Saturday, April 7, 2012

What's in a name?

Every time I want to write something about the topic of "what is a MOOC," another interesting post comes up! To date I've read posts by Jenny (including the 3-4 posts that she references in here post), Stephen, John and Osvaldo. Most of these retweeted since they were quite interesting.

I don't think, personally, that there is much poi t to debating what is a MOOC. Taking a page out of Stephen's talk, I think that the MOOC is fundamentally about education, self-directed education. Sometimes there will be content, and lots of it (AI) and other times there won't be top down content (PLENK), but somewhere, somehow there will be some interaction. Even in Connectivist MOOCs we don't always see interaction from a lot of people, given how many lurkers there are. So, in the end, it's not a black and white scale for content and interaction, but rather it's one large swath of gray!

Osvaldo had mentioned that maybe we need another name for MOOCs, or at least the original idea of a Connectivist course, given that the term MOOC has become en vogue and has been co-opted by commercial interests. Perhaps this is true, but the cynic in me believes that no matter what new name is chosen, if commercial interests see money or fame in it, they will co-opt those new terms as well and then we will be looking for yet another term to differentiate ourselves (and in that wake we will have a ton of confused MOOCers).

I tend to see MOOCs as the massive online open equivalent to on-campus courses. Just like campus courses MOOCs could potentially take on many characteristics. In on-campus, in person courses, you could be bored or inspired when sitting in a large auditorium lecture where you have a one-way broadcast of information and you are chastised for talking or chatting or passing notes to your neighbors.

At the same time, in the same university you may have a seminar course where the students are in charge of leading discussions. Sometime those seminars have specific topics and specific readings to be covered by the student presenters who often bring their own lived experiences and thoughts into the presentation, another's times the seminar has a broad topic, and the students are in charge of presenting (and assigning to their fellow students) the reading material. The role of the instructor is purely a guiding one in this context.

These, of course, aren't the only two ways of conducting a course on campus, there are many more permutations between these two extremes. The same, I think, is true with massive online courses. Some will be instructivist in nature, others will not, and others will be a mix of pedagogies. Just as there is need to specifically state the pedagogy type in an on campus class, so, I believe, it's not necessary to state the pedagogy in a massive online course. Would itbe helpful? Yes it would, for some Learners anyway.

In the end, renaming Connectivist MOOCs to have more specific names places too much emphasis on the delivery, and not enough on learning. If I've learned one thing as a linguist, it's that language changes, and the term MOOC, despite it being quite young, it has already changed from its original meaning. Now we should focus on learning :-)

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