Culture and changes in this digital era

What is culture?

This is a big question and we have seen many cultures come and go, in organisation, networks, communities and society.

Take for instance climate change debate.  We once have an interest in understanding climate change and how and what we could do to change the world, in saving the world.

What emerged out of this climate change are solutions based on sustainable work practices.

We are now implementing these Sustainability in Higher Education.  But what happens to Higher Education?

Having a culture is great, but should culture be able to embrace change?  A change that supports sustainability.

It takes me awhile to re-conceptualise what educational changes there are, and what MOOC is trying to achieve.

I re-examine the tenets of wicked problems:
Wicked problems, according to Horst and Webber, have ten characteristics:[1]

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem. 
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false but good-or-bad.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every implemented solution to a wicked problem has consequences. 
  6. Wicked problems do not have a well-described set of potential solutions.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered a symptom of another problem.  
  9. The causes of a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways.
  10. The planner (designer) has no right to be wrong. 

What kind of problems are wicked problems?  Here are some examples:

  1. Locating a new freeway or homeless shelter.
  2. Optimizing all the features on a new model car.
  3. Deciding on the best way to re-engineer a business process.

Wicked problems arise when an organization must deal with something new, with change, and when multiple stakeholders have different ideas about how the change should take place.

So, if the problem is deciding on the best way to re-engineer higher education, surely this is a WICKED PROBLEM that we are all facing.  This post summarises some of the problems of higher education well – like rising tuition fees and the perception of inferiority of online education as compared to face to face education in the past.  You might come up with a symptom of another problem behind higher education.

I hope this is my last post on Higher Education in 2012.

Let’s bring hope to 2013, and resolve all those wicked problems.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Postscript: A good reference on wicked problems

#CFHE12 #Oped12 The Yin and Yang of MOOCs : Part 4 Digital Identity and Openness

In my last post of The Yin and Yang of MOOCs, I shared what I believe to be the Yang (bright) side of MOOCs.

This post is devoted to the Yin (dark) side of MOOCs.  I would close it with the Yang (bright) side as the Yin is always embraced under the Yang (bright side) too.

This post exposes the dark side of MOOCs.  Doug says:

Coursera and its devotees simply have it wrong. The Coursera model doesn’t create a learning community; it creates a crowd. In most cases, the crowd lacks the loyalty, initiative, and interest to advance a learning relationship beyond an informal, intermittent connection.

Why should we be impressed that an online course can reach 100,000 students at once? By celebrating massification, advocates of Coursera elevate volume as the chief objective of online learning. Is that truly our goal in academe?

Our goal should be to design a customized program that matches technology with a student’s day-to-day objectives, not just course objectives or weekly learning objectives. We need to operate on a small scale where the online course or program is calibrated to meet the need of the individual student.

There are certain assumptions that we often made that relate just to the “good” and the “bad” sides of the tools or technology, and the use of MOOCs as platforms.  This also depends on what lens we might have used in judging the appropriateness of a tool (mooc) for particular learning context, from educational, administrative or learning perspective.

We might tend to struggle with the duality of many dimensions, facets of education and learning.  These include:

  1. pedagogy – the instructivism (teaching as an emphasis) versus connectivism (learning – PLE/PLN as an emphasis, and learning as practice and reflection, teaching as demonstration and modelling (Stephen Downes), or flipped classroom versus peer-to-peer learning (peeragogy and heutagogy)
  2. teaching style versus learning style
  3. the face-to-face versus online (or blended learning)
  4. the community of practice versus the networks of practice
  5. the group (classroom) learning versus individual learners personalised learning, or social learning versus personalised and self-paced & organised learning
  6. openness versus closeness, unity versus diversity
  7. governance versus autonomy
  8. education (provided by others) versus learning (do it yourself or independent learning)
  9. prescriptive versus emergent curriculum
  10. canonical versus emergent knowledge

These different “dualities” are indeed all interwoven with each others and could most likely be illustrated as evolving Yin and Yang cycle, with the social, cognitive, and teaching presence both evolving and significantly embedded in between each others during the education and learning process.  They are the yin and yang part of the MOOCs.

Community of Inquiry framework 755-4502-1-PB

We might have to un-pack each of these “themes” and re-bundle them to see which would lead to the extreme yins and yangs as perceived by administrators, educators and learners.

I also think one of the most important “themes” that most MOOCs haven’t addressed to the full extent is digital identity, and openness.

Digital Identity

Here in a post on enacting digital identity by Catherine, she says:

“In research on social networking within education, for example, Keri Facer and Neil Selwyn (2010) found that students saw a clear divide between “social interaction” and “educational interaction” on social networking sites, based on existing educational assumptions that “learning is organised around the individual and… oriented around content rather than process”. However, this may be changing. In their review of the research, Facer and Selwyn concluded that educators might need to “pay attention to social networking sites as important for the social construction of identity, including personal, social and learner identity”.”

As I have shared above, social construction of identity would be embedded as yin and yang of personal, social and learner identity.  I have also shared my views on digital identity here.

(Slides taken from –


In this post on Openness, Eric highlights the pros and cons of Open Standards, Open Content and Open to the World.  Stephen commented that “there is a sense in the new world of ‘open’ that ‘open to the world’ means broadcasting rather than interaction, hence the focus on initiatives like TED and Khan academy rather that open discussion networks and wikis.”

I found this point on openness by Stephen especially resonating, and that is why I still think there are lots of lost opportunity for connectivist and emergent knowledge and learning that could have occurred in MOOCs (especially in the instructivist xMOOCs).

To me, what distinguishes x from c MOOCs is that xMOOCs focus mainly on individual’s performance and individual professor’s teaching excellence, whereas c MOOCs focus mainly on the growth and development of learners and instructors through the co-construction of community and networks, with openness and autonomy as fundamental pillars to individual and social learning.

As conceptualised by Stephen, what is most important is the decentralized nature of distributed learning, that is both a healthy and natural growth of the MOOC, with a landscape of community of learners (including those MOOC facilitators, guest speakers, and experts) continuing to interact and explore in the emerging fields of education and learning alongside the webs and internet.

In this connection, we could all sense the continuing engagement, support and stewardship of various pioneers like Stephen Downes, George Siemens, Dave Cormier, David Wiley, Alec Couros, etc. throughout the MOOCs development and community building in the past few years.  To me, these are based on open scholarship practice, and the establishment of both individual and community identity where values are shared and exchanged through conversation, in and beyond MOOCs.

There are however also another side of openness, when it comes to the establishment of MOOCs under formal institutional environment.  Here openness would be constrained by the various legislation laid out by governments.

Most institutions are expected to uphold the key of excellence and quality in higher education, as bound by the governance of education authorities, or their own constitutions.  This would ensure their status of awarding qualifications and the accreditation of courses.   From an institutional point of view, MOOCs must be established with the grounds of reinforcing the quality of online or distance education, so as to be aligned with the institution’s vision and mission.  Otherwise, it would diminish the role of formal institutions in Higher Education.  This is perhaps the critical point in deciding whether MOOCs are sustainable in the implementation of online education.

To be continued.

Does creativity come with a price? Part 2

This is part 2 on creativity.

In this creativity closely entwined with mental illness:

As a group, those in the creative professions were no more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders than other people.

But they were more likely to have a close relative with a disorder, including anorexia and, to some extent, autism, the Journal of Psychiatric Research reports.

There has been studies about creativity and mental illness.  I have copied them here as reference:

Creativity is known to be associated with an increased risk of depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The thalamus channels thoughts

Similarly, people who have mental illness in their family have a higher chance of being creative.

Creative people, like those with psychotic illnesses, tend to see the world differently to most. It’s like looking at a shattered mirror”  Mark MillardUK psychologist

He believes it is this barrage of uncensored information that ignites the creative spark.

This would explain how highly creative people manage to see unusual connections in problem-solving situations that other people miss.

In an earlier review on Creativity and mental illness, however the

Conclusions: There is limited scientific evidence to associate creativity with mental illness. Despite this, many authors promoted a connection. Explanations for this contradiction are explored, and social and research implications are discussed.

I found these findings fascinating.  As I reflected on the significance of developing ourselves and others as more creative educators and learners, we might need to be aware of these research findings.

Would creative sparks for some creative people and geniuses  be associated with some forms of mental illnesses?

Could we be highly creative, but are perfectly healthy mentally?

It seems that we still have a lot of unknowns about creativity and its association with our mental being.

Does creativity come with a price?

I am interested in creativity and creative learning, and so it would be interesting to understand how these would be associated with creative people and how we could provide education to nurture one’s creativity.

In this post on Creativity – Does Creativity come with a price, it was found that writers were more likely to suffer from mental disorders:

Writers were a whopping 121% more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder than the general population. Moreover, Simon Kyaga, the study’s lead researcher, says that authors had a “statistically significant increase” in anxiety disorders–38% to be exact. Rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide also increased among writers.

Researches relating creativity and mental illnesses found that “genius may occur in appreciably introverted persons – Newton, for instance – and Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and James Joyce are all said to have had near relatives with schizophrenia.  One controlled study found an excess of schizothymic traits in the group of able people represented by research scientists. Psychological tests have shown a similarity between the mode of thinking in schizophrenia and in creative people.”

If the research findings are true, then it seems that we need to take creativity both as a gift and a sign of caution, to see if there are any symptoms associated with those mental disorders.

In a world where we all cherish creativity as the number one priority in developing learners to face the unknown future, what does it mean if we are to develop the creativity capacity of learners?

What are the characteristics of Creative people?

Cognitive Rational Creative Individuals

  • Self-disciplined, independent, often anti-authoritarian
  • Zany sense of humor
  • Able to resist group pressure, a strategy developed early
  • More adaptable
  • More adventurous
  • Greater tolerance for ambiguity and discomfort
  • Little tolerance for boredom
  • Preference for complexity, asymmetry, open endedness
  • High in divergent thinking ability
  • High in memory, good attention to detail
  • Broad knowledge background
  • Need think periods
  • Need supportive climate, sensitive to environment
  • Need recognition, opportunity to share
  • High aesthetic values, good aesthetic judgment
  • Freer in developing sex role integration’ lack of stereotypical male, female identification

To what extent are these characteristics common to our learners who are considered creative, or genius?

What are your thoughts about creative people?

Enjoy this video where Brene Brown talks about our vulnerability and the “connection – disconnection” dilemma.  Story tellers are usually people who are quite creative, isn’t it?

Video based teaching and flipped classroom – in MOOC and blended learning


Which is more important?  Content knowledge or creativity.

In this post,

Zhao asserts that “the successful transmission of prescribed content contributes little to economies that require creative and entrepreneurial individual talents and in fact can damage the creative and entrepreneurial spirit” and that “high test scores of a nation can come at the cost of entrepreneurial and creative capacity”.

I then reflected upon what all those educational videos mean to me, as an educator, in my learning.  Do I want to learn about the content of the video, or do I want to learn about how to create such video in a creative way?

I think that is what distinguishes between the pedagogy of instructivism and connectivism too – where absorbing the content knowledge is critical to learning under an instructivist approach, and creating new and emergent knowledge is critical to learning under a connectivist approach.

I would devote this post to video based teaching and flipped classroom, and how it would impact on the learning in MOOCs (both x and cMOOCs) and blended learning.

I think this is the fundamental pedagogy that relates to the use of videos and flipped classroom in both blended learning, and distance or online learning, such as those in Khan Academy and some of the xMOOCs.  These are discussed in pro and con of flipped classroom and The flipped classroom: what are the pros and cons.

I just came across this video and found some interesting points:

First, how would you ensure that learning is occurring with videos watching, and even responding to the questions posted?

I must admit that I like watching videos, but seldom ended without questioning what I have learnt.  If I found the video interesting and worthy of reflection, I would ask a few critical questions.  These included: what sort of new or emerging knowledge did I get out of watching this video? What concepts are relevant to our environment, and what are relevant to my own experiences?

I didn’t get much from some of the more elementary videos as I reckon they are purely for elementary school children, and I would not therefore be able to make a fair judgment on those videos.  So, it is not that those videos are not educational, only that I would not be able to sense the same value as those who actually use the video for educational purpose.

I have made the assumptions that these videos are useful for certain audiences but not me, and that I would use such criteria in judgment on numerous educational/entertainment videos.

This is why I found it interesting when people refer back to video based teaching as the “holy grail” that would help in flipped classroom.  I reckon video based teaching has been used in a classroom environment since I started teaching in the mid 80s.  What teachers would do was to show an educational video, followed by discussion and activities that critique on the issues raised in the video.  There aren’t much differences from that of the flipped classroom, except that mass lectures were seldom used as in the universities.  Instead, small class discussions with activities and simulated role plays are the norms rather than the exceptions in many classes we are conducting.  Isn’t it a surprise that we seemed to have just discovered the magic of discussions and debates in the classroom (or digital classroom), where discourse was held in the discussion boards or LMS.

What I think is essential for student learning is not just the mere showing of teaching on the writing pad, or the interactive white boards, or those shown in videos like Khan Academy (I mean they are still valuable, though they are just the starting point of in-depth learning).  What is essential is the initiation of learning based on the three dimensions: social, cognitive and teaching, where the student needs to be actively engaging in, and to make a sensible choice in balancing the three, in MOOCs and blended learning.

Here Eric mentions about the significance of learning whilst in the classroom environment, and suggests that lecturing alone may not be that effective in learning, despite its seemingly effectiveness in teaching a massive population.

Have I been lecturing throughout the years?  May be sometimes, but for most of the time, I preferred not to, though videos postings are too tempting as an alternative to lecturing.


Finally, I still think that flipping the learning, rather than the flipped classroom would make a BIG difference to learning, as shared here.

For me, a combination of education and learning may be a better alternative solution, rather than flipping the pendulum from one end (teaching only, without any learning involvement or engagement) to another end (learning only without any support initially or understanding learning needs).  Everyone learns differently, and there is no way of trying to fit everyone’s feet with the standardized shoes, though we could still continue to mass produce the shoes with the various sizes.

If we want our students to be the fountain of knowledge, we must let go and let them shine, so they would become the master of learning, and take ownership and authorship of their learning journey, as I have shared in my previous posts on self-directed learning and learning with autonomy.

What about your views on these video-based teaching and flipped classroom?

Just noted this post on flipped classroom by Audrey.

#CFHE12 #Oped12 A reflection on MOOCs: The winner of the year 2012-MOOC

Tony Bates has written a nice post on MOOC and I would like to respond here:

As Tony has pointed out, 2012 was certainly the year of the MOOC.

I have read Audrey Watters provides a comprehensive overview of what happened with MOOCs many times, and still found something interesting to reflect on.  MOOCs are just emerging phenomena that comes from social media revolution, isn’t it?

MOOC images 2012

What I found most interesting is: “MOOCs – what appears to me to be highly irrational organizational behaviour, more akin to lemmings than pillars of higher learning.”

To me, I think MOOCs are behaving in a highly rational organizational manner.  It has become part of our life, to some extent, as I have explained in my previous posts.

For more reasons about why MOOC is rational, see below.

“So why have MOOCs in particular got so much press?” he asks. I think there are five reasons for these “hypes”:

1. Social media is a place where memes and ideas travel fast, and re-cycle fast.   So any news about higher education would soon be twisted to make it fashionable.  MOOC soon became headlines of nearly every journals (even the Times magazine) and the Higher Education media sites as journalists soon churn these topics out.  Who don’t want to grab with the latest news on education?  Education based on MOOCs is revolutionalising higher education.  Isn’t it the best news to be spread to the world?

2. MOOC does make an impact on everything, especially Higher Education and Institution.  As reported, it is disruptive, it is punctuating, and it is even devastating for some of the institutions, and professors and educators (the adjuncts especially), as they would likely be the hardest on the hit.  Declining enrollment, lack of funding, and decrease in completion rates are just some of the challenges that many institutions are facing.  MOOCs do find a way to reverse these challenges to some extent, as institutions would soon find that they have suddenly got a lot of enrollment, an offer of funding (from the philanthropy, and other venture capitalists), and may be an overall increase in completion rates (due to the other MOOC participants graduating together with their mainstream students).  Aren’t these all good news to the world?

3. MOOCs have been promoted as one of the panaceas to the often “criticized broken education”.  Though there were some issues and challenges with Higher Education, like rising tuition fees that many university students could hardly or no longer afford, a degree is still what makes university education so attractive.  So, MOOCs seem like a para-professional course associated with a degree.  When anyone could enroll in MOOCs without even needing to pay a dollar, why not?

4. With MOOCs, any one who have access to computer, technology and internet could get some forms of recognition and “certificate”.  This sounds both revolutionary and unconventional.  Besides, participants of MOOCs could be in reach to the best professors of the elite universities of the world, like MIT, Stanford, and Harvard, and many other providers like Coursera, Udacity, etc.  This is unprecedented and so that also explains why many participants were awed when they took the courses from last year to this year.  Many participants have been so thankful for these wonderful courses that they posted videos, blog posts to praise and thank their professors, institutions for their generosity.  Do these help in promoting the courses? For sure!

5. MOOCs have their origins of traditional higher education, and so is the basic philosophy and pedagogy.  The flipped classroom that has been introduced into the latest paradigm has shifted many educators’ attention in the adoption of short video lectures, use of LMS and discussion boards or forums, and to some extent, the use of online quizzes and examinations in open spaces.  These all sounded revolutionary as compared to the traditional mass lecture of 1 to 2 hours with all teachers’ talk.  News reporters, bloggers and educators and researchers have all turned their attention to this latest “trend” and give them an applause, as they seem to have proven to have greatly enhanced the interaction and engagement of students in class, as revealed in many posts and reports.

May I response to Tony” themes?  My comments in blue.

I believe there are several themes that have led to MOOC hysteria in 2012:

  • Tony says: they appear to be free. 
  • My response: MOOCs are expensive, but then the marginal costs for adding participants are near to zero, as most of the teaching are already factored in the costing, and so it doesn’t change if there are thousand or tens or hundreds of thousands in doing the course.  The only costs which may have increased are those administrative costs, where large database are needed to keep in storing the assessment and in distributing the certificates.  These are however also absorbed by the mainstream course where the institutions are running.  In other words, the costs are distributed between the institutions and the professors, and that much of the resource development costs are already catered for when professors prepared for the MOOCs.  What may be missing here are the intangible costs: the cost of goodwill, the cost of quality, and the cost of lost business (education) if MOOCs are not taken up.
  • Tony says: it’s also a numbers game: input matters more than output. The focus of the media has been on the massive numbers enrolling. However, there has been little focus on what students are actually learning. 
  • My response: I do agree with Tony on some of the numbers – poor completion rates. I would however think that there are actual learning achieved, based on the results as posted by MOOCs.  It may be a matter of interpretation, when we could only induce learning based on the number of students who have achieved excellence in their examination (machine graded) and peer-assessment.  This is indeed one of the emergent areas that required more research be done – on the quality and value of online assessment in MOOCs.
  • Tony says: technology triumphs over teaching
  • My response: I see this differently, in that both technology and teaching goes hand in hand, when we immerse ourselves in social media, and in particular MOOCs.  This is based on Connectivism and Actor Network Theory, in that learning is embedded in teaching, when the professors are connected to the students, and that the professors need to be part of the learning process, in order to adequately respond to the learners’ learning needs. One could argue that in xMOOCs, due to the instructivism adopted, there is little feedback from the learners back to the professors.  That to me is totally incorrect, as I could see that many professors are already picking up the cues and feedback from the MOOC participants. 
  • Tony says: it’s all about the elite institutions. The media love to focus on the ivy league universities to the almost total neglect of the rest of the system (the cult of the superstar). Here is an appalling irony. The top tier research universities have by and large ignored online learning for the last 15 years.
  • My response: I won’t judge on the elite institutions and the professors based on the xMOOCs.  I don’t think it is possible to judge whether the institutions are making a right or wrong move, as all education institutions are trying to help in educating the world, though they have to stay in business, and  make a reasonable return to their investments in order to  make education happen.  We could only have good or bad MOOC, or something midway between – a mediocre MOOC.  However, I think institutions and their leaders are all intelligent in ensuring that their MOOCs move is aligned with their vision and mission, and so their marketing and promotion campaign would surely be making sure that MOOCs would make it a success.  There is simply no return by now. 
  • Tony says: don’t forget the politics: 
  • My response: there are always two sides of the coin – the yin and yang, and politics is just the same.  The one who stays in power would determine the future of education, whether it is MOOC or not.  As I have posted in my previous post, the response may be based on “who moved my cheese

As Tony said, I believe that there is a future for MOOCs, as I have posted in the past posts.

What would come next?

As I speculate here,  there will be more providers joining the competition & global collaboration – with MOOC supply chains versus MOOC chains. The next ring could be Canada, Australia, Europe and Southeast Asia – like China, Hong Kong etc.  This is like a chain reaction, with multiplier effect.  I think it will surely happen, just a matter of time, when the first fruits are harvested, and there is no reason why it would stop.  Change is inevitable.  Wait and see.

Stay tuned with my coming post – on my prediction of 2013, if you like.   It would be MOOCkey! The black swan.