail from quasi cult films that take place in the NYC metro area. I was headed to Manhattan the next day so must have been in a New York state of mind.

Working with mainstay DIY tools like YouTube, MPEG streamclip and GIMP, I’ve gotten the process down to the point where it comes naturally without referencing the tutorial. Downloading the video clips can be accomplished in a number of ways. I opened them in MPEG streamclip and extracted the relevant morsels. Exporting as image sequences, I opened the jpeg files as layers in GIMP, scaled and exported as looping animated gifs. Voilà, c’est tout! 2012 has been dubbed the year of the gif. For many, it’s also been a year filled with great odds, great misfortune yet hope and dignity shine through. Man versus man, man versus the machine, humans outsmarting algorithms.

On the Waterfront - Trailer [1954] [27th Oscar Best Picture] 28

So during the height of McCarthy’s witch-hunts, Elia Kazan struggled with a wave and shadow of reproach following a near career-ending and humiliating inquisition. In On the Waterfront, Marlon Brando takes the high road and highlights one who will not sell out, no matter what. Could 2012 be the year of selling out as MOOCx’s spin-off and the steady stream of anti-education venture capital flows out of Silicon Valley?

Escape From New York Original 1981 Trailer 25Next up, in Escape from New York (1981), Kurt Russell, in the slithering role of Snake receives a bone-chilling 24-hour deadline to rescue the US President and a double-secret encrypted recording (on a cassette tape no less!) from the hands of the Duke and his army of thugs. One of my favorite character actors, Ernest Borgine, shepherds Snake to the other side moments before the jugglar time-bomb detonates. Snake lives, the President lives, and the Duke perishes. Only I could spin it this way, but is the battle between Snake and the Duke emblematic of the intensifying conflict between proponents of open educational resources and the digital publishing industry?

Lastly, Tony Manero (John Travolta) steals the floor and busts out some well-honed disco moves in Saturday Night Fever. In the wise words of Casey Kasem, this gif is a reminder to “keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.”
StayAlive 067

Happy New Year and keep on dancing in 2013.

My GIFest continues with some animated moments with Charlton Heston

My first attempt at an animated gif was laughable. But this was also in part by design as my motto (see tagline at the top of my blog) is “revise and you will learn something new every day.” As an open online student in DS106, a course on Digital Storytelling, my professor and colleague, Jim Groom,  encouraged me with a link to a tutorial to help me master the process and inject some real animation magic into my homework assignment. I used MPEG streamclip and GIMP, both free and freely available on the open web. I am continuing on the same theme of my previous post which features Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry in Sudden Impact. Grooms’ Gun Crazy Gifs post really got me thinking and upset about where the US stands in regards to gun reform. In light of the Newtown massacre, it’s time for Americans to say, “enough is enough,” by outlawing AK-47s, Glock 27-pack clip magazines at $27 each, armor-piercing bullets and the like. Charlton Heston, a brilliant actor and orator whom we all know and respect for performances in Ben Hur and many other films that span decades, was also an active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement.

Growing up with WTBS and TNT on the tube on most Sunday afternoons, around the holidays I remember catching his awesome performance in the role of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince and merchant in Jerusalem in the 1st century. Ben-Hur is one of my all-time favorite films and is right up there with Casablanca. When I lived in London, England in 1987-88, I was fortunate to see him in a play at the Savoy Theatre in the role of Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s, A Man for All Seasons. Fifteen minutes into the first act, a towering figure emerges in darkness from the back of the theater. Voice first, then a ghostly figure glided down the left side aisle of the theater about three feet from where I was sitting. It was Charlton and we had great seats. I instantly recognized his fierce yet gentle voice and was simply amazed at his towering stature. He was in fact 6’3″. Later in life, when he became the spokesman for the NRA, my opinion of Heston plummeted. Back in May of 2000, during a recorded press conference, he exclaimed and brandished a rifle over his head: “I’ll give you my gun when you pry (or take) it from my cold, dead hands.” Maybe he thought he was on a set? Either way, how could Ben-Hur and George Taylor (Planet of the Apes) disappoint millions of fans in one simple act after such a fabulous career? This was his last well-known public performance and I think it’s safe to say that he went out with a bang. Here are few animated gifs that speak volumes to Charlton Heston acting expertise, both good and not so good, but clearly focused on giving a stellar performance on and off-stage.

PlantOfApes 01

Charlton Heston; From My Cold Dead Hands. Long Version 01

My first animated GIF

After seeing a call by Alan Levine on Twitter about a certain animated GIF festival under way, I began to see more of the familiar DS106 animated gif on different sites I follow. I’ve never made an animated gif before, and to be honest, I’ve never understood the cult-like fascination with them in DS106: “What do those guys do in DS106? Well, they make animated gifs. Word.” And so much more! What this means is I’ll start making many more animated gifs to keep the DS106 energy going over winter break. It wasn’t until I saw one by Andy Forgrave, Zack Dowell, Brian Lamb, and then the great Reverend himself, that I finally decided to give it a shot. I’m not one who’s inclined to follow tutorials in general. I end up learning much more about my own process while stumbling along the way toward the light. Having the community chime in via comments is especially helpful. Still rather new at the blogging scene compared to folks out there who model best practices and who’ve been at this since the beginning, I’ll follow their lead and leave comments enabled on my site. I’ve never understood why some well known and established bloggers disable comments on their sites. So, back to the lecture at hand, I’ve revise and improve thanks to you kind folks out there giving advice. While I know there’s a more acceptable way to do this with all due DIY artistic merit and pride in mind, here’s how I did it. I did a quick web search for animated gif generator and found Image Flip. Jim Groom’s Gun Crazy Gifs post is inspirational and right on the mark about the bigger picture context of American civilization in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. It really got me thinking about the obsession American culture, for good and bad, mostly worse, has for guns, violence and rugged-individualist machissimo. I chose Clint Eastwood in the unforgettable role of Dirty Harryin the most memorable scene from Sudden Impact. Harry soberly mutters early in the morning and before his first cup of coffee: “Go ahead, make my day.”

Using Image Flips’ markers, I isolated the segment and executed its automagical workflow to produce the animation. Only thing is, when it came time to embed it in a post, there wasn’t a share html embed code to use. I poked around a bit trying different code samples but to no avail. How does one get it disappear? Pretty lame. So I ended up downloading a trial copy of Screenflow and recorded about 2:30 minutes of my desktop playing the file. Then I used the cropping tool to isolate the clip alone and exported and uploaded to YouTube as an mp4. Voila! The Demo Copy watermark is there but hey, I’m now giffin’ it… sort of… not. My make-believe creation would be far more subtle and devious had I managed to conceal the video player controls at the bottom, set loop=true, etc. Almost fooled you, eh? Not too shabby for winging it and having a blast.

When North Korea met Austin Powers… on Twitter

Last night, I once again was reminded in a very positive way just how connected I am with others on social media and Twitter in particular. Such powerful connections give rise to a sense of immediacy and proximity to real events as they occur. This also provide the basis for experimentation and creativity in ways that align with DS106, my favorite online community for digital storytelling. For example, as I came online after dinner, I started seeing news tweets flash by that North Korea had launched a missile. Indeed, it raced southwards and was spotted by the Japanese on the island of Okinawa.

Other news sources began to light up as well. I got a bit nervous thinking that perhaps something big was going down… yikes – just what is the payload in that rocket?? But shortly afterward, it was confirmed that North Korea had fired a rocket into orbit to launch its first satellite. In the end, all was fine… at least so it seemed. But this got me thinking about this country’s insane leadership and the nefarious ways of dictatorships in general. Something about a missile and evil of course took me back to Mike Myers as Dr. Evil et al. in Austin Powers II, right at the point when Dr. Evil and Mini-Me are launched into space.

This prompted me to send the following tweet to my followers: “Did North Korea just launch Dr. Evil into space? Someone call Austin Powers.” And wouldn’t you know, shortly after publishing it, Austin Powers responded to my tweet, through his own dynamic search of the Twitterverse, by making it one his favorites.

Austin Powers favorites my tweet

This could be a cool assignment for DS106 students: based on a real life event, engage historical figures (real or fictional) on Twitter.  What’s ironic is I didn’t tweet this message at Austin Powers; in fact, I had no idea there was some character out there pretending to be Austin Powers! Could it be Mike Meyers, as in, could the real Mike Meyers stand up, please? This is also what makes Twitter so great- a place to create and co-create meaning with others while also keeping a watchful eye on authenticity, purpose, and one’s very own crap filter.

ISD and Learning Theories revisited: re-discovering my Master’s work from ’04

Back in 2004, I graduated from Penn State with a Master degree in Instructional Systems Design. With the steady increase of educational technology and technology tools in F2F and online learning, the College of Education has re-branded the department as Learning and Performance Systems. I’m really glad they kept the “Systems” piece in the title as this is such a key part of systems thinking and the classic “systematic approach” to design (i.e., the ADDIE model and others). On Friday, I’ll be teaching an “introduction to instructional design” online module. It’s a primer for the instructional technology student apprentices and program (ITAP), an initiative of the NY6 Consortium. Here is the reading list I put together for this short-class: RequiredReadingsTheoryandPractice Below are two video clips I created last week with yours truly starring in a one-man show, a cheerful talking head. You can also check out one of our student technology assistants and apprentice’s site here. Please make this budding blogger’s day by posting a comment!

It was a real treat for me was see that my design prototype is still “live” on an quiet test server at Penn State… Very cool and kudos to my IT pals in the College of Agricultural Sciences for maintaining it over the years. You can check out the Invasive Species website and the ISD primer videos below.

While classic instructional design approaches provide an important and critical lens through which to view any design or re-design of instruction (I think of Carol Twigg’s work in particular when it comes to redesign) constructivist theories continue to influence and energize my thinking and work in academic technology as it did back in 2004 as a graduate student and webmaster at Penn State. What a fun refresher to revisit this old stuff… gets me thinking in new ways that hopefully benefits others, not to me mention me. I guess it’s not that old after all! It might also be time to think about how I could be using this for work to further my research and even studies… à la MOOC or more formally back in grad school?

Overview of Operation Invasive Species (Master’s thesis based on this prototype I designed and built)

An instructional design primer