Monday, 26 August 2013

Design Thinking Action Lab

Well I enrolled in Design Thinking Action Lab offered by NovoEd (the new name for Stanford's Venture Lab) thinking it would be a similar experience to Designing in New Learning Environments (DNLE) which was the first MOOC I ever loved and led me to really immerse myself in the MOOC universe.

Well I don't love this one for a number of reasons. Some of it is the way it is organized, some of it is the number of technical glitches and some of it is attitude (mine and theirs.)

First, browser issues. If you're using Firefox as your browser (which I do), you can't do the assignments attached to the lectures. They just don't load. So you have to use Chrome. Not that they stated this upfront. No, I had to rely on fellow students for the answer. (Not that it's a problem to rely on fellow students but when this is still an issue for other students into the third week of the course, it's a problem.They finally have fixed this.) To me this is just arrogant. In the world of online learning, you need to state up front what you need to complete a course. If you want to see online learning done right, check out DS106. They explicitly state what  programs and interfaces you need upfront.

And I know this sounds ridiculous but for some reason, the spellchecker for part of the site was switched off. I know how to spell. But when you're typing quickly, that little red squiggle makes sure you find your errors fast. Instead, I was having to cut and paste (and it didn't like that too much when I tried to insert it into the frame.)

Second, organization. The first week was housekeeping tasks ( as usual.) And we needed to organize ourselves into groups as one of the tasks. After much rushing around (digitally) I joined a group. (Exactly like it was structured in DNLE.) Unlike DNLE, we never used our group for anything other than to share examples of our workspace. Excuse me? I didn't need to organize into a group to interact with other people, that's what the forum is for. There was an expectation of teamwork implicit in forming a group. When the design assignments came, we were expected to do them individually, not as a team. So why did we form a team? It felt like busy work, like an artificial expectation being met. People in teams, check.

Now let's talk about the assignments. The ones attached to the lectures were interesting and got you to think about design as a creative process, which was excellent. But the major assignments were poorly thought out which, when you think about it, is bizarre. The builders of this course were designers and they didn't create a very good template for learning about design! These major assignments were to help us understand the design process. This would have been a wonderful opportunity for us to choose a problem as a group and then work together to achieve a solution. Instead, we were told what the problem was (a single problem for all of us: Students are graduating from school without being able to find work) and we were told to go out and interview people about their views on the issue as the first part of the process.

I'm not sure how anyone else dealt with this issue, but I am at work all day and do not have access to the people I was expected to interview at night. (Thank goodness for previous conversations I have had about this issue with my son and for email.) So was this course only for those of us not chained to an office desk? For this portion of the task we had a week.

But, and this is a big but, they also included in the empathize portion of the assignment the define portion (Stanford uses empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test as their design template.) These are two separate stages, at least in my book. So in a week, we were to interview three or four people, write down all their ideas and then define the problem and submit.

In the next week, we were to peer review at least five assignments (not a problem, except many were in Spanish and I don't speak Spanish so it took a while to translate) but also complete the next assignment of ideate and come up with 50 ideas.

Now this is an online course. Why such a short timeline? DNLE was much better organized in regards to how time much time assignments might take.  We worked through all the lectures and small assignments first and  then worked on the larger problem as a team. In other xMOOCs, where time became a factor (due to technical issues or work load)  they actually made the course longer so that people could complete their work and be successful. So why did Design Thinking Action Lab not change to meet the needs of their students? I know that in the first two weeks frustration was being expressed in the forums.

And speaking of forums, the NovoEd forum remains its normal, clunky self. If xMoocs ever solve the forum issue (perhaps just move to Google +, Facebook? I don't know) they may become a force to be reckoned with. However, on the positive side the professor was regularly on the forum site and initiated many interesting discussion threads. There were also Google + hangouts once a week, which were recorded for us to watch at any time. So the lectures were short but to the point, the Do Now assignments interesting (but until the browser problem was dealt with impossible to view/do) and the resources offered in support were great (but the short teasers from "Extreme by Design" were driving me crazy as I want to know how the story ends.)

Now where do I fit in as a student in this mix? This is were I step up to the plate and admit I've dropped the course and am only auditing it now. I moved from one province to another during the course and I just could not see pouring more of my energy into the course when it was not meeting my needs. And that is the beauty of online MOOCs.  I engage as much or as little as I feel like and what I was being offered was not enough for me to say "I will continue."

DNLE changed my perspective on learning. Design Thinking did not.