Friday, January 10, 2014

Day 1: Starting with questions

After reading my friend Kerry's blog post about the Janux History of Science class launch, I decided I would enroll and give it a try. I do this with some trepidation because my past three experiences with MOOCs were very frustrating; I saw so much missed opportunity as a result of both poor course design and poor software design too.

At the same time, I feel obligated to give at least one of the Janux MOOCs a try, if only because my school has invested close to a million dollars in the software alone (see bottom of this post), in addition to the considerable costs involved in creating each course (you can get a sense of that from reading Kerry's post). My first impression of Janux from just logging on and looking around last fall was not good, even compared to the MOOC platforms I have participated in previously (Blackboard CourseSites, Coursera, and NovoEd/VenureLab). But I am going to give it another try, and I will be using this blog to record my experience.

So, after reading Kerry's blog post yesterday, I went to to sign up. Because I had previously enrolled in two courses to explore last fall, Janux plunked me inside the course I had last visited and it took me a solid five minutes to figure out how to get out of that course in order to reach the Janux homepage where I could enroll in Kerry's course. I would really like to unenroll from the two courses I was testing in the fall, but I cannot figure out how to do that. I'll worry about that later!

When I did reach the main screen that lists available courses, I clicked on Kerry's course to enroll. The course begins on Monday, January 13, so it is not open yet, but I did get an email welcoming me to the course. Since that is my first experience of the course so far, I've pasted in a screenshot of the email, with my thoughts and questions below.

The first paragraph explains that this is a public version of an existing OU course and, since I am familiar with that existing course, I am very curious what will happen to it in the Janux space. Kerry and I first developed our online courses together over 10 years ago, and we used a very similar course design at that time: weekly readings with students writing in response to those readings, along with a semester-long student project based on a topic of each student's choice. I've carried on teaching my online courses using that same model for all these years; you can see my courses here, and past student projects here. The student projects are the most important part of my courses, and one of my biggest disappointments with many of the MOOCs I have seen is that they focus on top-down content delivery rather than student content creation and the sharing of that student-created content. Will Kerry's Janux course have a strong emphasis on student projects as his previous version of the course did? That is one of the questions I am most curious about!

The next paragraph is hype, and after being subjected to a continuous barrage of hype from all sorts of MOOC providers over the past year and half, I am not impressed by the hype. "One-of-a-kind learning experience" ... "true learning community" ... that's hype. So, no comment.

The third paragraph gets at what is the biggest problem for me here with Janux, so I will quote it here in full: "Feel free to spread the word around about the course by forwarding this email or sharing about it through social media. Encourage your friends to join, add them as a friend, and then form a study group on the platform" (bolding is mine). In other words, the idea is not that people should form learning communities at other social networking sites, nope, don't do that. Instead, we are supposed to join Janux and create our study groups on the platform. I personally have no inclination at all to do that because it means the learning that I want to share will NOT be shared with my friends who decline (understandably) to participate in the course. There are hundreds of people I interact with at Google+ with whom I share the things I learn, and from whom I am likewise learning new things every day. The reciprocity of my learning community at Google+ is something I am really committed to, and I would gladly take what I am learning in this History of Science class and share that at Google+, connecting with other people at Google+ who are enrolled in the class (but we'd need a hashtag to do that... no hashtag was supplied), as well as connecting with people I know there who are not enrolled in the class but who would be very interested indeed to learn along with me.

So, since I am being not just asked but required to pour my time and energy into a closed-off space, a black hole of learning which is disconnected from my existing learning communities both at Google+ and Twitter (and, yep, I would say those are "true" learning communities, too), I am very reluctant to over-invest. To cope with that, I will set a strict time limit of 30 minutes per day on this course. If it were integrated with the learning communities I am already part of, I could see spending more time. But 30 minutes spent at Janux is 30 minutes spent away from the learning communities that already work very well for me. This blog at least is public, but I guess it will be the only public evidence of my Janux learning experience.

And will 30 minutes per day be enough? I have all kinds of questions like that, basic questions about course operations. The email does not go into details; the remaining paragraph is one about how to enroll in the class for credit, but I know that Kerry's for-credit version of the class filled up long ago during regular enrollment; I imagine some people will feel frustrated to find out that they cannot enroll, despite what the email says.

Let me see if I can find more information at the class page on Janux. Hmmmm, I suspect loading problems; here is a screenshot of what happens when I log on. Probably as a result of all the publicity about the courses starting up Monday they are having some overload problems. I'd sure like to find a syllabus or FAQs about the course to get a sense of the time commitment that is expected, along with answers to some other questions.

I pressed refresh, and I saw a brief glimpse of the class page but then it went white again. I'll go try in another browser (I'm using Chrome right now), but I may let the overload problem end my session for today, checking in again this weekend to see if I can get some more answers!

Aha, doing much better in Safari; maybe it is a Chrome problem. I see my friend Kerry when I log on in Safari.

And look: Kerry's blog post gives me the YouTube version so I can embed it here! My opinion of Janux will go up CONSIDERABLY if these videos are all going to be available at YouTube after all (I wouldn't have guessed that from the version inside the Janux platform). So here is the video, thanks to the YouTube version I found in Kerry's blog (three cheers for blogs!) - there's no embed code at the Janux course page itself:

I can't tell just how much time will be required, and it looks like they have not updated the start date (undefined NaN, 0NaN), but I know from the email and Kerry's blog that it starts on Monday:

I'm looking for something like a syllabus with more information about the class, but apparently that is not available.

And my half hour is now up anyway! I'll just close by way of contrast with the information available about my courses to anyone who is curious - students who are enrolled or anybody at all; both classes have an Orientation Week to make sure the students understand the software we will be using and what the courses entail. Will I see an orientation of some kind when I log on to Janux on Monday? I hope so. I'll find out on Monday I guess.

September 2013 Regents Final Agenda


  1. "Google+ and Twitter (and, yep, I would say those are "true" learning communities, too)" -

    The difference between Google+ and JANUX is one of size. Google+ is a prison with a really large yard with lots of interesting distractions in it, but that doesn't mean you are not an inmate any more

  2. Indeed, but here's the thing - since I post publicly at Google+ I can just link to it and you, anonymous, can go and see:
    My Google+ posts
    All you need is a browser and Internet access. If you are blocked, it's because someone - not me, not Google - is blocking you. To comment at Google+, you do have to have a log-in, but, as you already discovered, anonymous log-ins are okay by me here, although I'm less likely to have long convos with anonymous commenters since I cannot tell one anonymous from another.
    At Janux, you have to create an account even to look, and there are no links that work outside its walls that will get you in without a log-in.
    So I would say that size is subjective (I participate in a not-so-very-large but nicely fluid network at Google+), but open or closed is really an issue, hyperbole about inmates aside. I would characterize it as a continuum rather than either-or, and on that continuum Google+ is far more open that Janux.
    FAR more open. :-)

  3. Just to be clear - by someone blocking you from Google+, I had in mind: a firewall at work, government censorship, etc. I post publicly there, but public access involves a lot of players besides just me and Google+.
    Janux, though, is just not public, which is a useful word to use I think, in addition to open. I would be much happier to see the content at Janux as public content, given that it is funded by a public university.

  4. Anonymous doesn't exist when you can have IP tracking but I guess I can come out of the shadow a little more.

    I agree with you that it is a continuum and that Google+ is more open indeed; however that is the trap - when that door snaps shut it will be far more difficult to get out. And snap shut it surely will because greed for power and control is a boundless thing

  5. Kosta!!!! I just saw you at Twitter also. Listen, any chance you will do this course? OU has plunked down a million dollars for this software, so I figure it requires some real evaluation by people other than MOOC fanboys (of whom there are many; I am not one). It would be so cool to get a chance to do that together with you!
    And yes, I share your fears about open now not meaning open in future. I export my stuff. Not sure that I would ever want/need the mountain of ephemeral stuff I have posted at Google+ but they do have data checkout or takeout or whatever it's called, so I back my stuff up locally, and also my Blogger blogs.
    I am very VERY curious if there will be data takeout for all the stuff people contribute to Janux which will likely just end up in the virtual trashcan at the end of the semester, just as at Desire2Learn. Sigh.

  6. P.S. And thank you for commenting here. My experience of commenting at Janux in the fall was pretty grim - no notifications outside the system, no threaded discussion... I'm very curious to give it a more systematic try, but I'm not optimistic based on what I saw last fall where most comments seemed to disappear into a vacuum of silence.

  7. I am enrolled but we shall see how far we get.

    There is an ancient Chinese saying: "When a good man professes a false teaching, it becomes true". MOOCs are total rubbish, but I want to hear what Kerry has to say about HOS. I suppose I would listen to him even if he chose to release it on a cassette tape.

    $1mln is unfortunately pocket change in the minds of CIOs and such.

    Making local backups of your stuff is wise. I wish more people followed your example.

  8. Oh, this is great - how well I can find you and hook up with you at Janux will be one way to test its grandiose claims about having reimagined social learning etc. etc.

    And yes, agree: I am here for Kerry. MOOCs are total rubbish in my experience also, but Kerry is a treasure.

    Hey, have you seen my GrammarCatz??? My grandson helped me invent them, so now I have Latin and English cats! :-)

    I also think Common Core is total rubbish but I aligned my GrammarCatz to the horrifying standards because... cats. :-)

  9. "reimagined' / "disrupted" / "reinvented" - the moment people start saying things like that you know it is time to leave the room :) here's a Socialchicks take on that

    just looked at the grammar cats - i think they are great but they cannot touch your shakespearean cats. Those are a treasure.

  10. Oh, that's a laugh-out-loud moment. Love it! And I did not know about your blog or, if I did, I lost it somewhere along the way. So glad to be reconnected! Now subscribed!

    OU has been kind of surreal for the past year - an explosion of revolutionary, one-of-kind, uniquely disruptive reimaginings under the umbrella of something they are calling "One University Digital Initiative" (Google it and you'll see)... but is there public dialogue? Nope. Very top-down. My life as an online teacher and the lives of my students are totally unaffected by it - still no real web hosting (thank goodness for GoogleSites; don't know what I would do without it), no blogging (but you can visit the blog graveyard: - faculty were not even allowed to create blogs, much less students; departments and programs only), no wikis, nothing that matters to me as a teacher online, and nothing for my students. Oh, a fancy new IT Store in the Union. Revolutionary retailing. :-)

    But enough gloom and doom: I can still do my own thing and have a total blast while doing it. The world of Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics await as always and I am looking forward to a great semester.

    Are you teaching this spring??? Happy thoughts to you and your students!

  11. Is there a public dialogue about technology anywhere??

    still think you need to ditch all these "free" / "open" platforms and have your own server with Drupal / Wordpress etc. I can be your sys admin

    Not teaching this semester, work is good and consumes all time, the rest devoted to my own HOS project

  12. Ha ha, this more public than the email-world of OU, where email is just as much about excluding people from important conversations as it is about including them. For someone like me, the public spaces of blogs and G+ and Twitter and such is way more public than my so-called public university!

    And you know I'm torn about all the hosted solutions I used - but where it comes down to for me is the TIME dilemma. I have so little time for all the content that I want to create! And the content is really independent of the platform - everything for me comes down to texts and images which I save locally anyway, and they are morphing into new forms constantly. I wrote up a long post about that in fact, my blog to book to blog cycle of existence:

    Ultimately I believe in books for the truly long-term, and for the short-term and ephemera, I am fine with hosted. Provided they let me back up! :-)

  13. It is a good strategy to spin those blogs up as you need and move from one to the next as you need.

    If it is working for you and letting you focus on important things (writing and teaching) then there is no need to change it.

  14. Blogging is what turned me into a writer! I never had a writing process that actually worked for me before I started blogging. And now, oh, there are SO MANY BOOKS I would write if I could find the time. So, yes, happy blogging for me - that's why I am so glad to introduce my students to blogging also. Maybe for some of them too it will be a way to start to see themselves as writers. :-)