If online students aren’t engaged, what would you do as an educator?

This post on If online students aren’t engaged, blame their teachers sounds pretty strong: in blaming the teachers.

I think there is a fundamental assumption here, that the blog author Alexandra associates the causal relationship between engagement and education, and then learning.

Do online students need to be engaged in order to learn?  Yes, if learning is defined in “engagement” terms.  It depends on what sort of engagement that we want the learners to be engaged in.  If I were to learn how to critique on a blog post based on arguments and evidences, then I would likely conduct research, curate related blog posts or artifacts, and reflect on my own experiences, in order to comment and evaluate the post.  So, would I need  teachers in guiding me through such critique?  May be, if I don’t have the skills.  Assuming that I have the necessary skills, I don’t see why I wouldn’t be engaged in this reflective learning through blogging.  Do I need teachers’ intervention?  Again, this is not always needed, if I am well motivated. When it comes to posting my post on the social media platforms, I could choose my own blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google + etc.  This has no direct relationships with the teachers too, though the teacher (professor) could suggest that my blog to be posted on certain platform or LMS.

This illustrates that online students are engaged based on a number of factors, like motivation, skills and literacies possessed, and the appropriate learning environment.

If the professors are engaging with the students mainly through online video postings, like the Khan Academy, or many other videos offered by institutions or providers, again this depends on what the students are looking for, and whether they would like to engage in such video watching activities.  For me, Khan videos are too “elementary” and as I shared in my previous posts, I wouldn’t be able to make a fair judgment, not because it is too “good” or having a lot of views, but that I don’t need them in my learning at all.  So, am I engaged in those sorts of learning?  I watch lots of video lectures, without any professor’s guidance, or direction.  But I also ask lots of questions, and reflect on many videos, based on my critical self reflective questioning, and conversation with others.  If I didn’t learn much out of the video lectures, I don’t blame any others, including the teachers, or professors,  or the education system, and not myself.  I ask questions on: “If I were to re-design my learning, what would I do?” instead.

So, my question is: If online students aren’t engaged, should we blame the teachers?  Why? What is critical here is that the teachers could never fully understand the needs and expectations of the students, especially in an online environment.  What the teachers could have done instead is to explore and use different ways to help and support the students.  If students still aren’t engaged in online learning, perhaps, online learning could be done using other means, as I have shared in my reflection above.

So, ask the learners how they would like to learn, and what, when, where, who they would like to learn with.  Remember that learning is both a thinking and action process, based on reflection, problem solving and decision making.  If we don’t help our colleagues and learners to think more deeply in improving and innovating their learning and teaching practices, we may end up with a blaming game, that would lead us to desperation, and a lose-lose situation.

If we reflect on what is happening in MOOCs (xMOOCs), do we see praises and critiques on both sides, with “blames” and strong criticisms, followed by defenses and strong views – that we are right, you are not that “right” here and there, with or without much evidences sort of conversation or discourse.  That may be the type of discourse that we are looking for in Higher Education, in collective inquiry and a philosophical debate.

I do think it is interesting to look into both sides of the coin, on why some people are engaged, and so many people are totally dis-engaged for all sorts of reasons (as in xMOOCs), and then re-think about what it means by the pedagogy employed (Mastery Learning, flipped classroom, and discussion boards or forums based on LMS).  In theory these pedagogy SHOULD work best in xMOOCs.  In practice, we need to reflect upon what is going right, and what could be done better.

Finally, it seems that we are still relying much on lecturing as a principal way of conveying and transmitting information.  If online students aren’t engaged, who should we blame?  I don’t think any one would blame the whole education system, as that means you have to change the whole education system.

Consider the following:

1. Adopt creative classroom, and creative learning where learners and educators could co-learn and thus co-evolve in the online learning ecology.

2. Adopt a diversified pedagogy, like Constructivism, Social Constructivism and Connectivism, and Digital Pedagogy or Netagogy as shared in my previous posts, and use problem and project based learning to engage the learners.

3. Create a win-win learning environment, by encouraging colleagues and learners to immerse in learning networks, community or network of practice.

4. Encourage and support professors, educators and learners to create PLE/PLN and eportfolios as evidences of education and learning.  Role model and demonstrate how one could create such a learning practice as an educator and empower the learners to practice and learn pro-actively in an open learning environment.

5. Motivate others by providing adequate incentives and positive reinforcements, through feedback and rewards.  I understand that this may relate heavily on a behavioral approach.  But is it true that it always works, especially with our colleagues and learners?

We are all learning together, locally and globally in this social world of education.  Each of us is a change agent, a leader of learning and education.  It’s just a matter of providing peer support and leadership that we could move education and learning forward, in this 21st century.

Create values: help people and society to create their own.

Just watching this video.

The message is: Quit fast, quit often; create value; empathize, be humble.

Postscript: Interesting and useful advice.  Good to learn with an open mind, and stay as a learner for the rest of our life.  That’s similar to what Stephen Jobs mentioned in a graduation speech: Stay hungry, stay foolish.  In Chinese, there is a motto, where there are three persons walking together with us, there must be a teacher for us.

Be a good listener, and stay humble in learning.

Jenny says in her post how does a mooc demonstrate its value?

MOOCs: Where is the income generated to run one?
It has never been the intention of MOOCs (at least the original connectivist MOOCs) to generate income. Having said that, some MOOCs charge for accreditation. Oxford Brookes intends to do that next year. We’ll have to see if it works. Other MOOCs get sponsorship. See for example the forthcoming FHE12 MOOC

MOOCs: How do you run a MOOC and generate enough revenue to stay independent?
This is an important question as of course funding and sponsorship brings with it constraints, which might affect the pedagogical aims of the MOOC. There has been talk recently on the web about the business model for MOOCs. My view is:

MOOCs were never intended – originally – to generate income. They had altruistic and experimental aims – but of course, we all have to make a living, so MOOCs could never be your only business. I think we need to think in terms of spin-offs of MOOCs and possibly trade-offs. I have written a blog post about my initial thoughts following FSLT12 here –http://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/the-business-model-for-moocs/

I share the value of MOOC here:

In reflection, I think Noam’s ideas of enlightenment are charting out a course where people would pursue their interests and passion, without fear of retribution.  My view is that if people are really passionate about education and learning, then they would go through the gateway where they could find enlightenment, rather than looking for a mediocre, conforming pathway, though such pathway may be easier for people to secure success.

I tend to associate such passion of enlightenment with those taking up the challenge of engaging in learning, such as those participating in MOOC, or those who are engaged in various learning networks or platforms, in its various forms, from active participants to lurkers.   I think that is how people could identify themselves in their own learning pathways, making meaning out of their interaction with the entities, artifacts or people in the networks or communities (as Stephen has mentioned here, that he prefers entities to people in networks), and not being subject to the conformance from any others.  There are certain constraints that may be inherent in the networks, due to “group and peer” pressure to submit or forward ideas, or to comply with powers which would lessen personal autonomy to learning.

Here, the purpose of education is to engage with the world, and to prepare ourselves (as learners) to be tenacious and resourceful, imaginative and logical, self disciplined and self-aware, collaborative and inquisitive.  And one of the most important purposes of education is learning how to learn.  Learn globally and act locally, and be connected to the international communities.


Wait a minute! Another video lecture waiting for you to watch, followed by the test!

In this post on industrial-age-education by John Baker:

Life in the industrial economy was typically viewed as a series of discrete segments: school, work and retirement. But this thinking is no longer viable as we have entered the era of lifelong learning. Facts taught in school today can be obsolete within a few years. Employees must constantly reinvent their skill sets in order to stay employable. Employers recognize they need to be increasingly self-sufficient in helping their employees keep their skill sets up-to-date.

When the system compels K-12 teachers to pour facts into the heads of students and focus on memorization and understanding to ensure they pass a specific test, we are doing a disservice to students. Simply asking kids to read some text, memorize it and then regurgitate it on exams achieves little. I’ve seen it. We’ve all seen teachers assign texts and say, ‘There will be a test to follow.”

I was appalled at the over-relying of “teaching by professors” nowadays using video lectures, followed by assignments, examinations to test the competency of students.  It seems that we are only focusing on the content, by asking the students to remember the concepts and principles, so the students could regurgitate the right answers, through short answer questions, or multiple choice questions.

I have been doubting the use of multiple choice tests as a way to measure learning for decades.

In this post the-real-problem-with-multiple-choice-tests:

In the 21st century, networks are a kind of collective wisdom — or at least they can be. How you connect with others automatically informs how you’ll connect with their ideas. If digital interdependence doesn’t completely change both sociology and education over the next 25 years, we might need to go back and see what happened.

So let us look at multiple-choice questions in this light. More than anything else, when a multiple-choice question is given to a student in hopes of measuring how well he or she understands something, it manufactures the illusion of right and wrong, a binary condition that ignores the endlessly fluid nature of information.

Even when I was studying in the 80s, 3 units out of 4 that I did were all learning projects/individual/groups assignments even at a Diploma level (Diploma in Industrial Management – after my undergraduate and Cert studies).  I did research through “networked learning”, similar to the model of “Connectivism” and artifacts exploration, though internet wasn’t available. Lecturers were guides on the side, and there were NO LECTURES for those units.  Only mentoring was offered, and that took the form of a few meetings with the lecturer, discussing about progress of work.

So, at Masters and PhD levels, would it be overly “spoon feeding” or transmission of information with video lectures?  Should post-graduate courses be based more on a learner-centered approach where learners work on projects and problems, rather than going through basic principles in mass lectures.  Though I still attended mass lectures in my post-graduate studies (PGD, Masters), but it doesn’t mean that they are the best ways to learn, when there are so much technology, social media and COPs to support the learning.  I wonder if we are really going back with pedagogy when it comes to 21st century education!  May be, if that is what the educators and learners want, in one-size fitting all!

Are using mere video lectures doing students a good favor in their learning?  This is especially the case in xMOOCs?

Are using multiple choice, true and false sort of Mastery Learning tests helping learners at a graduate level to achieve 21st century skills and digital literacies?  To what extent is this methodology of assessing students adopted in MOOC (x MOOCs) in particular?  May be that is the only way to assess huge number of participants in MOOCs, with automated assessment and grading.  But is it really helping people to learn the contemporary digital literacies?

I may be making lots of assumptions – especially in making assumptions that MOOC students have already mastered the basic ICT skills and metacognition (learning how to learn) in MOOCs.  Video lectures would then be appropriate for these students to keep on viewing, reviewing and checking their basic understanding of concepts then.  Video lectures may also be a “convenience” for people who are too busy to read books, or to conduct research projects.  As shared here, some participants of MOOCs may also prefer to work through the course at their own pace, with personalized learning, and not to follow the instructivist/behavioral linear learning and fixed-schedule based approach as is typical in a structured formal education system.