Monday, September 2, 2013

MOOCs in Higher Education - Must resist feeding trolls...

Happy Labor Day everyone!

The other day I was going through my two Learning Solutions Magazine articles to see if there were any comments (Part 1 and Part 2 here) that I might be able to address.  I think it's great when people engage with the reading material on the web in a constructive way, it helps everyone expand their knowledge a little. That said, the comments weren't that many, and they were from a while back, so I thought I would address them here.

Comment 1
I'm not sure how you can say that "MOOCs first appeared in 2008." Remove the word "online" from MOOC and you have International Correspondence Schools.

I think the underlying current of this comment is "everything old is new again." Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think anyone is claiming that MOOCs are this whole new genesis that came from nothing and is here to change the world like nobody's business. However, one can't dismiss that this current form of online learning, an experimental one at that, is not new.  The term MOOC was coined by Cormier in 2008 so I, and others, can claim it started in 2008.  If you look at the initial wikipedia entries for MOOC, that we started developing in 2011 as part of a MOOC, there were some things called pre-MOOCs that certainly lead up to the cMOOC we know today, but one can't claim direct lineage from Correspondence Schools.

If you do, online learning is nothing more than a glorified correspondence school, which I think it a gross miscategorization. You can't just ignore the "online" bit.  The "online" bit gives the course certain affordances that aren't there otherwise. These are simplistic examples, but things like discussion forums, and peer-to-peer assistance, and peer to peer learning are just not possible unless there is a cohort near by and you can arrange for some face to face meetings.  Even then, it's not the same. Learning does not happen with one master to many pupils.  It's certainly a model, but it may not be the most appropriate model.  Don't get me wrong, peer-to-peer learning isn't always the best either, but we need to come to terms with the idea that there are more knowledgeable peers/others out there, and we need to employ to most appropriate "other" at the appropriate times.

Comment 2
Prior to on-line there was difficulty in presenting massive or free (open) courses due to cost, and time required to get information from one place to another. Although radio based courses were going on for decades.
However I find the use of c and x a kind of jargon. Before there was connectivism there was student-centered learning where students determined content and before instructivism there was instructor-centered learning, where instructors determine content. Both of these are millennial old ideas, packaged in new words that spell checks don't recognize. 

Just like correspondence schools, I am also a bit far removed from Radio based distance education courses. The most immediate analog I can think of are courses I saw on PBS when I was in High School in the mid-to-late 90s. The cost is certainly one thing, but television/satellite and radio (I suppose).  Now that said, this medium (broadcast) does address the cost issues of photocopying and distributing via mail, but it still does not address the peer-to-peer aspect of MOOCs (well, the cMOOCs at least).  I have often described coursera, udacity and edx (the xMOOC poster boys) as a television distance education course with discussion forums because of their sage on the stage approach to MOOCs.  I am not sure that this is totally appropriate given the online medium's capabilities, but I am sure that there are applications where this is indeed the right course of action, or something similar to it anyway.

MOOC, cMOOC, xMOOC may be jargon. Actually, they are jargon to those outside the experimental world of MOOCs. That said, I disagree that we already have terms that map directly onto these new terms.  Student-Centered does not directly map onto "connectivist," and "student centered" is someone else's jargon. The ideas are not as old as dirt.  If they were, we'd be out of a job. We would have discovered everything there is to discover and we'd hang up our robes, go to the beach and enjoy an Mai Tai.  We are, or should be, exploring new ideas and refining our understanding of how things work, and how we can improve upon them.  Ideas, as I wrote above, are not new, but they are refinements on what has come up in the past.  Refinements are not the same thing as the original.

Comment 3
". . . facilitating a MOOC is different from both of them. The medium is experimental and instructors do need to adapt their teaching."
You are using the words "facilitating" and "teaching" interchangeably. When you are discussing MOOCs, you really need to stick to using "facilitating" because there isn't any teaching involved.
Teaching is NOT information dissemination which is the premise behind a MOOC. Teaching is about interaction and cyclical feedback mechanisms.
You discuss the lack of formal assessment practices in MOOC beyond the standard mastery completion of T/F, MC quizzes. I would highly recommend that you consider revising your definitions of mastery and assessment. When was the last time you were asked a multiple choice question in the "real world?" (Sorry I'm not providing you with choices to answer that.)
When authentic assessment mechanisms with extrinsic feedback become the norm, then you can recommend that we "go forth and MOOC."
Good catch!  Yes, I do interchange the titles between teaching and facilitating.  Why?  Because, in my opinion, the role of facilitator and that of a teacher are one in the same. The course, xMOOC or cMOOC, does start off with some structure, and there are weekly knowledge experts that teach some aspect of the course.  That said, those teachers are not the end-all-be-all of the course.  The teacher does slip into the role of facilitator as everyone in the MOOC comes together to learn.  Thus, going back to the more knowledgeable other/peer (Vygotsky) that I mentioned above, we have a setup where teachers go into teaching or facilitating roles depending on the need of the MOOC.  That said, even in campus-based courses, I don't know if we can just have one without the other.  I see both terms as different sides of the same coin.  Feel free to disagree with me (and provide evidence), but that's my view for now.

Now, I disagree with the assertion that the premise behind MOOCs is information dissemination.  Anyone who claims this has not been in cMOOC, or has not actively participated in a well-designed xMOOC. I am not sure how to remedy this for you anonymous commenter, other than to say: "try being a student in a MOOC and participate." That said, I've had quite a few courses, both graduate and undergraduate where the point of the course seemed to be information dissemination. It may have not been intended as just a method of disseminating information, but that's how it felt from a participant's perspective.  This was especially true in Mathematics courses. Those courses lacked the interactions and cyclical feedback mechanisms you describe as part of your rubric for what teaching is, whereas I had those in certain MOOCs, like FSLT12 and OLDSMOOC for example.

Finally, as far as assessment goes, dear anonymous, you should double check what Mastery Grading is.  Mastery grading is not incompatible with the way that some xMOOCs are currently setup up.  If you are allowed to take a quiz virtually unlimited amount of times until you get a satisfactory grade (or until you plateau) you are essentially given many opportunities to demonstrate how well you know the materials (how well you've "mastered" it).  To answer your question, when was the last time I saw multiple choice tests in the real world:  I had a few graduate courses that used MC tests as part of a final evaluation. Now the best way to test student's knowledge, but I did experience this in a brick and mortal school.  Even outside of school, think about exams like the PMP, CAPM and other professional certification exams.  All of those are MC tests. Just saying...  A

As a side note, this last comment seemed rather aggressive, argumentative, ignorant, and a bit like it was coming from a troll. I don't know if this was the intent; or if this was a "get off my lawn" comment; or something else like someone just had a bad day.  I'll chalk it up to the lack of context, and paralinguistic features that text in general has. I generally don't respond to trolls, but just in case this was an earnest comment, I thought I should write a response.

Your thoughts?

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