Tuesday, June 21, 2011

MOOCing away for college credit?

Note: I had originally written this for the UMassOnline blog, but since it's not posted yet, I am cross posting here :-)

This past December I graduated from the Masters in Applied Linguistics program and I am no longer a formal student [i.e. someone in a degree or certificate granting program]. This doesn't mean that I haven't been busy.  A relatively new phenomenon in learning has cropped up in recent years - that of the Massive Online Open Course (or MOOC for short). These past few months I've been taking part in several different MOOCs, dealing with topics such as Learning Analytics [LAK11], Connected Knowledge [CCK11], and more recently mLearning [mobiMOOC]. There are other MOOCs that I decided to skip this time around (Digital Story Telling and PLENK).  Some MOOCs use traditional Learning Management Systems like Moodle, while others use a more distributed architecture, using freely available Web 2.0 tools to create content, comment on this content, and aggregate this content to learners. It's an interesting idea, albeit kind of chaotic at times, and there is definitely a lot of content out there and a lot of interactions. As a participant you can't really expect to read every message and every comment because you just don't have the amount of time that you would need to do so.

Now these MOOCs are free, you can come and go as you please; you are not obligated to participate in each of the week's discussions, and of course there is no college credit. One of the things that has come to mind is how can one utilize this vast resource for college credit.  Students who are self-motivated and can keep up with the workload imposed by a MOOC could use it as an independent study. Most independent studies are one-to-one affair with a student and a faculty mentor.  The benefit that I see of MOOC used as an independent study is that you are tapping into not just a few experts and interested parties that are organizing the MOOC, but you are also tapping into one vast community of motivated learners, like you, who want to learn more about the subject.   

MOOCs are quite diverse, some of them have projects (even though you don't get a final grade from an instructor), and some do not; most however do have homework in the form of readings and participation, and many learners in such MOOCs actually provide additional sources and readings that enrich the original "assignment." So my open question is this: What if more students wanted to be part of a MOOC? How does a faculty mentor reconcile the lack of control he or she has over the direction of an independent study? Does the faculty member have any control over an independent study anyway?  As people in institutions of learning should it be part of our missions to organize some MOOCs in our areas of interest?

Note: Since I wrote this post there are two more MOOCs planned eduMOOC (summer 2011) and ChangeMOOC (Fall 2011 and continuing Spring 2012) 

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