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?

Iterating toward … what exactly?

One year ago, I was still settling into my brand-new position as Faculty Director of Online Education at MiraCosta. I dabbled with POT(Cert) last year and my first POTCert post was full of questions that I think I now have answers for. Of course, many of those answers are, “it depends,” “we’re not sure” or “you tell us.” I feel more comfortable with the ambiguity, more aware of where the immediate opportunities exist to make a difference, and also more settled with taking a long view when it comes to being part of significant institutional change/growth. And aren’t all of those things part of life as an educator?

If I begin to think I have it all figured out – whether it’s content, pedagogy, students, technology, my institution, my colleagues – I probably am becoming a bit stale. Thus my blog’s title and tagline – Education Everywhere: life = growth = learning = change.  For me, the fundamental excitement of online education is that it offers an opportunity to rethink the conceptual (not just physical) boundaries that come to us with time- and place-bound education. And rethink not just once, but continually.

Thus the concept of iteration – as Wikipedia says, “the act of repeating a process usually with the aim of approaching a desired goal or target or result.” So what might that goal/target/result be for an educator? Clearly, student learning is at the top of the list. But even that raises questions: learning what? And how do we know if learning occurs? And how do we find a link between our process (course design & teaching) and that learning?  And so we think about more specific aims … which then adds a further iterative aspect to what it means to be an online instructor.

David Wiley’s blog is called iterating toward openness; he is a key leader in improving education through development and use of open educational resources. What I like about this is his goal is really a principle. It is not a concrete, black-and-white target. Measurable outcomes are often thought of as destinations, with broader principles as guideposts/roadmaps, but I think it’s the other way around.

So, to wrap up this introduction of myself for Potcert 12 … what drives me? What am I “iterating toward”? As an educator, leader, manager, coach, and parent, my ultimate hope is to co-create an environment in which people thrive: that is, they find safety, health, and respect; they discover connection and meaning; they express caring, creativity, and joy. Is there a way to express that more succinctly? I look forward to elaborating (iterating) on this theme in the weeks to come …