Roles for Educators in MOOCs

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In the first Hotseat of the series for the Networked Learning Conference 2016, Mike Sharples asks a series of questions to promote discussion about massive open social learning. All the discussion questions were interesting and there was some overlap between threads, but for this post I would like to comment on some of the responses to Mike’s question:

What are the appropriate roles for educators (in MOOCs)?

12 people engaged in this discussion. I will be referring to their ideas but not citing them in this post. If you want to check who said what then the discussion forum is open.

Mike Sharples’ question referred to educators, but sometimes people were talking about educators, sometimes about teachers and the two words were often used interchangeably. The difference in meaning between these two words was not discussed, presumably because people didn’t think there was one or it wasn’t sufficiently important.

Going through the forum posts it is clear that we didn’t come to any conclusions. It was recognised that MOOCs, with their massive numbers of learners have raised questions about who is the teacher in a MOOC, can anyone be a teacher, whose role is it to facilitate discourse, whose role is it to scaffold learning and so on. It was also recognised that in MOOCs the teacher/educator’s role is likely to be distributed, either through a team of teachers or between learners, and that there are multiple roles that a MOOC teacher/educator could adopt (See references to Downes below). The argument was made that in a MOOC the learning environment has been reshaped by technology and needs multiple educators. Interestingly I could cite any number of MOOCs in which there is just one educator (i.e. it has been designed and set up by just one person), and this doesn’t only apply to xMOOCs. If we agree that one person alone cannot effectively teach/educate large numbers of learners at the same time, then are we assuming that, in the absence of teaching team, we are relying on learners to educate/teach each other?

This question of course led to a discussion about what is knowledge and who has it. What is the role of the teacher/educator in negotiated learning, social constructivism and situated learning? Are moderation and facilitation roles enough? A view was put forward that moderation is needed to monitor and manage abuse and facilitation is needed for orchestrating interactions, but what more does a MOOC educator need to do? What about knowledge and truth? What is the teacher’s role in the construction of knowledge in MOOC learning? Is it the MOOC teacher’s role to be a conveyor of authoritative facts and knowledge?

There was some discussion about authority and it was suggested that authority impacts negatively on learner autonomy, which in connectivism is a key characteristic of learning in MOOCs. The idea that a teacher is an authority was questioned (the reason given was that authority is imposed), but the teacher can (and should?) have expertise (expertise is not imposed, but recognised). The role of power and authority in the social construction of knowledge was acknowledged. Of course this discussion could apply to any teaching environment, not just MOOCs. I was left wondering whether separating authority from expertise is straightforward.

We didn’t really get to grips with the question of whether the teacher is ‘redundant’ in a MOOC. Garrison, Anderson and Archer’s CoI framework (see reference list below) and the importance of ‘teacher presence’ was referenced but not discussed, I suspect because the thread was about roles of educators/teachers, rather than about who is the teacher in a MOOC.

In reflecting on this forum discussion, I think that in focussing on roles, we never really got to grips with the question of who is the teacher in a MOOC and whether and why we still need teachers. It was suggested that teachers will never be erased from society but if that is true, what is it that teachers do (and here I mean trained teachers, or career teachers, as opposed to say parents as teachers), that others don’t or can’t do?

I enjoyed the week’s discussions even though I don’t feel much further forward in understanding the teacher’s role in MOOCs. However, looking back through my notes I see that I wrote: ‘A teacher is more than a collection of roles. A teacher has an identity – it’s something about who the teacher is and how the teacher is perceived by learners, as well as what the teacher does – it’s something about the relationship between teacher and learner’. If teaching as a profession is not going to ‘disappear’ (see Biesta’s paper in the reference list) and MOOCs are not going to disappear, then future teachers (those being trained now) will have to understand not only the MOOC environment and the roles they might need to adopt within the MOOC environment, but also have a clear idea of who they are and what they stand for. I was once asked in an interview for a teaching post to explain my teaching philosophy, what I believe in and what I stand for as a teacher, but that was long before MOOCs. Is this a question that MOOC teacher/educators need to be able to answer?

A number of references to literature were made in the forum which show how wide-ranging the discussion was (see below).

A date for your diary: The next Hotseat in this series:

November 8-18, 2015 Sonia Livingstone: Boundaries and Limits of Networked and Connected Learning

References

Biesta, G. (2013). Giving teaching back to education: Responding to the disappearance of the teacher. Phenomenology & Practice, 6(2), 35–49. Retrieved from https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/pandpr/article/viewFile/19860/15386

Can Mill’s empirical account of arithmetic be defended against the criticisms of Frege? 

Common Core Math is Not the Enemy

Downes, S. (2010). The role of the educator. Retrieved from: http://www.downes.ca/post/54312

Downes, S. (2013). We don’t need no educator: The role of the teacher in today’s online education. Retrieved from: http://www.downes.ca/presentation/311

Edinburgh University. Manifesto for teaching online 2015. Retrieved from https://onlineteachingmanifesto.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/manifesto-for-teaching-online-2015/4

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Kop, R., & Hill, A. (2008). Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning,9(3) Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/viewArticle/523

Kop, R., Fournier, H., & Mak, S. F. J. (2011). A Pedagogy of Abundance or a Pedagogy to Support Human Beings ? Participant Support on Massive Open Online Courses. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(7) pp. 74-93. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1041/2025

Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology, NY: Routledge

Niaz, M. (2000). The Oil Drop Experiment: A Rational Reconstruction of the Millikan–Ehrenhaft Controversy and Its Implications for Chemistry Textbooks. 37 (5). Pp. 480-508. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. Retrieved from: http://www.umich.edu/~chemstu/content_weeks/F_06_Week4/Mullikan_Erenhaft.pdf

Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, and Feyerabend

Ross, J, Sinclair, C, Knox, J, Bayne, S & Macleod, H. (2014). Teacher Experiences and Academic Identity: The Missing Components of MOOC Pedagogy. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, vol 10, no. 1, pp. 57-69. Retrieved from: http://www.research.ed.ac.uk/portal/files/17513228/JOLT_published.pdf

Salmon, G. (2011). E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.

4 thoughts on “Roles for Educators in MOOCs

  1. Gordon Lockhart November 1, 2015 / 11:33 pm

    Thanks for yet another interesting post Jenny. I’m currently on the Edinburgh University ‘Philosophy of Science’ MOOC where several educators are involved. Some but not all, are active in the usual gi-normous Coursera forum, helping to define philosophical terms, adding useful info without pushing their own views (much!) and dealing very even-handedly with trolls. As usual, participants with relevant expertise in various areas can be very helpful and people do learn from each other. However, I think most participants would place much importance on the role of the educators as accessible subject experts, albeit in ‘guide on the side’ mode but unfortunately there are plenty of other roles thrust upon the xMOOC educator. In general, I suspect that not a few educators are deterred from more active xMOOC involvement when only the superhuman may be up to performing everything very effectively!

  2. Arjan Tupan November 2, 2015 / 10:13 am

    As a community mentor in a Coursera MOOC (and previously a community TA in another), I think the role of educator can be distributed. But first, we might need to come to an understanding of what that role precisely is. Sometimes it concerns sharing knowledge, sometimes it’s about guidance through the course logistics. And so on. Even as a mentor, I notice that sometimes I’m sharing what I know, and learning from other students. I also think the course instructor can learn a lot from the learners.
    The beauty of MOOCs, for me, is that this all comes together at scale, in a way where the different roles any individual in the course can be educator, learner and guide at the same time.
    Interesting discussion, it seems from reading your post. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. jennymackness November 2, 2015 / 11:26 am

    HI Gordon – thanks for your comment and perspective. Maybe one of the ways in which the role of the teacher/educator is changing is that we will see more team teaching (which will include both qualified trained teachers and voluntary participants) and less of the sole educator/teacher. Roles will be distributed amongst the team. This would, I think, necessarily change the relationship between teacher/educator and learner and views on expertise and authority.

  4. jennymackness November 2, 2015 / 11:32 am

    Thanks Arjun for taking the time to comment here and add to the discussion. I agree that educator roles in MOOCs can be distributed. But is an educator the same as a teacher? Do we still need ‘teachers’ and do we have different expectations of teachers? This question has been raised by Vivien Hodgson in Twitter:

    vivien hodgson
    @VivHodgson
    @CIO_Baz @tryberg @oveucsj interesting summary by @jennymackness of NL hotseat Unresolved question of was it MOOC educator or teacher role?

    vivien hodgson
    @VivHodgson
    @CIO_Baz @tryberg @oveucsj @jennymackness Not only unresolved but an important differentiation not discussed I think ….

    I notice that you only refer to educators.

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