I must admire George Siemens ad Stephen Downes for attempting the CCKo8 Connectivism and Connected Learning course in the Fall of 2008. The certainly bit off quite a bit trying to run an on-line course using many free software platforms and with 2200 users registered (although only about 30 paying students including yours truly). I have since created a online course, not the extent of CCK08, but I have seen my instructor hours go up by about 50% as I prepare presentations, deliver monitor discussion groups and mark more lessor valued assignments. (See my description of my POE 206 course for a comparison). My critique is largely based on the technical and administration. I actually found the content to be appropriate, stimulating, and thought provoking. I also went out and found extra things to read and since I subscribed to Stephen Downes OL Daily, I found myself reading other pertinent material not mentioned as required or optional reading in the Course Wiki. I do hope my comments below are taken in light of the fact that as a Canadian Military Historian by training and a former Army officer, I have a tendency to focus on the 5% that went wrong and not the 95% that went well :). I have an annoying tendency to strive for perfection.
George and Stephen set up a course that used Moodle for self contained discussions and posing of questions, a Wiki for the outline, A course daily newsletter, several blog platforms for students blogging, Elluminate and Ustream for live discussion, and tied the various tools together using Google alerts to notify of blog posts. I personally found the proliferation of platforms to be a nuisance from a technical and attention span perspective. However, it did prove the point of the how various networks operate and how different people communicate. Each platform addresses a particular user group and their preferences. I have been somewhat spoiled by being able to use Enterprise grade Learning Management Systems (Desire2Leanrn) and Intranet platforms (SharePoint 2007). Also, George did warn us we would not be able to follow all activities (I skipped Second Life).
On the technical side, I could not access the Wiki until my company permitted the University of Manitoba port for the site through as the U of Manitoba used an non-standard. I was never able to get the chat feature in UStream to work, thus I missed out on a lot of back channel discussion during the Friday meetings. UStream also failed 3 times and we had to revert to Elluminate. There was no easy way notify the students of this. I would suggest in the future that students are told to monitor Twitter an hour before the class and if the session is cancelled (it happened once or there are problems with a platform, that the students could switch to the alternate platform.) George told me that some students could not use Elluminate and I was the only one that could not use Ustream properly so there was a trade off. Unfortunately, my teaching philosophy is that there has to be 100% access on the part of the students otherwise you cannot use that technology (I run into this problem all the time with the military DWAN network not allowing the use of Active X components or the download of Microsoft Office products. Thus, I cannot link to You tube, CBC videos, and I must post all my files as PDFs.) Since George is now aware of these technical issues, perhaps they can be investigated, solutions found, and int he future students can be advised of what system requirements, settings, and network security permissions they may need. I also found the need to go in a subscribe to the weekly Moodle forums to be a nuisance. I think Moodle needs an option to allow a person to automatically subscribe to all forums as they are created. In my own LMS, all weekly forums are present before the first students ever comes in so this is not an issue. Perhaps George could create each weeks forum in advances. This would also cause the students to post their comments in the appropriate week pertain to the subject of their comment as opposed posting early.
As for attention span, the multitude of platforms made it difficult to track what was going on, especially blogs. As such, I found myself monitoring mostly e Moodle Discussion forum and using Google Alerts and Stephen and Georges noteworthy blog mentions to monitor blogs. I never did track any one else blog other than Lisa Lane because I find monitoring RSS feeds cumbersome (I am a power Email user). I am sure George and Stephen will have some obvious advice for me on that :) I did notice the George did have difficulty tracking when people had submitted assignments because they could appear in your personal blog, Moodle or on other platforms. George had to rely on tracking the paying students blogs, Google Alerts and watching for tell tale subject lines t tan assignment was posted. I think what needs to happen for assignments that are to be graded is that there needs to be a clear subject line like”CCK08 Assignment 1 Submission: then your catchy title”. This would make it clear to all. Another hint would be to require students to send an email to George or require them to make a posting in a Moodle Assignment Submission Forum and provide the link to the site. I myself have found this to be a problem in POE 206 so I developed clear file name conventions, and subject line headings so general postings did not cause me to lose sight of the gradable assignments.
The last item is the delay in being notified of my final grade. Unfortunately, U of Manitoba has to have all students grades in before they can release it to individuals. I paid for the course out of my pocket and my company is reimbursing me upon receipt of a passing grade. I was starting to miss the $395 and my company wanted to finalize its 2008 financials. When I questioned George about this in the first week of February, he said he was still waiting for some final assignments. So, U of Manitoba should change its policy on releasing grades upon individual completion instead of class completion. For example, RMC uses an LMS that allows me to enter grades as the course progresses. As soon as the final grade for a person comes in, I enter it, and then “release” the grade the student can see their final grade immediately. I do have students that arrange to submit late, but there is a formal administrative notification and tracking system for late submitters and one or 2 people do not hold up the rest of the class.
I have 2 other suggestions:
1. Dave Cormier did an interesting experiment with UStream one week in which he ran 3 videos segments at the same time (himself, George, and Stephen).I thin this should be explored some more as I would have found it interesting to see all 24-50 students streaming at the same time (Although my network administrator would have freaked out at the bandwidth consumed.) Is there a live web streaming aggregator platform that could do this for only modest bandwidth usage. Just think how useful that could be, kind of like watching CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, CBC, BBC etc all at once. This obviously has commercial applications for remote workers or even the extended family int he general public.
2. The Wiki Course Outline, although open for all to contribute to, was largely left untouched. Perhaps greater use could be made of this or perhaps a second wiki page to allow interesting student contributions to each subject in the course outline.
I would also suggest someone do a network study on this course as mentioned by several students in the Moodle. George admitted it would be hard to get permission from the university. I discovered some marketing monitoring software developed by Radian6 in Fredericton NB has the ability to go back 6 months and look at the internet historically to see who is talking about CCK08 and what they are linking to.
Despite 3 long paragraphs of what are largely “technical issues” and no philosophical or pedagogical issues, I think version 2.0 of the course will likely run a lot smoother technically, and require less time on the part of the facilitators. I enjoyed the course experience and hope to take more courses leading up to the new Certificate program at U of Manitoba in Certificate in Interdisciplinary Studies: Emerging Technologies for Learning (ETL)
Signing off of CKK08 (although I will keep my Google Alerts active.)