Online Education and MOOC

What is online education like?

There was an old Chinese motto: Poor rice fields won’t attract farmers to plow, but once there are farmers plowing such fields, many other farmers would join in and compete.

Does it sound like what happens in online education?  Here the rice field is online education.  Once online education was found to be of an inferior quality in terms of yielding of academic results, with poor progression and completion rates.

I just happened to come across the post on Conversation:

The expected 4 billion new members of the middle class who will join the rest of us by 2050 will likely demand more dairy and meat. These require an enormous amount of grains to produce.

Are we entering a new era where online education and MOOCs have become the near to “life safer” to Higher Education?  In this article:

This week, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a group of provosts from Big 10 universities, issued a position paper saying that higher education must take advantage of new education technology — but perhaps on its own.

To what extent is this a reality?  Would school compete, leading to students winning?  May be when education is centered around competition for students among school, a new form of education with a different business education model would emerge.

There is another side of education, when MOOCs become the battleground for education, as Justin shares in MOOC the opium mass:

Why suddenly then are we so eager to accept Massive Open Online Courses –gigantic classes for the masses- as a good thing? The truth is that the massiveness inherent in the MOOC model is a throwback to darker days of Industrial Age education packaged in a shiny new hi-tech wrapper. And we, the sheep-like masses are swallowing this hollow candy with reckless abandon.

All these led me to reflect on what problems that we are actually facing in Higher Education.  Aren’t these all wicked problems associated with disruptive innovation (MOOCs offered by others) where Higher Education Institutions are trying to tackle, using MOOCs to counter-act them?

What about the quality of teaching and learning in MOOCs?

The fact that quality may be understood – and perhaps also operationalised – so differently, according to context and perspective, renders it a particularly wicked area to theorise and analyse.

Approaches to theorising the questions of quality in higher education are wide-ranging and contested. One reason for this is that these approaches represent the confluence of several theoretical paradigms and discourses. These paradigms include the often tacit performativity agenda (Blackmore, 2009; Cowen, 1996) and the Total Quality Management model (TQM; Bensimon, 1995) taken directly from industry and applied as a governance methodology for higher education. This has deeply influenced how universities approach the ‘business’ of education.

In the position white paper  CIC-Online-Learning-Collaboration-for-IHE-FINAL released, adaptive instruction was highlighted.  It is about “what do I want my students to learn?” being the focus of future Higher Education, in order to improve the overall value proposition to the students, and those who support the students, including the institutions.

This means not only a philosophical shift of attitude from “What do I want to teach?” to “What do I want my students to learn?” It also means a shift of accountability toward promoting student learning and collecting systematic data about whether or not our teachers and students are succeeding—together. There are implications here for how we evaluate the quality of instruction within the institution, as well as how we respond to external demands from a variety of constituencies (including our students and their parents) to better document what students are learning from their coursework and degrees.

These also reminded me of the parable of the Sower sows his seeds:

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

MOOC could also be perceived as a platform, in the form of garden, whereas the central theme of a garden is to grow its plant.

Would such garden be free?  As I have shared it here, where the wonderland is free for awhile, it is hard to sustain.

Would MOOCs be here to stay without tears?  I am afraid they would still be facing a lot of challenges, like the pedagogy to be adopted, sound business models that are to be established, cultural and quality issues that are yet to be overcome.

As I have shared, we are now in the Lord of the Ring game, where those who win takes all. Education is now a game, not as much as the once enlightenment or passion sort of education vision, but a pragmatic sort of education of whether one could get a job after taking a course of study, or getting famous through “educating” others in MOOCs.

It is the media that would likely determine who is the winner, not the test anymore, as no one could objectively test or examine what is really “competent” or “capable” under those framework, mainly because they are producer driven, not user driven.


Reflection of competency-based education, training and Total Quality Management in Education

I don’t quite understand the lagging behind of competency-based programs in Higher Education, as here in Australia competency-based training has been in place for decades.

In Higher Education, many authorities had challenged if Competency based education sets a high enough bench marks or not in “education”, mainly because many competencies are set by the industry, not academics or education authorities.

Aren’t these different from the industrial based competency based standards – set by the industry, for the industry?  People might often think that higher education is preparing people for jobs, so the emphasis in contemporary education would be to treat education similar to training, by equipping students with skills in schools, and making sure that they have acquired the skills for the job or profession.

That is both rational and pragmatic, as one principal goal of education should be to prepare people ahead of their career, so they are work ready, and become a valuable member of the institutions or community they would join in the future.

However, if we reflect on the focus of the educational ideal, vision and mission of higher education, we often find a different set of values being endorsed in the institutions.  The education mission is about developing people to engage, interact with others, with the acquisition of social and interpersonal skills, metacognition and critical thinking, with digital literacies, and be connected to the global community.

In this vision and mission of higher education:

Higher education institutions should educate students to become well informed and deeply motivated citizens, who can think critically, analyse problems of society, look for solutions to the problems of society, apply them and accept social responsibilities.

The xMOOCs are mostly related to “training” of certain job-specific skills (computer programming) or broadcasting programs similar to the TV distance learning, with the difference that it is now offered in short episodes (videos in short clips), with quizzes included in the video clip near to end to check and test understanding.  This is merely automating the education and training with media and tools, with little to no input or contribution from the learners in return.  Such consumption mode of learning would only add “information” into the brain of people, but not always leading to deeper mode of thinking or learning, even if the learners could pass the tests and assignments.

It could be argued that mastery of learning is based on passes on quizzes, tests and assignments.  However, any machines (computers) which have been “taught” how to respond to questions could do better than a human in taking tests and examinations, and this doesn’t prove that the machine is in any way more intelligent than human as it has been taught, though again, there is artificial intelligence that could be built into a machine.

The question is: Do we want people just to “acquire” more information, or do we want people to know how to learn, and to become a more autonomous learner with self-directed learning?

Here in this post relating to a change in culture in higher education, I could sense the adoption of quality circles and Total Quality Management in place in those institutions.  As shared in my previous post on quality matters, it seems that this pattern of embracing a TQM is gradually commonplace in community colleges and certain Higher Education Institutions.  Mandatory personal learning plans, target and goals setting and performance reviews have been in place in industry for decades.  Now it is transplanted to colleges of education, likely by the consultants, administrators and education authorities.  To what extent would that change the quality of education?

Would the incorporation of MOOCs change the culture of those institutions further?  I reckon certain Higher Education Institutions and authorities would still like to uphold their autonomy, in order to stay away from the noises and distractions of certain power imposed upon them from the social media, networks or communities.  So, I could anticipate tensions in between the professional learning community and personal learning networks.  May be it’s time to reflect upon what MOOCs really mean to people, and that we need to understand what a great MOOC would look like, and  it should stand for LEARNING if it is to be meaningful and sustainable.  It is about meeting and exceeding the needs and expectations of the customers, via Total Quality Management.

Is quality control good enough for MOOCs? Part 1

Both Tony Bates and George Siemens posted about the need of quality control on MOOCs.  There were many other postings that critiqued on such MOOCs drama.

Tony says:

  1. Where is the quality control? Surely Coursera should accept some responsibility for this. They are getting paid by the institutions to host these courses. Shouldn’t they at least be asking some questions about what tools people are planning to use, and whether or not they will work with very large numbers? Are they doing due diligence before accepting and advertising their MOOCs? Apparently not. Nor did Georgia Institute of Technology. What has this done to its reputation?
  2. Are questions being asked about the qualifications or experience of the people who are offering MOOCs? Just a brief glance at this particular course suggests that the instructor had little experience herself in planning and managing online courses. Georgia Institute of Technology is not at the top of my list of institutions with experience in online learning. But then, anyone can teach an online course about online learning, can’t they?

Martin Weller summarises it wonderfully here:

This means that they’re expensive to create, need to appeal to a broad demographic, and have high production values. If this is their direction then there are several inevitable outcomes:

  • They become unsustainable – a good MOOC is so expensive to put on that it simply isn’t worth doing. You’re providing it for free after all.
  • Only elite institutions offer them – given the expense, only those institutions who have the money, or the skills to produce broadcast quality content will provide them.
  • They are conservative – as Georgia Tech found, it’s better not to try anything risky or innovative, because the cost of failure is too great.
  • MOOC failure will be costly – if you fail publicly and damage your own, and your institution’s reputation, don’t expect them to give you promotion. So why risk it?

It is interesting to see MOOCs from different lights and perspectives, with this article here: mooc model challenging traditional education:

MOOCs, as currently designed, address two of the three challenges facing postsecondary education: access and cost. MOOC-based degree programs would not only democratize education, but their scalability would help end the unsustainable trajectory of tuition. They are an effective remedy to the “cost disease” plaguing higher education12 and a viable solution to the problem of providing global access to educational credentials.

Would MOOCs help end the unsustainable trajectory of tuition?  May be, from the learners and students’ point of view.

For the institutions, they would more likely to be hit hard, even for the most prestigious institutions, like Stanford, MIT, and most higher education institutions, I suppose. Why? This lower cost solutions would bring the whole of Higher Education to an “affordable” education, but also lower the overall value of a degree as offered in the Higher Education Institutions.

Demand and supply in economics tells us that scarcity in supply would likely be valued more than the abundant demand. Take for instance the current market of ubiquitous MOOCs, would people be more choosy in their MOOCs selection?  Higher Education institutions would need to rethink about their strategic positioning in this changing landscape of Higher Education, not just to survive, but to thrive, in view of the disruption and competition of the MOOCs.

Henry Ford once said: “You could have any cars you like, so far if it is black.”  Now it sounds like: “You could have any degrees or online education you like, so far if it is MOOCs.”

Is quality control the solution?  May be, but I don”t think quality control is good enough.  Quality control only controls the outputs, inspecting the faulty products and services, most likely by sample checking, or at most quality auditing.  But MOOCs would hardly survive with quality audits, unfortunately, because most of the xMOOCs might not have passed even the first audit check – high drop-outs, and failure to conform with the specifications and requirements by the institutions – in participation, engagement, and meeting the quality requirements of support and the academic rigor of a “degree”.  I don’t see MOOCs would survive in a stringent, traditional model of higher education, though this may be overly pessimistic judgment.  Who would risk having 10% of their students passing the course?

Isn’t it too harsh on xMOOCs?  Yes, it could be overly demanding, when failures of MOOCs might seriously impact on the reputation of the institutions, the professors and supporting staff, and students.

Nevertheless, all those who passed the MOOCs would be very thankful of the MOOC providers, for the free education they have received.

My background is in quality management.  Historically, we have quality control, then quality assurance, and then total quality management.  Total quality management (TQM) requires a totally new approach in “managing quality”.  So, would TQM be required in MOOCs?

I will continue with this reflection in Part 2.