Trying to define a moving target like a MOOC is difficult to say the least; one need look no further than an effort by George Siemens, Dave Cormier, Bonnie Stewart and Alexander McAuley from 2010 as part of a Knowledge Synthesis Grant on the Digital Economy. The definition provided is sound and thorough, and is an ideal primer for any research into the history of MOOCs and the scope of specific MOOCs, but if John Q. Public were to stumble upon this 2010 definition, the media’s discussion of MOOC would not jive with this essay. MOOC has evolved, and while this work by Siemens et al. would stand by the definition as exemplary of a cMOOC, Thrun et al. just describe their offerings (Coursera, Udacity, edX) as MOOCs, and scholars have to differentiate those as examples of xMOOCs.
How did this group define MOOC (understanding that, at the time of print, this was the only MOOC on the market)? Well, its parts include social media, an expert in the specific field who facilitates the MOOC, open access resources, and actively engaged participants. These participants coalesce around topics and questions, developing learning networks and creating digital artifacts (and therefore knowledge) such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc. At the end of the MOOC, there is no formal (or even informal assessment) — resources and individuals remain in the PLN’s of others, and through the act of creating and facilitating the MOOC, individuals take what they have gained and individually or in teams apply it to their personal practices and perhaps create new practices.
Having MOOC defined in this manner by those at the forefront of its creation provides a baseline for debate and critique (#cfhe12).
- There are lots of people looking at the future of academic publishing, pushing for an open movement. Some academic journals have gone open, but the majority of journals carry a high price tag which only exists as price opportunistic for educational institutions (and some rare corporations and organizations). Yet academic journals are part of the lifeblood of scientific research, especially for soft sciences (such as education). By only working with open resources, a cMOOC cuts many of these empirical, peer-reviewed research works out of its circulation, having instead to pull from free resources that often lack academic rigor. For a cMOOC to truly excel at its intention (get people to coalesce around a topic), it is going to have to include the strongest work on the topic, and it will need what today exists in academic journals to do so. As the future of academic journals goes, so does the cMOOC. The movement for open access is important for a multitude of reasons, but perhaps entrants into the cMOOCs should use their collective power/cognitive surplus to lobby for changes to the system, rather than only read about it from outside the walls (and outside the rigor).
- At the same time, I am currently enrolled in two cMOOCs: Current/Future State of Higher Education (#cfhe12) and Openness in Education (#oped12). Not only is the majority of the “student” population made up of people in high-level or post-studies academe, but I can count on one hand the number of non-university individuals I have encountered in the courses. There is plenty to consider with that kind of demographic, but in relation to academic access, this group has access to academic journals. Again, Open is one of the four tenants of MOOC, so removing that openness would hit at the bedrock of the MOOC movement, but just because the academic journals are behind a paywall does not mean their contents can or should be ignored.
- In a blog about Alec Couros and PLNs, I remarked positively on the concept of facilitator, or someone who organizes the MOOC but only in a manner to establish discourse, not influence it. Thinking over it again, I am not so keen on a Deist teaching method. I appreciate a desire to not overtly influence discussion and the creation of learning, but how does such an approach account for knowledge gaps? I assume (note: assume) the pedagogy here would take from crowdsourcing, and believe the wisdom of the crowd would provide assistance and fill in the knowledge gaps for those with said gaps. Of course, people like Jaron Lanier see crowdsourcing as a net negative rather than positive, and refer to it as mob mentality. Knowledge gaps can result in faulty conclusions, and if we are to believe Argyris’ Ladder of Inference, this will become cyclical, with individuals seeking out new sources of information that compliment their prior knowledge and beliefs…beliefs built on knowledge gaps and faulty conclusions. Off that angle, people might not have knowledge gaps but instead just be wrong about something, lacking evidence or data to support their thesis. As the subject matter in cMOOCs is not objective, right and wrong are blurry terms; however, novices who come to the course with little subject knowledge or experience would be best served to have at least a base of prior research and theory to assist in their learning journey.