Friday, October 07, 2011

Ever hear of MOOC?

MOOC? It means "Massive Open Online Course," and I read about it in the comments over at the Chronicle--because I don't have time to sit through a long fanboy podcast when I'm supposed to be working, although apparently writing a blog post is just fine, time-wise.

To say, as the Chronicle diplomatically does, that MOOC courses "poses challenges to traditional education models" is putting it mildly. I clicked through to the courses linked in the article and comments and learned this:
  • MOOC courses are offered to up to 10,000 students at a time.
  • You can learn something, or not, and participate, or not, and do the readings, or not. (Okay, so this the way some students approach a traditional course.)
  • You don't get credit for the course, as far as I can tell. I've looked extensively at the materials for several sites and couldn't find a mention of it. I don't think it costs anything to take a MOOC course, but again, I couldn't find out from the sites.
  • The content for these courses seems to be people talking about social media or education through social media, so in a way, the course is more or less a performance of the subject matter.
  • People who are experts in the content area come in and curate parts or lead discussions of their content area, so you have social media people talking to people who are accessing the course using social media. Students end up practicing what they are talking about.
  • I can't judge the subject matter, since I never took an education course, but it is a very different content base from what we're dealing with in literature, history, psychology, or traditional disciplines in the sciences. The Mother of all MOOCs has modules on "collective learning," "connecting our learning," "learning in times of abundance," "triangulating our learning," and so on.
Here are my questions:
  • I learn a lot from the experts when I go on a site like every so often. I don't get credit for going there, but there are many people contributing to a knowledge base. Do discussion forums on specific topics count as a MOOC, or does the subject matter have to be education?
  • How would this work for a subject in which there is specific, rigorous content on which students need to be evaluated?
  • How would students respond if you tell them, "Hey, kids, here's a swell course for you to take. You'll learn as much as you want to learn and spend a lot of time doing it, but you won't get any college credit for it"?
  • According to trusty Wikipedia, the principles of MOOC are to (1) gather information; (2) remix content; (3) repurpose the content; and (4) feed it forward. This is presented as revolutionary, but how is this different from what we have students do in class every single day?
  • I'm reminded of the "reinventing the educratic wheel" post at Historiann's where some university thinks it has invented something new in promoting class discussion and group work instead of the dusty old lectures that it thinks rule college courses and that, like the "Paul is dead" legend, get dragged out every month or so as a dead horse to beat.
  • See also "The University of Wherever" at the NYTimes, linked from More or Less Bunk.
I think what we're really talking about is the issue of credentialing for learning, and MOOC opens up a lot of opportunities and excitement in subjects where credit is not necessary. Do we need to have a credit-based system for certifying that students learn a particular thing? In civil engineering, maybe yes, because otherwise bridges will fall down. I want to fly in an airplane with a pilot who has been tested and has the proper credentials, not someone who drops in to participate in (or maybe not) flight training online with 10,000 other people.

On the other hand, for learning about how social media works in education, maybe yes and maybe no. Maybe the learning and application is in itself the important part and the credentials aren't needed, although if that's so, why are experts named for each module?


Bardiac said...

Are the experts paid? If not, then it's my state's ideal of education!

Well, perhaps not quite. But that's an issue, isn't it? People have been able to learn TONS about whatever they want by going to public libraries for ages now. Most don't learn that much (but a fair number do). And the experts are paid (by book publishers or the library for librarians), but not directly by the user.

I think any system which wants to educate folks by requiring experts to work without pay isn't going to be sustainable long term.

Lisa M Lane said...

In some MOOCs, there are students officially registered with a college or university for the class, and they pay the usual amount, but the course is open to others to participate without credit or pay. In others, there are no for-credit participants.

Usually the instructors, if there is a central instructor or set of instructors, are not paid for the class specifically (unless they have for-credit students). Some, like myself, consider themselves public servants because our regular job is part of public education (I work at a community college). Some are just excited about the subject and want to share.

The subject can be anything. I offered an open class in History, with my for-credit students as a base. No one came, but it gave me a model for an open course I now offer for faculty learning to teach online. So far the subjects have been education primarily because the course have an element of self-referencing (the type of student who will take a MOOC is often very online-savvy and interested in the internet itself as a venue for communication and education).

The learning where people post in forums isn't technically a MOOC, but rather part of your Personal Learning Network. As of now, the definition (which is developing, obviously) is for a course set in time, with a leader, although the connections made may continue far beyond the course.

undine said...

Bardiac, I like the idea of learning long term, but pay would be an issue.

Lisa, thanks for stopping by, and welcome! This answers a lot of questions that I had about the MOOC model. I'd agree that it's important (and gratifying) to share information, which is something I do also in my non-blog life. The need I'm seeing MOOC filling, based on my limited acquaintance with it, is to be able to share new information based on a strong technological component--new ways of thinking about teaching, for example, or new technologies for doing so. I hope that that's true.

Naptimewriting said...

I'm way too conventional, but there's something in my definition of education that requires mastery. Not homework or tests or necessarily conventional means of assessing that mastery. But a place along the journey at which a student of any idea or subject or topic could feel that they genuinely "know."
MOOCs sound interesting, and I love learning via Ted and online lectures as well as formal classroom situations. And I learn from classic journalism. But cloud learning seems to lack the knowledge milestones. They seem more like stewing in a limited bath of ideas. Nice, but not education? Am I just an Aristotlian snob? Or am I, as is probably the case, shooting off my mouth before reading more and understanding exactly what MOOCs are?

Lisa M Lane said...

Right now I'd say that's true - much of the focus of the big MOOC is on the affordances of web technology for learning of all kinds.

undine said...

naptime, that's the sticking point: what about assessment? How can we tell if there's mastery? Maybe it's just that this process is in its infancy, as Lisa Lane suggests.

Anonymous said...

Can you please get me the list of courses that can be taken through MOOC.

I am looking for ITIL, PMP, CCNA, CCNP, CCIE. ID