MoocMooc – Looking Back

I’m taking part in MoocMooc, a mooc about moocs. It’s one of the shorter MOOCs at one week long and our final day’s task is to reflect on our experiences over the week. So what are my thoughts after a week of this ‘meta-mooc’?

Firstly, on the nature of MOOCs themselves, their strength (whatever type of MOOC we’re talking about) is that they offer opportunities for education to people that would not otherwise have access to them. They have a number of issues. For example, the definition of ‘open’ that they employ varies across the different types. Some MOOCs have proprietary content hosted within a proprietary platform so that ‘open’ refers only to being able to access. Other MOOCs such as David Wiley’s Introduction to Openness in Education  are open in the fullest sense – open access to open content on an open source platform. Their definition of ‘course’ is just as loose. In MOOCs such as Udacity (xMOOCs) a course closely resembles traditional education while in the connectivist MOOCs the course is whatever path the learner chooses to take and success or failure at the course largely depends on whether the participant learned what they needed from participation in a network of peers.

Secondly, assessment and credentialling are also issues and related to the concept of what it means to succeed or fail in a course. The massive element is only causing issues when the designer of the MOOC is trying to scale traditional practices of teaching or assessment to the MOOC, e.g. assessment via a submitted piece of writing. For this reason, I don’t think that xMOOCs will replace the traditional university experience because they’re trying to replicate the existing experience online and at a larger scale but without having solved the problems and contradictions that that approach will bring. For example, if one group of participants is paying for credentialling then is the MOOC really open or is it just a distance education course with guest access? And if the course offers credentialling then how can assessment be done at scale and with validity?

The more connectivist MOOCs could have the capacity to be a more disruptive effect on the traditional university experience because they are trying to do something different, and because they’re trying to do something different the methods of assessment need to be different. Indeed, connectivist MOOCs in their purest form mean that we will need to examine not only what assessment is, but what the purposes of assessment are.

Have I enjoyed this week? Absolutely, despite not being as ‘connectivist’ as I would have liked. My previous experience with MOOCs had been with Coursera and Udacity and I was interested in experiencing a different approach, as well as starting to get my head around the various facets of MOOCs.

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MOOCs and participant pedagogy

I’m taking part in MoocMooc, a mooc about moocs. Each day we’re given some articles and questions as a starting point and today the theme is participant pedagogy and the questions are:

  1. How does the rise of hybrid pedagogy, open education, and massive open online courses change the relationships between teachers, students and the technologies they share?
  2. What would happen if we extracted the teacher entirely from the classroom? Should we?
  3. What is the role of collaboration among peers and between teachers and students? What forms might that collaboration take? What role do institutions play?

I’m going to look at the first two.

For question one, it depends on what flavour of MOOCs we are talking about. xMOOCs (such as Udacity and Coursera) change the relationship between student and teacher by making it more remote, both in a physical sense and also in the sense of teaching presence because it presents even less opportunity for students to interact directly with the tutor, although this is compensated to some extent by increasing the opportunities for students to interact with each other through the use of forums. Paradoxically, from the student’s point of view it can appear to increase the teaching presence because the video and presentation are informal, and made to feel more personal, more like the interaction of face-to-face tutorial.

cMOOCs (such as ds106) fundamentally change the relationship between teachers and learners because the emergent skills and knowledge are constructed by active participation in a network where the participants are both learners and teachers.

For question two, I think teacher-less environments would not work because it would put too much responsibility on the learner to be an effective independent learner from the start, neglecting the idea that these skills are learned behaviours and not innate. However, teacher-less does not necessarily indicate a directionless environment. Direction could be given using technology to guide students and offer them appropriate opportunities to navigate adaptively through materials. For example, answer X wrong and the platform might suggest you revise A before you look at Z. I have two issues with this: firstly, it takes away the development of independent learning skills since the software has a strong influence of what is learned when. Secondly, it presumes that there is a body of knowledge to be learned, i.e. the focus returns to the mastery of content, not the development of skills and abilities. It becomes training rather than education. In essence, it makes all the demands of a student that a cMOOC does but without any of the benefits.

Participant pedagogy highlights the fundamental tension between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. In the former, the hierarchy is narrow and tall with the teacher at the top. In the latter, the hierarchy is wider and flatter with the ‘pinnacle’ occupied by different people at different times.