Monday, November 19, 2012

Educator Information vs. Student Privacy: eBooks

Most educators have been becoming aware of student privacy issues in terms of information that students themselves choose to give out. One example of this is over-sharing on Facebook. However, as technology evolves, this issue is poised to become a potential case of educators invading students’ privacy outside of traditional classroom space. No, I’m not talking about the infamous cases of school-provided laptops spying on kids in their bedrooms. I’m talking about eBooks. Electronic textbooks, in fact.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on a new electronic textbook service that will data mine students’ study habits. CourseSmart is spinning their invasive technology as a way for educators to see how engaged their students are with material. What it will do is spy on students as they use ebooks, and send back information to faculty on how much time the student spends reading the text, which parts they take notes on, etc.

Current credit-hour based definitions firmly put time spent on reading assignments in the category of out-of-class time. Indeed, this has always been true, because there was no way to track what students did (or did not) do with their book other than through their performance on assessments. Beyond simply the unsettling idea that this is re-defining the classroom to be a much larger, more invasive chunk of students’ lives, there are some good questions the education world should consider:

  • What are the implications for FERPA? All of the information in these reports will be going through CourseSmart, handing them a new type of student activity data that no other commerical group has been handed before. Beyond any legal implications are ethical implications. Should a school/college/university be in effect ordering students to give away even more information about their personal habits to commercial entities? Is there an obligation to educate students about the possible negative ramifications of this type of technology?
  • Could good students be penalized by bad instructors for not fitting the average mold? Anyone who has ever been a student should be able to envision this hypothetical scenario: If you only spent 5 minutes glancing over this week’s reading, because you’re already quite familiar with that material, you could lose points on the “engagement score” that is tabulated by the CourseSmart software.
  • Likewise, what if you opt for the paper version of the text? If students are not forced to use ebooks, then the supposed usefulness of this tool completely unravels. If they are forced to use ebooks, then another set of questions entirely come to the fore.
  • If the device your ebook is on has a GPS chip, will your professor (or just the publisher) know where you shop/eat/etc.? When CourseSmart sells this information to marketers of soda-pop, snacks, or clothing, students could become a captive cash-cow, not because they have chosen to “like” a brand on Facebook, but because their school has required them to buy this technology.

These are debates that need to happen in the world of education.  Tech Dirt has some other good thoughts on possible implications of this new use of technology. What are your thoughts?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Confessions of a MOOC Dilettante

I am one who loves to learn - but I lack discipline.  Not a good combination.  It's not that I am lazy, I am one of the busiest people I know. The problem is, I just can't help jumping into MOOC's and trying to learn something new.  I go from MOOC to MOOC without finishing the course completely.  I know it is terrible.  My relationship to MOOC's is like a kid in a candy store, I just can't get enough.

While MOOC's haven't broken into the cranberry market yet, we hear a lot about MOOC's and 'Disruptive Innovation', ' Disruptive Education' or 'Disruptive anything' for that matter.  While there is a lot of controversy over MOOC's and 'Disruptive Education' all of us are waiting for part two in regards to MOOC's and higher education.

Attack of the MOOC's - Part Deux

With MOOC's enrolling absurd amounts of people, what kind of feedback does the instructor really have the time to give to the average learner? In my experience with online education (in the Higher Ed. arena and the private market) it is very difficult to give meaningful feedback no matter how automated it is.  Indeed, according to Laura Pappano of the NY Times:

"Because anyone with an Internet connection can enroll, faculty can’t possibly respond to students individually. So the course design — how material is presented and the interactivity — counts for a lot. As do fellow students. Classmates may lean on one another in study groups organized in their towns, in online forums or, the prickly part, for grading work"
Attack of the MOOC's
The dependency of student to student interaction versus instructor to student is absolutely necessary for MOOC's to work - as long as they have such high enrollment.  But does this stifle or promote learning?  If there is no confirmation of being on the right track from the professor or some higher authority, how do we know?  This may not be a big deal to current MOOC players like myself who have their terminal degrees.  But it should  be critical for the intended audience (those in 3rd world countries) who may not have their terminal degrees.

While I believe that swarm or collective intelligence is fascinating and surprisingly correct most the time, I still want validation from an instructor.

It's Still about the Sage on the Stage

Is the "Sage on the Stage" model really over?  Even American Public Media has a few episodes revealing that lectures really aren't that effective ( see Don't Lecture Me).  While I agree in many aspects with the 'Don't Lecture Me' series, I believe that one of the big draws to MOOC education is the lecturer who does a stellar presentation.  A good lecture improves a MOOC's desirability and likewise, it could also be part of its downfall.

Case in point: Coursera Vs. Yale.  Through my MOOC jumping experience, I was able to get a taste of some of the instructors and the interfaces used in these online courses.  I like the technology that Udacity, Coursera, and edX have.  They are intuitive and I love the interactive video + self check quizzes that Udacity employs.  But I have to take my hat off to Yale's econ 159: Game Theory course with Ben Polack. I just couldn't stop watching. When it comes down to it, the 'Sage on the Stage' still holds a lot of weight with me and I think that it will be a major factor for success in the MOOC genre.

That being said, has technology really changed the popular one to many teacher to pupil relationship?  I don't think so.  Jump into any MOOC and you still see a lecture.  Oh yes, there is the added forum and chat-rooms etc. - that is true and is what differentiates a MOOC course from your typical correspondence course.  But the 'Sage on the Stage' isn't going away.