Thursday, February 07, 2013


I'm doing a MOOC on e-learning and digital cultures, as well as two other MOOCs (philosophy and astrobiology) and now find myself pontificating on the nature of MOOCs. It's kinda meta-MOOCing which is hard! What does it mean to be open? What difference does it make that the course is online? How does it being massive make it hard to navigate? What's the point anyway?

One of the MOOCs I'm doing (astrobiology) because I'm interested in the topic, because I'm preparing two papers for a colloquium and hopefully paper-based publishing, and because (and kind of as an afterthought) it intersects with something I teach on paleoclimate. The MOOC on philosophy is pure indulgence I guess, but it may find a place in my thinking - I mean who doesn't want to think about how to think rightly (well ok plenty of people). This MOOC on e-learning and digital cultures I'm taking because in some way I'm meant to be an e-learning guru (well no, and I don't think that as such) or more properly a guide or adviser and tech-head.

Two of the MOOCs are a straight transfer from trad ed to web with vid lectures and quizzes. Kinda yawn but material is of good quality, of interest to me and at least in some cases inspiring (well done Dave Ward for making thinking about thinking worth thinking about). But is that it Clay Shirky? Is this all I can expect? Is Aaron Bady right that a MOOC is one step better than nothing? After all, I can read, Google, get hold of a book, find a web article etc? Why does a video make it any better? Can and will MOOCs evolve beyond this? As Gardner Campbell challenges, will we move up the scale of hierarchies of learning?

As I intimated before, the videos at least can inspire. I like a passionate teacher and I try to be the same - without the illusion that the act of teaching means learning will occur, and yet there is no reason to expect it won't. Information is communicated (though only one way) and the good thing about video is the pause button (think time). In real life face to face teaching, questions, learning activities, exercises and (if they can be done) problem based learning provide the real grist for the mill.

But most MOOCs for now run well short of this, learning in a small class with a mixture of modes (my class I have for 10 months is 15 this year). Yet this is better than nothing if I can hear what an expert has to say on a topic. Expertise takes time, it just doesn't appear to be some freely floating object on the WWW that is then freely available. Much talk of open access seems to miss the point that facts are discovered, knowledge constructed and wisdom hard fought for, some times ex nihilio, but that it just doesn't pop up on the net without cost at some time, to some one. At some point it is culturally shared by the world (all IP issues aside) but it came from sweat and toil and experience. The WWW flattening of knowledge should not be reduced to the nonsense spouted in the NMC Horizon report - 2013 Higher Education Edition which said 'As authoritative sources lose their importance'. Such crap has resulted in climate change denial, the spread of childhood diseases in the vaccination boycotts and the ID/evolution debates on school boards!!!!

But the e-learning and digital cultures MOOC is something more, a level up. Videos that illustrate ideas and themes rather than simply teaching them; articles that real people read rather than just academics and discussions using a variety of social media. I've had many Twitter adds and really feel like I'm building a PLN in the process (and I hope others are when they add me!). The chat groups for philosophy (perhaps at a stretch the astrobiology course) extend me as a learner well beyond the material by connecting me with other learners and helping me to think (about thinking). Now that is metacognitive. This isn't replacing experts but placing me into a rich web of experts in the making.

So MOOCs need social media - not because videos of experts are wrong but because learning comes in communities of learners and practitioners reflecting on their learning and what the experts have said. After all, if teaching is sharing expertise then learning is gaining that expertise by practicing what has been shared, reflecting on it and sharing it ourselves.

Ok, I'm rambling now - but I do think MOOCs have a future. I don't know that they are the future.


Angela Towndrow said...

Hi Mick,

I've just changed my blog name to mulitMOOCing (tragic). metaMOOCing is a bit more inspired!

I've got a few on the go as well, and I agree with you that there is a future here. Two are a bit traditional, as you have described, edcMOOC is very slick, and etMOOC is quite out there, the real connectivist experiment. It's fun and I learn a lot from the other students, but the callibre of student is high. I'm not so sure it would be a good experience if the group were not so talented.

One thing about the more traditional formats: given that MOOCers are adult learners, I think most of them are pretty comfortable with lectures, the odd quiz, task or project. Having been participating in the more connectivist model classes, I'm finding some relief in Modern and Postmodern because of the structure and the lack of noise. It is a break from the energy required to make my own way and rather nice to be spoon fed for the moment.

I did a sustainability mooc last year, and it was scheduled to run again in January. However I noticed it is listed as "date to be announced" or something like that. I know there is a huge cost in putting on a mooc, both financial and time, so perhaps the current moocing phenomenon won't last. So I am going to do as many as I can manage while I can.


Willa Ryerson said...

'Hi Mick,
Personally I believe MOOC s that offer a connectivist approach will be the trend of the future. Anyone who hopes to complete a MOOC as massive as edcmooc has to be motivated and self directed. Engaging and collaborating with experts leads to meaningful learning. My concern is if we will be paying for moocs in the future, I will want credits not certificate s.A system of evaluation that is fair and measurable needs to be implemented as well. Enjoyed your post thanks...Willa