Monday, January 14, 2013

Scaffolding Learners in MOOCs

We've had our first reported casualty in #oldsmooc this weekend :-) I have copied and pasted the discussion board posting from our Google Group, without identifying the author, but I do think that it's important to think, and talk, about this/

Here is the posting (commentary follows):
Dear All
I sincerely hope that you all find what you need.  I don't think that this is the right choice for me - I'm a first time MOOC user. 

This MOOC feels more like a Massive Open Online Collaboration space - not a Course.  Whilst I have some time for the constructionist approach, 'authentic enquiry' if you prefer that way of thinking, there is a need for some level of common ground between those who are learning and those who are providing guidance (I hesitate to say 'teaching').  The image below is what I suspect would happen to me........

Not painted into a corner exactly, but certainly guilty of doing something very stupid - something that an experienced person would have the wisdom to avoid. 

I believe it was Yishay who said in an early post 'the best way to learn about MOOCs is to build one'.  I'm sorry but I don't agree.  That is little different from building a house from a pile of bricks with nothing more than enthusiasm - i.e. without skill or experience.  The result can't possibly be anything other than a disaster - otherwise there would be no need for people to learn how to be a builder and the term 'craftsman' would have neither validity nor meaning.

What I need is a something that is more instructional - something more like a regular course that I might recognise.  Perhaps this is expressly forbidden by an agreement of which I am ignorant; and agreement on what is regarded to be the essential essence of a MOOC.  I had naively thought that the key was numbers - that given the low proportion of students in any class I've ever had who are brave enough to speak openly without fear of being wrong, naive or ignorant, the solution was to have a couple of extra 00's on the course so that rather than 2 or 3 such students, one has between 20 and 300.  With that number there would be a living conversation, a dialogue that everyone can benefit from and which has the critical mass necessary to spot errors of logic etc. 

So, that's all from me. 
I will not remove myself from the course unless I hear from Yishay or Simon that this would be helpful. 

Best wishes and good luck

I think that there are a few strands here that are worth picking out:

1. Learner Expectations in MOOCs.
A course, any course, can take a lot of different forms.  One of them is the didactic lecture form where there is someone who lectures for the entire period, and students take notes. Another form is the form where the entire classroom session is devoted to group work, collaboration, and discussion.  I tend to think of seminars being like this.  Regardless of the form you pick for the course, learners need to be prepared for this type of learning. Learners need to know what to expect from a course, and in the MOOC sense, since coursera et al have shown us the didactic model in their xMOOCs, it seems as though cMOOC organizers  need to really prepare learners for this hands-on, minds-on approach to learning.

2. Need for a save environment
It seems to me that another strand here is the need for a safe environment.  In a traditional didactic sense, you do your work in private, then give it to the instructor in private for grading, where you get private feedback.  Even in xMOOCs your work, even the peer reviewed work, isn't seen by a ton of people.  However, cMOOCs are more open in philosophy and everything is out there to see, even learning mistakes.  I tell my learners that learning is a hard-hat activity. You need to be prepared for things to fall on your head, but you learn from the experience.  It's OK to fail, so long as you learn from it; however I don't think everyone is as comfortable as some might be in public experimentation. The general question here is how to prepare learners to be OK with open failure, and subsequently helping their coursemates get it right.

3. What is the Modus Operandi of MOOCs? 
The author thought that it was the Massive component.  I see MOOCs as having Massiveness only because of their openness. Because they are open, they have the capability of being massive.  However, massive is not a objective measure, when it comes to courses anyway.  For instance, one course might be massive if it has 500 students. This course could be an advanced course in molecular physics for example where the barrier to entry (previous knowledge and practice requirements) is so high that massive is not as massive as an introductory level college algebra course.

4. The best way to learn about MOOCs...
I think Yishay is correct in saying that the best way to learn about MOOCs is to design and run one.  However, it's important here to specify who the target audience is!  I think that learning designers and instructors learn a lot about MOOCs when they design and run one.  The learners/participants in the MOOC can certainly learn something about MOOC operations and dynamics by participating, but they aren't necessarily getting the full image of what a MOOC is about.

What do you think?
How can we better scaffold learners to be successful in MOOCs?

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