Are we touching the nerves of MOOC?

MOOCs have become the headlines for many newspapers and perhaps the hot topics in 2012 to-date. This online learning revolution provides the background of this debate. “MOOCs – a rapidly growing phenomenon launched around a year ago in the US, whereby prestigious universities such as Harvard make selected courses available over the internet to absolutely anybody around the world for free.”

What are the nerves  of MOOCs, or the xMOOCs?

George says in his post on MOOC:

I’ve spoken with learners from different parts of the world who find xMOOCs extremely beneficial as they don’t have access to learning materials of that quality at their institutions. xMOOCs scale, they have prestigious universities supporting them, and they are well-funded. It is quite possible that they will address the “drill and grill” instructional methods that is receiving some criticism.

In this post on Daphne-koller-what-we-are-learning-from-online-education relating to the x MOOC.

Currently the technologies being deployed are primitive. We have videos of talking heads with simple computer marked questions. Rarely are there any creative uses of software or diagnostics. What is worse, is that for all their mass market appeal the courses are flawed. Questions are ambiguous, a near correct answer is marked just as wrong as a something that was wide of the mark and so on.

In Coursera: “The class will consist of lecture videos, which are broken into small chunks, usually between eight and twelve minutes each. Some of these may contain integrated quiz questions. There will also be standalone quizzes that are not part of video lectures, and programming assignments.”

Are lecture videos good solution to online learning?

It seems logical to break down the content into small chunks, in the form of short videos, and present them to the students.  Isn’t it great to have these videos available for rewind, recap, thus could be used both for students’ use and revision at their own time.  All sounds great, until…  After some serious critical examination and discourse, however there were lots of comments relating to this way of “teaching” to students.

Tony Bates provides a comprehensive yet critical account of MOOCs.  There are 4 myths of MOOCs that Tony has explored:

– increase access to higher education in developing countries

– new pedagogy

– big data will improve teaching

– computers personalize learning

Stephen responded to Tony’s post” what makes the Canadian-style MOOCs scalable is that teaching presence isn’t generated by direct teacher-to-student interactions, but rather, by (mostly) student-to-student interactions. The model offered by c-MOOCs isn’t “sitting at the foot of the master”, it’s more akin to a self-organizing community of inquiry.” Yes, fully agreed. I think that also helped students to understand and appreciate the importance of peer-to-peer learning via blogs posting, sharing and commenting.

Besides the PLE/PLN, artifacts and community created and developed by the learners and teachers through connectivist MOOCs (based on the pull system – RSS, Just in time, and your OLDaily aggregation and curation, based on students and teachers’ co-creation and contribution of knowledge – connective and emergent knowledge) also set them apart from the x MOOC (based on the push system – with information disseminated by the teachers, and students are to acquire the “knowledge and information” provided by the teachers – prescriptive and procedural knowledge).

What might be some alternative ways of teaching and learning, with a MOOC?

The post on the-traditional-lecture-might-not-be-dead-but-it-is-severely-flawed.

What Mazur has created is “peer instruction,” where students are given the opportunity to interact and learn from each other. No longer are they being forced to sit for hours just listening to a lecture. Instead, they’re being compelled to engage with the material, and that mode of teaching has been brought into several classrooms across the country.

In this post on  the-side-of-online-education-no-ones-talking-about-the-downside.

But, where’s that dialogue in online education? When the same lecture is being viewed by hundreds of thousands of students, when is there time to press rewind, go back and ask, “Do you understand this material? Do you have any questions?” As Julia Lawrence of Education News points out:

Though online education offers students flexibility on how and when to view a lecture, it offers professors no reciprocal flexibility to tailor their lectures to the unique abilities and interests of the students.

Well said, there is an need of conversation and engagement in online learning.

Deep and meaningful learning would occur if there are deep reflection by the student, or students, or teachers, when the key points and learning experiences of these artifacts, posts, video recordings, etc. are picked and chosen for discourse, debates and critically examined in lights of individual experiences and perceptions.

How about Khan Academy?

In this post relating to Khan Academy.

When asked why so many teachers have such adverse reactions to Khan Academy, Khan suggests it’s because they’re jealous. “It’d piss me off, too, if I had been teaching for 30 years and suddenly this ex-hedge-fund guy is hailed as the world’s teacher.”

Of course, teachers aren’t “pissed off” because Sal Khan is the world’s teacher. They’re concerned that he’s a bad teacher who people think is great; that the guy who’s delivered over 170 million lessons to students around the world openly brags about being unprepared and considers the precise explanation of mathematical concepts to be mere “nitpicking.” Experienced educators are concerned that when bad teaching happens in the classroom, it’s a crisis; but that when it happens on YouTube, it’s a “revolution.”

Khan has elaborated on why he has chosen that way of tutoring his cousin, and how he has developed those videos, to help students in the world in getting a better education.  If the videos are used for informal tutoring, then it sounds okay.  However, when it is examined further based on a professional approach, then we could identify a lots of issues relating to the structure of the video lectures, “errors” and misconceptions presented in the videos.  Is that also common in video lectures on Youtube?  Is that a matter of perception or a pedagogical issue?  You could make the judgment.

Are we ready for the online education and learning in HE?

80% of professors are uneasy with online quality.  So are professors ready for this MOOCs and online education yet?

Justin says in his post moocs-more-hype-hope.

MOOCs, by their very nature as massive (mass-production) enterprises, cannot foster innovation in their learners. Standardization, the massive scale of these initiatives, and the lack of truly individualized support for the learner in most (all?) of them, make it impossible for them to cultivate innovators who can think outside the box.

Is that groom and doom with the MOOC?  No. Jane sounds confident in her remarks that moocs are-neither-the-death-of-the-university-nor-a-panacea-for-learning.  Higher Education based on University is still the way to go.

MOOCs, and all their iterations, are an opportunity to re-imagine how we can deliver excellent learning outcomes in new, more accessible and engaging ways, fit for 21st century learners and graduates.

We know our higher education system, due to regulatory and financial pressures, is straining at its seams. But these new technologies and everything associated with open source prompts us to think differently about how and what we do.

There are also comments that MOOCs have brought along revolution in education, as mentioned in this post.

It’s apparent, then, that MOOCs are set to bring about a fundamental revolution in learning. Now, US commentators are talking of an “Ivy League Spring” while Forbesmagazine asks, “Is Coursera the beginning of the end for traditional higher education?” In short, will students continue to pay Ivy League tuition fees in an MOOC world?

What could we conclude?

Here higher education is getting left behind provides an interesting perspective, but then as the new MOOCs are now emerging and evolving in the HE, we would likely find a hybrid of online education and learning courses gradually replacing or substituting the traditional university courses in the near future.


6 thoughts on “Are we touching the nerves of MOOC?

  1. Thank you, John, for a really useful overview of some of the praises and criticisms of MOOCs.

    Just on a point of clarification: my comments were specific to Coursera, and did not apply to c-MOOCs, which do have a constructivist and dialogue-based approach.

    The point about MOOCs is their size and the fact that they are open to all. However, there is an unlimited number of ways these could be designed. I am arguing that they could be a lot better by following basic design principles, while at the same time innovative by drawing on the specific features of MOOCs. This is an area where learning and data analytics would have a lot of promise, but this does not mean that we should ignore best practices either.

    MOOCs are an important development and more experimentation is needed. However, they will I believe fill an important niche, an added value to the many other kinds of online learning and other kinds of educational opportunities, but are not going to be a replacement for more formal kinds of education.

  2. Pingback: Are we touching the nerves of MOOC? | Massively MOOC |

  3. Pingback: Are we touching the nerves of MOOC? | Connectivism |

  4. Pingback: Are we touching the nerves of MOOC? | ACS Dialogue on MOOCs |

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