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Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community
The Next Generation of MOOCs

Unedited Audio Transcript

Thank you very much. It is a genuine pleasure to be able to speak to all of you and Iran and to share my thoughts about the next generation of Mooks today. So thank you very much for inviting me. It's a sincere pleasure to be here. I'm just going to share my slides if I can find the little command that allows me to do that, there we go.

Excellent. And now you should be seeing my slides with my cat Julia looking out on my backyard. This is a couple of days ago and this is what it looks like in Canada right now where I am sending my message from. So, I'm going to talk about the next generation of MOOCs and of course, milk stands for massive open online course.

And I'm sure you're all familiar with that term, massive. There may be as many as a hundred thousand people in a course, or is a few, is a few doesn't open. It means, it's open to anyone around the world on online means, of course, it's online. And, of course, me to has a starting point and an ending point.

You mentioned the original mook. This was what we call a seamook, is based on the idea of free access and open educational resources. So, there were no costs to people to participate in the move and we invited as many people as wanted to join around the world. And we got about 2200 people in our mook.

And the idea of setting it up as this distributed sort of network that you can see pictured here. Is that we were able to reach thousands of instructions. So there were no bottlenecks. There were no points where we had to do some sort of thing for each. One of the 2200 people, the C in cMOOC stands for connectivist and this is the idea that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections.

And therefore, that learning consists in the ability to construct, those networks and to move around those networks connectivism, instantiates and different forms in the human brain connectivism is the connection between neurons. Our knowledge that we have in our head, literally is the connections between individual neurons in a society.

Connectivism connection is the connection between people. And so a society can have knowledge by forming connections and allowing interactions between people. And so, that was the theory that we based our original mucon and that was the motivation for the design of that moop. The elements of the moaking here.

I borrow from a nice diagram by ice included, not just the presentation of the content but also the elements of interactions. So there was network empowerment, recombination analysis accreditation. The design of the network targeting toward people who were interested in a common topic, knowledge facilitation. I as an instructor in the mook, with not just presenting content was not just a coach or a guide but I was a participant in the mook sort of like an equal among equals perhaps with a little more knowledge.

And then of course the whole idea of feedback and evaluation we resonated together in this environment after we created the mook, a second form of Mook, the X Mook came about, it stands for the X in X-Mook stands for extended. And this is a much more traditional model of the Mook.

It looks like a traditional course, weak one week, two week, three where he presents, activities, instruction, and so on The Xmook was innovative in its own, right. And the people who developed the first X Mooks, people like Norvig and Throne, with their artificial intelligence Mook, in 2011, they used cloud content and video storage, so that they could expand the provision of resources to as many people as possible.

So they could use the same resource to teach 10 people or 150,000 people simply by balancing the load and then using automated technology like automated grading early books, however faced pedagogical challenges and the big pedagogical challenge was completion. There were several studies, including a famous study out of Penn State that showed that the number of people participating in a MOOC dropped dramatically.

And you can see from this diagram here, we start out with a hundred after weak one. We're down to 50 people, and after weak four, we're down to about 35 people and this is very typical, especially of xmooks less. So, of sea moves and there were studies done to try to figure out how to fix this, but put it in interventions in front of the mook.

Did not improve completion rates. So they tried to use plans, they tried to show the value of the move. They tried to introduce social accountability, these various mechanisms failed. You can't simply tell people or try to motivate them to finish. It really has to do with the design of the muc itself.

And and in my opinion, the interactivity, the participatory nature of the move, any house time went by other MOOCs exploring, various aspects of this. Continue to develop. We offered more sea mooks. The X-Mook people offered more X MOOCs and companies like Coursera and EdX were developed Jim. Grimm developed what he did not call a mook, but I can consider it once based on doing tasks.

That was the DS 106, or digital storytelling look and time went by and then we had the pandemic. And with the pandemic, there was the surge of interest and online learning and people began to catch up with the move. And to try to think about how to bring in this sense of community and sense of interaction that we see in the classroom into the online environment.

Well how do we do that? As it turns out over the two, two and a half years of the pandemic people providing moots began to learn more from the experience of people in distance education. I mean here, I think the people like Tony Bates. And Terry Anderson Diana Laurel are and many others who think about the design of learning as well as the design of books, or resources on line, One example.

And this one is I used by motion cache and Angie Agana in the Armenk website, draws from Tony Bates's, sections model, and here's the model, and it basically involves considering each of students ease of use cost teaching functions, interaction organization, network and security. And to provide a mook, you need to take into our account, each of these eight different factors.

And it could be argued. That one of the reasons there were issues with retention index moves is that they did not pay sufficient attention to these, especially the pedagogical function, the interaction and the networking. So we begin to see new models develop as the pandemic came along to enable what we might call this next generation of moves.

What happened first was the role of the move began to change a bit. It started originally as an open online course but it it expanded so we could see a mook as a replacement for a traditional course or we could see a move has a service that we just offer to the public and they can access it when and how they want.

And that very much characterizes my own moves or we could see it as a driver, perhaps, for example, as a way of encouraging people to continue their studies and perhaps enroll in a more traditional higher education. Course, or we might see it as an added value. Something that we have over and above existing traditional courses.

You know, sort of like a textbook sort of like a resource sort of like a community where people studying in a more familiar environment can go on online meet with each other and expand their experience of the subject. And the domain we also saw in the years leading to the pandemic.

The evolution of what are called open, educational practices. And and here people like Helen Betham and Alison Little John are important open educational practices is the next evolution of thinking about open educational resources and it's the idea that we move beyond simply providing free and open learning resources to people.

And we begin thinking about the sort of design and the sort of pedagogy that supports open education and there's a common tax on any that people have been using to talk about and consider open educational practices. And these include open assessment, open collaboration the open, educational resources themselves and open teaching.

And when you think about it, and this is something that George Simmons and I used to talk about as well. We can actually run down the line and think about all of the different practices and education as open practices in my own work working as a researcher, I work a lot with open science and open data and open work where people actually see the work that I give and the mistakes that I make in real time as I make them even opened thinking.

So people can see how I work through a problem. So, open educational practices. Now, begin to be applied to our thinking about massive open online courses. So what does that mean? Well, one example is collaborative online, document authoring and this kind of draws from the work that Jim groom did.

And it kind of draws from the technology that enables this kind of practice here in Canada. For example, we use Google docs, although there are other services. I think ether pad is a service that supports this where multiple people get together in a single document and they all write the document at the same time and we find that there are various stages to document authoring collaborative, document authoring and there are various roles a writer consultant to reviewer last summer.

I took part in a collaborative, authoring of a document about fair open data. That is data. That is findable accessible, interactive and reusable. So we all got together and created this document collectively. Another aspect is decentralized course, design with this, with the x-mooks, especially we had this idea of there.

Being one course that everybody would take but we find that different versions of the course are more appropriate to different departments. So traditionally the way we would do this is we would have math for engineers, for example, math, for physicians math for artists, even or math for business. And that's how we would do it.

The problem is now we have four separate courses for silos. Now we have the centralized courses like the x-mooks, which just create one math course for everybody. But one math course, doesn't really work for everybody. The needs of somebody in arts are very different from the needs of somebody in business.

So today, we're looking at decentralized course, design where all of these different versions of the math course are interlinked. So it's a decentralized course, but they're still interacting together. So math faculty and arts. Faculty and medical faculty can all talk to together within this context of the course designed for each of these individuals.

This sort of approach to course design is enabled by a technology that we call federation. What a federation is and I could do a whole talk on this, a federation is a principle in social networks. Where instead of having one single central service, like Twitter or Facebook or Google, you have distinct individual services that are connected together.

I sometimes call it the community of communities. So software that makes as possible is called master gun. Which is what I use in the technology behind it is called activity pub, and it's sort of like multiple instances of Twitter, but all communicating with each other. What's nice about federation is, you can use different technologies for different things that connects together with each other.

So, right now in the world, there is something called the Fediverse. So you can have mastered on instances or a different software called Friendica or a different softer, called new social. And in the world of education, we could sort of imagine this as, you know, one Muke service, a different MOOC service, a different mood service, you know, Corsair edX grasshopper, but all communicating with each other.

Using this communications technology in the broader sense, we call this web three and web three is something that's just beginning to develop. Now it's very interesting but it's also very early days. A lot of people represent web three is simply being you know the blockchain for web and it does use some blockchain technologies but it also brings together data and artificial intelligence to create this kind of federation that I've been talking about blockchain.

For example, is used to create persistent objects or persistent identity in a federation. So we're getting new distributed platforms and as Doug Belshaw, has these enable and art architecture of participation based on co-creating and sharing resources. So each of us has our own platform and our own community but we have an architecture where as we wish we're not required, but as we wish we can interact cooperate and share resources with other people.

Much like the worldwide conference system in here. We are, I am in Canada. You are in Iran and we have our different systems. We have our different communities but we're still able to share and interact with each other and it helps both of us grow and develop we wait call this and three I called it e-learning.

Three point. Oh in a mook. I did a few years ago and you can view that entire mook on line at EL30 dot muke dot CA and it talked about the various elements of web three technology that come together to build these federated communities. So what does that looks like?

It looks like an architecture for supporting open educational resources. It involves content. It involves community and networks. It in calls met it involves management and infrastructure even review. Moderation practices and pedagogies all these come together to create these new types of moves. What types of moves? Well, for example, the database or DBMuke, which is built around a cooperative database.

So instead of collaboratively authoring a document, we collaboratively author, a database or the live linked data mook or LD mood where we're still working with data. But now we're working with live data from around the world. A good example of this is a mook in medical, entomology from France, that traces using real-time data, the emergence of chicken gunia, which is a disease around the world.

It's a type of dengue fever. We also are able to bring in artificial intelligence to support these moves. There are many applications. Again that's a whole other talk about artificial intelligence in education, everything from diagnosing, learner progress, predicting outcomes, creating new content or evaluating essays text and other submissions.

And an example. That brings all of these together is a mook offered recently by future learn for earth, monitoring for climate science, and it brings together real time data from around the world and then applies artificial intelligence to it. And so students in that course, are working with these tools in order to do things like make climate predictions.

Finally, we have massive open online simulations or moves and that's where we create the mook in the multiverse. So you see some examples here? I've been experimenting recently, for example, with Mozilla hubs, which is a three-dimensional virtual environment where we can bring in all of these other elements of a mook.

The multiverse includes virtual reality, it includes augmented reality, and it combines it with the kind of web three technologies that I talked about to create persistent digital objects such as identifications or documents that we authored collaboratively. So that's my time that the presentation that I have. And I thank you very much for the opportunity to present to you today and I'd be happy to address any questions that you may have.


Q & A

Yeah, that's an excellent question. I will say, the basic design of the internet is a federation. We have individual computer networks in individual institutions. They are their own networks and yet they are still connected. So the internet itself is a federation. So what makes this different is that? Instead of connecting.

Well, in addition to connecting computer networks at the hardware and the transfer protocol levels were now doing this at the application level previously applications were centered on a single node, or a single server like Facebook, like Twitter. So, no matter where you are in the world, you're connecting to this single node in order to participate in this network.

Now, applications themselves are distributed across the multiple nodes. So, just as we have different hardware instances, now, we have different application instances. And then the second part is just like we have the transit protocols, like HTTP or FTP to connect the individual networks. Now, we have recalls to connect applications, This is been in evolving science.

People try to do it with things like web services, and representational state transfers. Now, we're looking at things like activity pub in order to connect these together Activity, pub is a worldwide web consortium protocol that they've put forward. And so, it's a way for services or applications to connect with each other to create this distributed application of multiple instances.

Does that answer your question?

That's right.

Exactly, that's exactly right.


Sure. And just before I answer this, I'll point out. There are also some questions in the chat. I see them. And and I'll respond to them in the chat after I finish talking with respect to the question that you just asked, this is important. And this is one of the things that I've tried to involve myself in over the years, the development of mooks in different languages and based in different communities, the French community will will know of the work that I did in actually hosting the mook in French on open educational resources or in French results.

Educative libera as well. It worked a lot with the Spanish speaking community. I've worked with the Arab League Alexa in helping with their program. And I've also, as you pointed out, worked with people in Iran, not directly obviously, but indirectly, to do what I could from here to support, Iranian like mooks. 


And the reason why this is important is that instead of a single culture defining and dominating the entire space of the internet, the way it does is in a centralized social network individual cultural moves in individual language allows each community around the world to add their own distinctive perspective, to the global conversation.

And it's my opinion based on, you know, the work that I've done in connectivism that it is better from a global perspective to have a diversity of voices. A diversity of language is in a diversity of cultures because this gives us different ways of looking at the same thing, different ways of talking about the same thing, different ways of seeing the world and it's by having these different ways of seeing the world that we can learn and that we can grow together.

So I very much support, the creation of, you know, Mooks and many languages from many cultures.


Well, I can do a few fairly quickly here, so we have one person saying blockchain can be used to share educational scientific tips in a transparent and non-menipilitable way that's an excellent point. And that's, you know, everybody talks about digital currencies when they talk about blockchain. And to me that's almost irrelevant.

What is important about blockchain technologies is precisely that, but what is presented in a blockchain? What is shared in a blockchain? Is not manipulable. Once it's there, it's there. And the message can't be changed. Is it past from person to person and that's really important. That's where you get the idea of persistence from in blockchain.

Another person Leila is saying, I seems that new Mooks is a kind of you learning a platform by you. I think University is what you meant. I'm hoping so because that's what I'm going to answer and I would say yes. And it's the sort of thing that is gradually developing in the world of traditional learning technology.

The learning management system, which was intended to present. A course, this is evolving into what we now. Call a learning experience platform and the difference between an LMS and a learning experience platform is the platform connects to other applications or other services. So the learning experience platform is sort of beginning, do its own kind of federation.

And over time the learning experience platform and the new kinds of moves gradually move closer together and converge, I think that is probably what's going to happen. I'll see how do you predict the future of MOOCs asks Ruola? I think that's basically how I predicted that Mooks and learning management systems sort of gradually form this web and it becomes a more and more dense web of more and more specific services and applications that are linked together, using technology, such as well.

Activity pub is one. Another technology is XAPI for activity records. Another technology is IMS's learning tools. Interoperability etc. These individual technologies are what creates the link between application and application. That's all I see right now.

Thank you, and thank you for the invitation.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Mar 02, 2024 9:54 p.m.

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