Monday, September 12, 2011

Where does a MOOC begin life?

Thanks to Rebecca and her "Does a MOOC need a Needs Analysis?" post I was reminded that I needed to subscribe to George Siemens' blog :-)  George has a recent post titled "Who are MOOCs for? Confused Personal Thoughts" in which he admits that previous MOOCs haven't been user needs driven, but rather driven by the facilitators themselves. His description reminded me a little of BarCamps or CoffeeCamps. It also sheds some lights as to why some MOOCs were better than others.  MobiMOOC and CCK were quite good in my mind, but eduMOOC not so much (I am looking forward to the next iteration of eduMOOC though!) Rebecca has some pretty good questions and insights into this, but I wanted to add my own two cents.

I am considering creating a MOOC as part of my PhD dissertation research. Now, it should be said that I am not a PhD student yet, and the PhD program I want to attend hasn't lifted off yet (PhD in Applied Linguistics at UMass Boston - starting probably in Fall 2012), but nevertheless I am thinking about what to do for a dissertation.  Being a program in Applied Linguistics, I am thinking of running a MOOC on introductory Modern Greek which is  classified as lesser commonly taught language (LCTL).

What was my point of departure in thinking about designing about this class? Who are the learners? Who will signup for this MOOC and what are their goals and their aspirations? It is a bit inconceivable to me to start thinking of a course to design and implement without having any sort of concerte idea about who these people are. Why are they going to spend 12-15 weeks with you? What do they want out of it? and How technologically savvy are they, because in order to participate in a MOOC they need to have a certain level of technological savvy. Perhaps this is a conditioned response on my part having completed a degree in instructional design, and having had courses with Donaldo Macedo where he routinely asked about our learners - who were they, why were they in our classrooms and why were we teaching? Were we teaching to feel good about ourselves or to really make a difference in these kids' lives?

I know that tackling a MOOC for my own dissertation is going to be a bit hard, and one of the reasons is that I will probably be grilled as to why I chose such a method of delivery that requires a certain level of cultural capital that learners must have in order to participate.  Is it really an open course when there is potentially such a high barrier to entry, based on the learner's sociocultural background? I actually don't have the answer, but I am interested in exploring the possibilities.

I think in order to come up with with a good course (and a MOOC is course, let's not forget), we, the MOOC designers, developers and facilitators, need to design with a purpose, and design with the learner in mind. It's OK if we don't encompass all types of learners - this is quite normal! After all, it is a great big world out there.  But we really ought to have a baseline level of a learner in order to not only build a better MOOC, but also to notify our potential learners what will be required of them in order to participate in this MOOC and how far this MOOC will get them.

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