Thursday, May 30, 2013

MOOC partnership in the classroom

First, a riddle:

Q. How is MOOC news like a bag of potato chips?

A. First, you can't stop eating them, and then you can't stop offering them around to all your friends, regardless of how bad they make you all feel the rest of the day.

Here, from the Chronicle, is what a MOOC-infused class looks like:

The San Jose State instructor ran his edX-infused course as in a fairly standard "flipped" format. He would instruct students to watch Mr. Agarwal's short lectures before each class session. Mr. Ghadiri spent the first 10 minutes of each class answering questions from his students about the MIT professor's lectures. Then he typically spent 10 minutes giving his own lecture: a summary of the most salient themes from Mr. Agarwal's lectures, plus some original material. 
After that, Mr. Ghadiri divided the 86-student class into groups of three and had them do worksheets on the lecture material. The instructor and his teaching assistants fanned out across the classroom, observing the teams and giving them tips when they were stuck. Finally, Mr. Ghadiri gave the students a quiz to take on their own. Mr. Ghadiri says he wrote all his own quizzes and worksheets.

So, as an instructor, you get to:
1.  Repeat another person's lecture, emphasizing what he or she thought was important. The students thus get the MOOC information twice. Wasn't the flipped classroom supposed to save time?
2. Answer questions about another person's lecture.
3. Create worksheets and quizzes.
4. Grade worksheets and quizzes.
5. Spend extra time prepping by watching another person's lecture.
6. Tutor students.

The fun part is all outsourced--getting the information together, presenting it to a live group of students with plenty of interruptions and extemporaneous ideas exchanged.

But don't despair.  You still get to grade.


Contingent Cassandra said...

Also, you have no opportunity to update/modify (or even supplement?) the lectures based on what you've observed about student's learning, either on a semester-to-semester basis, or as necessary, on the fly. In that sense, a MOOC is worse than a textbook (well, unless you're in a program that forces you to teach solely from the textbook, but I don't think that's common).

The whole MOOC discussion strikes me as highlighting another area of invisible labor on the part of professors: not just planning courses in the first place, but the ongoing updating/modifying/tweaking of course components that most of us engage in (so much so, in fact, that I and my colleagues, at least, frequently have conversations along the lines of "I swore I wasn't going to change anything in this course this semester, but then I had this idea. . ." and now have several dozen responses to an unfamiliar assignment/exercise/what have you to grade. It's just what we do, because we're teachers. But whatever those outside the classroom (including many administrators) think "teaching" is, it doesn't seem to include such activity.

Historiann said...

Mmmmmmmnnn. . . potato chips. . . !

Your description sure sounds like a hell of a lot of work for the facilitator. It sounds like he's adding substantial content and value to the course, but as you point out, it's only the most labor-intensive and thankless parts.

I'd describe this experiment not so much as a MOOC but rather as an oddly uncollaborative excercise in co-teaching a course. And anyone who has taught a course with a colleague can tell you that it requires MORE work and MORE self-conscious meetings and planning to do collaboratively what you'd normally work out in your head on your walk/drive/bike ride to work. I'm co-teaching a course again in the fall, and while I love it, it means that every decision takes at least twice as long because we have to make them together (book orders, the schedule for essays, writing major essay & exam questions, weekly in-class writing questions, etc.) Whew!

undine said...

Contingent Cassandra--"invisible labor" is exactly right. I get those brainstorms about courses all the time, and as you say, they take up time but really energize you for the classroom. Of course, the dream of online education is that nothing gets changed, ever, because then it's paid for once and doesn't have to be paid for again.

Historiann--I know! I shouldn't like them, but oh, well.

It's absolutely true about the extra work in collaboration, the extra time in making decisions, and so forth. There's also the exhaustion that results just from trying to be collaborative when you really know what you want to do.