Thursday, January 14, 2016

Internationalizing social work via MOOCs

First week of the new semester!  Last semester, with everything going on I decided to put off reviewing a book I told people I'd review, but for this semester I think I'll just forget ahead and get this done.  So, back for another review of a chapter in the book titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (an IGI global title).  This time I am reviewing chapter 5, which is titled Internationalising social world education using Massive Open Online Courses.   The abstract is as follows:

Internationalising the curriculum is a priority of universities worldwide and increasingly a focus of social work education. Social workers espouse principles of global justice and community development yet social work in Australia remains locally focused. A review of international and local trends in the literature on ePedagogy and social work education within the context of internationalising the social work curriculum highlights current trends and practices in blended delivery and future opportunities provided by massive open online courses (MOOCs). Consideration of a case study of educational practices in the design and delivery of a community work course in blended delivery mode in Australia and India and via MOOC offering reveals that contemporary educational technologies can facilitate quality learning and teaching experiences. It is argued that increased flexibility in course offerings provides students with greater choice to engage in a range of quality educational experiences that are locally and globally contextualized. This chapter is well placed for the discussion on social networking and collaborative learning MOOCs – building MOOCs communities.

Initially I thought that this chapter was going to discuss an actual implementation of MOOCs in social work, however the chapter spent most of the time framing social work education in the Australian context, and framing the discussion around MOOCs.  The actual case study is more of a proposal of how such an internationalized MOOC would work rather than the actual results from such an implementation.

Still, I did enjoy reading more about Australia's distance education past, and learning more about how they approached distance education and fleximode courses.  I think one thing we are missing today in the education of our learning designers and educational technologists are topics and trends that came before the last few years.  We keep being forward looking, but we forget that our past can inform our decision, and some things from years past come be useful in the present and potentially in the future.

Another interesting aspect of this article is the brief discussion of the three levels of the Briggs and Tang model for internationalizing education.  I had not come across these before, so these are worth going into a little deeper in subsequent reading.

In any case, the  case study described in this chapter's final section is about undertaking a jointly offered course on social work between Australian universities and a university in India.  While it is interesting to consider, it seems to me that what the authors were describing in this chapter was more like a jointly offered course that takes the blended approach.  Some online aspects, some local aspects, and the course, by virtue of being jointly designed, would have local subject experts to explain and direct students to the conditions local to them.  This does not seem so radical to me considering that my own College of Management had setup something very similar with a university in Hungary back when our LMS was WebCT (so, six or so years ago).  Now, this is despite the fact that my college of Management at the time didn't see the value of online learning, and they couldn't conceive of how learning could happen when you're not in a physical classroom.  If they could do this, with that mindset, I think that the concept is a bit old hat, and MOOCs and open learning are really an adjunct to this enterprise.

One of the things that stood out to me was a quote by Wiseman (1997) who asked "Why would you internationalize courses which are grounded in our local cultural practices?"  I should say that the notion of internationalization means (at least according to Biggs & Tang) that there is a demonstration of awareness by the educator of different learning behaviors among different groups,  there is an encouragement of different cultural expressions incorporated into the curriculum, and the curriculum focuses on similarities rather than differences. When you think of that last part, then Wiserman's question makes sense.

However, I would argue that there is a place for both courses altered to focus on a grander level, one that is international in nature that looks at things that are similar amongst the various groups, and there is room for unaltered courses that only keep in mind the local context.  Local context allows for a level of authenticity in the materials in a way that, perhaps, an internationalized course does not.  With all local flavor removed to focus on what's similar, there is (in my mind) a potential lack for making everything "vanilla".

I obviously need to read more about internationalizing education and where the field stands today to have a more informed opinion.  As far as this article is concerned, however, I think that it would be interesting to see if they went ahead with this experiment, and what the outcomes were for open participants (i.e. those not registered for credit).

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