Sunday, December 28, 2014

MOOC thoughts closing out 2014

It's the final stretch of 2014! This makes it my fourth year in exploring MOOCs - boy does time fly!  When I started off with LAK11 I was really just looking for ways to continue learning for free.  While I do get a tuition benefit at work, this also involves standard semesters of 13 weeks, getting work-release time (since online learning isn't covered by the benefit) and retaining the motivation to keep going through a predefined course and syllabus.  Even when MobiMOOC happened and we formed the MobiMOOC research team I really didn't foresee that the, oddly named, MOOC would catch on fire the way it did.  At the time I was eager to get some initial thoughts together on how to put together a MOOC (now they are called cMOOCs) and put together a Great Big MOOC Book, with others, that was a right mix of research and practice.  Since the MOOC has really expanded a lot over the years, with many different things being called a "MOOC" the original idea might be better renamed to The Great Big Book on Open Online Learning (if there are any takers on this, you know my email and twitter - it should be a fun little project, licensed under creative commons of course).

Each year with my involvement in MOOCs I meet some great new people, get re-acquainted with some old, trusty, MOOCers, and learn more about my own behavior about learning in these open spaces.  In addition to the cMOOC (connected courses) and the rMOOC (Rhizo14), there are a few things that I explored in the xMOOC world this year that made me ponder and still keep me thinking. Here is a high level overview of four things that stood out to me:

Languages other than English:

This year I experimented with MOOC providers whose primary language was something other than English.  Those were MiriadaX (Spanish), France Universite Numerique MOOC (France), and OpenCourseWorld (German). Even though I never studied Spanish in a classroom, the amount that I self-studied, and my knowledge of other romance languages, made it possible to go through a number of MOOCs on this platform. On the one hand I think it's great to have content in another language, but the paradigm that they are using (video lecture, textual materials, quizzes) seems fundamentally flawed to me for "deep" learning. There were some MOOCs that I really enjoyed (the 3rd Golden Age of TV for example) but this was probably because of the camera work for the videos, the on-screen chemistry of the presenters, and the analysis of the topic.  The white-screen and voice-over-powerpoint had me yawning.  I wanted to pay more attention, but I found the visuals distracting me from paying attention to the language that I didn't speak well, so the lack of motivation became a language comprehension issue.

I only attempted one MOOC at FUN, which was basically a how to run your own MOOC from soup to nuts. The FUN platform is based on Open EdX which made it familiar. The interesting thing about this MOOC were the multiple ways of going through the MOOC.  It was basically broken down by ADDIE and you could pick any track to complete the course.  Some newbies would focus on the A and D part, while others could work more on implementation.  Due to time constraints I didn't "finish" this MOOC, but I did like it a lot as a way to practice my French.  The thing I found out is that on MiriadaX, when submitting things in passable Spanish (or English!) I would get OK feedback, whereas on FUN I would be docked points on assignments for bad French. I haven't written detailed French for a while now.  I think the last time I did it was for a cMOOC, on this blog, so it's probably not that good.  This was an interesting social experience for me (grading with a language barrier).

Certification - M'eh

In previous years, when certificates of completion on the various MOOC platforms were easier or free to get I actually cared more about "passing" the course and getting that little piece of digital paper.  I know it's silly, but I would enroll in fewer MOOCs, do all the assignments (no matter how silly or non-applicable some of them might seem to me) in order to get the certificate.  Basically if I wanted to do some assignments because I thought they were cool, if I was close percentage-wise to the minimum mark for a certificate of completion I would get myself to do the ones I didn't care much for because I was so close to that certificate.  This year, with the advent of verified certificates, and the lack of a basic and free certificate for those courses, I decided that I could dispense with the assignments altogether. Basically, what it boils down to, is that since there was no chance of getting a prize at the end of race, why bother staying on the path?  This year my xMOOC approach (at least with coursera, where courses may become inaccessible at the conclusion of the course) has been to enroll in anything that seems interesting and download all resources while I still have them available.  The load them onto an iPod and go through them when there is an opportunity to do so.  This means that I am taking back control of my time and deciding when to learn, and what to learn, on my own time.  The only exception to this tactic has been edx.  Their courses still award a free certificate (so I am still hooked), and I make an attempt to participate in DALMOOC which was a topic of interest, but also tried to blend the cMOOC and xMOOC format in a way.  Not so sure how well it did (based on my cursory observations) but I am looking forward to any post-mortem research on this course!

Who is vetting these things?

Even back in 2008, when Siemens, Downes and Cormier worked on CCK, there were academic names attached to MOOCs such as the University of Manitoba, University of Prince Edward Island, and the National Research Council of Canada.  The thing that I have noticed this year is that more and more non-academia entities are entering the MOOC space.  Even if you discount the non-MOOC MOOC provider Udemy, there are MOOC providers outside of North America that are accepting MOOCs from non-academic entities, such as firms on brand image, gamification, and so on.  That's fine, there are many fine folks outside of academia who do research on these things and want to share their passion, but sometimes I feel like I am being sold to when I am taking a MOOC that is not affiliated with a University.  Maybe this is just a perception issue, but I see MOOC offerings by Universities as a Public Service, while MOOCs from a business entity as something that is Freemium, and if I want more (or more substantive things) I ought to buy their books, software, or services.

Research is here!

For the past few years articles on MOOCs have been few and far between.  It was always great to get a new issue of IRRODL, or JOLT, or any other open access publication and see an article on MOOCs.  The surprise factor was great, but it wasn't so great that we didn't get a ton of research into this area.  A lot was opinion (informed and uninformed) and speculation. In 2014 I think we saw the tide change a bit with more research coming out on MOOCs.  I hope that this trend continues!

So, that's it for me and MOOCs in 2014.  What are your highlights (or low-lights) with MOOCs this year?
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