MOOC thoughts, long overdue

Time to get back to this long-neglected blog, with what else but a post about MOOCs. I was fortunate to be able to attend the Re:boot forum at UCLA in early January with the MOOCerstars and politicos, and should have reported on that. I did a lot of live tweeting along with Audrey Watters; see storify1 and storify2 if you’re interested. For quality analysis, Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill did very good work before, during, and after the event.

But that’s not what finally brought me back here. What did? I was asked an open-ended question about the role of MOOCs in relation to community colleges as part of a survey by the CA Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. Here is my response:

MOOCs are certainly an interesting phenomena, but at first glance their current incarnation seems anathema to the community college approach. Community colleges focus on providing an environment where learners of all types find ample support services, small class sizes, instructor attention, and on-target instruction to help them persist, succeed, and receive certification of their educational endeavors in order to increase chances for employment or continuing education.

MOOCs, on the other hand draw in massive numbers of enrollees to, in general, highly specialized subjects. Their pedagogy is generally based on recorded lectures, quizzes, and student-student interaction unmediated by an instructor. Successful completers are a tiny fraction of the enrollees and are usually students who are already highly educated. Completers receive no official credit, although options are growing to receive credit through proctored assessment or by enrolling in a for-credit class which relies heavily on a MOOC for course content and activity. MOOCs at present seem to fall into the accreditation category of Correspondence Education, since they do not provide “regular and substantive interaction” (aka “regular effective contact”) between students and instructor.

Community colleges may find opportunities to provide MOOC assessment or to build local courses around MOOCs, adding the “regular effective contact” piece that MOOCs don’t provide. But the “business model” that elite institutions are following in working with providers like EdX, Udacity, and Coursera does not seem to apply at all at the community college level.

On the other hand, the “true” origin of MOOCs from the early-to-mid 2000s is rooted in ideals of open access, open educational resources, and student-generated content. These MOOCs were built around a more DIY, “take what you need and give back what you can” kind of approach. This model seems to me much more aligned with the community college ideals of community outreach, wide access, and life-long learning. But this is a very different sense of the role of the MOOC than what I see being hyped now.

What’s your take?

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3 thoughts on “MOOC thoughts, long overdue

  1. You’re, as usual, on the mark, Jim.
    I would add that MOOCs are not only anathema to the CC approach, but they have also brought out some extremely interesting dialogue regarding higher education–and much of the dialogue is filled with what I see as hype. MOOCs have been touted as a game-changer in education because they change the rules of access to higher education and they bring “high-quality” education to the masses. I don’t see the truth in either of those statements.

    From a quality perspective, as new and fancy and shiny as MOOCs are, they are old wine in a new bottle.They are the type of teaching practice (and learning experience) that educational reformers have been trying to evolve for decades (centuries?). It’s information transfer plus test. But now it’s in a free (for now), infinitely scaleable form of delivery. So from a quality perspective, I’m not sure this is the type of ‘education’ that *should* be brought to the masses. Which introduces the next point – the masses.

    Do MOOCs solve any issues of access to education? I don’t think so. Access is still limited to the relatively well-to-do of the world (computers, software, high-speed internet); the content of the courses is dependent on a substantial amount of prior education (not many people off the streets are going to walk into an artificial intelligence course and get much out of it); and the skills and competencies that we would want students to be developing are somewhere between non-existent and coincidental in current MOOC designs.

    I’m not overly critical of MOOCs at all (I’m enrolled in 2 at present), but I can’t see what they offer (at present) other than content/quiz/chat with a dash of celebrity. So my questions is, how can we as professors use MOOCs to get that stuff out of our classrooms and make room for higher quality teaching and learning?

    I do think (hope) that MOOCs will be game-changers in higher ed. I’m hoping that all the hype and dialogue surrounding them will eventually result in teachers teaching and students learning in old classrooms in new ways– ways that they should have been teaching and learning all along.

    • Absolutely agree with you, Rob. If I were to speak to MOOCs with less specific regard to community colleges, I’d make many of the same points.

      I have a great distrust of anything hyped as an educational “game changer.” IMHO, there are no educational game changers. Anything that gets hyped as such needs to have a thorough examination of “the man (or woman, or corporation, or political agenda) behind the curtain.”

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