232. The EmTech MOOC

The technology tools that we use in our daily lives are constantly changing and evolving. In this episode, Cherie van Putten and Nicole Simon join us to discuss the development of a MOOC and a wiki project designed to assist us in learning how to effectively use emerging technologies. Cherie is an Instructional Designer for the Center for Learning and Teaching at Binghamton University. Nicole Simon is a Professor in the Department of Engineering, Physics and Technologies at Nassau Community College. Cherie and Nicole work together to support a SUNY Coursera MOOC that focuses on exploring emerging technologies. Cherie is the Associate Director and Nicole is the Administrative Fellow and future Director of the Exploring Emerging Technologies for Lifelong Learning and Success, or EmTech, MOOC.


John: The technology tools that we use in our daily lives are constantly changing and evolving. In this episode, we discuss the development of a MOOC and a wiki project designed to assist us in learning how to effectively use emerging technologies.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners..


Rebecca: Our guests today are Cherie van Putten and Nicole Simon. Cherie is an Instructional Designer for the Center for Learning and Teaching at Binghamton University. Nicole Simon is a Professor in the Department of Engineering, Physics and Technologies at Nassau Community College. Cherie and Nicole work together to support a SUNY Coursera MOOC that focuses on exploring emerging technologies. Cherie is the Associate Director and Nicole is the Administrative Fellow and future Director of the Exploring Emerging Technologies for Lifelong Learning and Success, or EmTech, MOOC. Welcome Cherie and Nicole.

Cherie: Thank you. Thank you for having us.

John: It’s great to talk to you again. Our teas today are… Cherie, are you having tea?

Cherie: Yes, I am. I’m having an orange blossom oolong tea, and this one is similar to a jasmine tea in taste, with a hint of orange blossom.

Rebecca: Which sounds very, very nice. I’ll have to try some of that.

Cherie: It is. Yes, it is very nice.

John: Nicole?

Nicole: I’m actually drinking water right now. I’ve switched over from tea. This morning I was drinking tea, though. I had my usual chai tea.

Rebecca: Glad to hear that is part of your diet. It’s very important here. [LAUGHTER] And I’m drinking a golden monkey.

John: Which is one of your favorite teas.

Rebecca: Yeah.

John: She didn’t put a monkey in a blender.

Rebecca: It’s a Golden Monkey. [LAUGHTER]

John: And I am drinking a blueberry green tea. So we’ve invited you here to discuss the MOOC that you’ve been working on, the EmTech MOOC. And this evolved out of the Tools of Engagement Project, which started back in 2015 to 2016, in that academic year. Could you tell us a little bit about the original project and how it evolved?

Cherie: The original idea came from 23 Things which is an education and learning project out of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in North Carolina. Then Robin Sullivan, who is at University at Buffalo, used it to create a actual college course for libraries. I believe it was Library Studies. From there, a group of SUNY institutions created the Tools of Engagement Project, which you’ll hear me refer to it as the TOEP project. And that was mainly for faculty to develop technology skills, and the MOOC was created based on that Tools of Engagement Project.

Rebecca: For those that aren’t familiar, can you describe what a MOOC is?

Cherie: A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. So it has a scale built into it, where it can have 50 people, it can have a couple thousand people taking the MOOC all at the same time. And this one happens to be on a MOOC platform called Coursera.

John: Going back to the original project, we should probably mention it was funded by a SUNY Innovative Instructional Technology Grant for both the original phase as well as for its conversion into a MOOC. But could you tell us just a little bit about how that original project worked in terms of the collaboration among campuses?

Cherie: The original project, the Tools of Engagement Project, was set up more like a website. So there would be a brief audio track that you would listen to about a particular topic. And then there would be resources and other tools that you could find about those. And there was also a community that was on Google Community. And that was a very robust community with a lot of good information going on with the people who were participating in the project.

John: And the participants would try some new software, and then write up a description about it and make recommendations about its use… Is that how it was structured?

Cherie: Yeah, so as they were using tools and reflecting on their experience, they would add comments to the community.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about how that project evolved into the MOOC and what that construction process looked like?

Cherie: That TOEP project involved, I would say, at different points, probably half the SUNY campuses. And then what we would have was a pay structure. So you would pay money to participate in it and then anyone from your organization was allowed to participate in the project. So it limited who was able to participate. Then what we did was we moved it over to the idea of the MOOC. And by moving it over to the MOOC, we were able to open it up to everyone. Because that was part of the agreement with Coursera, was that anyone who had a SUNY email address and used a SUNY email address to create their MOOC log in, they were able to get a free certificate when they completed it.

Rebecca: But the MOOC itself is open to a much wider audience.

Cherie: Yes. The MOOC itself is operating in several countries. We do have our base in New York, but we also have a following in India and a few other places.

John: And the MOOC is free to everyone. It’s only if you want the Coursera certificate that you have to pay unless you’re in New York or a few other groups that have free certificates.

Cherie: Right.

John: So the MOOC consists of five different components. Could you give us an overview of those five modules in the MOOC?

Cherie: Sure. The first module talks about concepts that encourage people to take responsibility for their own learning, building lifelong learning toolkits. So this would be… Who do you need to surround yourself with as far as people who already know technology well or can help support you in your quest for more technology, and websites? …the mindset of being a lifelong learner and technology tools that will help you. Topics include the Seven and a Half Habits of Lifelong Learners, fixed versus growth mindset, the idea of Creative Commons, which is new to a lot of people, and that’s just a different way to copyright things so that they can be used in different ways. And then also accessibility so that your information is accessible to people from all backgrounds. The tools quickly change, and tools that you’re used to having for free might suddenly become tools that you need to pay for, or the tool that you absolutely love might go away. So, participants need to learn to adjust to these changes. And they need to learn how to do this on their own, because you’re not always able to take a course to quickly find out how to do something that you used to have a tool for.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about who the audience for the MOOC is?

Cherie: The audience for the MOOC is everybody. But we did start with a slant towards SUNY faculty. And some of those faculty members have actually used it in courses as well. So it has been used with some students and people have assigned it as actual parts of courses.

John: One thing I do have to ask is, I should know what seven and a half habits of lifelong learners are, but I’m particularly interested in the half habit. What is the half habit?

Cherie: The half habit is play. So it’s to have fun with your learning.

Rebecca: I don’t think that should be a half a habit.

Cherie: No, it should be a whole habit, I think.

John: It should be, yeah.

Rebecca: Let’s make that eight habits.

Nicole: Another module within the MOOC happens to be Creativity, where we’re giving learners of all levels—whether it’s K-12, whether it’s faculty, whether it’s students—we’re giving them the ability to really learn how to create. And you’re creating things that are within your discipline, or within your studies, or within your hobbies. You’re learning different technologies and how to really show a play side of how to use that technology. Or it could be just creativity, in as far as your delivery or your format, whether you’re creating it for your classes as a student, or if you’re creating it for your students as an educator. We want to really encourage the technology play component. And then another module happens to be Critical Thinking, being able to be a little bit more analytical, a little bit more intentional in what technology you choose. You don’t want to just choose a technology that is over and above the purpose of what you’re trying to convey. So we want to make sure that you take ownership of what you learn and how you use it appropriately. But more importantly, educating the user on what options they have and how they may want to apply it. And then there’s Communication and Collaboration, where you’re learning how to work together in a community, but also bring students into the active learning process, how to share out different resources. It’s not just about learning the technology tool and applying it, it’s also learning how to educate others and bring other people into that growth mindset of: What can I learn? How can I share? How can I encourage? And how can I support?

John: And as part of that people also develop an ePortfolio, which is actually the fifth activity in the MOOC, where there’s a peer review of that.

Nicole: Correct, it is optional right now. But we do highly encourage users to really embrace the idea of that ePortfolio. It can be for fun, which I’ve done several in the past that are great to be able to highlight some aspects of what you’re using and what you’re learning and share those deliverables out. Or it could be something a little bit more serious minded, whether it’s a student for a course or capstone of what they’re learning, or it could be for an educator of how they can use it for their courses. So it’s a nice flexibility. We have a variety of different ePortfolios you can use, and it’s to showcase what it is that you learned and a little bit of a summary of how you can apply it.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about the format of the course and the interactions that occur between participants or how the content is delivered?

Nicole: Sure, once you enter the MOOC, you are introduced to the entire platform of Coursera, and more importantly, how and why you go about using the MOOC. It allows you to transition and move through each of the different modules where you’re learning a little bit about that module. You’re learning how to share and collaborate with others within that module. And you’re introduced to little tutorials and videos on how to learn a little bit more about the idea of the module itself. Whether it’s lifelong learning or collaboration, communication, or going through how you’re using it in your course, or how you’re using it with your students. So, you learn a little bit about the information, you’ve watched a few videos, and then you’re invited to go and play and discover the different technology tools. Whether you want to look at a more open-ended approach for the technology tools using the wiki, which I’ll get into in a minute, or if you want to drill down a little bit more intentional and specific on which technology tools you use. You take a quiz to show that you understood the proficiency behind it, you develop some type of summary on the technology tool you used. And if you’re actually doing the fifth module, where you’re bringing it into an ePortfolio, you’re actually creating that actual exemplar to use with the newer ePortfolio. And when you use the technology tools, you use the second part of the project, the EmTech wiki.

John: You mentioned the wiki. Can people take advantage of the EmTech wiki without participating in the MOOC?

Cherie: Yes, they can. And I know a lot of people who use the wiki for that reason, they keep it there to find tools and resources quickly.

John: And there are hundreds of resources that are reviewed there… at least hundreds, maybe in the thousands?

Cherie: I don’t think we’re up to thousands yet, but we are hundreds. A little bit more about the wiki is anyone can add to it, you just go and you get a login and you’re able to add a tool or a resource that you really love. Or maybe there’s a tool or resource that doesn’t have a description that really fits it anymore. Maybe something has changed, maybe it used to be free and now it’s a freemium product. So you can go in and make changes as well. And don’t worry about messing anything up because it’s all moderated. We get a notice that a change was made and then we’ll go ahead and look it over and change it, maybe reformat it a little to fit the style we use. And I probably should add that we also have tags for it. So once you’re in there, if you’re looking for certain things, like you want something that’s video or you want something that is to help you persuade people in an argument, you can use that to look for different tools that would fit those various needs.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about some of the impact the MOOC has had on participants or how faculty have reacted to their participation in the MOOC?

Nicole: It’s been very positive. I think pre-pandemic we had a little bit of a different mindset of how it was used versus over the past two years. But faculty have loved the idea, especially the cohort model, where they’re coming in, they’re learning about the MOOC, they’re learning the different aspects of the modules, they’re able to choose and customize, almost, what it is that they’re learning and how they’re using it in their courses or for their own personal learning. Throughout the pandemic, we found that a lot of educators really relied on using the MOOC because now they can learn a lot about the technology they need for their courses. And to get them through the last two years. A lot of them will also turn to the wiki because… “Okay, now I need to learn about collaboration skills. So I’ve learned about those skills, but I have a variety of different technology tools I can rely on. And which ones best suit the needs of my students?” We also found that over the past two years, we’ve had much higher numbers as far as users worldwide, both the wiki and, more importantly, through the MOOC. So it’s kind of shifted people’s mindsets on how and why they use the project.

John: You mentioned a cohort model, is this a self-paced MOOC? Or is this done with fixed starting and ending date?

Nicole: No, it is self paced. But we found that a lot of campuses and a lot of different educational groups, whether you’re using it in a course, or you’re just using it on your own, a lot of people have gone into a cohort model. I know my campus at Nassau, we use the cohort model where we offered it with a group of faculty so that they were able to actively participate and work with one another. It’s certainly self paced but we found also with students that have used the MOOC as part of their course, they like to have that cohort model so that they have that collaboration from day one.

John: And having that cohort can also create a bit of a commitment device where people are going to meet and discuss what they’ve done, it makes it more likely they’ll actually do it. Because one of the issues with MOOCs is they often have a low completion rate. But when you have a cohort of people going through, it seems to have a pretty significant effect in encouraging completion.

Cherie: Yes, it does.

John: And another advantage of it for a teaching center, say if they want to bring a group of people through, is that you can schedule around your holiday schedules and so forth. So you can come up with a schedule that works with your campus’ schedule so that you don’t have it running into holidays or spring breaks or other periods. So the self-paced nature can be really helpful.

Rebecca: I can imagine, too, that one nice thing about the cohort is that you actually know the participants are accountable to people that you know, but also you might feel more comfortable having conversations or asking questions because they’re not just like anonymous little bees in the course.

Cherie: And the other thing to keep in mind with MOOCs in general is a lot of people don’t complete them. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start them. Because you’ll get a lot of good information, take what you need from it, and maybe, eventually, you’ll have time to go through the whole thing. But I just think, don’t have the mindset where, “Oh, I started several MOOCs, and I never finished them.” You still started them, and you still got some knowledge from starting them, so give it a try.

Rebecca: Well, that’s good encouragement for sure.

Cherie: Yes, you can always refer back to them.

Rebecca: Now, I know that you use badges in this MOOC, can you talk a little bit about how that works?

Nicole: There’s always an incentive-ation component, where you really want to get leaders, you want people to learn and use the modules. So if you’re using the modules, and you complete not only going through the modules, but the quiz, and then providing a summary that you participated and completed that module, then you are eligible to receive a digital badge for that module. If you go ahead and complete all four of the modules and complete an ePortfolio, again you can earn a digital badge for that module. And what’s nice about it is it does encourage completion. But more importantly, it encourages you to really take a deeper dive. Why is it that you want to learn about a particular technology tool? Why is it you want to learn about a different module? And then really apply it. How do you plan on applying it to your learning? Again, whether it’s in a course, or just for your personal gain.

Cherie: And also, Robin wanted us to mention that it’s now an auto process through Coursera that the badging gets done. And we are like one of the first Coursera MOOCs to actually use this process. Before it used to be a manual process, which meant that it was a lot of time for us to try to figure out… “This person earned this badge, let’s do the little computer thing we need to do to get the badge out to the people.” So it’s gotten a lot easier now with that auto ability.

John: So what is the plan for keeping the MOOC current? Because with emerging technologies, they’re constantly changing. And you mentioned a little bit about that with the wiki and how that can be continually updated. But what about the MOOC itself?

Cherie: One of the things we’re going to do with the MOOC is we want to translate it in other languages. So it’s not just available in English.

Nicole: Yes, one of our big projects is being able to translate it, first starting off with Spanish and then to other languages, so that we can get and encourage more users worldwide. And it can also be used for COIL faculty, which is a SUNY initiative for Collaborative Online International Learning. So that not only can we point users to the MOOC, but more importantly, it can be used as part of a course or a COIL project. Another component is to constantly go in and update some of the videos or some of the processes that we’re learning within the different modules. We’re looking to add on, essentially it would be a sixth module, taking a look at AR and VR technology, and allowing users to go through a small component of how you can learn about adding that into your course or adding that into your own personal knowledge, and then sharing out more resources as we start building out that component of the wiki.

Cherie: And one of the things we did when we built the MOOC was we tried to not get in the minutiae, we tried to have a big picture overview so that it would last for a few years. Because technology changes all the time. So we need to make a conscious effort not to mention tech tools in our videos. So that’s when you go to the EmTech wiki for. So, when you’re in the MOOC, you’re not going to find mention of, and I’m not going to even mention any, so that this thing can live into the future. But if you mentioned certain tech tools, it’s going to date your video. So we’re keeping all that in the wiki and that can be updated.

John: Because issues of lifelong learning, your online presence and communication and collaboration, creative expression, and critical thinking are not going to go away. So I think focusing on that makes it a whole lot easier to keep the MOOC current. Very good. If anyone’s interested in learning more about the MOOC, there’s a nice website that has a wide variety of videos on it. So if you want to see more about what’s being covered in there, you could watch some of the videos and then join in the MOOC.

Rebecca: And we’ll have all those links in our show notes.

John: We will.

Cherie: One other thing that I would like to mention is the modules also go along with the NACE competencies, which is the National Association of Colleges and Employers. So a lot of these skills are what colleges and employers think you need to have to be ready for a career. So that’s another really great point of how we set this up.

Rebecca: Probably a nice way to underscore how it could be used with students.

Cherie: Yes, and it has been used, like Nicole had mentioned, it’s been used with students, and it’s been used at SUNY Fredonia with a group of students as well who were pre-professional teachers.

John: Did the pandemic have any effect on the demand for this MOOC?

Cherie: During the pandemic there was a time when the MOOC was free for everyone, because Coursera marked some MOOCs as being something that would help people with career readiness and get ready to find a job once the pandemic was over. And we did get some traction in a couple areas of the world. There was a big cohort in India, and also in South America… And, Nicole, do you remember which country in South America we were getting?

Nicole: We’re getting a big chunk, both from Brazil and Venezuela. And we actually encouraged faculty from Venezuela to use it for the COIL projects. So that was our latest big jump.

John: We always end with the question, What’s next? And that could be about you, it could be about the project, it could be anything you want to say, it could be, “I’m going to have lunch,” or, “I’m going to go shovel snow or whatever.”

Cherie: I’m going to go shovel horse manure, [LAUGHTER] because we have horses, and they were in last night. But, I think Nicole will be the best one to talk about the future because she’s going to be our new fearless leader.

John: Nicole?

Nicole: Bringing more VR and AR to both the module and to the wiki would be our next component.

Cherie: And I guess we should mention that we’re always looking for partnerships and grants for this project. So that’s another big part of what we do. And we also are looking for partners in K through 12. We’re actually working on something now for K through 12, to bring some workshops to people in the state of New York, I believe. Right, Nicole?

Nicole: Correct.

John: Well, thank you. The MOOC is a wonderful resource. And it’s nice to see that it’s still developing and growing. And I strongly encourage people to explore the MOOC and the wiki.

Rebecca: Thank you so much for joining us.

Cherie: Thank you so much for having me. This has always been one of my bucket lists to be on Tea for Teaching so I can cross that one off. I’ve been excited for it since the day it started.

John: Does that have anything to do with the horse manure? [LAUGHTER]

Cherie: No, It does not, I really sincerely mean that. I am not shoveling manure right now. [LAUGHTER]

John: Well, thank you.

Nicole: Thank you.


John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.

John: Editing assistance provided by Anna Croyle, Annalyn Smith, and Joshua Vega.