Power and control in ModPo

I am now, 3 weeks into ModPo, very aware of the differences between the original cMOOCs (e.g. CCK08 – the very first MOOC run by Stephen Downes and George Siemens) and xMOOCs – and I think it relates to this slide that Stephen Downes recently talked us through at the ALT-C Conference

SD ALT-C slideshareWhat are cultures of Learning – http://www.slideshare.net/Downes/2013-09-12-altc

xMOOCs might be either A) Centralised or B) Decentralised but they are not C) Distributed, i.e. not in the same sense that CCK08 and subsequent MOOCs such as Change 11, run by Downes and Siemens, were.  Although xMOOCs such as ModPo do have a Twitter stream and a Facebook group, they do not encourage people to find and create their own discussion groups in locations of their choice, as the original cMOOCs did.

ModPo for me is very centralized – with the centre being Al Filreis and to a certain extent his TAs. No Al Filreis – no ModPo. He is the ‘sage on the stage’. And it seems to be working well for most people. Al is charismatic. There are hundreds of discussion threads and Al Filreis and his team of TAs are very visible in there. They must be exhausted.

I am loving the poetry in ModPo – all new to me – and the video discussions which model and demonstrate how to close read these poems are very engaging. Even within one week I felt I had learned a lot, not least that some poets resonate and others do not.

But, despite this, there are elements of ModPo that I find disturbing and they are mostly to do with the assessment process, which on a professional level (as an educator) have concerned me.

I have already mentioned in a previous post  that I can’t see any value in having to post to discussion forums as an assessment requirement. Now there are three other points related to assessment that I find troubling.

1. The assessment criteria (peer review instructions) were not posted before people submitted their assignments and this does make a difference – because, for example, the reviewers were asked to judge whether assignment writers had understood Emily Dickinson’s use of dashes in her poetry. Whilst dashes were discussed at length in the videos, they were not mentioned in the assignment writing guidance. Participants/students should always know the criteria they are being assessed against.

2. The fact that all the assignments, once they have received one peer review, are automatically posted to one of the Coursera forums, i.e. all the 30 000 participants can see the submitted assignment if they have the time and energy to wade through the 75 (at the last count) that have automatically been posted.

Assignment writers were not asked whether they would be willing for this to happen.  In an Announcement to the class they were told that “This enables everyone to participate, at least a little bit, in the reading and reviewing of essays” – but frankly all it does it load even more discussion threads to the forums, which are already overloaded and – more significantly – takes the control and ownership of the assignment and learning process out of the hands of the learner more than is necessary.

For me a successful adult learning process relies on learners having as much autonomy as possible (another principle from the early cMOOCs, but also one backed up by research into adult learning). All it needed was consent from the assignment writer.

3. The third point is the worst. A participant has been publicly named and shamed for plagiarism in the assignment submission forum mentioned above. Her assignment was automatically posted as explained – so she had no choice over the matter. The reviewer had not noticed the plagiarism (a section copied from Wikipedia) – but to the title of her post has been added (Note from Al: this essay has been plagiarized).  At the beginning of the course there was a stern warning in the initial announcement about plagiarism – although I can’t find it now – and participants submitting assignments are asked to tick a box saying that the work is their own.

It could be argued that public naming and shaming of a participant serves as a warning to all other participants – but I think it is cruel and ultimately destructive. I know from experience that foreign students often have difficulty understanding what plagiarism means and as far as I can see there is no advice on the site about citing sources. However you look at it, I don’t believe a student should ever be publicly named and shamed. She should have been contacted privately by email. That would have been enough – especially since she may not get the certificate anyhow, since she hasn’t made any discussion forum posts. Did anyone bother to check?

These exhibitions of power, control and centralization are a long way off the original conception of MOOCs.

2 thoughts on “Power and control in ModPo

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