Monday, October 19, 2015

xMOOCs as on-demand documentary viewing

For the past semester I've mostly ignored synchronous learning on coursera.  Instead of consuming materials as they are released, I log in once a week, download the videos for the course, and I keep them in my video library.  If there are textual materials available as well, I donwload those, but I tend to focus more on video materials. When inspiration (or curiosity) strikes, I dive into the specific course of interest and have a video play.  At the moment I tend to play lectures in chronological order, the order that they were listed in - in the course I got them from.

So, why not use coursera as "intended"?  Well, the predominant reason is the lack of time. These past two semesters have been quite busy for me and I don't have the time or inclination to do things as they are released by content providers (yes, I know - the noun used was quite deliberate).  There are also a lot of interesting courses being offered, not just on coursera, but also other MOOC providers. This means that my time, little as it was before, now becomes less when you think of the plethora of stuff that's out there.  My initial tactic was to sign up for many xMOOCs and view things later, but as I discovered, some MOOCs, once the course if "over", have adopted another annoying approach of traditional education - making content in-accessible. So, when I sign up for MOOCs, I download everything I can.  I probably contribute to the great number of 'non completers', but 'completing' a MOOC means many things to many people.  I'll complete the MOOC on my own terms ;-)

I know that some MOOCs are 'on demand' on coursera, which means that you can access them anytime, however those don't easily allow for video downloads. At least, I have not found a way to download for offline viewing thus far, so I usually don't sign up for those.

So, in thinking about my own, recent, use of xMOOC materials, I was thinking of public television, things like the national geographic television channel, documentaries. I was also thinking about  on-demand viewing venues like amazon prime, hulu, and netflix (and to a much lesser degree things like torrenting).  I think over the past 10 years (probably a little more) we've seen a huge change in how entertainment media is accessed and consumed.  Initially we had time-shifiting with devices like TiVo, so you didn't have to watch something on the day that it was on - you could watch it at another time.  Yes, VHS tapes also accomplished the same thing but I had a hard time programming my VCR to do this, whereas TiVo seems to have made it user friendly (even though I never owned a TiVo).

We also experienced place-shifting with things like Sling players which allows you to view things that are outside of your georgraphic region. So, if you are an mid-westerner living abroad, you can watch your local football team abroad if you want. Provided that you have mobile bandwidth, you could watch your local TV locally on your mobile as well. Finally, we have providers such as Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Apple (and the list goes on) that allow you to stream materials to your device.  Some, like Amazon recently, allow you to download a copy for offline use. So, if you are on a plane, or away from the web, you can still watch what you've paid for. So, in the end, you aren't tied to a broadcast model, one where the preferences are set by external interests, but by your time, availability, and mood.

Along with these revolutions in how we consume media, I was thinking how much I liked documentaries as a kid, and I was thinking back to high school where we were required to keep a journal in some science classes (watch a documentary relevant to your science class topic and write about what you learned). And then it hit me.  I am using xMOOC videos in a similar manner as I do television shows these days.  The heuristics of xMOOC videos (at least the social science and history ones I tend to follow) are such that they encourage this type of viewing.  I can just add them to my iPad and I can view them while I am on the train, or while shaving (most of them seem to be talking heads, so no worries about cutting myself), or while gardening (ditto on the talking head).  Learning, then, becomes embedded into other activities.  This is not because the learning isn't engaging - if it were boring I wouldn't be doing it - but rather because the heuristics of materials provided as the bread and butter of the course seem to point to that usage.  If a learner doesn't have the need to engage socially with fellow co-learners, and if the materials don't connect in ways that encourage such social aspects, then nothing is lost. Now...if only those videos were all OERs...

Compare this with cMOOCs. More specifically a cMOOC called creativity for learning in higher ed, The collaboration and discussion component is a large part of the MOOC.  To get the most out of this MOOC you'd have to be engaged in the course, via discussions and exchanges with other co-learners, because that's what the design heuristics dictate. Since I am currently too busy with school and work for this MOOC, I probably won't participate in it as it exists when many are working in that space. I do however think that I will most likely come back in December once the semester is over and I can take a breather.

To wrap up, back to my xMOOC videos as documentary viewing - what do you think?  Should we encourage such asynchronous view of  learning and engaging in the material? What does this do to our current notions of 'completion' and 'engagement'?  How about assessment of learning?   Your thoughts?

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