What is most important when conversing online?

Jenny Mackness provides an excellent review on what she has learnt from the course OldGlobeMOOC “Update-on-oldglobemooc-and-peer-assessment.”

I would like to share some of her points and responses to my questions here.

She says:

The OldGlobeMOOC is a great experience in terms of the diversity of participants. Unfortunately the younger participants, in their teens, who signed up, seem to have fallen out of the discussion forums. This does not mean that they are no longer participating through observation and reading – it’s difficult to know. But I have wondered how an 11 year old might review the assignment of an academic Professor, or how an academic Professor might respond to a learner with special needs, or a very young participant, or someone whose first language is not English, and so on. The assignment submission is anonymous. Do these differences have implications for the equity of the peer review process?

I ask:

Thanks Jenny for your insightful responses. It is interesting to have peer assessment on such topics. I am wondering if the peer assessment by peers are assessing based on whether the stories are resonating to their personal perceptions. Assessment may also relate to the degree of relatedness to ageing. After reading through those peer reviews, I have a few questions in mind. 1. Since the experience relates to the writer’s story and opinions, would the assessment relate more on how the story and opinions on ageing (emotional response) or the story structure and written expression (clarity and coherence)? 2. How to ensure a fair assessment under such blind assessment arrangement? As you mentioned, it may likely that a novice (11 old teenager) assessing an academic professor, or a veteran or geek. 3. How would one appeal to any “inappropriate assessment or review”? Are there any appeal mechanism or procedures in place? Should there be one, as you mentioned that you have been penalized though you have submitted all five reviews on time. I ask these for the sake of discourse, not as a challenge to the authority, or a “complaint”. I think it is important to ensure any assessment be viewed as open, transparent, and are based on the honest feedback, rather than hasty response. Though there might be good reasons why some people just give others a “2″, I just wonder if this would be “acceptable” in a peer assessment system. What do you think would be a better way to ensure a fairer assessment with xMOOC? John

Jenny elaborates:

Hi John – thanks for all these questions. I don’t think OldGlobe is typical of xMOOCs. In fact Sarah Kagan has called it a cMOOC and it does have a lot of the characteristics of a cMOOC – it is being run mostly on the Coursera platform, but there is also a Facebook group and Twitter, but I’m not aware of other bloggers. It is open in the sense that access is open, the assessment is open and there is very little course content, e.g. there are weekly videos, but no readings, and discussion can follow any path the participants would like. The course has great diversity of participation and discussion, and participants do have a lot of autonomy if they are not bothered about assessment. So a lot more like a cMOOC than an xMOOC. And judging from comments in the forums, the assessment in OldGlobe has been different.

The nature of the assessment questions does lead to storytelling and for me this is a strength because it means that anyone from any background can engage with the assessment – but as I have described it does lead to some difficulties with the peer review system. I think it’s possible for reviewers to take a number of approaches to the peer assessment – but this is how peer reviewers are asked to respond:

Please type your 100-250 word peer assessment below.

What do you think about this participant’s portfolio item choice to answer this question of the week?
How does this participant’s perspective differ from your point of view?
How is your point of view similar?

So in OldGlobe the criteria for peer assessment are quite loose and non-academic. So I don’t think it’s possible to think in terms of fairness, as we normally understand it in academic assessment, but rather in terms of empathy, kindness and respect. Reviewers are told:

An assignment only receives a zero if it is incomplete or did not follow the guidelines set for this week. Don’t be afraid to be generous!

And yes it is possible to appeal, by putting a question in the Help Forum – but participants have to have a genuine cause for appeal. It’s no good saying ‘I didn’t have time to do the peer reviews this week’ – hence the peer review I got which said

peer 2 → I’m headed for an airplane so don’t have time to review, and I won’t be back until after evaluation time ends so I’m just giving everyone a 2.

Based on what Jenny says above, the course does have a lot of characteristics of a cMOOC.  Also the nature of assessment questions does lead to story telling.  Indeed, one of the most attractive nature of online conversation is story telling and sharing, where bloggers share their anecdotes or learning scenarios, and reflect on those experiences that they have learnt.

The assessment criteria of this MOOC thus focuses on the reflection of similarities and differences in views and perceptions, and possibility the resonance or dissonance that one experiences in life upon reading the writings, especially when the author and reader relates to their perception or feelings of old age.  This could also be a powerful lesson for any one to imagine what it means to undergo the various stages of old age, physically, mentally and spiritually.

This sounds quite an interesting way to assessment for the participants too, as it could lead both the learner and the reviewer (who could also be a blogger or another learner) to assess based on his/her affections (feelings, emotions) towards what the learner think about old age, and thus provide a point of view which is distinct from the learner.

Would this assessment be designed to measure certain attitudes, and to a certain degree the emotional awareness, control and responses, and empathy- which are related to emotional and social intelligence?  See my posts here, here, and here.  This seems not to be explicit in the assessment, though I haven’t enrolled into the course, and thus not be aware of how the assessment is related to emotional intelligence.

Another dimension that I reckon such assessment would lead to is clarity and brevity in expressing one’s thoughts in writing (as there is a 250 words limit).  It seems that this is based on writing in English, and that grammar, use and choice of words, and structure of the writing would need to be taken into consideration in the assessment.  Would this be more about assessment on written English, based on the context and content?  How would the length of writing (i.e. 100 -250 words) affect the overall “quality” of the writing?  Are there any penalty if the writing exceeds the limit?  May be not, with such form of assessment.

Finally I could sense that such assessment may help the author and the reviewer to understand and apply the following basic principles in blogging and online conversation, based on writings:

1. Be concise and clear in writing

2. Be empathetic – understand others’ points of view, and empathize

3. Be kind, generous and sincere in comments and feedback – don’t patronize

4. Be open to others’ views and comments, even if we don’t agree with our readers’ points of views

5.  Be patient and listen to the reader’s comments and feedback

6. Be thankful to our commentators and readers

7. Be ourselves – in stating our views

8. Be supportive to each others’ learning, through such sharing of views and experiences

9. Be tolerant even if others are harsh on us, though at times, we need to be assertive

10. Be responsive to others, and be responsible for our own work

Does it also mean that sometimes it is the MacGuffin (as suggested by Stephen Downes) that sets off a good online conversation?  It is the emotional attenuation that would help people relate to our story, so they could also share their stories with us.  

What else have I missed?

Again, I think Jenny has been an master (and exemplary) blogger who role models how to write comprehensive blog posts and how to respond to comments in blogging and assessment.

You would find lots of master pieces in her blog posts.  I would encourage you to read her blog posts, where you would surely find lots of words of wisdom.

Thanks Jenny for her wonderful insights.


An important question in my life: How do I see positive psychology?

Positive psychology.  Sounds good. Feels good. Have a happy life.  Happiness is contagious.

What do I feel about psychology?  I like learning psychology since I was young.  So, I kept reading self-help books on psychology, watching videos, especially on emotional intelligence, and some papers on psychology.

Have a good habit, think and reflect, and improve one’s way of life through understanding positive psychology, and the thoughts and minds of myself and others.  Would you become happier?

Since psychology is a science, it requires an experimental approach to validate its hypothesis and confirmation of findings.

“But” psychology is about experiments.    And I have reservation of using human in experiments, no matter how much the findings would contribute to the knowledge in the world, I just don’t know if the emotions and feelings of people should be studied by psychologists without our consent.

Should all subjects under experimental observation be aware that they are under a psychological experiment?  Why?

What am I trying to share?  Being positive and happy could be proven to be of psychological benefits to ourselves and to others.  I just don’t think it is “right” to use human as experimental object to prove the theory, especially when these people are totally unaware of themselves being studied in the experiments.

Would this be applied to the study of people’s behavior in education too?  I know we are dealing with Learning Analytics and psychology, and the changing learning behavior under a “global” experiment.  I don’t know what it means to me when it comes to the validation of certain education theory.  May be we could assume that every one of us is consenting to be used as experimental objects, in order to learn more about learning.

Does it also relate to our positive psychology?

What do you think?

Cognitive Strategies and Affective dimensions in MOOCs

When I refer to the cognitive strategies and affective dimensions in MOOCs, I would like to relate to the reasons versus emotions in the discourse.

How would reasoning and emotions play a role in MOOCs?

In this paper relating to MOOCs.

“The train has left the station.
We do not know how far and how long it will run and where it will go. We do not even know if it has brakes”.

Photo credit: from Tony Bates post.

MOOC 8028605773_857fcd5548

How to design and not to design a MOOC? hinted the issues, challenges arising out of the recent xMOOCs, leading to its suspension.  There seems to be a lot of love/hate relationships and struggles going on with the MOOC participants.  Do these stem from the design of MOOCs or the perceptions and expectations of participants of MOOCs – on their reasoning and emotions towards learning in MOOCs?

There are many assumptions we have made in the design and delivery of MOOCs, where I once posted here and here.

In formal educational institutions, there are regulations (on teaching, assessment & support) which must be complied with for accreditation and management controls purposes. This may not easily be exercised in open networks where people won’t necessarily comply with, despite consent to join and participate, or being assessed in the course.

The love/hate (individual versus groups versus networks), personal and group autonomy, power exertion and tensions (who make the decisions, who control the group, who lead and who follow etc) emerge in MOOCs. The conflicts arising from engagement with facilitators/agents/peers in groups or community are not easily resolved, especially if people disagree with goals and outcomes set forth by others.

There are also many communication problems, as people may not understand each others, via such online postings only (i.e. hard to know about others’ expressions, due to cultural differences in the tone of voice, lack of body language etc.) Besides, the instructors are accountable and responsible for the outcomes, which seem to be a huge challenge for them to “teach” when confronted with huge amount of feedback, with negative ones in particular.

It seems that the auto-grading and machine learning MOOCs have little or not much problems mainly because there are no ways for such feedback be processed or posted, as those would be easily “interpreted” as unkind, not courteous and trolling behavior, if there aren’t any constructive solutions suggested. How could xMOOCs thrive in public educational institutions? What approaches should be adopted? How to resolve those conflicts of power and disagreements?