Tuesday, October 16, 2012

MOOCs, demographics, and wrangling the edtech

Yesterday morning I was catching up on some #cfhe12 blog posts by Bryan Alexander (who I have not seen in a MOOC in ages), a blog post about defining MOOCs  by Rolin Moe,  and my colleague Rebecca who writes about the ease and usefulness in MOOCs†.

First, let me respond to Rolin's points (since I happened to read his blog post first).

There are lots of people looking at the future of academic publishing, pushing for an open movement. Some academic journals have gone open, but the majority of journals carry a high price tag which only exists as price opportunistic for educational institutions (and some rare corporations and organizations). Yet academic journals are part of the lifeblood of scientific research, especially for soft sciences (such as education). By only working with open resources, a cMOOC cuts many of these empirical, peer-reviewed research works out of its circulation, having instead to pull from free resources that often lack academic rigor. For a cMOOC to truly excel at its intention (get people to coalesce around a topic), it is going to have to include the strongest work on the topic, and it will need what today exists in academic journals to do so. As the future of academic journals goes, so does the cMOOC. The movement for open access is important for a multitude of reasons, but perhaps entrants into the cMOOCs should use their collective power/cognitive surplus to lobby for changes to the system, rather than only read about it from outside the walls (and outside the rigor).

I have to disagree with Rolin here.  There are many academic journals, that are rigorous, and are open published.  I think Rolin does a diservice here to open publishing by, essentially, equating them with publications where everyone can (potentially) get on their soap-box and spew any sort of inacurracy that they want.  cMOOCs have used open access, peer reviewed, journals. cMOOCs (and xMOOCs) are not limited to non-peer reviewed works.  It's all a matter of course design and what you are expecting to get out of your materials.  In other words, why are you including peer reviewed materials as part of your course?

I disagree that in order for MOOCs to really excel at their intention one must (always) include peer reviewed journals. One must look at the course objectives for the course, and then pick appropriate materials, methods, activities, (and yes, assessments) in order to achieve those goals.  You can't unilaterally say that peer reviewed journals are a "must."  Here is a counter-example: when I was an undergraduate in computer science I never touched peer-reviewed journals, with the exception of my art and philosophy courses which were outside of my major. I did, however, spend a lot of time solving equations and coding.


At the same time, I am currently enrolled in two cMOOCs: Current/Future State of Higher Education (#cfhe12) and Openness in Education (#oped12). Not only is the majority of the “student” population made up of people in high-level or post-studies academe, but I can count on one hand the number of non-university individuals I have encountered in the courses. There is plenty to consider with that kind of demographic, but in relation to academic access, this group has access to academic journals. Again, Open is one of the four tenants of MOOC, so removing that openness would hit at the bedrock of the MOOC movement, but just because the academic journals are behind a paywall does not mean their contents can or should be ignored.

It is true that cMOOCs do tend to attract people who are already in academia and are in higher-level studies. I think in Rolin's case he is in two MOOCs that are of interest to academia and academics, but not necessarily to anyone else.  If you look at discussions around academia these days, it's all about going to school to get a job.  People don't care about Openess because they haven't been touched by it.  Libraries (funded by taxpayers) do subscribe to some paywall databases, but that doesn't mean that average joe-citizen goes to have a look!  The second reason why cMOOCs are frequented by post-studies academe people (versus any joe-undergrad or any person log time out of school) is that they are not setup in the lecture and test model that is frequently what people expect of education in general.  cMOOCs, seem to me, to require life long learning skills that include culling of resources, pruning of materials, figuring out what's good and who's just pushing BS and so on.  Skills that require refining and practice, and when you are coming in with the expectation that you will be lectured at and then take a test; well the two modes don't connect :-)

As far as "open" goes, I've had this debate with many of my MOOC colleagues.  What is open?  If someone asks you to buy a textbook to participate in a MOOC, does that make the MOOC not open?  I don't think so, I think it's still open; but some of my colleagues would probably disagree.  It all goes back to the whole free beer/free speech thing of the Open Software Movement.  They haven't come up with one definition of "Free" so  I expect that we won't come up with one definition of "open".  For me, Open is a shade of gray.  Finally in response to the following:

In a blog about Alec Couros and PLNs, I remarked positively on the concept of facilitator, or someone who organizes the MOOC but only in a manner to establish discourse, not influence it. Thinking over it again, I am not so keen on a Deist teaching method. I appreciate a desire to not overtly influence discussion and the creation of learning, but how does such an approach account for knowledge gaps? I assume (note: assume) the pedagogy here would take from crowdsourcing, and believe the wisdom of the crowd would provide assistance and fill in the knowledge gaps for those with said gaps. Of course, people like Jaron Lanier see crowdsourcing as a net negative rather than positive, and refer to it as mob mentality. Knowledge gaps can result in faulty conclusions, and if we are to believe Argyris’ Ladder of Inference, this will become cyclical, with individuals seeking out new sources of information that compliment their prior knowledge and beliefs…beliefs built on knowledge gaps and faulty conclusions. Off that angle, people might not have knowledge gaps but instead just be wrong about something, lacking evidence or data to support their thesis. As the subject matter in cMOOCs is not objective, right and wrong are blurry terms; however, novices who come to the course with little subject knowledge or experience would be best served to have at least a base of prior research and theory to assist in their learning journey.  

I think that there is a definite issue with "group think," but this is the case with any course.  But, if you look at graduate level courses (which is what most cMOOCs tend to be based on), there is often no clear answer, no absolute right or wrong.  Sure, in some cases there is a right and wrong - for now, until that is disproven.  The point of graduate education is to be OK with ambiguity and to continue to inquire, push for answers, and to experiment. And then try again.  With undergraduate education (and certainly K-12) we have picked up a banking model of education where we have accepted certain X truths, and we expect to open up people's brains and dump it in.  This may be the way that some xMOOCs operate, but, as stated above, it's also dependent on the discipline. You can't just pain the entire teaching establishment with a broad brush.  Knowledge gaps can indeed lead to faulty conclusions, but that's why you've got more knowledgeable peers around to learn from.  Being in MOOC means that you seek out your peers to learn from them, you aren't lectured at.  If you look at cMOOCs there is usually no assessment piece. I think this is intentional (for the time being).


Now, let me turn to the variety of implementation of MOOCs that is mentioned by Rebecca and Bryan. In all honesty, I am a little disappointed with D2L.  I had messed with it back in 2011 when I was working for my Instructional Design department and we were evaluating candidates, so I knew quite a bit about navigating around the mobile interface.  That said, I still find it clunky both on the desktop and on mobile. I agree with Rebecca.  If it ain't working on mobile, the MOOC is almost dead to me since I fill in my "downtime" during commutes with MOOC blog posts and articles (and when I get back on a schedule, reading peer reviewed articles for upcoming research). When I am at home, or in the office, i have other work to do, so I can't mess around with learning the EdTech for specific MOOCs as much. Sure, I can work on it during lunch, but I would prefer to read something interesting (or respond to it) during lunch rather than figure out where my material is.

I think one thing that makes Coursera MOOCs interesting to "the masses" is the simple-LMS feel to it. See video, take quiz, do assignments, participate in discussion forums. The  formula, the look and feel, and procedures are the same regardless of the course.  The same cannot be said of our cMOOCs where some use blogs and PLNs, others use LMS (D2L, canvas, Blackboard, etc), others use google groups and so on.  There definitely needs to be a balance between experimentation and offering a course.

Thoughts?


† As a side note, I have not seen many blog posts (at least not as many as I would have expected) in this MOOC.  I am wondering if there is discussion happening in the discussion boards of D2L.  Personally, after the first week, I decided to not follow the D2L discussions.  While I do like Google Groups discussions in MobiMOOC, there is just something "off" about LMS based discussions at the massive level.
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