Friday, May 17, 2013

Pre-vacation xMOOC thoughts // assessment and availability

In a few days I will be leaving on vacation, so I won't be MOOCing...or at least I won't be MOOing.  I have downloaded textual materials on my iPad, and I plan on getting a local SIM where I go to keep up with my RSS feeds (until Google Reader decides to kick the bucket).  I thought it would be a good idea to write a few thoughts while I have a hardware keyboard in hand.

First up, edX and the Ancient Greek Hero course that I have been following. In a previous post I had mentioned that I had fallen behind with reading of the Iliad Scrolls (the side materials for the course) and I was only keeping up with the main textbook, the Ancient Greek Hero in 24 hours. Week 6 and 7 were actually quite long, compared to previous weeks, in terms of reading, so I have fallen behind on that one too. It is on my iPad, so I will be completing it during my vacation.  That said I did have a lightbulb moment when I was thinking of academic rigor for MOOCs and how xMOOCs are replicating existing (campus based) course structures.

Many seem to want MOOCs to be the messiah of higher education; that they will deliver us from whatever evils (or inefficiencies) we happen to have. But I think many people are misinterpreting the strength and the potential of the MOOC.  If you have a course, with established due dates, with modules that are hidden until a certain date triggers a selective release of materials, and do-or-die assessments, why are you bothering having a MOOC?  I do think that having certain operational dates for the course is useful as an organizing principle, but the non-self-paced nature of the typical xMOOC course is giving me pause to ponder.  It is good to scaffold learners, but one of the tenets of MOOCs (at least original cMOOCs) is learner choice. xMOOCs seem to lack this.

On the converse, I'd like to talk about the Virtual Linguistics Campus MOOC on Phonetics.  I actually just completed the entire course (with a 94% average).  I am not sure the course passes the MOOC test, in that it seems very much like a self-paced course with some discussion boards being optional.   Maybe phonetics is just for us geeks and there aren't that many who want to take such a course, thus the discussion boards are not as popular :)

That said, since this course was setup as a self-paced MOOC, I had access to ALL materials since day one.  This meant that I could tackle as much, or as little, as I wanted to, just like a true original MOOC. This also meant that I could go ahead and tackle all materials before I went on vacation, I did not have to wait for someone to release the materials to me each week in a traditional fashion.  There are some things that I can critique about the VLC MOOC on Phonetics, and that is the assessment aspect.  On the one hand I really liked the assessments and exercises.  When I got to the final few lessons/modules the materials were quite tough for me.  The exercises allowed me to practice the materials, and the assessments were mastery based, which meant I could take them as many times as I need to in order to get understand the materials and demonstrate mastery.

While this allowed me to complete the course, I have a confession to make: I have yet to read all of the downloadable chapters.  I have read half of them, and half will be read while I am on vacation.  This means that the assessments were based purely on the video lectures. This is where I question the inclusion of text-based materials that come from book chapters.  While I certainly find the readings fascinating, why include them if you don't evaluate what the learners learned by reading them?

That said, I wish I could download all of the edX lectures in advance, on my iPad, so I can view them on the plane while I am on vacation. I haven't flown for years and in-flight entertainment sucked last time I flew ;-)  I'd much rather be learning :-)
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