Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Quack! (If it looks like a duck...)

I was just about to give up on eduMOOC when this thread was started (or rather evolved from a previous thread) about what is an isn't a MOOC.  A Similar discussion came up on the Wikieducator list for eduMOOC.  A MOOC is a Massive Online Open Course, or so says the acronym. The concept of a MOOC was articulated by Cormier and Siemens (2010) in Educause (free read). The words Massive, Online and Course seem to pose no problem in defining a MOOC, however the word open does.  What is open?

The key points that Cormier and Siemens hit upon are Open Curriculum, Open Educators and Open Learners.  Open educators seems to be about the practice of professional reflection (in open environments) and becoming a better educator through such practice. It also seems to have elements of Freirean (Pedagogy of the Oppressed) philosophy in that the educator and the learner are on the same level and are working toward the same goals.  Open learners as a concept seems to be about empowerment of the learner to work on his own learning outside of the classroom by access to a variety of sources.  Finally (and what seems to be causing turmoil) is the concept of Open Curriculum. The idea here, as articulated by Cormier and Siemens, is is that instead of having a curriculum fully fleshed out at the beginning of the course, it's a byproduct of the educational venture.

So the MOOC that has brought up this discussion is Stanford's Artificial Intelligence MOOC. There are many things that people are picking on, such as the syllabus being fully developed and the class being too structured (personally I find unstructured "courses" like eduMOOC to be more like socials rather than anything else - but that's my opinion), the required textbook costs over $100 so therefore it's not an Open class  because of the barriers imposed, and it's not connectivist.

So let's start with the textbook. The textbook for this course is Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach. Amazon lists it for $115. As textbooks go, this isn't that bad for a new textbook.  This issue of "closed source", or pay-to-play also came up in MobiMOOC when people posted interesting articles that were in pay-for-play journals. I understand that not everyone can drop $115 on a textbook, or journal articles for that matter, but until we completely change the system we can't just rely on open access journals and we can't expect people to make their own materials from scratch all the time (if you haven't created your own materials from scratch try it sometime, it's time consuming).  Just because you are required to read some pay-for-play journal articles and/or a paid textbook that doesn't make the class not be open.  It's still open, it's just not completely free! These two concepts (free and open) aren't mutually inclusive.

The second thing is connectivism. A MOOC, in my opinion, doesn't need to be connectivist to be a MOOC.  After all the "C" in MOOC does stand for Class, not Connectivism (as Rebecca points out!). This brings me back to my days as a linguistics student (not that far behind me) and the various methods of language teaching that I encountered in my methods courses. The concept of a course encompasses many methodologies and philosophies of teaching. There is no need to predefine what a course is by tell us what the prescribed methodology is.  Connectivism, as far as I am concerned, by itself is not that useful.  Connectivism in concert with other learning theories becomes much more potent.  If all MOOCs were connectivist they would die out as more learning theories come along to explain how we as humans learn. If we think of it as course, without basing it solely on connectivism we can achieve so much more.

Finally you've got the structured versus the unstructured. Personally, courses (MOOCs) that we more structured (LAK, CCK, MobiMOOC) were much more interesting. People actually cared enough to go out and find articles that exemplified that week's topics and provided them to the people who were participating in the MOOC.  On top of that participants also contributed their own bibliographies which was awesome. It felt more like a course. EduMOOC on the other hand feels more like a community of practice. Both have their places, but a community of practice is not a course.  A course can be a community of practice bound by constraints like time and place, but the two aren't mutually inclusive terms.

In the end, for me, a MOOC is a Massive Online Open Course - the actual implementation, underlying philosophy, costs-to-participate and pedagogy may vary.

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