MOOC and the concerns

I would like to reflect and respond to this post by Joshua Kim on playing-role-mooc-skeptic-7-concerns.

What is behind the MOOC?  The flipping the classroom as a way to deliver the content.

In the past, we have conducted research into MOOC, with a view to continuously improve and innovate, rather than being complacent with the way MOOCs were implemented.  The present x MOOC seemed to present huge challenges to institutions, educators, scholars, researchers, and even learners, in many ways.  There are interesting discussions on how will MOOCs affect higher education.

7 MOOC Concerns:

1. Education Requires Dialogue: Massively open online courses are wonderful things, but they should not be confused with a higher education. A MOOC, if well designed, can be a terrific method for information transfer, practice and assessment. Education contains all these elements, but an authentic educational experience requires dialogue. If our campuses are running courses that are absent real dialogue between students and instructors then we guilty of educational malpractice. MOOCs might expose this pathology (which would be a good thing), but they will not be the cure.

MOOC which are designed with an instructivist approach focuses on information transfer, practice and assessment.  I fully agree that an authentic educational experience requires dialogue.  That is why there is a need to shift the focus from the mere instructivist approach to a constructivist/social constructivist/connectivist approach, especially when designing a MOOC for higher education.  However, when the audiences (or target participants) are all university students with a mix of novices and veterans (seniors or graduates), then a mix of instructivist (behavioral/cognitivist), constructivist, social constructivist, and connectivist approaches may be more appealing to cater for a range of learners.  What is important is not about the content only, but the process and pedagogy that could facilitate learning and teaching in such a platform and environment.  Dialogues which are based on shared understanding, negotiation, in both learning practice and assessment would enrich the educational experience of both teachers and learners.   

2. Authentic Learning Does Not Scale: The problem with creating authentic learning environments for higher ed is the impossibility of scaling up the experience. Past a certain ratio of students-to-educators learning efficacy degrades rapidly. Technology can be a mechanism that helps bring intimacy and personalization to learning, but we can only push this so far. I love the idea of pre-recorded lectures and rich online practice and assessment opportunities, but only if these elements free up time, space and energy for genuine and sustained interactions between students and instructors. A real education requires the development and nurturing of real relationships.

The “massiveness” in an open online course was never intended to be the case in the traditional connectivist MOOC, and also not the case of AI, as Professor Sebastian Thrun mentioned it.  To scale up the experience does impose challenges for educators and learners, as we have learnt and experienced in past MOOCs.  What might be the threshold of such students-to-educators ratio?  In small groups , it seems that the optimum size would be 30.  However, in a MOOC, what is more important is how the learners could connect with the artifacts, professors, experts, knowledgeable others and peers, in order to interact and learn in a such a platform.  The learners need to be aware of the choices he or she has, when learning in a MOOC, and this could be a huge challenge for the educators facilitating or teaching in such platform, in that these need to be “explained” up-front, or be explicit in the MOOC design. 

I still think “flipping the classroom” has been around for years, so using short videos for teaching is just another way to cater for the learners needs.  To encourage people to make more short videos lectures and artifacts open to public (say posting on Youtube, slideshare) is an excellent attempt to teach and learn in a digital world.  Refer to this post on Khan Academy for the critique.

Here in Classroom Lectures Go Digital:

Michelle Rinehart, a mathematics and science teacher at Rankin High School in Rankin, Texas, started “flipped” teaching and created video lessons for her students a year ago. “It’s not about the videos — it’s about the powerful class time we regain for higher-order thinking activities,” she said. “Students appreciate the increased assistance and collaboration they receive with this model.”

She emphasizes the importance of making her own videos rather than taking others’ work off the Internet.

Teaching via video is not new. Open University in Britain has offered distance higher education since the early 1970s, mostly through television and video in the beginning, and now through the Internet.

What I am concerned is the empty promise of “flipping the classroom” just to add another new name to digital pedagogy, leading it to become just another “fad” in the design and delivery of online education & learning, without critical examinations, evaluations and reviews of the pedagogy.  As shared, the underlying principles of flipping the classroom should be based on a focus on the learners’ learning, with a balanced learner-centred approach where teaching and learning is situated. Here learners could make an informed and “wise” choice, and be (and thus becoming) an autonomous life-long learner, as a result of the teaching/learning.  This is where self-directed and organised learning could be coupled with COP (Community of Practice), NOP (Network of Practice), where peer-to-peer learning could be leveraged, in networked learning, and under a networked learning environment and platform such as MOOC.

3. More Inputs, Not Less, Equates to Better Educational Quality: We will not find a magic bullet that will lower the cost of higher education the way Moore’s law has lowered the price of microprocessors. Higher education is costly because real learning relies on relationships and dialogue, and the educator side of this equation is expensive. As a society we need to find the political will to invest more dollars in higher education, not less.

Using an economic model to evaluate education (higher education) is both necessary and important, as that seems to be one of the deciding factors of higher education – in terms of its added value to community and society.  The problem of education is still economic, as cited by George in his post on the future of education and the imponderables.

Sir Ken Robinson in this education video highlights the economic and cultural aspects that education is trying to address:

Are MOOCs a way to challenge or disrupt the current education system?  May be the educator side of the equation is expensive, as we still need professors and expert educators to design and deliver the MOOCs.  Presently, more than 100 million dollars have been invested in the various x MOOCs.  

4. MOOCs Come With Opportunity Costs: If we decide to launch a MOOC then we better do it well. The last thing our institutions will need are public online classes that are not representative of the quality of our courses. And doing a good MOOC will be expensive, as designing for large numbers requires different learning design and course management strategies as traditional (smaller, closed) courses. We should talk about what we will not be doing if we invest in designing, supporting and sustaining a MOOC. Even if we get outside funding (which would be great), I’m almost certain that this funding will not create all new people on campus to work on the MOOC.  Rather, you will want your best faculty, learning designers, librarians, technologists and other education professionals producing your MOOC. These people will not be able to do other things. I wonder if a focus on creating quality blended courses, courses for our enrolled (and paying students), might in some cases be a better use of scarce time, attention and resources.

This depends on the institutions, and I have shared my ideas on the business models of MOOC here.

5. MOOCs Should Align with Strategic Goals: Every institution needs a MOOC strategy. This strategy may be an affirmative decision not to sponsor and support a campus MOOC, or perhaps the decision will be to partner with a for-profit or non-profit provider. Maybe the decision will be to do neither of these things, and leave the decision to offer a MOOC up to individual faculty. Whatever is decided, policies need to be crafted to support faculty and protect the institution at each step. Investments, and expected returns on investment, should be analyzed and then made available to the campus community. A communications strategy around MOOC decisions is as important as making these decisions in the first place.  We are now at the point where campus leaders cannot take a “wait and see” attitude about MOOCs – they need to get involved in the conversation. The goal should be that whatever the campus MOOC strategy ends up looking like that it aligns with the larger strategic goals of the institution.

Is it important to align MOOC with strategic goals?  Definitely, for instructivist MOOCs.  I have shared my views on MOOC and future education here.

6. The Danger Of MOOCs as a Money Saving Substitute:  I’m really worried that some provost or dean will get the idea to save money by having local students enroll in some edX or Coursera MOOC. The pitch will be that the local institution will provide “robust” tutoring and access to “small group” discussions. The local institution will then quality check by offering independent exams to validate that the material from the distant campus MOOC has been absorbed.  The argument will be: “Why not have our students learn from the world’s best professors, wherever they may be teaching”.  I think that this is a terrible idea, and will represent an abdication of our responsibilities as learning institutions. Separating our students from faculty by sourcing the role of teaching to the MOOC will save money, but the practice will disallow the development of the relationship between teacher and student that is necessary for authentic learning.

I think we need more statistics on costing and learning analytics here, to justify the argument on cost effectiveness.  “Why not have our students learn from the world’s best professors, wherever they may be teaching”.  This may be viewed as a “disruption” to education, HE in particular.  However, I think under the notion of open education and connectivist networked learning, we should encourage and support both educators and learners to work and learn together.  This will not undermine the authority or respects of instructors and professors, as that is where we could really “transform” education, by leveraging the most valuable resources on earth – human and agents (experts, networks, artifacts) etc.

7. Be Cautious about Commercial Partners:  My last concern around MOOCs relates to the role of commercial and for-profit players in this space. I am 100% convinced that we need vibrant for-profit / non-profit partnerships to spur innovation in higher education.  The people I know who work at for-profit education companies are as dedicated to transforming and improving education as anyone I know in the non-profit space. Yet, also know from experience that the incentives for non-profits and for-profits are not always perfectly aligned.  Both non-profit and for-profit entities need to think hard about how any relationship to design and launch a MOOC will evolve over the medium-to-long term.  Non-profit higher ed has very very long time horizons, an orientation that makes us a challenge to work with. We all need to be judicious as we examine new opportunities to create partnerships around open online learning.

This has always been the situations in a commercial world of education, where public and private providers of education are always competing and “collaborating” together.  However, it also means that higher education is now undergoing the biggest challenge in history, with profit/non-profit all looking for their bigger piece of the pie.

Do you have any MOOC concerns?

How to assess in MOOCs?  Should MOOCs be based on examinations?

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed


2 thoughts on “MOOC and the concerns

  1. Pingback: On our future education system | Learner Weblog

  2. Pingback: How and where will Education (HE) morph into? | Learner Weblog

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