Coffeecourses are go!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on my thought processes around building a completely different PD model. This week, it’s a reality. The site is built and ready to be used. And the part that pleases me most is that you lot can all play too.

To describe what exactly Coffeecourses are, I’ll just quote myself:

‘a kludgy hybrid of Codecademy-style feed-based courses, games-based/task-based learning a la The Moodle Dailies (which is offered as part of the project) and online shopping sites’

It’s basically an anytime, anywhere, anyone model. No lecture-tantamount workshops, no ‘click here and do this’, no ‘groupwork’, no requirements. I finally feel like I’m doing something that jibes with my approach to edu rather than being all punk online and then turning around and selling out and giving trad-delivery workshops because it’s what people keep asking for. It was essentially zero-cost to create (only cost is paying $20/mo hosting just to make it nil demand for central IT support) and, with the exception of the Moodle Dailies, is completely open and anyone from anywhere can sign up.

If you’ve got a few minutes, take a look – would love feedback:

You’re all welcome to sign up if one of the courses tickles your fancy (none particularly revolutionary but some were requests from colleagues and seem important ‘small steps’ for those just starting to get their feet wet). The subscription courses all kick off on Monday so if you like your content served a la Codecademy you’ll need to do the Feedburner thing before then, otherwise just wait and watch and play with it afterwards.

Building out-of-the-box PD models – some behind-the-scenes thinking

Most of you are probably aware that part of my job involves running training and professional development for lecturers. For the last few years, just like everywhere else on earth, this has meant running workshops.  And for the last few years I have been banging my head against the metaphoric wall because workshops are very, very broken. I’ve said before that geography and time are very poor criteria for just about anything, and workshops are a case in point. Those of you who’ve ever been involved in giving or taking PD know that there are a whole host of other reasons workshops are broken, which I won’t go into because it’s not really the point of this post and I’m probably preaching to the choir anyway. However, the nature of demand-driven systems and status-quo concepts mean that workshops are the expected form of PD delivery and doing anything different is a long, hard sell. Hence why we and everyone else have adhered to this model for so long. But. One can only deal with not doing anything about it for so long, so, long story short, this year, I’ve said ‘enough’. I’m not running workshops. Which opened up a nice array of possibilities of what one might do instead (and which happens to be the answer to the question ‘what would I do as part of the University of Awesome?’).

What I’m exploring is the idea of a kludgy hybrid of Codecademy-style feed-based courses, games-based/task-based learning a la The Moodle Dailies (which is offered as part of the project) and online shopping sites. The working title is ‘Coffeecourses’ – the idea being that, instead of having to get to a workshop in a given place at a given time and then remember everything that was covered, the courses are run as a series of short (c. 10 min) tasks that you can complete anywhere, any time, over a cup of coffee. Tasks are fed out via RSS so whenever there’s a new task it lands in your inbox or feed reader (although anyone is free to grab any or all of the course content in retrospect via the site itself). All of this is being built in self-hosted WordPress – slightly naughty of me, but Moodle just can’t cope with this model of delivery. [EDIT: I’m reminded here of @jimgroom‘s post here and must credit @macalba for being an excellent sysadmin & tolerator of my edupunkness]

The online shopping component fits in to the picture via the registration system. For a long time I’ve been fascinated by the idea of a course catalogue run as an online store using a shopping cart. It allows for nice possibilities like crowd-sourced course choosing (‘students who bought this course also bought…’) and bundling (‘purchase these three commonly purchased courses as a bundle…’), easy registration (email, credit card, done), tracking (both from institution and student end) and so on. It has the added bonus of, since online shopping is so ubiquitous, bucketloads of purpose-developed sites, plugins and addons that are all well-maintained and properly coded. Now, while this idea has Buckley’s of being adopted by universities any time soon, internal staff PD is an ideal test case for exploring this kind of model. I’ve been using the e-Commerce WP plugin, which, with a bit of hacky fiddling, has worked out nicely. Courses are listed as ‘products’, which staff can add to a cart, complete a simple checkout process to register, then get subscription instructions as a ‘digital download’.

I won’t lie, it’s going to be a hard sell to convince people this model of PD has merit. Certainly it addresses the concerns most people have about getting to and recalling content from workshops, but it has a high level of self-directedness, and we are in the somewhat ironic position of being a major distance ed provider where many (most?) staff still do not accept online learning as a model for their own learning. It’s a battle we desperately need to have, though, so I’m willing to jump in and annoy a few people for the sake of really starting to change people’s perceptions on this. In my favour is the fact that my partner in crime, @stuffy65, is offering a webinar-based model of online PD, which still has some of the benefits above without completely blowing everyone’s minds so it’s a good complementary strand that functions as a conceptual intermediary.

So – feedback. Nuts or sheer genius? What’s this kind of model missing? What’s it doing well? Would you take this kind of course in preference to a F2F workshop if you had the option?