MOOCS: Additional Reflections on Great (and Not-So-Great) Expectations

We’re far from finished with our efforts to determine how massive open online courses (MOOCs) will fit into our learning landscape, recently published articles and personal experiences continue to suggest.

A MOOCmate’s engaging “A Record of My #ETMOOC Experience, 2013”; a Chronicle of Higher Education article suggesting that “The MOOC ‘Revolution’ May Not Be as Disruptive as Some Had Imagined”; and my own extensive and ongoing reflections on  #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC developed and facilitated by Alec Couros and his wonderful gang of “conspirators” earlier this year) and R. David Lankes’s “New Librarianship Master Class” (a MOOC developed and delivered under the auspices of the University of Syracuse School of Information Studies) help us understand why MOOCs continue to provoke strongly positive as well as intensely negative reactions among those drawn to the topic.

etmoocThrough her thoughtful and encouraging “A Record of My #ETMOOC Experience, 2013,” Canadian educator-philosopher-writer Christina Hendricks provides one of the most encouraging in-depth surveys I’ve read from a MOOC participant. The article is a great example of what a well-facilitated MOOC delivers in terms of learning that produces quantifiable results; it also draws more attention to the #etmooc community of learning that continues to thrive in Google+, on Twitter through the #etmooc hashtag, and through other online exchanges. The concrete results, from that MOOC that fostered explorations of educational technology and media, include blog pieces that are, in and of themselves, learning objects organized through a wonderful blog hub hosting more than 3,300 postings from a group of more than 500 individual contributors; videos that can be used by other learners interested in exploring educational technology and media; the thousands of tweets that provided learning resources and extended conversations among learners worldwide; and examples of tech tools used to produce learning objects by learners engaged in learning.

Hendricks concludes her “Record” with the suggestion that “[t]hat’s it for my ‘official’ participation in ETMOOC, but I am certain my connections with others will continue…”—as fine a tribute to effective and engaging learning as I can imagine reading.

Steve Kolowich, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this month, offers a different view with his opening sentence: “In California, the MOOC revolution came to a halt unceremoniously.” He accurately describes how a state legislator and educators at San Jose State University backed away from the strong support they had been expressing for MOOCs just a few months earlier, and cites problems the university had with its initial MOOCs: “…a lower pass rate than the face-to-face version” of a course and “similarly underwhelming outcomes” in other MOOCs offered through the university.

Students who earned university credit will, he notes, “get to count those credits toward their degrees,” but those who opted only for certificates were left with little to show for their efforts, the chair of the university psychology department was quoted as suggesting: “You can’t take that and get a cup of coffee with it.”

That can’t-get-a-cup-of-coffee approach, for me, illustrates why reactions to MOOCs in their still-early stages of development continue to vary so widely from person to person: Those seeing them only in terms of academic credits while ignoring the positive learning experiences they can produce are justifiably unimpressed; those of us who are motivated by a desire for learning and participation in effective communities of learning find ourselves amply rewarded by and enthusiastic about what we experience—particularly in the connectivist MOOCs that can foster high levels of long-term engagement.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_LogoParticipation in the “New Librarianship Master Class” MOOC is offering a view from a position somewhere in the middle of the to-MOOC-or-not-to-MOOC debate. Far less connectivist in its approach, New Librarianship is centered around online pre-recorded lectures and quizzes—but that doesn’t mean that self-motivated learners didn’t find ways to push it a bit toward connectivist interactions. When many of us leapt beyond the confines of the official course bulletin boards and found ourselves engaging with the instructor and each other via Twitter, the levels of engagement began to flow as they did (and still do) through #etmooc. Tweets provided links to related material, inspired conversations through cross-postings on blogs, and even drew comments from people not formally enrolled in the master class—an amazing demonstration of how learning benefits from permeable (physical and virtual) walls. They also reminded us that those initially involved in the development of MOOCs saw these levels of connection/engagement as integral to this type of learning rather than viewing MOOCs as just another way to transfer onsite learning into an online environment.

The writers of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project  2013 Higher Education report note that “George Siemens and Stephen Downs in 2008, when they pioneered the first courses in Canada…envisioned MOOCS as ecosystems of connectivism—a pedagogy in which knowledge is not a destination but an ongoing activity, fueled by the relationships people build and the deep discussions catalyzed within the MOOC. That model emphasizes knowledge production over consumption, and new knowledge generated helped to sustain and evolve the MOOC environment…. As massively open online courses continue their high-speed trajectory in the near-term [one-year] horizon, there is a great need for reflection that includes frank discussion about what a sustainable, successful model looks like” (pp. 11-12).

Pieces like those produced by Christina Hendricks, Steve Kolowich, and many others contribute to that frank discussion; reports documenting the importance of preparing online learners for their online learning experiences point to the obvious need to support learners in whatever venue they decide to learn. All of these efforts have the potential to inspire us to continue deeply diving into the intoxicating waters of training-teaching-learning and helping us become members of dynamic communities of learning—and they make us far better learning facilitators and learning advocates capable of serving the learners who rely upon us.

N.B.: This is the twenty-third in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc and the ninth in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.

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