5M(OOC) Platform Diving

The Journal of Online Learning and Technology announced a special issue for Summer 2013 dedicated to Massively Open Online Courses.  In the call for papers, the journal attempts to remain general in its topics for research, but the call becomes muddled in trying to accommodate the cMOOCs that led to the coning of the MOOC term with the xMOOCs that receive the vast majority of media coverage, have institutional backing, and have organized with various non-profit and for-profit ventures to provide the courses through a specific platform.

These platforms have taken on an identity of their own — a course on Human-Computer Interaction might be offered by a professor at Stanford, but the course is a Coursera offering; the Circuits & Electronics course taught by the team at MIT is an edX course.  There is limited commentary on the various pedagogies behind these platforms, and recent discussion on the MOOC topic focuses on the specific xMOOC platforms to differentiate the movement’s happenings rather than grouping all together.  

In preparing to write a dissertation, faculty in my education program have warned of basing research off of products rather than methods, off of institutions rather than movements.  I think about that wisdom today as I learn about the movement by existing LMS providers BlackBoard and Instructure entering into the MOOC platform field (read about Instructure’s move here, and Blackboard’s here).  And while there are numerous pertinent issues with the evolution of two more MOOC platforms, what interests me comes from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s article, in reference to BlackBoard’s CourseSites:

Though Blackboard’s CourseSites platform has been available for more than a year to individual instructors interested in putting their courses online free, the company planned to announce on Thursday that three universities had decided to designate Blackboard as their “default option” for MOOC’s.

There is an understated pedagogical impact here in regards to how xMOOCs look at teaching methods and how people learn:  the existing methods of course delivery happening on college campuses are fine, and the MOOC is the mechanism to put that online for more people.  While not expressly the pedagogical practices of these organizations, very few of these groups have identified their pedagogy (and for those that have, the pedagogy is lecture-based video perusal).

This is not to say that xMOOC platforms will never be anything more than lecture repositories for big-name professors and identified institutions.  If a goal of these organizations is to make higher education profitable via a massive level, brand may not be enough to differentiate (what is the difference between a Princeton class via Coursera and a Harvard class via edX?), so improving the educational experience will become a mitigating factor.  Of course, any social scientist will tell you that perceived outcomes for subjects are often different from actual outcomes, so improving an educational experience does not increase to ideal pedagogical practices.  Coursera and edX have identified the importance of pedagogy in their growth, but Coursera has identified learning analytics as the method to intervene, and edX has yet to provide specifics on how dabbling in MOOCs will improve pedagogy.  At present, however, the xMOOC looks primarily like a lecture-based pedagogy with behaviorized assessment and a touch of cognitive theory.

As more organizations enter into the MOOC field, and more groups like DigiWriMo and Ed Startup 101 establish their wares, finding common ground to discuss the space of massified, ubiquitous learning network will be more important, and research on the specific modalities will become less able to apply across the field.

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