Critical Discussion in MOOCs

I have been thinking a lot about Terry Anderson’s post and the reaction it provoked in the changemooc sychronous session and in responses to the post (I think this is the right recording of the sychronous session). In this post Terry  ‘laid bare’ that he felt alienated in the session on Rhizomatic Learning led by Dave Cormier, supported by Stephen Downes and George Siemens.

In his post Terry was at pains to say that he respected Dave’s work  – also Stephen and George’s work – but that he had felt alienated from the ChangeMOOC synchronous session for a number of reasons, which were both to do with the conversation (chat) in the MOOC session about the ideas being discussed, and with the concept of a MOOC and the technologies involved.

Dave, Stephen and George’s response appeared to me to be quite defensive and I wondered why. I have noticed this before when MOOCs or Connectivism are interpreted as being attacked. My own interpretation of Terry’s post was that he was genuinely concerned and somewhat bewildered by his sense of alienation. He was not making a personal attack on Dave, George or Stephen but simply expressing how he felt and, from my perspective, being refreshingly open and thoughtfully critical of some of the ideas being expressed.

I don’t want to go into the nitty gritty of what Dave said, or what Terry said or what Stephen and George said. I don’t think that’s the point.

My point is that MOOCs and the ideas within them seem to be over sensitive to critical discussion and opposing points of view. In CCK08 we experienced the maliciousness of a genuine ‘troll’. But Terry’s post was not malicious. He seemed genuinely concerned that he didn’t feel part of either the ideas or the social scene (i.e. alienated – which is not a comfortable feeling – even painful).

For me there are two big and ongoing questions in relation to MOOCs that for me have not yet been satisfactorily answered:

  1. What is the responsibility of the MOOC conveners to ‘newcomers’ or ‘MOOC novices’?
  2. How will the MOOC avoid ‘group think’, and in reality welcome and embrace the diversity of ideas that inevitably comes from a diverse network – which may (and hopefully will) include critical discussion of MOOCs. Isn’t this what a MOOC is supposed to be all about?