As we say goodbye to 2013, the year after The Year of the MOOC, I remain unable to adequately define the acronym that graces this blog’s header. This year Oxford Dictionary gave it the old college try, creating a definition more inclusive than exclusive and in doing so adding even more confusion to a rhetorical landscape littered with LOOCs, HOOCs, cMOOCs, xMOOCs, urMOOCs, SPOCs and other -ooc misfit acronyms. Research and media remained focused on structural descriptions: MOOC design, its workings, its assessment strategies, its back-end data collection and aggregation. Developers continued to herald the model as education for everyone and an example of reinventing education, even in the face of research noting the model’s penchant for providing adequate instruction and scaffolding for those who, to channel Derek Zoolander, already read good and do other things good too. Some look at recent events as the beginning of the end for MOOCs or the inevitable trough of disillusionment a la Gartner Hype Cycle, while others remain bullish on the MOOC and its place as a standard bearer for the future of higher education and educational technology.
I don’t look back on 2013 in search of takeaways. 2013 was a result of 2012, the year of the MOOC, which was a result of 2011, the proliferation of unique experiments in distributed learning. There is an interconnectedness to it all, and for those who wish to focus on the lack of interconnectedness between the 2008 version of MOOC and the 2011 and beyond MOOC, both models were at heart about offering coursework to large numbers of people online for no charge. Continue reading →
At his blog, George Siemens looks at MOOC criticism, specifically a growing movement to label the MOOC as a neoliberal initiative, neoliberal standing for…well, standing against the MOOC rather than standing for something. And that’s a lot of the problem with the neoliberal argument…it uses the term to cast against something rather than to be for something, and a definition needs to be more than a roster of things the term is not. Much like in Blackadder III, Baldrick’s definition of Dog as “not a cat” was not sufficient for Samuel Johnson…and neoliberal is not sufficient as a criticism of MOOCs if its use is so expansive and general that it swallows any meaning the term might have. That said, the original use of neoliberal, the scholarly research behind neoliberalism and the specific critique it makes on the sociopolitical direction of higher education is worth noting, and should not be thrown out just because a good number of people misuse the term.
Here is my response to the blog and the numerous comments (btw, this blog is always a prime example of social commentary working). I plan to flesh it out soon.
At the heart of the Open Education Resources movement (and the Open movement in general) is the notion that education is a public good. The progression to such sentiment may be based in a notion that an educated citizenry betters democracy and civic life (folks like John Locke and Thomas Jefferson), or that knowledge and wisdom are non-rivalrous and non-excludable (Econ 101), or that the increase and diffusion of knowledge stimulates societal and cultural growth (James Smithson, John Quincy Adams). Regardless of its germination, the crux of such thought is that the provision of education from an egalitarian lens results in benefit across the population.
At face value the Massive Open Online Course fits this vision: courses are free, prerequisites are encouraged but not enforced, and access to the best professors at the best universities is not bound to geography or economics. And research into the framework of the MOOC points to the opening of university walls, the building of intra- and internet communications and an attempt to promote the increase and diffusion of knowledge for society, whether communal or global. That’s why it’s worth noting that one of the primary voices in OER, David Wiley, sees the 2013 incarnation of MOOCs as a money grab:
I propose that, whenever you hear the acronym MOOC, you think: “Massively Obfuscated Opportunities for Cash”
How can a MOOC be both a bastion for openness and the epitome of closed content? Continue reading →
Missed this a few weeks back, but at Inside Higher Ed author Ry Rivand covered a summit hosted by Harvard and MIT entitled Online Learning and the Future of Residential Education. While the proceedings were not quotable to the press, Rivand and other journalists had full access to presenters, professors and other dignitaries invited to discuss this future.
My focus as a researcher is on how massive learning technologies affect instruction and the instructor; contemporary learning theory puts a great deal of importance on creating a learning environment (that could turn into a community), experiencing learning through authentic hands-on projects, and contextualizing information. xMOOCs, as they have been sold, herald pedagogy but present a learning system of short videos and interactive quizzes, which original MOOC visionary George Siemens labels a return to 1960s educational theory and pedagogy*.
*If you didn’t click that link, do it. Siemens has a fantastic idea on how MOOCs could utilize gaming theory from World of Warcraft or Call of Duty in establishing grouping for projects, the sort of thing that education professor and community learning researcher Linda Polin sees as an authentic use of gamification in learning.
Anyone thinking Siemens’ quote is overly critical or cynical should view Rivand’s direct quote of Anant Agarwal, the director of MOOC provider EdX:
I am reluctant to review newspaper articles or op-ed pieces in the same way I have handled journal articles, series chapters or literature from the developers of MOOC platforms. However, if utilizing a critical theory lens, no discourse can be ignored, especially when it is presented as dominant ideology. And few volumes have such a cultural resonance as the New York Times and bestselling author Thomas Friedman.
I think competency-based learning is where things are going. Learning unit reduced from courses to competencies.
If he is correct (I believe he is), this has a lot of implication on the things we usually talk about in relationship to MOOCs: economics, the University (and the entire formal education system), the student. We don’t talk as much about the social and cultural role of education (to be fair, we don’t talk about it much these days at all), and we talk less about the role of educators and instructors (except when we question their veracity and effect on measurable metrics). It all ties together though, and if we are looking at competencies, we are looking at a marginalization of the educator (at best). It might help a bottom line, but what effect does it have outside of economics?
I sit down at my computer on Monday morning to see what folks wrote about re: MOOCs over the weekend. And herein lies the problem in trying to define a learning trend/model/phenomenon/hysteria:
Michael Feldstein wrote a thorough engagement of LMS companies such as Instructure throwing their hats into the higher ed MOOC fray. Feldstein continued to look at the MOOC movement in terms of disruptive innovation, and while in the article he questions that approach, dominant ideology of the time (or at least dominant media narrative) links MOOC to the theory of Christensen, so I’m going to need to go back to that one.
The New York Times wrote an article with the inflated title The Year of the MOOC. The article pays very little lip service to the MOOC movement prior to Seb Thrun and 2011, continuing the media narrative that MOOCs pretty much fell out of the sky at that time, though a few people were dabbling around some years before. Continue reading →
I’m still trying to wrap my head around connectivism, the learning theory developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes that in a lot of ways led to the growth of distance education and the development of MOOCs. At its heart, connectivism is about where content/knowledge/learned stuff exists, and posits that in an interconnected, technologically-robust world, it is as much about how to access the learning opportunity as anything, but inherent to such a model is the notion that technology has systemically changed not only the way knowledge operates, but also the brain itself. Continue reading →
George Siemens starts a June 2012 blog post by celebrating the advancement of massively open online courses via platforms such as Coursera and EdX (noticeably absent from his praise is Udacity) as methods of providing excellence in education on a global level (an effort that is written about in great detail throughout popular lit, but not so much in research). The purpose of the blog, however, is to note the theoretical and pedagogical differences between MOOCs and Coursera/EdX MOOCs (and he notes that he has chosen to signify the larger model as the “other”). What about similarities?
There are many points of overlap, obviously, as both our MOOCs and the Coursera/EDx MOOCs taken (sic) advantage of distributed networks to reflect changing educational practice.
The best MOOC primer I have read throughout my research comes from Ken Masters, a medical education professor at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, who in 2011 provided a three-page synopsis of MOOCs for an audience of medical education professors. It incorporates theory, educational practices, the history of the movement, questions about pedagogy and practices, and considers future outcomes. The problem is, the MOOCs described here follow the urMOOC learning theories, drawing quotes from George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier. In this model, learning is negotiated, the instructor is not the God of Content, and the objectives of the course may look remarkably different at the end due to the organic growth of the semester. Certainly that was the design of the urMOOC, but are the MOOCs of Coursera and Udacity willing to let objectives change and willing to negotiate knowledge? The reliance on quizzes and grading would point otherwise, but more research is needed.