Friday, December 11, 2015

Who's a teacher?

With the semester over, and the brain working on momentum, I've decided to capitalize on the spare brain-power, and time, to finally read a book that I agreed to write a review for back in the summer (yeah, I know - a tad bit late...). The book is a collection of articles titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (an IGI global title).  I'll come back to the topic of the book as a whole after I am done with this process.  I think that going through chapter-by-chapters, picking and reacting to some things that piqued (and poked at) my interests is a little more interesting that trying to condense 15 chapters into one book review. This is sort of what I did with the #rhizoANT review.

Chapter 1 is titled Mining a MOOC: What Our MOOC Taught Us about Professional Learning, Teaching, and Assessment.  The abstract gives us a sense of the article:
In July 2014, a massive open online course (MOOC) entitled The Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) was offered within the University of Melbourne's programme. Designed as a research engagement and dissemination initiative, the ATC21S MOOC enrolled 18,000 education practitioners, predominantly interested in teaching and assessment of complex 21st century skills. This chapter describes the experience of developing and teaching in the MOOC, and of learning through it. The authors suggest areas for ongoing research, and highlight areas in which MOOCs may stimulate broader change. This chapter commences the dialogue for the opening book section – policy issues in MOOCs Design, and responds to the topic of ‘emerging technology and change management issues for eLearning in the MOOCS environment.'
This article seemed a bit like an action research project, which is fine, but it did not really add to my own understanding of MOOCs. It does provide some data, which in aggregate can be considered as part of the xMOOC learning environment, but the MOOC aspect of the article didn't provide much for me personally.  On the other hand, some comments, and assumptions about technology, did pique my interest a bit.  For example, right from the start the authors comment that MOOC platforms are still in their infancy.  While this may be true when discussing platforms like coursera and udacity, we've had the LMS around for at least 20 years.

Another comment "The platform determines the organization of the materials and the processes of the course..." while, in it does ring true, it seems to me that taken together with the previous quote is sort of an excuse to work within the confines of what the MOOC LMS allows.  While I don't consider myself an EduPunk, it's kind of hard to think of MOOCs (these days) and conceive of people painting within the lines of the LMS when what kicked off MOOCs was this sense of the untamed and MacGyvering to reach your aims. In other words, your aims were not determined by what you had available.

The authors asks us to consider that "'teaching' should not be conflated with what a teacher does."  This is true, in a sense.  What a teacher does is teaching, however teaching isn't solely defined by the actions of a teacher.  Fellow students can be teachers as well, if we - for example - take a Vygotskian view of the more knowledgeable other who helps scaffold fellow learners to new learning. That said, I do find it a bit problematic to consider the platform as a teacher "who tirelessly organise[s] the learning experience".

While I do think that technologies can be actors in a learning network (at least from what I've read and experienced with the ANT readings) and they can influence how actors connect and work with other actors and knowledge in that network, I think that the authors of this paper are giving technology, and the LMS in particular, too much of an active role.  The LMS is an inert piece of technology. It does not organize anything. A human actor acts to organize the learning materials, and perhaps learning opportunities, that occur in that learning network.  While, from a connectivist view (if I am interpreting connectivism correctly), the learner can access 'learning' from a non-human appliance, I don't think that the act of providing materials is the same as being a teacher.

In their conclusions, the authors indicate that the "distinctive teaching power of a  MOOC arises from the combine 'teaching' efforts of  three components: a course team of collaborating professionals; a digital platform that tirelessly organises and provides feedback to learners; and the peer teaching capabilities of a collegial, experienced, qualified, group of participants".

Those three components, in my view, are available in traditional online courses as well, so I am not sure how MOOCs are different in this view.  However, I do think that there is a subtle distinction here around the concept of peers: they are collegial, experiences, and qualified.  This to me indicates that MOOCs do have pre-requisites (and those should be encouraged during development) and there is an aspect of collaboration hinted at with the collegial piece. I don't know if I've read in other pieces in the past about "ideal" learner characteristics for MOOCs.

Next blog post, chapter 2.  What do you think of chapter 1?

Milligan, S., & Griffin, P. (2015). Mining a MOOC: What Our MOOC Taught Us about Professional Learning, Teaching, and Assessment. In E. McKay, & J. Lenarcic (Eds.) Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (pp. 1-24). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-8324-2.ch001

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