Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Toxic Culture of Education

In the interview with the Times magazine in 2006, Bill Gates said, “In almost every area of human endeavour, the practice improves BUT that hasn't been the case for teaching"

Why? Why haven’t we fix our education system? Are we going to do the same thing that didn’t work? Why are we still hesitant to take a bold step? What happened to all the strategic plan and education reform? what happened to all those research?

Maybe we need to dismantle the whole structure of the system?

The gist of Joshua's Talk in the video above:
“In the mid-1800's, Horace Mann captured the potential impact of education on society. We have yet to realize the potential he saw, and in fact, we are missing the mark by a wider and wider margin. We have created a "Toxic Culture of Education" in our country that is damaging students, impacting our economy, and threatening our future. Since the passage of No Child Left Behind, we have embraced a culture of high-stakes testing and are perpetuating a false sense of failure in our schools. We have ignored research and data on effective policy making practices in order to serve the interest of private industries that have monetized our students. The impact is being felt in communities, on college campuses, and in our economy. The solution lies in a common sense approach to student development, curriculum choice, career exploration, and relevant data analysis. This talk will present a vision of an education system that allows us to embrace our full potential if we only had the courage to ask "Why Not"?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What is the Purpose of Education?


 Recently, someone asked me to define “education”, something that most people take for granted. I think a good starting point would be to revisit the National Philosophy of Education (NPE).

Let me quote verbatim: “Education in Malaysia is a continuous effort towards enhancing potentials of individuals in a holistic and integrated manner in order to create individuals who are well-equipped intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. This effort aims to produce knowledgeable, ethical and responsible Malaysian citizens who are can contribute towards the harmony and prosperity of the community and nation.”

To me, what is not evident or obvious in our NPE, is the lack of emphasis on the SKILLS. Here’s my own definition of education…Education has multiple dimensions which boil down to imparting KNOWLEDGE, inculcating SKILLS, and instilling VALUES.

All the issues that we have been discussing on education/higher education actually revolved around these three dimensions (or elements). Any good curriculum design and delivery should be able to integrate these 3 elements, seamlessly and effectively. These 3 dimensions have been encapsulated very well, partly in our FPK and also in Shift 1 in our Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) (MEB-HE).

All of the issues that we have been facing in our education system actually hinges on inter-related issues: the whole framework of education (on the macro level) and, on the micro level, the governance of the school/university, curriculum design, teachers, and delivery.

What about the meaning of education from Islamic Perspective? Well, based on the idea propounded by the eminent scholar, Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, Islamic education emphasised on the principle that “pendidikan adalah proses internalisasi dan penanaman ADAB pada diri manusia”. To me, this is the VALUES dimension of a holistic education system. It makes sense, though, because we want our future nation builder to be not only highly competent (with sufficient knowledge and skills) but also well equipped with NILAI kemanusiaan (human values) dan kesejagatan (universality). Of course, education model cannot be a one size fits all. We are guilty for so long of assuming the monkey, fish and elephant to have the same ability to climb the tree!

The dimensions of learning can be developed and nurtured within the individual (KSV - Knowledge, Skills, Values (Adab)) and according to stages of human development and the diversity (as mentioned above). Again, we should keep in mind that the whole process of education is about giving a plethora of experience/ways/techniques/approaches that ultimately produce the balanced person, as propounded in Shift 1 of MEB-HE.

In any discussion on education, there always TWO issues: equity and accessibility. Here we are looking at the best, or appropriate model of delivery that would cater or accommodate different levels of learners, with diverse background, in terms of location, ethnicity, gender, level of income, etc.

In terms of equity, I think what we have formulated in the previous PSPTN and now the PPPM-PT, is very much in line with the recent Incheon Declaration, Education 2030, especially with respect to the SDG4 (SDG - Sustainable Development Goals) — “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. In its essence, SDG4 aims to eliminate all forms of exclusion and marginalization, disparities and inequalities in access, participation and learning outcomes.

Quote: “We commit with a sense of urgency to a single, renewed education agenda that is holistic, ambitious and aspirational, leaving no one behind.It is inspired by a humanistic vision of education and development based on human rights and dignity; social justice; inclusion; protection; cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity; and shared responsibility and accountability. We reaffirm that education is a public good, a fundamental human right and a basis for guaranteeing the realization of other rights. It is essential for peace, tolerance, human fulfilment and sustainable development. We recognize education as key to achieving full employment and poverty eradication. We will focus our efforts on access, equity and inclusion, quality and learning outcomes, within a lifelong learning approach”.

Read the book, “Excellence Without a Soul”, by Harry R. Lewis, the former Dean of Harvard College, that examines the state of America's universities and colleges with particular reference to Harvard. The essence is the author’s argument on how Harvard and other great US universities lost sight of the essential purpose of undergraduate education.

Can we deliver the quality education? YES, if we collectively are committed to the cause. The MEB-HE (and other MEB for schools) are the platforms from which we can launch the effort. What is QUALITY education in the first place?

According to the Incheon Declaration, “Quality education fosters creativity and knowledge and ensures the acquisition of the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy as well as analytical, problem-solving and other high-level cognitive, interpersonal and social skills. It also develops the skills, values and attitudes that enable citizens to lead healthy and fulfilled lives, make informed decisions, and respond to local and global challenges through education for sustainable development (ESD) and global citizenship education (GCED)". In order to achieve quality, it requires strengthening inputs, processes and evaluation of outcomes and mechanisms to measure progress, which have been crafted nicely in both MEBs. The MEBs will ensure that teachers and educators are empowered, adequately recruited, well-trained, professionally qualified, motivated and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"Rome was not built in a day"

The article above implied that MOOCs have failed to deliver its potential to educate the masses. Well, I won't be too quick to jump to a conclusion. Yes, I'm a strong advocate of MOOCs and online learning — as a student of MOOCs as well as a practitioner of online learning, and now helping the Ministry of Education with the Malaysia@MOOC. Let us view it this way: Rome was not built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour. I'm always reminded of this phrase. It takes time to achieve something great.

Actually, Rome was just the result of massive, persistent effort and lots of hard work. It was the outcome of a grand feat of strength and stamina — and intelligence. The bricks were the small units that made up the great structure. What about MOOCs? We are still laying the foundation -- still laying the bricks. Mistakes and failures are to be expected. The problem is, people (politicians, administrators, investors) are impatience—they want to see MOOCs as a game changer that could transform education overnight. There's no such thing as a silver bullet. MOOCs is not a magical solution to complicated issues we are facing now with our education.

Those passionate educators and lifelong learners who have benefited from MOOCs and other forms of online learning would understand and appreciate the value of technology and open education. Let's turn all the problems or issues raised by online learning into great opportunities. I guess there are still thousands of bricks to be laid — just persevere.

Reflection of My Journey in 2015

Everyone is reflecting...Me? Well, 2015 has been an interesting year. Interesting indeed!

I always enjoy being in the circle of academics and work together with them. They are all great people...some with their ego 😊. The academic world is always very exciting. Every day is different. There's no dull moment. No routine. We don't make much money like those people in the business world (but good if the government would revise our salary scheme hi hi). We pride ourselves to take on the responsibility to nurture the future nation builders. We are shaping the young mind that would become the potential leaders of the future.

A lot of people looking at Malaysian Higher Education and simply judging the quality of our university by the so-called world ranking. It's not that simple.

As for next year, well, the economy doesn't look very promising. Now academics have more things to think about, apart from teaching (I want to repeat, teaching, teaching, teaching), research, supervising undergraduates and postgraduates (and postdoc), publications, consultation, community....and now, generate income for the university! Plus administration, for those in the admin post.

For me, despite all the possible challenges and constraints, the year 2016 seems to be even more exciting. I hope to do more for USM in terms of academic development programmes. I hope to do more in my teaching. After 23 years teaching, I'm still learning to improve my teaching practice. There's so much more to learn. It's always a humbling experience when you see what other educators are doing in their teaching, thinking that you have done a lot but actually it's just the tip of the iceberg.

Teaching is always my number one priority...or is it? Hmmm...My students wrote in their feedback, "we would love to spend more face-to-face time with you". Oh yes, me too, my dearest students. I'll see how I can have more time...

Graduate students supervision is something that I need to improve. Being busy with admin and other things, sometimes I find it hard to switch on my 'research thinking' mode. Indeed, in this job you have to be able to switch roles effortlessly. But it's not easy. You have only so much energy, so much time. To my graduate students, I owe you apologies for my shortcoming.

I realize that I now becoming more of an educational administrator than a true food technologist. This is something I need to find a balance. I'm now involved more and more with the Ministry of Higher Education especially in the Malaysia Blueprint for Higher Education (2015-2025), and also with AKEPT. It's exciting to be involved at this level because I can see the big picture and can help USM to position itself in the bigger context.

Next year is exciting because I will team up with passionate educators from other places to embark or undertake a few 'mega' projects. They are young academics who are very passionate and energetic. We share the same passion, the same vision -- that is, to deliver excellence in higher education. We don't want to just talk, but we want to walk the talk. We want to showcase what is possible beyond the classroom. We want to demonstrate what we can achieve by stepping out from our comfort zone.

Research? Well, I like to think that I'm DOING research, not particularly world class research, though. That's my honest assessment. Apart from a string of research papers in Tier 1, the impact maybe minuscule. I may have contributed in a small way for the local sagu (sago) industry, but it's nothing significant to shout about. Yes, I received the Malaysia's Rising Star Award from the Ministry of Higher Education for my publications. In terms of the corpus of knowledge in my subject area, I may have contributed something to the body of knowledge.

Looking for new research ideas requires one to spend a lot of time reading and studying the literature. I used to spend much of my day reading the literature. Did I just say 'used to'?. Hmmm...I must confess now actually I read more about education and higher education. This is another area I need to strike a balance

I want to write more, technical and non-technical. I love to write. Should I say I will try to write more? Hmmm... Master Yoda says, "Do, or do not, there is no try'. Ok master Yoda, I will do. Promise!

Something for sure, I will give my inaugural professorial talk on the 5th of February 2016. "Give your talk, you must", Yoda whispered to me 😁 Yes, I must because it's been long overdue. I got my professorship in 2007! My son just told me, abah, you must read this book, "7 Habits of Effective People". I laughed. I said, I have those 7 habits, plus 3, that make it 10. But I have ONE bad habit that almost nullify the 10 good habits —PROCRASTINATION!! Aarrghhh...."Kill this bad habit, YOU MUST!!" Yes, oblige Master Yoda.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

MOOC for Credit?

Change is inevitable.

The Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) has mandated The Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) to implement the 'MOOCs plus credit recognition and transfer' initiative, which would enable all MOOCs courses from Malaysia and other platforms such as Coursera, Edx, Canvas, etc, to be registered into the Malaysia's MOOC platform and be given credit (MOOCs is the acronym for Massive Open Online Courses).

The question is, are we ready? Yes, and No.
As someone involved directly on the ground, helping to lead the Malaysia MOOC initiative for the 20 Malaysian public universities , I can see the challenges ahead, but as Anthony Robin said, “The only impossible journey is the one you never begin”.

MOOC is a big thing. I believe it is a game changer. Twenty two of the top 25 US universities in US News World Report rankings are now offering courses online for free.

In 2014, the so-called Big 3 MOOC providers, Coursera, Udacity, and edX, introducing their own credentials. Later Udacity announced its Nanodegree program, billed as “Industry credentials for today’s jobs in tech”. Last year, The University of Illinois College of Business launched an online-only iMBA program which cost one-third as much as a master’s degree from an institution of similar stature.

In October last year, MIT announced a pilot program allowing learners worldwide to take a semester’s worth of courses in its top-ranked, one-year Supply Chain Management (SCM) master’s program completely online, then complete an MIT master’s degree by spending a single semester on campus.

All these development are made possible because of the advent of ICT but more important than that is the willingness of the academic leaders at those institutions to reimagine higher education — reimagine the educational model and the processes - admission, curriculum, delivery, assessment, business model etc.

The initiative of ‘MOOC for credit’ announced by the MOHE is actually well beyond even what those institutions in the US have done. It is very bold! MOHE has already leading the way with the unique model of Malaysia MOOC — unique in the sense that it is a national agenda involving all the 20 public universities in Malaysia. It is indeed one of its kind and has become the talking points especially in this part of the world.

Creating a MOOC is actually a huge undertaking and require enormous investment of time, energy and money. Only those people involved directly (course developers and MOOC managers) can appreciate the hard work. For example, Ohio State Assistant Math Professor Jim Fowler has spent more than 1000+ hours developing his Calculus course on Coursera. Indeed, developing an online course is not for the faint hearted.

MOOC actually provides a cursory snapshot of what a university can offer in terms of quality education. Done properly, it can showcase and highlight the strength of the institutions. Therefore, any university embarking on MOOC project must be ready to put in some investment to ensure the courses are developed to the highest standard. For example, Harvard has in-house course production studio with over 50 staff, including specialists in instructional design, production, research, technical operations, and program support.

MOOC for credit requires a change in mindset and paradigm — reimagining higher education. To me, it’s almost UNBUNDLING the system as we know it and familiar with.

Enough for now…to be continued.

Comments from fellow educators are most welcome.

On Graduate Employability

There has been an intense discussion in many higher education forums and social media revolving around the issue of re-examining and re-thinking our future direction, as far as undergraduate programme and employability are concerned. Graduate employability is always taken as a good measure to show the ‘quality’ of education and reflect the reputation of the educational institution. Is it true?

Yes, it is important and relevant but to me, that's not THE ONLY reason for the existent of a university. In addition to the issue of graduate employability, there are deeper questions that do not often get addressed in public dialogue about higher education: What is the purpose of higher education today and for the future? What do we want to achieve for all the young talent we are nurturing? Or are we (educators) really nurturing them in a true sense of providing wholesome and holistic education? These questions challenge us to re-imagine the role of university and educators (lecturers) beyond that of graduate employability.

I don't know whether you would agree with me that our curriculum has been designed to FOCUS ON CONTENT. Yes, content (subject matter) is important and the curriculum should have adequate breadth and depth. This is to ensure we produce competent graduates in their respective discipline — as Food Technologist, Pharmacist, medical doctors, engineer, teacher, economist, etc. When they go out to the job market, they are probably ready to serve the relevant industry IF, and ONLY IF the prospective employers are looking ONLY for competent ‘worker’ that know their stuff — nothing else.

Unfortunately, the scenario in the marketplace has dramatically changed and is still changing rapidly. Employers are looking for multi-talented, multi-skills knowledge worker. Employers are looking for a person equipped with the so-called 21st-century skills (innovative, creative, good social and communicative skills, flexible, adaptable, independent, cross-cultural, ethical competence, forward-looking, versatile, fast learners), plus, of course, knowledge and competency on the subject matter. These are the skills that need to be EMBEDDED in the curriculum design and INCULCATED in the students through proper delivery at the course level. In other words, when we talk about graduate employability, we talk about the employability of our graduates for jobs that do not even exist tomorrow!

Now, ask ourselves and think whether our curriculum and delivery have been designed to produce knowledge human capital (I don't want to use the term 'knowledge worker'). According to Alvin Toffler, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”. In this regard, the curriculum should be designed in such a manner that our graduates are equipped with various learning and thinking skills to make them more VERSATILE, FLEXIBLE, RESOURCEFUL, and ADAPTABLE. When our graduates possess these skills then they will be able to learn new skills and adapt readily to the new environment. I cannot emphasize more the need that the innovative teaching approaches be integrated with appropriate student-centered learning environment so that the skill of "learn how to learn" can be imparted more effectively. Cognitive research on learning suggests that "how people learn is more important than what people learn in the achievement of successful learning".

I believe that THE KEY is the curriculum and the catalyst is the lecturers (educators). We should change our mindset that our role is not only to TEACH but to nurture our students to become lifelong learners.

The next question is, how do we incorporate lifelong learning model into our existing educational framework? It is obvious that our educational systems can no longer emphasise task-specific skills but must focus instead on developing learners' decision-making and problem-solving skills and teaching them how to learn on their own and with others. Achieving these goals requires a fundamental change in the way learning takes place and the relationship between learner and teacher. Our graduates need to be equipped with the essential skills and competencies they need to succeed in knowledge economy era. These skills include mastery of technical, interpersonal, and methodological skills. Technical skills include literacy, foreign language, math, science, problem-solving, and analytical skills. Interpersonal skills include teamwork, leadership, and communication skills. Methodological skills include the ability to learn on one's own, to pursue lifelong learning, and to cope with risk and change.

The bottom line is, we need to develop a deep understanding of a new learning culture and, therefore, create a new shift in paradigm.

"A Smooth Sea Never Made a Skilled Sailor"


When I came back and joined Universiti Sains Malaysia (Food Technology Division, School of Industrial Technology) in 1994, I was asked to teach the laboratory class. I took over and changed some of the experiments (and the manual). I spent most of the time in the laboratory, observing and helping with the hands-on. It was an enriching and valuable experience for me in building my career as an academic.

Many new lecturers asked me what to do if they are asked to teach courses that they don't like or they don't have expertise. My standard advice always 'take it, grab it, don't complaint'. It's part of the learning curve. What do you expect — smooth sailing? "A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor". To me, as an academic, it's important to get a broad-based knowledge and at the same time specialize in a few subjects (maybe a bit later). So, it's a kind of "Jack of many trades and a master of ONE". Holistic, maybe?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Mentoring the Aspiring Young Academics

Young academics? How young? Well, it doesn't really matter. One can be young by age, or by year of service in the academic or educational institutions.

I have a mission to accomplish. I have been teaching at the university (Universiti Sains Malaysia) close to 22 years now. It was a journey with lots of ups and downs, a fair share of disappointment and failures but with lots of joy and satisfaction as well. Reflecting on my journey, I realised that I'm here now because I have been blessed with kind colleagues and mentors who guided and supported me in many different ways. No man is an island...

I have a mission to accomplish. I want to play a more active role to help young academics who are still struggling to find their footing in the academic world. They need guidance to facilitate their journey. They need mentors to share their experience and wisdom to keep them on the right track. These mentors should be sincere and honest to lend their ear and hand, to listen and to talk, to advise and to critique—without any vested interest or hidden agenda.

In my effort to help inspire and guide new academics, I decided to create a Facebook group, "Aspiring Young Academics", as an avenue to discuss issues, exchange ideas, share resources, and provide support. Please feel free to invite your colleagues to join this group.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The mass university is good for equity, but must it also be bad for learning?

The mass university is good for equity, but must it also be bad for learning?

Hannah Forsyth, Australian Catholic University
When universities began expanding, they became more inclusive. While this is a good thing, scholars often look at their large class sizes and lament that many of the students won’t set foot in the lecture theatres or libraries thanks to technology, and grow increasingly frustrated at the shallow assignment responses.

They ask: whatever happened to learning? Is there still a place for old-style, face-to-face education, good clear thinking and real, tangible books?

Students: responsible for their own learning?

Professor of philosophy David Armstrong fondly observed what he thought was the best part of learning from his academic career that spanned the 1950s to the 1990s:
I like for the Faculty of Arts the idea that you sit around for a long time discussing things in coffee shops and pubs and quadrangles and anywhere else that you can get some seating and, finally, towards the end of the year you’ve got to get some work done […] That’s a good way, I think, to conduct an Arts education; students educate each other in the course of this.
This description was familiar to me, for it resembled Sydney University’s key approach when I studied there in the 1990s. Perhaps it still does. The idea was that “good” students in the vicinity of a good library would largely educate themselves.

It wasn’t bad, in a way. Students were immersed in a strange, alien and exciting intellectual environment. They were in classrooms with others like themselves. They were exposed (in an often-distant way) to heroes of their disciplines. With plenty of time for sitting around in quadrangles and coffee shops, they had well-developed ideas that ended up, sometimes, in their essays and exams.

Cluttering scholarly thinking

As it was for Armstrong, this is the approach to learning that attracts the most nostalgia, perhaps especially among academics. For scholars, I suspect such nostalgia reflects a yearning to make ideas the centre of our work, a wish to de-clutter our thinking from the largely meaningless bureaucratic tasks that often dominate the day. These cluttered lives make for frustratingly shallow thinking – which we observe in our students all the time. We are forced at times also to see it in ourselves.

This cluttering of academic life has clearly spread to students. Corridor discussions among scholars express frustration with the thinking of students more concerned with the time spent in paid work than in quadrangles discussing ideas.

Across the mass university there seems to be a steep decline in opportunities for face-to-face learning, for peer-to-peer discussion or to wander through libraries stumbling across interesting and stimulating ideas.

De-personalised learning

What does the future hold? Will students in the ever-growing university ever even see one another? Will they just sit at home on their laptops reading the snippets of eBooks allocated by lecturers they mostly know only by their email address?

Who will they talk about ideas to? Their parents? They certainly show fewer signs of being able to leave home.

And yet their ever-growing focus on paid work is necessary, even if it is primarily just to keep up with the minimum technologies young people need to be able to take their place in society, for who can have friends these days, let alone study or work, without a mobile phone and good WiFi?

Ebooks and online technologies are essential to a mass university system. Daniel Sancho/Flickr, CC BY

These pressures on the experience of student learning in the mass university clearly have multiple sources. But our dystopian fears may be overstated. Many aspects of online education are excellent.
Imagine if we still had students parading through current serials sections of libraries to photocopy this week’s readings? Or worse, as was the case before photocopiers, all reading the same copy?

Does eLearning empower students and save scholarly labour?

Online teaching and learning are not necessarily isolating activities. Facebook alone shows us that. Of course good teaching matters online as it does everywhere else: any course is alienating and confusing with the wrong teacher, even on campus. Sadly, we have far too few teachers dedicated to their students’ learning in classrooms both online and on campus, in part because the cluttered life of the scholar makes good teaching difficult.

Will we end up just trying to keep students at wifi-length, just to try to make a little more time for scholarship?

What about students’ relationships to one another, the idea that bringing them together on a campus offers them a place in which to make their worlds bigger? Will they still have opportunity to educate one another? Will the days of quadrangles and coffee shops and sharing ideas really pass away?

Designers of flexible learning spaces and campus cafes have been thinking about this for some time, as have the architects of new libraries. As is often the case in the mass university, managers seem to believe that institutional planning alone can make student learning happen, even informally. They seem to forget that it was actually the students, not the cafes and quadrangles, that were doing the work.

It’s not campus design that does the work, students interacting with each other brings about new ideas and thoughts. Saint Louis University/Flickr, CC BY

And they almost entirely overlook the reality that the learning that Armstrong idealised relied on students possessing a whole lot of skills that were likely derived from their class and, certainly in Sydney, also often their ethnic background.

This is not news. Educationalists worldwide since the 1970s have observed that the characteristics of educational success are closely linked to class status.
To use my own discipline, it is evident that students who grew up with books on the shelf in English, which they were likely to discuss over dinner, have skills that push them further ahead as historians than students who did not.

Their parents’ own educational background also assists them in navigating educational institutions. Those of us who teach non-traditional students often end up frustrated that they have just not understood the task; this is far less likely to be a problem where educational norms permeated a childhood.

The mass university needs now to support students more actively. It means doing more than just putting smart students within reach of a good library and letting them educate one another.

The mass university offers new opportunities for more inclusive learning

Despite our dystopian suspicions, the mass university, as it continues to grow, offers great hope. Our students, coming as they do from wider backgrounds, bring new knowledge and skills into our classrooms. These are skills we’ve never before been able to integrate into curricula and subjects.
If we can teach them well – in an inclusive manner that draws out and values these skills as innovations in our fields – we will make knowledge in our universities bigger and better.
Nostalgia for a form of education designed for white middle-class students will not achieve this. But attention to the privileged task of teaching in the mass university just might.

The Conversation is running a series on “What are universities for?” looking at the place of universities in Australia, why they exist, who they serve, and how this is changing over time. Read other articles in the series here.
The Conversation
Hannah Forsyth is Lecturer in History at Australian Catholic University.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Free Online Talk — Learning Innovation Talk 05

LEARNING INNOVATION TALKS 05 (#LIT05) is coming to YOU! Register now! Fully Online & FREE!

Find out more at Zaidlearn.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Flipped Classroom, Mobile Learning, WhatsApp, and Learning Nuggets

Enrol in my FREE COURSE 'FLIPPED CLASSROOM' on Openlearning to learn more

Remember the droning lecture in Ferris Bueller's Day Off ("Anyone? … Anyone?")? The scene maybe exaggerated but I think quite typical in most classroom. The sage on stage scenario is, by and large, still prevalent. Lectures are not necessarily bad; in fact in some cases lectures are appropriate and relevant. However, in the traditional classroom, class periods are too short (typically 50 minutes) and usually the focus or the tendency is giving content to the students. There is not enough time for questioning and reflecting, interaction and discussion, and less opportunity for active learning.

Would it more meaningful if the constructivist approach could be realized to help students construct their own learning? Is it possible to design the learning activity during the class period in such a way to engage students to be more participative and  more active? It seems to me that it is possible to accomplish these with the so-called ‘flipped classroom’ approach.

Flipped classroom has been a buzzword in the world of academia and enthusiastic educators have been exploring and experimenting with it using different approaches. The basic approach, however, hinges on providing the content (learning resources) online (in learning management system or other learning platforms), hoping that the students will study the material prior coming to the class. The classroom time, therefore, can be used to engage students in more meaningful discussion, group work, problem solving, reflection and other activities that require students to think, collaborate and reflect.

How effective and successful is flipped classroom approach? Well, it depends very much on careful planning, design and delivery. The model that I’m currently using is shown in the diagram below. First, contents are developed and then uploaded to the learning platform. Content can be original (developed by the subject matter expert) or from the existing resources available in the internet. I use multiple free platforms to store my content such as YouTube, Vimeo, Slideshare, Scribd, Storify, Pinterest, Scoop it!, etc. All the contents are aggregated in the form of lesson plan on the learning platform. In my case I’m using Schoology (the social learning platform I’m using this semester — previously I used Edmodo).

The flipped classroom model with social media as one of the communication channels

Content can be provided in multiple formats and multiple platforms.

It is important that students are briefed in the first week of the semester about the flipped classroom implementation — the WHAT, WHY and HOW. The next question is, how do we engage the students with the online content before they come to class? This is where the role of social media comes in handy.

I have tried Twitter in my classroom as backchannel (picture below) as well as to engage students in discussion. I think it has been quite successful. This semester I thought I want to try something different…hmm…maybe I should try Whatsapp…or Wechat, or Telegram. I did a quick poll in Schoology (the social learning platform I’m using this semester — previously I used Edmodo) and discovered that most students are using WhatsApp. So I asked the students to set up the group for the course.

 Students tweet using a hashtag created for the course

The original idea was to use WhatsApp as a quick communication channel, for example announcement about impending assignment, or even last minute class cancellation. Later, however, I realized that I could use WhatsApp to deliver chunk or byte-size (or bite-size) information (course content) to the students to support my flipped classroom. The content can be a small piece of information (facts, explanation of concept, definition, etc.), image, audio or video. The resources will be delivered via WhatsApp before the class and students are requested to view or study the materials beforehand. The class time then can be used to engage the students in discussion and to probe the topic further for better understanding. That’s the essence of flipped classroom. It’s easier said than done, though…

What is the motivation to adopt flipped classroom approach? Many studies have shown that people simply can’t pay attention and retain information over long periods of time. I read a recent research somewhere that the attention span of Gen Y is less than 3 minutes! If that is the case, it makes sense then to deliver the content in a way that a student would have to engage no more than 3 minutes — hence the idea of chunking or bite-size learning.

Many studies have shown that people simply can’t pay attention and retain information over long periods of time. I read a recent research somewhere that the attention span of Gen Y is less than 3 minutes!

The concept of bite-sized learning is very well established but I think not widely exploited. It is very simple but I personally believe that it makes a lot of sense. Bite-sized learning basically delivers course material into very small chunks, interspersed with activities such as short quizzes or questions for reflection and discussion. This has been a popular approach with the proliferation of mobile learning that leverages the convenience of mobile devices and trends in learning-on-demand. Bite-sized learning has many names: byte-size, snack learning, learning nugget, etc.

I like the idea of chunking content to make learning more efficient, interesting and fun. It's like giving content in small, manageable doses, timed at appropriate interval and frequency. So here’s my attempt to combine my flipped classroom with mobile learning. The plan is simple: prepare the learning nuggets using web-based applications or my iPad and deliver the nuggest via WhatsApp. Simple enough, right? The nuggets will also be incorporated as part of lesson plan in Schoology.

The video below is an example of short presentation (3.33 minutes) to explain a small part of a topic. It was prepared using a free iPad app called Touchcast.

A brief presentation just to give the essence of the topic.

The video above basically delivers content. The video below (2.36 min), however, delivers a little content plus something for students to THINK about.

Another popular form of learning nugget is a podcast. A podcast is simply an audio typically in MP3 format. There are many free web-based applications as well as iOS/Androids apps one can use to produce a podcast. My favorite is an iPad app called SoundCloud. Here’s one example of a podcast:

A podcast (MP3 audio) is very easy to prepare on the fly.

Once the learning nuggets are ready it is just a matter of delivering the links through WhatsApp, as shown in the example below.

Delivering learning nuggets using WhatsApp

The learning nuggets can be incorporated as part of the lesson plan on Schoology (or whatever learning platform you use), as shown below.

A lesson plan for the whole semester will allow students to pace their own learning.

The scheme should work very well with properly planned flipped classroom strategy. Since students are expected engage with the content prior coming to the classroom, the class time can be used for activity such as discussion, questioning, reflection, etc.

For example, to check whether students have studied the material, I use Socrative application in the class. Questions are prepared beforehand and during the class I just simply launch the application and students will receive the question (one by one) on their smartphone. The responses are displayed on the screen. This activity is particularly useful as a formative assessment to check for understanding or misconception. Anything less than 50% correct response would indicate lack of understanding and this calls for more attention and discussion.

Engaging students in the classroom with Socrative to check their understanding

Apart from using Socrative for classroom activity, students are also required to do the quiz before coming to the class. A separate set of questions is prepared, set as ‘Student-Paced, immediate feedback’. The questions are designed as such to engage students with the topic to be covered in the next class. Students will receive immediate feedback for each question they have answered. One example of such question and feedback is shown below.

Quiz with feedback allows students to learn independently

Here’s another example of typical activity in my classroom. It is not always a full blown problem-based learning but even a simple case study or simple problem is sufficient to get the students to work and collaborate together and demonstrate their understanding of the topic (content). In the picture shown below, no sophisticated technology was used — just a cheap mahjong paper and marker pens.

Another important aspect to consider is reflection — i.e., to encourage students to reflect on what they have learned in the class. For example, after the activity shown in the video above, I asked the students to summarize and reflect what they have learned in the activity using a free web-based application, Padlet. This activity allows students to think more deeply and encourage them to construct their own meaning while trying to make some sense of what they have done and put it in the proper context. This exercise is also part of the strategy to get students to create their own content — what is termed as 'user generated content'. The picture below shows one example from one of the group.

Example of summary/reflection of classroom activity using web-based tool called Padlet.

Usually I also provide a summary of material covered in each class. For this purpose, I use an application called Evernote. I prepare the summary in Evernote and share the link via WhatsApp, as shown below. (Note: Evernote is available as an iOS and Android app, as well as downloadable application on PC or Mac. In addition, the web-based application is also available. The notes are sync automatically across all platforms and devices).

Summary of material discussed in the class prepared in Evernote and delivered via WhatsApp

This flipped classroom model I’m using leverages the power of mobile devices, communication apps such as WhatsApp and the simplicity of tablet such as ipad as well as free web-based tools to prepare content in the form of bite-sized learning nuggets. What I like most about this model is the fact that students can pace their own learning to suit their needs. This is basically utilizing the concept of learning-on-demand — just in case, just in time, just enough, and just for me. In fact, some students can study the content of the course for the whole semester if they wish.

Overall, I believe the model of flipped classroom that I’m using is effective although I don’t have any research evidence to support. There is a growing evidence from some research reports, however, indicating the positive impact of flipped classroom on learning gain. I would strongly encourage that all educators to start exploring flipped classroom, starting with a few lecture slots.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Lao-tzu


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Envisioning the Future of Learning

Here's sharing my recorded presentation "Envisioning the Future of Learning'. You have 2.5 hours to spare? This presentation is presented to you by The Centre for Development of Academic Excellence (CDAE), Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang.

What is your vision for the future of learning? Do we share a common vision? Do you have to gaze into a crystal ball to look at what the future of learning looks like? Well, not exactly. The future is already here, at our doorstep. Globalization, the digital revolution, and advancements in our understanding of brain-based learning all present new opportunities and challenges for today’s educators. Education technology, social media, neurocognitive approach to learning, collaborative and connected learning and the rise of well connected society is transforming the established concept of learning, teachers’ roles and even the nature of knowledge itself. A radical and dynamic shift in mindset is critically needed to create profound, systemic change in our education. Indeed, we now have a legitimate opportunity, not just to reform the education system as has been attempted for decades, but to fundamentally transform it.

This presentation will examine some significant disruptive forces and trends that will reshape learning over the next decade. Responding to them with creativity rather than fear will be critical to preparing all learners for an uncertain future.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Flipped Classroom on Openlearning

This is my first open online course and I chose to offer the course on something that I strongly advocate — flipped classroom. I have started using flipped classroom approach in small scale last year and next semester I plan to dive more into this.

I would like to invite readers of my blog to join the course and learn more about flipped classroom.

Here’s the link:

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Spreading Knowledge, Reaching Out Global Learners

Spreading Knowledge - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

As part of my mission to spread the words about online learning, I have prepared this presentation simply titled  'Spreading Knowledge'. Some of the slides were prepared in PowerPoint and then imported (as images) into Haiku Deck. Haiku Deck is a new kid on the block for presentation application. Note that most slides have accompanying notes. The notes appear next to each slide but you need to view using a browser on a laptop. The storyline is about stepping out from the physical boundary of our classroom to reach out global learners.

This link will take you to the presentation Haiku Deck website.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

YouTube, Meaningful Learning, and the Lifelong Learner

Have you been in a classroom where you can feel the energy and the excitement to participate in the activities and discussion? Well, how many teachers or educators can step into a classroom and ‘energise’ the students to that excitement level? Not many, I guess. I have tried but sometimes fail to maintain dynamic environment throughout the semester. However, I was lucky enough recently to be a student, albeit for a brief moment, to Dr Raihanah, the spirited, energetic and dynamic educator from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). Lucky UKM to have such a great talent! I have the privileged to have Dr Raihanah as a guest writer on this blog. Let’s hear now from Dr Raihanah about what’s inspired her to be a lifelong learner, or as she put it, a student of YouTube classroom. Read on…


Hi. My name is Raihanah and I’m a student of the YouTube classroom. Like my daughter’s generation, I am constantly exposed to new knowledge the minute I get online. The strength of my ‘curriculum’ lies in the strength of my passion for learning that particular day. It could be a 10-15-minute talk which I stumble upon as I scan the YouTube “What to watch” recommendation page; or a slightly longer video I search out for and enjoy over lunch in my office based on my favourite speakers like Ken Robinson, Brene Brown, Tariq Ramadan or Nouman Ali Khan, to name but a few. The topic may range from personal to professional, from spiritual to academic. Yet the goal is one: let’s learn something new today, and let’s make the learning count.

I identify my interest, areas of concern and scope as an adult, a mom, a teacher, a researcher and a spiritual being, and I tap into that particular area for the day. This is my roadmap for “meaningful learning.”

David Ausubel in the 1960s talked about meaningful learning and rote learning. The essence of the two lies in the distinction one makes between learning new knowledge and previous knowledge. With the former, new knowledge is built based on previous knowledge, with the latter, i.e. rote learning, the new and old knowledge do not seem to meet.

As an individual, my choices of learning are inclined towards meaningful learning not because I have an exam to pass, rather by my need to build on my current schema of ‘things I know, about things I like’. I want to build my own reservoir of knowledge based on the things I am passionate about.

I see the same passion in my 10-year old. She is not keen on knowledge as prescribed by the school curriculum, rather she is interested in developing knowledge and skills that excites her. Like how to do a hand stand and a middle split.

This was brought on after a trip to Beijing last November in which we saw professional acrobats perform such wonderful contortions of their limbs you’d think they’re made of rubber. It took her a month of viewing online videos and practicing on her own, but she mastered both skills.

She was also very keen to find out about asthma when she suffered from a nasty case of bronchitis recently. I see her searching out various YouTube videos about it, watching others talking about asthma, and how they learnt to live fulfilling and active lives despite their illness. It’s truly empowering when you think about it.

This is what I think lifelong learning in the 21st century has become. Unlike the convention, where a teacher sets the parameters of learning and the students are taken through the programme, with the current Gen-Y the individual sets her own learning objectives and priorities based on her interests and seeks out the sources of knowledge, in essence becoming their own teacher. The mastery of this 'self-teaching mind-set' is what lifelong learning has evolved into.

My parting thoughts: as a lifelong learner, I am thankful for the learning opportunities I have today. The knowledge shared in the thousands of videos on YouTube and other online resources like the TED talk engage and challenge us to develop meaningful learning. The opportunities are immense and the benefits to be reaped are equally large. Yet all that remains is for each of us to set goals of learning for ourselves and begin our journey. What do you want to learn today?

Raihanah M.M. is a lecturer of literary studies in UKM. Her areas of interest include travelling, reading and writing. She lives in USJ with her husband, daughter and pet cavy. She can be contacted at

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Internet in Real-Time

Click image to open interactive version (via Penny Stocks Lab). I stumbled upon this website via Jane's Hart website. It shows a real-time statistics of the volume of data generated. It's amazing! It is obvious that we, the 21st century educators, develop the crucial skill to search, evaluate, filter, organize and make sense of the information. This is basically what has been discussed on the topic of content curation and personal knowledge management (PKM). I have developed my own PKM and it is very similar to what Jane Hart described in her article 'My daily PKM routine (practices and toolset)'.

Have a look at the presentation below by Harold Jarche, 'Sense-Making and Knowledge-Sharing' to learn more about personal knowledge management.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Let's Talk About This

This is the summary of the presentation 'Let's Talk About This' by Professor Wan Mohd Fauzy Wan Ismail from Center for Instructional Technology and Multimedia, Universiti Sains Malaysia.
1. Data from research have shown that the method of presentation or presentation skill of the teacher does not make much difference in terms of learning gain.
2. Approaches to be considered: flipped classroom, Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD), learning space, leverage social media, wiki, persuasive multimedia
3. Leverage social interaction
4. Be mindful of 'expert blind-spot'
5. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is still in experimental stage — issues about learning gain, effectiveness, etc.
6. Engaging students through discussion — they become committed and invested time — structured internal thoughts and vocalized them.
7. In a group discussion, it's not so much about getting the right answer but more importantly is the process of getting the right answer — to appreciate that there are many paths we can explore to get the right answer. The process will provoke and invoke deep thinking process, students learn to respect views of others, how to agree to agree, or agree to disagree.
8. Learn more about peer instruction. Prof Eric Mazur from Havard is a strong proponent of this approach.
9. Peer instruction is about getting students to teach each other. 'The best way to learn is to teach' and 'To teach is to learn twice'. This would promote deep understanding and improve retention.
10. How to assessment in peer teaching?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Open Education Week 2014

Promote and participate in Open Education Week 2014.

"Open Education Week is a celebration of the global Open Education Movement. Its purpose is to raise awareness about the movement and its impact on teaching and learning worldwide. Participation in all events and use of all resources are free and open to everyone" (excerpt from the website).

Sunday, February 23, 2014

MOOCs & The Secret Garden


For those who have been following trends in higher education, the term MOOCs (pronunciation: muk) is not foreign anymore but for some people it is still kind of clouded in mystery. A simple google search using ‘MOOC’ as a keyword turned up 2.4 million hits and when searched using the full acronym ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ it gave a massive 24 million hits! Mind-boggling indeed! If the number of hits can be used as a simple measure of popularity then perhaps we can surmise that MOOCs is a phenomenon that have a potential to disrupt the education world and will bring about significant impact on achieving “Education for All” movement of the United Nation. This article is my attempt to deciphering and demystifying MOOCs. Note that this is my personal view on MOOCs (not that of USM or CDAE) and I must say that I’m inclined towards supporting it because I liked its underlying philosophy. That said, I'm not a MOOCs cheerleader or its fan boy — I keep an open mind on this evolving phenomenon — but yes, I'm a MOOC student (albeit a lazy one) and I want MOOCs to stay alive because I'm always hungry to seek new knowledge, freely (or with nominal cost) and at my own pace.

The Trail Blazers — MIT’s OCW and UNESCO’s OERs

Clayton M. Christensen in his book, "The Innovator’s Dilemma" noted that for a long time, innovation-driven transformations have been largely absent or almost non-existent in the education. Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, also echoed the same concern in the interview with Times magazine back in 2006, he said, “In almost every area of human endeavor, the practice improves over time…that hasn't been the case for teaching”. I agree with both of them on the lack of disruptive or mega innovation in education in general and in higher education in particular. However, there is a wind of change (reminds me of the Scorpion’s song) in recent years because we hear more and more buzzwords such as Web 2.0, social media, OCW, OER, and the latest one, MOOCs. These terms have been the focus of mainstream media on education including educational websites and blogs. It’s a clear sign that the landscape of the open education movement is changing everyday and is gaining strong momentum world over.

MOOCs may not be a real ‘disruptive innovation’ as defined originally by Christensen but some of these innovations are real game changer in higher education. It started back in 2001 when MIT introduced their Open Courseware (OCW) project with the aim of widening access to knowledge and information. The initiative is considered a runaway success because over the past 12 years or so, the project has grown by leaps and bounds — from 50 published courses to over 2,000 and it has been reported that to date, there have been 122 million views by 87 million visitors from nearly every country across the globe. Today there are approximately 281 universities around the world that are part of the OCW Consortium. Two Malaysian universities, UTM and UM have already joined as member of the Consortium (congratulations!) and it is expected that more Malaysian universities will join the bandwagon.

On another front, UNESCO and Commonwealth of Learning (COL) took the OCW initiative further by introducing Open Educational Resources (OER) and together they spur and expedite an international movement in support of OERs. The term Open Educational Resources (OER) was coined at a 2002 UNESCO Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education. In 2012, Paris OER Declaration was formally adopted at the World Open Educational Resources (OER) Congress held at the UNESCO. The Declaration marks a historic moment in the growing movement for Open Educational Resources and calls on governments worldwide to openly license publicly funded educational materials for public use.

MOOCs — New kid on the block

Another phenomenon gathering momentum over the past two years or so is Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. MOOCs are simply online courses aimed at large-scale participation and open (free) access via internet. They are similar to university courses, but currently do not tend to offer academic credit. The whole idea of MOOCs is to empower interested learners from around the globe who lack access to higher education.

The term MOOCs has increasingly been very popular that even the Oxford dictionary has included it as an entry — defined as “a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people”. MOOCs actually emerged from OCW and OER initiatives and drew on a long and established history of distance learning. In terms of MOOCs and OER, “open” means free to access and use, whereas “open” in open universities means anyone can be a student. The MOOCs, for the first time, created a widespread public awareness of the possible connections between OER and affordable, high quality education.

MOOCs are now being offered through various providers, the more popular one are Cousera, EdX, Udacity, and more recently FutureLearn.

To MOOCs or not to MOOCs?

Yasser  S. Abu-Mostafa, a professor at Caltec and MOOC instructor on Machine Learning made an excellent analysis on the role of MOOCs (see To MOOC or not to MOOC). He quoted there main and interrelated roles:
  • MOOCs as a mean to reach out global learners, i.e., taking down the physical barrier and open access to the university course beyond the classroom and make it affordable;
  • MOOCs as a mean to change the format of delivery, i.e., using the flipped classroom model. This would mean shifting from the traditional 50 minutes lecture and allow more time for engaging the students in meaningful discussion in the classroom;
  • MOOCs as a tool to collect huge data on learning behavior and pattern. This would complement other emerging areas such as learning analytics and adaptive learning, collecting big data for the purpose of designing more effective and adaptive teaching strategies.
As with other new things, MOOCs have their supporters and their skeptics. Anything at the early stage of implementation is expected to have pitfalls and shortcomings. MOOCs is just like a kid learning to ride a bicycle, still trying to do the balancing act. At the moment MOOCs are ridden by some issues that need to be addressed.

Some people are just taken by surprise at the explosion of MOOCs phenomenon and naturally they prefer to sit still and observe. Why all that buzz about MOOCs all of a sudden? It started just a couple of years ago when Stanford professor, Sebastian Thrun, drew 160,000 students from around the globe to his free online course on artificial intelligence, starting a conversation about the coming wave of free online education. But despite claims that free online courses would revolutionize education, the New York Times reported that initial results for large-scale courses are rather disappointing. It was made even more sensational when recently Thrun himself admitted that his company’s (Udacity) products are lousy.

I think it’s not the fault of the MOOCs provider but rather MOOCs have been hyped a lot by the media. Maybe it is too much too call MOOCs as a revolution or even to talk about the prospect of MOOCs to replace a university. After all, there have been online courses and free lectures available on the internet for quite a while.

One of the main issues of contention about MOOCs is the completion rate is rather low (7 to 10%). To the skeptics this is an obvious failure. Flopped! Is it? Let’s look from the positive perspective. Let say only 10% of 50,000 learners in a course I'm currently following (on critical thinking offered by Duke University) complete the course, that's still 5,000 successful learners! By comparison, I teach 3 courses in one academic session, let say 200 students in total. It will take me approximately 25 years to teach 5,000 students! Those 7 to 10% ‘loyal’ students that successfully completed the MOOCs are those who really wanted to learn. The thing is, people will learn if they are MOTIVATED to learn. They must have reason to learn the subject/topic. Isn’t that the principle of adult learners? Let me quote Eric Jensen, "There's no such thing as unmotivated students, but there are students in unmotivated state".

We should not forget the fact that MOOCs are still very much in its infancy. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day. Likewise, the airplane was not invented overnight, but the Wright brothers persisted in developing the flying machines despite repeated failures.

Let me quote Thomas Edison. "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work". In the same breath, MOOCs have not failed but the providers such as Cousera, Edx and others have found 10,000 ways that didn’t work (grossly exaggerated). But if they persevere, just like Thomas Edison did, they might just find the right way to light up the MOOC bulb. Just like the modern civilization benefited from the 10,000 failures of Thomas Edison, the grand children of the sceptics (and the proponents) may one day the beneficiary of MOOC and obtain an accredited degree on, maybe, USMcera platform! I like the idea!

I think the success or failure of MOOCs will very much depend on the application of teaching and learning strategies that are firmly based and anchored on the proven learning theories and practices. This is the area that needs more attention and perhaps very challenging. Many years ago distance learning and online learning were ridiculed as well, and still are in some circles, because of poor instructional design, poor delivery/facilitation and/or poor instructor and learner support not because the technology is bad. Of course it’s easier said than done. One critical area is assessment — how to assess the work of 100,000 online students?

Yes, most of the pedagogy in this first generation of MOOCs is simply the large lecture class delivered online. Well, if only we allow MOOC to grow and learn to walk first… At the moment, we don't really know what the second or third generation of MOOCs might look like, any more than the Wright Brothers or Glenn Curtiss understood how a 747 was going to work. They knew that there was going to be something like that; they just couldn't begin to build it themselves.

Yet sceptics still dismiss MOOC as just another passing trend. They say MOOCs have no sustainable business model, costing lots but earning little. However, I think it's too early to draw definite conclusions. The potential for this model to realize the "education for all" is profound but educators and leaders need to roll up their sleeves and explore more viable formats/structures/programs the enable us to move forward.

I think MOOC is now following Gartner “Hype Cycle” of experimentation, adaptation and adoption. It is now just passing the 'peak of inflated expectations' and going through the 'trough of disillusionment'. MOOC is still traveling on the path of innovation. Maybe what we are seeing now is the end of a beginning.

Time to Reveal the Secret Garden?

For a long time we treat our classroom as our "secret garden". Nobody really knows what's going on in the classroom. Everything that happens in the classroom is between the teacher and the students within the confine of the physical boundary of the classroom. By and large, I can assure you, it is just 50 minutes talk and talk and talk and…Try to follow one course on Cousera and feel the difference! If only we can see MOOC in positive light as a mean to transform our practice, not to replace but to complement the face-to-face, i.e, blended learning. Don't be too quick to jump on the bandwagon of the sceptics if we have not seen and experience the MOOCs — not just jumping at any opportunity to ridicule it!

One great advantage of taking our course out of the secret garden and put it on MOOCs platform is the opportunity to get continuous feedback from students and peers in the same subject matter. If the same process of peer review has long been used for publication in peer-reviewed journal to ensure quality, why can’t we use the same process to gauge the quality of our course? I have personally received hundreds of email (feedback) from people around the world on my YouTube lecture videos although they are scattered and not yet structured into a coherent package (as a course). I have even received a chocolate from someone in Vienna as a token of appreciation! I’m sure the MOOC professors have great stories to share too.

A surprise gift (chocolate) sent to me from Vienna as a token of appreciation.

I salute the MOOC practitioners — they are the trail blazers! They come out from their comfort zone and dare to take the challenge of reaching out global learners beyond the boundary of their classroom rather than just continuing doing business as usual — just another sage on the stage in their own secret garden. MOOCs may not be the unique saviour of the education system but it doesn’t mean the MOOC phenomenon will just die. Failures are to be expected, not celebrated!

MOOCS, ROI and Business Models

Eventually, even with all the good intention of MOOCs, someone will ask, can universities or any MOOCs providers make money out of MOOCs? What is the return of investment (ROI)? This ROI thing is inevitably always a favorite and persistent question especially from administrators and skeptics. That's a fair question, of course.

The original intention of MOOCs is to provide free access to education but if educational organisation or any providers want to generate revenue from MOOCs there may be several business models that can be adopted. Prospective MOOCs providers may opt one of these models:
•    Government funding for developing and running MOOCs
•    Payment for complementary services
•    Certification

Cousera, one of the popular MOOCs provider, uses the certification model. For example, currently I’m taking a course offered by Duke University. If I follow the course until the 8th week, do all the assignments and participate actively in the forum I will be awarded the Certificate of Accomplishment. I have also the option to take the examination by paying a nominal fee of USD39.00 and if I passed I will be awarded the Verified Certificate.

For further exploration of MOOC business models see Money Models for MOOCs by Chrysanthos Dellarocas, Marshall Van Alstyne.

Actually there are many platforms available if we want to make money by conducting academic or vocational courses. One  of my favorites is Udemy — anyone can offer a course on Udemy, for free or for a fee. Last year Udemy reported a few instructors made a few hundred thousand dollars. I conduct one course on this platform for free. Not that many students, only 354. Hardly qualify for MOOCs but who cares, it's all about reaching learners outside the physical boundary of the university. That's what we call the scholarship of teaching and learning in real sense—sharing and disseminating knowledge. Have a look at my course on Udemy.

Money matters aside, let me put the ROI in a different light. I would say the immediate ROI would be learning itself, also the benefit of collaboration and networking. And if we talk about POSITIONING and VISIBILITY, what a better and convenient way to do it by having our courses (preferably our niches) freely accessible by the masses. Is that not enough ROI?

There is another form of ROI — the improvement in the quality of online course in the form of structure and delivery. This can happen in two ways: better course design and continuous students and peer feedback. Professors or instructors who embark on MOOCs will inevitably be more concious of how they would conduct the course because it will be seen by not only a few thousand students enrolled in the course but also educators in the same subject matter. They must ensure they get the facts right, explain the concept clearly and design the course structure in the best possible way to increase clarity and understanding. The reputation of the professor and the institution is at stake. It has been reported, on average, it takes between 6 to 9 months of preparation to design a course suitable for MOOCs format. This include preparation of the video, assignment and learning activities. As for the feedback I have already elaborated above.

Back to positioning and visibility, let me share my own personal experience (note: please don’t misconstrued this as boasting). I have about 80 pieces of recorded video lectures on YouTube. Just search 'karim' and 'usm' on YouTube and you will find some of those videos. The top video (almost 40,000 views from more than 50 countries) was my 20 minutes presentation on the production of palm oil. The total estimated duration watched is 79,401 minutes (approx 1,323 hours). Well, I leave it to your imagination to estimate the ROI in terms of learning!

MOOCs — My Own Personal Experience

My experience with MOOCs is limited to a few courses I enrolled on Cousera platform. Cousera offers 621 courses on its platform. You can find a range of technical and non-technical courses offered by 108 Coursera partners. After signed up, you can search or browse the course offerings categorized by subject matter such as business, agriculture, etc.

I enrolled in my first MOOCs last year (2013), a course entitled ‘Foundation of Teaching for Learning, Part 1’ conducted by Commonwealth Education Trust and offered on Cousera platform. I always yearn to learn more about the proper pedagogical approach because I don’t have a formal training in education and because of my ever burning desire to improve students’ learning. Unfortunately, I didn’t complete the course due to my hectic work schedule (excuses) and unwittingly contributed to the statistics of 90% attrition rate. I missed the second and third part but I enroll again and currently following the fourth part of the course.

I also enrolled in another course on Cousera, ‘Think Again: How to Reason and Argue’, offered by Duke University. This course is very well designed and structured.

What’s more interesting is this course is part of 3-course package namely, reasoning, data analysis and writing. For a nominal fee, Cousera offers the students to earn the Specialization Certificate by completing the so-called Signature Track for all 3 courses and the Capstone project. (Note: Learn more about Signature Track).

Basically students are required to watch a series of recorded lectures and take quizzes or similar activities to demonstrate their understanding of the material. Students may also be encouraged to participate in discussion forums or engage in interactive online activities, depending on the subject matter, but these activities are not compulsory. There is very little or almost no direct interaction with the instructor or professor. It is essentially self-paced, independent study but with opportunity to get help and feedback from fellow students.

So is it effective to learn this way? Well, as I have said earlier, people will learn if they are MOTIVATED to learn. Of course, good course design and delivery would help to motivate students and keep their interest in the course to wanting to learn more. There is a nice feeling in MOOCs that you are part of the big learning community. Imagine in the course ‘Think again…’ there are 50,000 students and even if just a quarter of them actively participate in the forum you can imagine the amount of exchanges and flow of ideas that sometimes can make you feel overwhelmed. The main reason I’m still following the course is simply my strong interest in the topic, and perhaps the only reason I’m compelled and determined to complete this course. The rest — the course design, the dynamic delivery, etc., are just the icing on the cake.

I would advise those new to MOOCs to read experiences of other MOOC students or alumni. This article (, aptly titled “How to Survive MOOC in 5 Easy Steps” is a good place to start.

Closing Remarks

I don’t believe MOOCs have failed. They may not satisfy the ambitious and exaggerated claims of their pioneers, but they are already enhancing education for thousands of students around the globe. My limited MOOCs experience is sufficient to convince me that we should support it despite its pitfalls in the current form of implementation. Educators should grab the opportunity to open the secret garden and step out from their classroom for the benefit of the learning society.

Learn More about OER and MOOCs

My friend, Zaid Ali Alsagoff (see 'Top e-Learning Mover & Shaker' in the World!) has published excellent presentations on MOOCs on Slideshare. Have a look.