Monday, August 13, 2012

A MOOC by any other name (MOOCMOOC μMOOC day 1)

OK, so I did say that I would probably lurk in this MOOC, but I think I will upgrade my status to be that guy who yells from the stands at the people playing LOL :-)  If I have time, I will do my best to  come down to the green and kick the ball a bit myself ;-)

The readings for today (and the general intro and topic outline available here) are things that I've encountered before in my almost-two-year exploration of MOOCs.  The questions to spark conversation today are:


What are MOOCs? What do we think they are? What do we fear they may be? What potential lies under their surface? 
Personally I view the MOOC (or at least the "c" variety of MOOC) as another type of learning environment, along the same lines as a lecture, or a seminar, or an apprenticeship*. Just as there are many ways to teach in an on-campus classroom, there are many ways to teach online.  A cMOOC is just one of them.  Admittedly, they are more geared toward more knowledgeable learners, so a novice learner may have a harder time getting started with a MOOC because they don't generally have the pre-requisite knowledge capital to participate in that arena.

From watching in the sidelines, it seems to me that the accounting side of the academic house is potentially looking at these (as they did with online learning in the mid-90s) with dollar signs in their eyes (picture hungry cartoon wolf salivating at a juicy lamb), while  the academics fear that there will be  further erosion of the apprenticeship, individual attention, and care toward the learner.  Thirty students in the classroom are already hard enough to give as much attention to as some faculty would like, imagine potentially thousands of students in course.  Inconceivable! Of course, what lies under the surface is a potential for different pedagogies and "fast tracks," "slow tracks," and "carpool lanes" in terms of learning. We need to break out of the box in order to take stock of the field.  We need to go back to instructional design.


How do we approach the MOOC? If MOOCs render our previous pedagogies dull and ineffective, how do we innovate? What do we innovate? 
I think we need to start with "dull and ineffective pedagogies" here.  Pedagogies are not dull and ineffective (in my mind) when compared to other pedagogies.  They are dull and ineffective when they are on their own, in a vacuum, without comparison to other pedagogies.  When compared to other pedagogies then those flaws come out.  For example, a continuing fear of instructors is that students will dump the on-campus courses in favor of online (traditional).  My counter to their argument is why would they do that, if the on-campus course was engaging and pumped them up?  If a course is dull, but it's the only game in town, you have to sit through a dull lecture.  But when other options come up, you don't have to compromise.

MOOCs are the same way.  MOOCs are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and there is still much work to be done on a theoretical and a practical level.  However, MOOCs "pedagogy" (is there such a thing already?) will shine the light on other pedagogies, and vice versa.  Those wise among will will learn from what has been pointed out (and innovate); while others will continue to operate in a business as usual manner.  We innovate through constant critique and analysis of what we do.  As educators it is our duty to do this.


If MOOCs aren’t a replacement for the classroom in higher education, how else might they be employed in our teaching and learning? 
Well, MOOCs are not a replacement for the classroom (physical or virtual) in higher education, but they are another type of classroom whose strengths and weaknesses need to be assessed in order to best utilize the form. In all honesty, I think that one way universities can use MOOCs is in a way that can contribute to the education of the people. Learners could participate in a MOOC to see if they would be interested in learning about the topic.  If they get all the way through the MOOC, and have the necessary materials and artefacts to demonstrate mastery of the subject, they can do so in a way similar to that of Western Governor's University. It should no longer be about butts-in-seats but rather about show me what you can do, demonstrate a competency.

Does connectivism make more sense than broadcast-, auditorium-style online learning? Why or why not? What do each offer --- to students, teachers, administrators, institutions?
I like George and Steven a lot, but I don't see myself in the connectivism camp; at least as far as a learning theory.  As an educational philosophy I can see it!  Auditorium style teaching bores me as a learner. Even when I had auditorium style courses (CS110 back in 1999!) I sat in the front row so I can have more of a connection with the instructor.  I've learned more when there's been a give and take, a conversation of some sort, and then some practice to put what I learned in those back-and-forth into context. I am sure that I am not alone in my feelings. Auditorium style lectures were a necessity in the past, heck they may still be a necessity. This doesn't mean that they are a superior form of learning.

In addition to connecting with peers, instructors and tutors for learning, a connected (or social constructivist) approach to learning also serves as a method for developing a personal learning network, and a personal professional network, for the learner.  Something that will help and scaffold him not only while he is in the course, but also throughout his learning career, no matter how long or short that might happen to be.



That's all for now - back to work!



* please use the comment box bellow to include other models of teaching, those are what come to my mind and I would love to expand my repertoire of examples :-)
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