(Re)Introducing MOOCs: The Worst Idea at the Best Time

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I co-presented this paper with my colleague, Jack Hannes, at the 11th International Symposium for Communication in the Millennium held May 22-24 at St. Cloud State University. The following is my portion of the roundtable presentation. (I apologize for the fragmented notes… Jack and I went back and forth during the presentation.)

Definitions & Background

MOOCs, or massive online open courses, are large cohort online classes started around 2010/11 when a few Stanford professors designed a tuition-free course system which is open to virtually anyone on the web.

Prior to what is perceived as the new MOOCs today, some old open-source platforms were available since 2008, where a handful of universities made their course materials available on the web. According to George Roberts (2012), these old, MOOC-like models:

  • Have explicit pedagogical perspectives (social constructivist)
  • Are distributed; have open-source platforms components (Websites, wikis)
  • Cultivate intentional social media conversations (Blogs, Twitter, etc.)
  • Open challenge to institutions (Access, environments, assessments)

Examples: Opencourseware like Open Yale Courses, or courses/podcast on iTunes U.

We see a lot of these traits remain in the new MOOCs, where courses are offered via MOOC providers — startup companies set up to give “everyone access to the world-class education that has so far been available to a select few.” Among these providers are Coursera, edX, Canvas, Udemy, etc.

Major funders: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Harvard-MIT collaboration, etc.

MOOCs for composition & communication (from writing to speech to mass comm to film studies):

Debates & Positions

MOOCs and the Connectivist Theory: The evolving MOOC knits together education, entertainment, and social networking. Originated about 2008 within the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement, MOOCs are developed based on connectivist theory, emphasizing that learning and knowledge acquisition happen from the interactions within a network of connections. Connectivism was a new educational framework developed at the dawn of the 21st Century, explaining how people learn in a networked and digital world (George Siemens, 2005). According to Stephen Downes, connectivism is essentially the idea that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks. Students participating in MOOCs are often required to play an active role in contributing to discussions through the course forums or third-party social networks, such as Facebook groups, Twitter, or Google Plus/Hangout. Capitalizing on the opportunity of the existing wealth of interconnectivity and social networking among its students, MOOCs encourage peer-to-peer learning, reviews, and even grading, which is another hot debate in the MOOC mania.

“Peer” Evaluation in MOOCs:

  • Blind leading the blind: are these students ready to evaluate others’ work?
  • Assigned vs. Free choices: Issues with diversity and experience
  • Picky students: A series of unfortunate evaluations
  • Ground rules/guide to evaluation

MOOCs aren’t serious pedagogy (?):

While the medium of learning still relies largely on lectures, MOOC certainly presents challenges in terms of the quality of the learning experience. Can learning be scaled up this much (think about a course taken by 400,000 students, taught by a team of five professors)? Other questions include:

  • Are MOOCs appropriate for the humanities?
  • Do students really know how to take MOOCs?
  • Power and ideologies within the platforms (Selfe & Selfe)
  • What are the targeted success rates in students taking MOOCs (passing)?
  • Medium is the message (McLuhan)
  • Banking model detected? (Freire)

For online writing instruction, check out: NCTE OWI Guidelines.

Image courtesy of David Kernohan @dkernohan, illustrating the massive destruction of MOOCs on higher education. 

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