#OpenEd13 Presentation – We Have Lost the Term “MOOC”

Video of my presentation MOOCseum: Using the Open Movement to Invigorate Local Museums is posted below. Attendees were engaged and responsive, and the numbers were impressive especially considering this was the final presentation slot at the conference.

Attendees were interested in the potential at the confluence point of MOOCs and Museums, and the Q&A session (unfortunately not all caught on camera; I went over my allotted time) captured some of those possibilities (opening up two-way communication at museums beyond a set MOOC date, incorporation into non-art entities, augmented technologies to spur communication and supplemental learning). We discussed art and aesthetics, copyright, institutional inertia, facilitation vs. expertise, and many other ideas floating in the OER ether.

But the Twittersphere showed the most interest one statement, pulled from my theoretical work on MOOCs:

 

I have argued the futility of continuing to call the connectivist-style online courses by the term MOOC. In popular culture MOOC means Udacity, Coursera or EdX, and Andrew Ng’s keynote on Wednesday showed the tone-deafness of the dominant paradigm. At #OpenEd13 debate continued among the group of experts (and this conference was full of experts) regarding how we properly define a MOOC, akin to the debate at Educause where Mathieu Plourde argued that every term in the acronym is negotiable. My argument at #OpenEd13 is that such thinking is counter-productive to the political and cultural conversation about distance, online and open education: those of us in that world are still arguing about the definition, but in the mainstream the ship has sailed, and we need to accept that the term MOOC no longer means what it did in 2008.

This does not mean that what MOOC meant is lost; far from it. George Siemens, Alec Couros, Alan Levine, Jim Groom and others did not initially brand their courses as MOOCs. Much like my use of MOOCseum, the term in many ways is now used by those with connectivist sensibilities to pitch and market the course. #OpenEd13 shows a lot of people building a lot of unique courses and putting them under the MOOC umbrella because it exists, it kind of fits, and it generates eyeballs. (I must mention that Jim Groom argued against this point in the Q&A, noting specifically via my use of MOOCseum that I gained population to the conference session not because I used the term MOOC but because I did what a good connectivist does: I networked and made personal connections in order to secure interest and show people the promise of the session)

Is the term MOOC lost? We will discuss further at Sloan’s International Conference on Online Learning, where I present on a history of the term from the perspectives of history, theory and pedagogy.

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14 thoughts on “#OpenEd13 Presentation – We Have Lost the Term “MOOC”

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  2. Luke

    Thanks for your presentation, Rolin; I enjoyed it immensely and am excited about your work. I do though think that there is an important difference between the terminology being “negotiated” and its meaning being “contested.” One can accept that the meaning of MOOC has evolved while still asserting the importance of an x or c prefix. Many of the folks I see who make this distinction are rhetorically accepting your premise, and their claims that what Coursera and Udacity and EdX are doing is not really truly “open” (the main contour of debate, imo) is not intended to be reactive or protective as much as it is to be critical and generative of alternatives. I don’t find the argument that because the term has taken on a certain meaning in the mainstream it’s time to move on all that compelling. If we accept that notion, then Andrew Ng’s refusal to engage (or even acknowledge) conflicting modes of thought in this space on Wednesday seems to become somewhat more acceptable. If connectivists aren’t out there arguing for nuance and that words have meaning in these debates, then much is lost. What the “mainstream” thinks should perhaps inform our strategies, but it probably shouldn’t guide them.

    All this said, I understand your position and choice to “market” what you’re doing here in a specific way. My primary concern with it, which I tried and likely failed to express in the q&a, is that while it might earn you some support and open some doors and get you some attention, does this choice of framing risk restricting what’s possible or what’s imagined around your work? I was reassured by your iterative approach, and think that’s the way to go; we need more folks like you who use what exists to ignite, and then are committed to thinking creatively about how to move beyond. I look forward to seeing how you do this.

    Reply
  3. Luke

    Thanks for your presentation, Rolin; I enjoyed it immensely and am excited about your work. I do though think that there is an important difference between the terminology being “negotiated” and its meaning being “contested.” One can accept that the meaning of MOOC has evolved while still asserting the importance of an x or c prefix. Many of the folks I see who make this distinction are rhetorically accepting your premise, and their claims that what Coursera and Udacity and EdX are doing is not really truly “open” (the main contour of debate, imo) is not intended to be reactive or protective as much as it is to be critical and generative of alternatives. I don’t find the argument that because the term has taken on a certain meaning in the mainstream it’s time to move on all that compelling. If we accept that notion, then Andrew Ng’s refusal to engage (or even acknowledge) conflicting modes of thought in this space on Wednesday seems to become somewhat more acceptable. If connectivists aren’t out there arguing for nuance and that words have meaning in these debates, then much is lost. What the “mainstream” thinks should perhaps inform our strategies, but it probably shouldn’t guide them.

    All this said, I understand your position and choice to “market” what you’re doing here in a specific way. My primary concern with it, which I tried and likely failed to express in the q&a, is that while it might earn you some support and open some doors and get you some attention, does this choice of framing risk restricting what’s possible or what’s imagined around your work? I was reassured by your iterative approach, and think that’s the way to go; we need more folks like you who use what exists to ignite, and then are committed to thinking creatively about how to move beyond. I look forward to seeing how you do this.

    Reply
    1. Rolin Moe Post author

      Hi Luke,

      Thank you for your comments in the Q&A and here! And to answer your questions, I just want to say “yes.” There is a difference between negotiating and contesting (Stuart Hall!), and perhaps I am too hyperbolic in going to contesting when we should look at negotiating. It is also dangerous for me to dress a learning model in a term that I steadfastly say has sailed on a certain meaning. One of the dangers of negotiating a troublesome educational landscape as a student/candidate is getting attention for work and ideas. I think you and Jim Groom put it well; MOOCseum might have some pop, but at the end of the day the title is not the important part, and it restricts the opportunity to engage beyond that specific initiative. As a scholar with a bend in critical pedagogy, I can make my heuristic arguments about xMOOCs and cMOOCs within the dominant media narrative, but my practice needs to be aware of that and not picking and choosing based on whether marketing benefits my model (I tried to note that by including xMOOC and cMOOC theory into my model, but it is not as strong as I would like).

      My main argument about the term MOOC, and I will stand by this, is that we are spending too much time debating a term when in fact we need to be out working. The benefit of the mainstream MOOC movement is attention to OER and other learning models that have connections to the original. You’ve provided a lot to think about. Thanks!

      Reply
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  5. mathplourde

    Hi Rolin,

    I hear you, when common mortals refer to MOOCs, they refer to xMOOCs. My diagram had nothing to do with taking sides; it was a way to visualize the different interpretations and flavors of what people referred to as MOOCs, so we could focus on certain parameters and have a discussion about the same thing. It was also a way to express my concern about Ivy leagues rock star professors as the only way to view the future of higher education.

    Although connectivists have lost the battle for the term MOOC, I feel that adding connectivist values and activities to xMOOCs can only improve their learning outcomes, and their chance for survival as a 21st century “tool of mass instruction”. Therefore, I believe the connectivist message needs to stay, as a counterpoint to machine-led instruction.

    Mathieu

    P.S.: I’d be interested in connecting, since I’m also an Ed.D. student at the University of Delaware, interested in OER and faculty development for distance/hybrid teaching.

    P.S.2: The original idea of “Every letter is negotiable” came from Jon Becker, Assistant Professor at VCU, during sessions at EduCon in Philadelphia.

    Reply
    1. Rolin Moe Post author

      Hi Mathieu,

      Thank you for the response; I would enjoy continued correspondence! And I forgot that Jon Becker used the terms before; I thought it was Gardner Campbell but then saw Derek Bruff attribute to you and did not dig further…the peril of real-time Twitter in lieu of research.

      My issue with the whole cMOOC/xMOOC thing is that there is no engagement with the mainstream. For whatever reason, MOOC is MOOC and MOOC is Sebastian Thrun/Andrew Ng/Anant Agarwal. MOOC is rock-star professor. And we need to critique that and point to other options and opportunities, but xMOOC and cMOOC have failed to do that; cMOOC is a security blanket and xMOOC a pejorative, used by no one outside the field. MOOC has too many meanings, and spending our time continuing to try to define the term when there has been no question of the term’s meaning in the mainstream since 2012 only widens the gap between what we can do and what we are doing. I want people to continue to explore, both within the dominant MOOC paradigm as well as resistance or oppositional models, but I think we need to call it something other than a MOOC/SPOC/LOOC/LOOGY/other asinine acronym. Drop back and punt MOOC, ground a term in research, and don’t let a New York Times writer with a Google engine and a can-do attitude redefine the term.

      Reply
      1. mathplourde

        There is nothing I would like more than to stop arguing about taxonomy. Unfortunately, it is the main source of discussion among academics in education (for instance, can someone define “literacy” please?).

        The acronym alphabet soup is definitely not helping, and is actually drawing a line in the sand between the crazy academics and the real world. Getting Coursera disclose that their courses are not open is a lost cause. So let’s move on, agreed.

      2. Rolin Moe Post author

        There was some interesting discussion of open in terms of MOOCs at OpenEd13. In terms of the MOOC we have lost that debate, but not in terms of OER. MOOC has no meaning IMO, but OER still does.

  6. Pingback: The Rise of the MOOCs!!! | Daniel Ramirez-Escobedo

  7. Craig Richardson

    As a public education teacher I find the debate about definitions for x and c MOOCs and the mainstream views fascinating. I’m not sure there are any mainstream views. Almost none of the 150 staff members I work with have ever heard of a MOOC and neither had I until recently. I think there is still plenty of time to define or relabel the MOOC concept into specific genres whether they be truly connectivist and non-profit or otherwise as far as the main stream public and potential future students are concerned. It reminds me a bit of ‘Gullivers Travels’.
    As a big fan of museums, I like the idea of expanding their role in this area but I was waiting to hear how the ‘MOOCSEUM’ was going to help with their most critical problem, and their other major role, not included in your definition, the restoration, study, and preservation of the artifacts themselves. Just the Smithsonian has thousands of items that are most likely going to be lost due to lack of care. I participate by being a member of different museums on and off and going to lectures and presentations where we discuss with each other and experts various topics, alternative views are welcome! I have observed the huge changes many museums have made to reach out to the public, especially children, yet, in the age of easy information, many people seem satisfied with a quick view on Wikipedia and others like myself would prefer an interactive experience engaging in an aspect of another culture rather than simply talking about it. My point here being, how many people actually have the interest and drive to participate and succeed in the MOOC model and is its availability more important than its lack of intimate engagement with cultural media?
    Otherwise, I applaud any thing you can do to help museums find relevance in the 21st century! I know libraries are going through the same struggle. I don’t know what Guttenberg would have thought of things today but it might be good to keep in mind that in the end he had virtually nothing but his name in history.

    Reply
    1. Rolin Moe Post author

      Hi Craig,

      Thanks for the response. One thought for preservation is using the MOOC space to crowd source the labeling and taxonomy of digital artifacts. There are research-backed models of museums and libraries using digital means to get patrons to help classify, translate or organize the collection, from science museums to history houses to even the MIT museum. A MOOC provides a platform for massive numbers of people to engage in that endeavor.

      And yes, there are many definitions and while I disagree that there is still a chance to shape public perception, the MOOC has positives we in the field should recognize and rally around as we further critique and shape the conversation.

      Reply
  8. James Grasmick

    Hi Rolin,
    I watched your video on Moocseums and how important it would be to connect the both. I myself enjoy going to museums and learning new things and begin able to use the moocs as a way to expand on information that would help get information out to more people is interesting. I am still learning what Moocs are how it can be beneficial to everyone. Most people are traditional about taking a course and paying for the information and use that to validate the information behind it. My concern is how can you have all this and it being free with no cost. Putting all of this together takes time and like you said in part of your video, “it a matter of human resources.” As I am sure Moocs will grow and it’s name will certainly change. I am looking forward to seeing how much this develops and grows. Do you think this will over take traditional Schools and teaching? I think begin able to exchange information and knowledge is a powerful tool and doing it free might open doors for many people who can’t afford to get a education they would like due to cost.

    Reply
    1. Rolin Moe Post author

      MOOCs will not take over schools and teaching. But they are changing the way society thinks about schools and teaching. For a museum, a space that does not give grades or credentials, a MOOC is ideal…and you could offer professional development credits or create a certificate-based system for people who want to gain something to use in their professions, charge a nominal fee, and there is a space to at least recoup your investment in the materials. But to do it in K-12…that’s a more risky proposition.

      Reply

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