A vision for online “tutoring”

If you haven’t heard, the California Community College (CCC) system has undertaken a 57 million dollar, 5 year (to begin with), Online Education Initiative. Check it out if you haven’t heard about it – suffice to say it’s a grand vision for supporting student access and success across the system that goes far beyond provision of online courses to online learning infrastructure and integrated support services for students and faculty across the 112 CCCs.

I am participating in a small working group considering how online tutoring should be a part of the mix (since I helped MiraCosta to become the first CCC to offer online tutoring via the Western eTutoring Consortium rather than by outsourcing completely). In our early discussion, we have been invited to consider a grand vision for online tutoring. Here’s mine – what do you think?

Aristotle tutoring Alexander

Aristotle tutoring Alexander (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Online tutoring in a perfect world is a great support option for all students, not just those enrolled in online classes. The advantages of high-quality learning online are brought to bear: anywhere, anytime, rich media, abundant high-quality relevant resources, a supportive community, flexible options for presentation of information, engaging interaction, and systemic analytics and processes that over time make online support even easier and more targeted for each individual as well as enabling continuous systems improvement.

In this vision, online tutoring is not just a quick fix, remedial option for struggling students, but a performance enhancer, a support mechanism with the potential to help every learner – even those who are already excelling – to go beyond their current capabilities.

Online tutoring in a perfect world is not merely an “extra” layer of support services that students must seek out beyond their typical educational routine. Rather, every faculty member, every course, and even other non-course academic and student support areas (e.g. the library) find ways to integrate online tutoring on-ramps/opportunities throughout the student experience so that tutoring is seen as normal, present, integral, and available whenever it might be needed.

In this vision maybe “tutoring” as a term becomes obsolete and we need to craft a new, more expansive word that encompasses this notion of ever-present support. As this evolves it might more seamlessly incorporate and interface with other forms of online support for all learners, including peer communities, counseling and advising, mentoring, real-world connections with community members, support programs for special populations, co-curricular and extra-curricular experiences, library resources, discipline-specific resources, information literacy guidance, tech support, study skills, etc.

Would love to get more thoughts on this …


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?