The MOOC Bandwagon

As others have noted – most recently Bon Stewart in her Inside Higher Ed article  – everyone seems to be jumping on the MOOC bandwagon at an alarming rate.

This week the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee, UK ) has jumped on it with a webinar entitled

What is a MOOC – JISC Webinar 11-07-12

Four speakers were invited. Here is the programme and here is the recording
12.00 Definitions of MOOCs (Martin Weller)
12.10 Tutor perspective (Jonathan Worth)
12.20 Learner perspective (Lou McGill)
12.30 MOOCs and online learning (David White)
12.40 Q&A

Martin Weller presented a useful overview of the history of MOOCs and some thoughtful ideas about the benefits of MOOCs and the associated concerns in relation to Higher Education.

Jonathan Worth told us about his ‘open’ photography course in which he uses Twitter with his students to reach a wider network of experts. I was not sure that this is a MOOC in my terms, although it was clearly an ‘open’ course. It got me thinking about whether using different technologies necessarily means that the course is distributed across different platforms, which according to Stephen Downes is a necessary condition for a MOOC (at least a connectivist MOOC).

Lou McGill is a staunch advocate of the DS106 MOOC, in which she has been a learner and she shared her experience of authentic learning in this MOOC. She is also working with Strathclyde University to research learner experiences in the Change11 MOOC.  I was a participant in Change 11 and was also interviewed by Lou McGill for the research – an interesting experience in which I realized that my understanding of ‘What is a MOOC?’ stems from CCK08, but many, many people who are discussing MOOCs today were not in that MOOC and appear to be coming from a different place.

Dave White pondered on why the Stanford MOOC attracted such large numbers and thought it must be to do with their credibility and brand name. He raised the question of the role of the teacher/facilitator in MOOCs and suggested that this is important if MOOCs are to be inclusive. This is a topic we have been discussing in our review the FSLT MOOC.

These are my reflections as a result of attending this webinar.

There are still plenty of people who have technical difficulties accessing a site like Blackboard Collaborate. We cannot make assumptions that people have the technical equipment or skills to engage in MOOCs.

Whilst MOOCs might be the new buzzword in Higher Education, there are still plenty of people who have never heard of them, only just heard of them, have no idea what they are, or who completely misunderstand what they are.

The original connectivist principles of MOOCs are getting lost in the plethora of offerings which now bear the name MOOC, e.g.

  • CCK08 (the original MOOC) was an experiment in getting people to think about learning differently;
  • the idea was that learners could be in control of their learning and meet in learning spaces of their own choice  according to the principle of distributed environments (see slide 33 in this presentation by Stephen Downes) and see his LMS vs PLE video
  • learners would experience learning in the massiveness of the network – so they would not be able to rely on the tutor/convener/facilitator – instead they would need to make connections and seek peer support. In the light of this our understanding of the relationship between teacher and learner would need to change
  • the purpose of learning in a MOOC would be to create knowledge and artefacts through exposure to a diverse network, rather than have it centrally provided. This would, through the aggregation, remixing, repurposing and feeding forward of resources shared and created, enrich the learning experience
  • MOOCs were never intended – despite the name – to be ‘courses’ ( see this blog post  and this response from Stephen Downes ); they were intended to be a challenge to the traditional notion of a course – in the form of learning events. If they don’t do this then they are ‘open courses’ (with some of the attributes of MOOCs), but not MOOCs in the terms of how they were originally conceived.

This is my understanding of what is meant by MOOC – now renamed (in the light of different interpretations) a connectivist MOOC. Many of the most recent courses which have been called MOOCs are not MOOCs in these terms, but fall somewhere along the continuum from connectivist MOOCs with these principles, to the Stanford AI type of centrally located MOOC (see Stephen Downes’ LMS vs PLE video for an explanation)

It is evident that there is room for all these different types of MOOCs or ‘open courses’.   But I hope we will not lose the principles of the CCK08 type of connectivist MOOC, as it is the connectivist MOOCs that are really pushing against the boundaries and challenging traditional ways of thinking about teaching and learning, which is of course why many people feel uncomfortable with them and why we are now seeing efforts to somehow tie them down and bring them into line.

11 thoughts on “The MOOC Bandwagon

  1. pmasson July 13, 2012 / 7:34 pm

    Honesty, I am not trying to be snarky and apologize for sounding dismissive, however the four bullets described above are inherent to the native web. That is, the Internet generally, and the Web specifically allows for each of the attributes described above: “learners could be in control of their learning and meet in learning spaces of their own choice” is exactly the ecosystem enabled through http. I can find any resource (a web page, a forum, even a ListServ) and engage with peers, experts, mentors, followers, etc. to discover (learn) anything.

    “Learners would experience learning in the massiveness of the network.” There is no network more massive than the freely available Internet.”
    Again, the idea of “the purpose of learning in a MOOC would be to create knowledge and artefacts through exposure to a diverse network, rather than have it centrally provided,” aren’t we doing this now: you with your post and me with my comment. Wouldn’t this exchange (the discovery of a peer and the content you created made available on a massive where we exchange ideas and learn) meet those requirements for a MOOC?

    My point in bringing this up is not to poo poo MOOC’s ideals, I am a firm believer and advocate for open learning, experiencial and prior learning etc. My fear is that we will create walled gardens called MOOCs that actually limit the massiveness, the openness, the participation and thus the learning.

  2. jennymackness July 15, 2012 / 7:22 am

    Hi Patrick – many thanks for your comments. Of course you are right when you say

    ‘the four bullets described above are inherent to the native web’

    I suppose the difference is that MOOCs are convened and do have a structure, i.e. they last for a certain number of weeks and are organised around planned topics or themes – they are not arbitrary.

    And I suppose the broader purpose of MOOCs is to challenge traditional ways of working in education, higher education in particular.

    What other differences are there? In relation to your comment…..

    ‘My fear is that we will create walled gardens called MOOCs that actually limit the massiveness, the openness, the participation and thus the learning.’

    …..I also agree, which was one of the reasons why I made the post – and I think we are already seeing this in terms of openness.

    Thanks for your visit 🙂

    Jenny

  3. Scott Johnson July 17, 2012 / 4:42 am

    Maybe it’s a walled garden artifact that MOOCs populate with open supportive people—and this matters. Smaller MOOCs at least seem to present with a warmer atmosphere than the wide open net that itself is massive beyond use without some sort of focus. I love the net for wandering and always come back with something interesting but MOOCs seem to add a certain validity that makes the found object useful too.

    As a learner, I can enter a MOOC without qualification, secret handshake or initiation designed to make me suitably appreciative that knowledge I don’t have diminishes me and inflates the holder of that knowledge. For me, a MOOC closes a learning gap that I sought in formal educational classes but never achieved.

    MOOCs are a struggle and often seem to be absent of clear outcome.
    • An experience rather than a course?
    • Education without the ever-present power imbalance?
    • Walled garden full of sillies and malcontents that grow off in all directions without any seeming connection to where, why or for what purpose they were planted?

  4. Mark McGuire July 19, 2012 / 1:34 pm

    I’ve enjoyed the (Connectivist) MOOCs that I’ve participated in, because they tried to strike a balance between structure and freedom. They occupy a position towards the informal end of the formal-informal learning spectrum, for sure, and in that regard, they are more “life-like”.

    In my experience, no course, however formal, structured and “walled-off” can ever really be a completely contained, bounded experience. It is difficult NOT to connect new ideas to known experiences, and we learn from a very young age to assemble and synthesize media, opinions and information from a wide variety of sources. Our brains are not partitioned. In making sense of every new experience in our complex, fluid, ever-changing world, we pull in everything we can, from wherever we can, however we can. A Connectivist MOOC goes with the flow. It doesn’t attempt to separate us from other experiences or from other people — indeed, it invites us to make more considered and meaningful connections in order to make sense of what we are investigating. An important component, of course, is the connected aspect — we are learning in a network, rather than in isolation. We use current tools and technologies to enable us to do collectively what we are unable to do alone. In the process, we leave behind our tracks and traces for others to find and follow.

    Regarding the discussion about Coursera, as Tony Bates asks, “MOOCs may be the answer – but what is the question?” He’s certainly right that “all institutions of higher education need to have a very clear online strategy” (http://goo.gl/kbrT3). The debate about the effectiveness of MOOCs (old and new) also invites us to reexamine our educational (and institutional) goals and objectives.

    Change is gonna come, whether we are ready for it or not. Anyone who tries to predict the future of higher education is a fool or a gambler, probably both. Rather than trying to predict the future, we should be inventing it. And that’s exactly what we are working together to do in a Connectivist MOOC.

  5. jennymackness July 22, 2012 / 8:22 am

    Hi Scott – many thanks for your comment and sorry for the slow response. You have made lots of interesting thought-provoking comments – but I’ll pick up on one

    >MOOCs are a struggle and often seem to be absent of clear outcome.

    George, Marion, Liz and I went to a conference on Friday where we had a slot to talk about the FSLT12 MOOC. George explained that we had run the MOOC with broad aims in mind rather than explicitly documented learnin outcomes. We realised that for most online courses we work on we always have written learning outcomes up front.

    One of the delegates asked us about this. Much of teaching and learning is judged on the quality of the written learning objectives or learning outcomes, so it was not surprising that we were questioned about it.

    My view is (and this relates to the research that I have done with colleagues – https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/publications/ ) – that if we subscribe to emergent learning and the idea that learners will have the autonomy to determine their own learning priorities and paths, as in MOOCs, then thinking writing learning objectives or intended learning outcomes, seems a bit futile.

    We did though agree that learning objectives or intended outcomes are needed to align with assessment criteria is the learning is to be assessed.

    Thanks for your thoughts. We are still reviewing FSLT12 and have a face-to-face meeting booked for next week in Oxford 🙂
    Jenny

  6. jennymackness July 22, 2012 / 8:29 am

    Hi Mark – I completely agree with your comments and thanks for taking the time to make them in response to my blog post.

    I have mentioned in my response to Scott above that we (the FSLT12 team) presented some of the findings of the MOOC at a conference last week. Interestingly, despite that fact that delegates were at an Open Educational Resources /Staff and Educational Development conference (OER/SEDA) – so by implication representing their Higher Education Institutions in these capacities, there were still people who had never heard of MOOCs and plenty of people who couldn’t get their heads round how they work, or how they fit with an institution’s business model.

    But there was a lot of interest – so that’s a good sign.

    I completely agree that

    > Change is gonna come, whether we are ready for it or not. Anyone who tries to predict the future of higher education is a fool or a gambler, probably both. Rather than trying to predict the future, we should be inventing it. And that’s exactly what we are working together to do in a Connectivist MOOC.

    Many thanks for your comments.

    Jenny

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