I’m wrapping up this week of the MOOC by drawing attention to a few more excellent comments to my last post (and my responses), some final comments on change management and organizational culture in universities, and my views about participating in my first MOOC.

More participant contributions to Week 6:

Meg Goodine in Deck notes that her university ‘lacks a shared vision and measurable strategic goals for elearning. We’ve never really articulated what it is we are aiming to do with elearning or for introducing other learning technologies so it’s difficult to evaluate our success.’ Meg is not alone in her thoughts – there are many other universities where this is true. I suggest below one possible measurable goal for e-learning under Change Management and Organizational Culture.

A second post by Multilitteratus Incognitus argues that ‘change in the university will occur form within, but it won’t come from the IT department.’ I agree with him – in the end it has to come from both student and faculty pressure; however, a ‘good’ IT department that is enabling rather than controlling (and yes, they do exist in some institutions) can be a valuable asset in moving the change along once there has been some recognition of the need to change. But how do you get faculty on-side in the first place (see again Change Management and Organizational Culture for one suggestion).

A third post by Multilitteratus Incognitus discusses why there was comparatively little discussion during this week of the MOOC, and has some interesting thoughts about MOOCs from his extensive experience.

Colin from Scotland’s Learning in the Workplace examines in some deptha number of issues in learning technology management, in particular ‘enhancing the learning experience is an insufficient driver to justify innovation’ andtechnology is a barrier to innovation’ – definitely worth a look.

Lastly, Mark Johnstone, in his blog Nomad Learning, presents a view from the ‘dark side’: ‘The problem is not with technology but with the institutional structure of higher education itself. That structure cannot be expected to change simply because we have an LMS or think that we can produce “20th century learners” better online. Illich was right: the social function of institutions, and above all the university, is not to liberate but to deny access to goods, services, privilege and power.’ – well worth reading his post in full.

At the risk of redundancy, also take a look at the following comments to my last post (click here to see them if you missed them). Several of these were posted after the week was over:

  • Jeffrey Keefer’s response to my request for ways to stimulate better conversations within a MOOC (and my response to Jeffrey)
  • Lucky’s excellent example of a learning technology project that did not get integrated and my suggestions about what is needed to make successful projects stick and spread (drawing on the literature of change management).
  • A ‘stunning’ set of comments from Glenis Joyce about a better tool than a webinar for a MOOC and the importance of applying best practice in change management in universities.
  • Norbert Boruett provides an African perspective when he argues that ‘there is need to have a collaborative and deliberate effort to have a global effort to assist all academic institutions to embrace technology for teaching and learning.’
  • Rita Kop suggests that an LMS like Moodle would have provided a better structure for the MOOC and has briefly alluded interestingly to gender differences in the choice of tools.
  • Scott Johnson is looking for ways to bring about real change in his institution and asks: How will our talents in building appealing techno content be delivered in a manner that actually results in learning?
  • John Mak deliberates on the differences between blogs, comments and forums

So between this and the last post, I think I’ve grabbed most direct comments about this topic. If you know of any others, let me know, and I will continue to add contributions here.

Change management and organizational culture

Glenis Joyce raised the issue of applying well tried best practices in change management to bring about change from within. Although we did not make explicit reference to the literature on change management, Albert and I did draw on such ideas and principles when writing the book. However, you have to be careful. Most change management principles have developed from successful businesses, and have to be applied with sensitivity and adaptation in a higher education context. In particular, change management requires you to respect and work with the prevailing organizational culture, which, in the case of most universities, is there to inhibit radical change or slow down even gradual change. So we immediately have a paradox.

Ross Paul, in a book I will be reviewing shortly (Paul, 2011), writes very well about university culture. In my view the centre of attack for a change management strategy in a university needs to be two pronged. The first must come from the institutional leadership. It is the responsibility of senior management to identify impending crises and prepare the institution in advance. Both Ross Paul, and interestingly last week Jeffrey Simpson in the Globe and Mail (Toronto’s national paper), wrote about the crisis in undergraduate teaching in Canadian universities (the same would apply in many other countries as well). The intelligent application of learning technologies could be one critical step in helping improve the quality of undergraduate teaching, through the re-design of undergraduate courses, putting more emphasis on interaction with tenured faculty and other instructors, and less on personal transmission of information. Thus tying e-learning strategy to improved quality of undergraduate teaching would be a big step forward in bringing about change.

The second prong would be to win the support of senior research faculty (the university ‘stars’) for the use of learning technologies. The key to organizational change and innovation is to move beyond the 10-15% of early adopters into the 35% of those willing to change if they see it is in their direct interest . The key 35% are the star research faculty in a university; if they move, the rest (except the 10-15% diehards) will follow. Universities try very hard to protect the time of their stars, so that they can focus on research. At the same time, undergraduate education needs the contributions and participation of research faculty (if only to stimulate a passion for the subject in order to provide high quality potential graduate students in their subject discipline). The trick then is to show how learning technology can be used to give the research stars the maximum influence in undergraduate teaching with the minimum expenditure of time. This comes back again to course re-design.

There are other possible strategies and ‘crises’ that might be addressed, but if technology really is to make a difference in teaching and learning, it needs to address and help solve successfully and convincingly some of the real problems being faced in post-secondary education. I really believe it can do this.

Last thoughts on this week’s MOOC

First, I really do commend Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Dave Cormier for developing and proselytizing MOOCs. They are a very interesting innovation, and have the immediate benefits of being open to all, attracting top quality participants, and covering leading edge developments in the field. I hope they continue in this direction. It really was an honour and a privilege to be invited to lead this week, and it opened up  to a much wider audience a topic I feel strongly about.

BUT….(there’s always a ‘but’). It really does feel like a beta software version. Nothing wrong with that – get the stuff out the door then improve it based on feedback. So here’s my feedback. I’ve never been keen on audio-conferencing or webinars. Too much like a lecture and not really in the spirit of a democratic open course. I know, my choice, but there must be better tools, such as the one suggested by Glenis Joyce, that enables asynchronous, continuous participation in one integrated ‘space’ on the Internet, so it is easier to track and find all the contributions from participants (I know, that sounds like a learning management system but we can do better than that). Navigation is important. The #Change 11 daily newsletter was invaluable but needs more organization so its’s easier to relate stuff to each topic. Probably a few more volunteers help on the organizational side would help. This is really a technical issue so over to you Stephen and Dave.

Second, I’ve ended this week feeling very similar to my feelings about the annual Vancouver Fireworks Festival, which stretches over a week and is watched by hundreds and thousands of people all round English Bay. Brilliant explosions and rockets firing off in different directions. I don’t go every night now, but dip in and out each year, depending on my other commitments (although I never missed a single night the first time). So great fun and very impressive, but not much lasts afterwards other than fond memories, until next year. So, yes, a definite advance in online learning, but still with lots of room for improvement and development.

I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I have and thank you for your time.

Next week

You will certainly get fireworks next week from Rory McGreal, on OERs for learning. Don’t miss this, it will be a fascinating week.

However, as a famous Scottish manager told his team before an important game, ‘Get your retaliation in first’, so in that spirit, you may want to take a look at my critique of OER’s (but only after you’ve heard from Rory!):

A reflection on the OER debate: Every Way but Loose



  1. When the tools are new, the tasks and the tools get tangled. Which is just one of the confounding factors. I think most universities are seeing overlapping diffusion of innovation “curves”. And lots of “fax factor” problems where existing methods are being extended onto technical platforms rather than seeing new opportunities. I thinks MOOCs are interesting, too. But I worry about unstructured learning environments and the risk of loss of rigour for beginners. I would like to see an evolution in the direction of students earning greater freedom in how they learn through proof of competence.

  2. More posts on this topic:

    Excellent post by George (a high school principal from El Salvador) about how/whether my presentation relates to k-12 education. He raises the fear that my approach may be too structured for a school. A couple of points in response. He is right about the context. I am writing strictly about HE. My wife is a school teacher and she has kept me well informed about the difference (no money!). Also universities are much larger. The second point is about killing innovation in a structured approach. There is that risk, but I see plenty of innovation at a grass roots level but little diffusion under the current ‘laissez-faire’ approach in universities. But in a smaller institution like a school the diffusion part is probably simpler.

    Norbert Bruett from Nairobi also has added a comment to my previous post on the need for change in higher education in Africa through technology management.

  3. I totally hear you about the “feels like beta” comment. I’ve been riding herd on the software and duct tape that holds the course together, but this year it seems to be particularly difficult. That said, this is also the most active of the courses we’ve had this far in, with many more feeds and blog posts than any of our previous courses at the 8-week mark.

    The synchronous sessions have been a challenge. We’ve gone back to Elluminate, more by default than by desire. I want to continue to try new things in the multimedia space – a course can’t be *all* blog posts and discussion threads. I really liked what ds106 did but haven’t been able to emulate that, yet.

    > Too much like a lecture and not really in the spirit of a democratic open course.
    The idea that the lecture is undemocratic is a thread worth exploring one day. Most of the lecturing I do is by invitation, because people *want* me to hold forth on a topic for an hour or so. I don’t think lecturing is pro- or con- democracy. I think being able to choose whether to listen to one or not is democratic. By the same token – you write books, but probably have never considered that they might be undemocratic because you don’t stop after a couple paragraphs to give people a chance to talk about it.

    > t there must be better tools, such as the one suggested by Glenis Joyce, that enables asynchronous, continuous participation in one integrated ‘space’ on the Internet, so it is easier to track and find all the contributions from participants (I know, that sounds like a learning management system but we can do better than that).

    It would be really easy to build a single tool that managed the discussion and activities we want to support. As someone said in Jeff Jebow’s COOLCast today, one of the reasons ds106 worked so well was that everyone used WordPress, which provides really good trackbacks. And in earlier courses we used things like Moodle, to manage discussions. It was much easier to track discuission. But…

    It’s important to me that the course *not* be designed around a single tool, that people be able to choose and use their own tools, whatever they may happen to be. I know, that makes things ten times harder. I had to spend a solid 8 hours writing code just for Posterous and Tumblr users (about 15 percent of the total, up from 0 percent last year). Why? Because codes imposes law – selecting a certain platform creates a certain type of discussion, a certain dynamic, selects for certain aptitudes, supports certain kinds of learning. So I’m trying to build a tool (gRSShopper) that supports any tool, so people have genuine choice in how they participate.

    > This is really a technical issue so over to you Stephen and Dave.

    Actually, it’s not. The technical issues are easily solvable. But solving them while maintaining pedagogical integrity is incredibly difficult. Yes, I *could* use the help of some experienced Perl programmers – but too few people still use Perl, and there’s no institutional support for this work.

    Anyhow, thanks for the comments and helpful feedback. Your participation and interest is enormously helpful (as are your contributions to the field generally).


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