I was unable to participate in MOOC MOOC yesterday as I had a full day visiting with family. While I managed to fit in some reading in the evening, I didn’t have the time to complete the task. Therefore, I got up early this morning, finished writing a post reflecting on Day Two, and then began work on Day Three’s activity.
We were given a video to watch and then asked to make our own, responding to the question: ‘Where does learning happen?’
I enjoyed the task as it gave me the opportunity to share a number of ideas that I have been ruminating on for several months now; influenced by the focus of my research proposal for the M.Ed I am studying towards.
I don’t feel too bad about not being able to participate fully yesterday, as I feel MOOCs are as much about plotting your own path as they are about networks and collaboration. I hope to get involved in a discussion about participant pedagogy today, as that is what we have been tasked with, but I will just see what the day brings. I have collated a number of articles about connectivism and my immediate plan is to sit and read those next. The learning is messy but I am managing to create order from the chaos.
Day 2 of MOOC MOOC was very enjoyable. We were given our first formal activity, which involved creating a 1000 word collaborative essay, addressing the following questions:
What is a MOOC?
What does it do, and what does it not do?
Based on my reading and my familiarity with using Google Docs, I jumped straight in and began to respond. One or two others did likewise. Eventually, we reached a collaborative impasse, realising we needed to do some more reading and take some time to reflect. In particular, I needed to understand better the difference between the two different types of MOOC that were being discussed: cMOOCs (Connectivist – developed by the likes of Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Dave Cormier) and xMOOCs (the Coursera/Udacity model – currently being lauded and vilified, depending on which end of the Media spectrum you choose to read).
cMOOC vs xMOOC
As one of the early developers of cMOOCs, George Siemens writes: “Our MOOC model emphasizes creation, creativity, autonomy, and social networked learning. The Coursera model emphasizes a more traditional learning approach through video presentations and short quizzes and testing. Put another way, cMOOCs focus on knowledge creation and generation whereas xMOOCs focus on knowledge duplication.” Marc Bousquet, sums this up more concisely, writing about cMOOCs that: “Good MOOC’s…foreground and sustain the social dimension of learning and active practices, i.e., knowledge production rather than knowledge consumption.”
What we have then in MOOCs is little more than a continuation of the age-old debate between progressive, student-centred learning and traditional transmission-based teaching/learning that has dominated education for a long time. When taking this dichotomy at face value, there is little that is surprising. In that, the institutional model (xMOOCs) is essentially an extension of the pedagogical models practiced within the institutions themselves, while the more progressive model (cMOOCs) built by a ‘connected’ group of ‘individuals’ is relatively free from institutional constraints.
Does this mean that within institutions such as Stanford and MIT no social, creative, networked learning occurs? Certainly not, but like in many educational establishments I would suggest that such models of learning are the exception rather than the norm. Why is this? In my experience, it is not one facet but a combination of factors that result in such situations. Infrastructure, finance, time and leadership all impact on educational practice within educational institutions. I have no doubt that, in the eyes of institutional leaders, xMOOCs represent an opportunity to increase marketing and revenue. When Watters asserts that “the pedagogy – watch videos, take multiple choice quizzes – is an indication that these courses are retreading old practices rather than really rethinking how the technology can transform how we teach/learn”, she is not only right, but also raises the question: why? Is this simply a case of educational practitioners ‘not getting it’? Or is it a case of professors and teachers being asked to produce content for something they have not had time to come to terms with? I am not making excuses, as I sit significantly far to the cMOOC end of the spectrum when it comes to my own pedagogical classroom-practice. However, working within an educational establishment myself, I have witnessed a number of potentially progressive projects and initiatives be delivered very poorly. Why? Usually, because the leadership wants to jump on a bandwagon and little to no time is afforded for professional development or research to develop understanding of the potential pedagogical benefits, let alone best practices.
MOOCs are not about broadcasting education although that is what many xMOOCs appear to be doing. cMOOCs on the other hand have huge potential to be both a disruptive and progressive force within education. They can:
Develop and fostering connected, collaborative learning beyond traditional classroom settings
Provide learning that does not fit neatly into the curriculum
Connect groups of like-minded individuals who share interests
Provide a platform for the development of learner independence and resilience
Having developed a better understanding of the cMOOC and xMOOC paradigms, I returned to the Google Doc which had taken further shape. I enjoyed helping to edit and refine it and feel that I was able to make a better contribution having taken some time to step back, allowing my thinking to evolve.
In the video interview above, George Siemens expresses that MOOCs are about learners embracing chaos, making sense of it themselves, rather than someone doing it for them. The collaborative essay was a perfect example of this, we began with chaos but through initiative, reflection and connection we were able to make sense of the chaos and produce a piece of succinct writing. Is it the case then, that the online aspect of MOOCs is what is most important? Owing to the fact that, through the use of web-based tools (Google Docs, Canvas, Twitter) we were able to form connections and collaborate effectively.
This is the first MOOC that I have participated in although I have been following the development and growth of the MOOC phenomenon for some time; aided by blog posts and tweets from the likes of Stephen Downes, George Siemens, Dave Cormier, Jim Groom and Audrey Watters. My interest in such courses is obvious… just a short perusal of my blog will tell you that I have a vested interest in e-Learning, independent learning and learning pedagogies. I am currently writing up my research proposal as part of the Masters in Education I am undertaking. I am seeking to answer the following question:
To what extent can virtual courses support the development of independent learning beyond ‘real time’ curriculum delivery?
I hope that spending the week participating in MOOC MOOC will provide additional ideas and lines of enquiry, as I continue to develop and refine my thinking around both online learning and learner independence. I am also interested in the role such courses can play within the education landscape and the challenge that they can pose to traditional-systematised models of education. I hold strong beliefs about learner independence and feel that we are currently reaching a point where learning has the potential to be more democratised and available to learners, free from economic and geographical constraints. Moreover, I see potential in MOOCs to be a piece of the puzzle in enabling learners to be autonomous; self-managing their learning pathway. I’m not sure how far this view reflects others’ thinking and that is something I hope to discern over the course of the week.
I am also interested to see how a MOOC is/can be different from any other online course? What is the balance/relationship between pedagogy and technology? What is most important within the ‘Massive Open Online Course’? Scale? Openness? Online? Or something else? I have many questions and I don’t expect to necessarily come out the other end with answers but I do expect my thinking to have moved forwards.
Day One: Orientation
What follows here is a collection of my thoughts after the first day of MOOC MOOC
Having enrolled, participants were invited to edit their profile, sort notification preferences and introduce themselves, all within the confines of the Canvas LMS. While I understand the decision to use such a platform to structure the course, it immediately raised questions. Canvas certainly looks nice but is no way different to Blackboard or Moodle in its infrastructure and approach. Does the use of such platforms limit MOOCs? Are our perceptions of what a MOOC is/can be being defined by previous experiences of online courses that have and continue to be delivered within such platforms? How is MOOC MOOC different from any other online course? I don’t have an answer yet but as with all learning, I believe it’s imperative to look beyond the technology. If we do that then, what we are left with is a discussion and a selection of articles to read. Not particularly ground breaking but then it is only day one. I tried to engage with the forum discussion, introducing myself and responding to one/two other people’s posts. However, I found myself becoming irked by the platform; the threaded structure and limited functionality made the process cumbersome. Furthermore, given that a Twitter social was scheduled for 6pm, I have to ask what the point of using the forum was? I am reminded of a discussion I had a while ago about the value of distribution and multiple platforms. However, I remain unconvinced. For each activity I feel it is best to pick one medium (hopefully the one that is best suited to the task).
Finding myself a little underwhelmed, I decided to spend some time reading. A number of articles were posted, several of which I had not encountered before and others that I had. In this process, what a MOOC is began to reveal itself; not only in terms of varying definitions, which I plan to explore as the course continues, but also in terms of my role as participant/independent learner. Writing this on day two, I have already had a number of discussions on Twitter and via a Google Doc about the difference between cMOOCs and xMOOCs. There is clearly a history to be understood and a lot of information to be digested however it’s becoming clear that connecting, discussing, and debating is an integral feature of MOOCs. Dave Cormier says as much in the following video.
Now, a day and a half in, I have oriented, declared and sprinted head first into sharing, collaborating and debating with the network. Like I have experienced during my M.Ed studies, and with my own students, it is the dialogue that is most important. Perhaps then, a MOOC is nothing more than a beginning, a platform to jump off of? Each article, each activity a way to evolve thinking and generate further discussion?
Facer, Keri (2011), Learning Futures: Education, Technology and Social Change, T & F Books UK
Mitra, S., Dangwal, R., Chatterjee, S., Jha, S., Bisht, R. S. and Kapur, P. (2005). Acquisition of computing literacy on shared public computers: Children and the “hole in the wall”. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 21(3), 407-426. Retrieved, April 2010 from the World Wide Web: http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet21/mitra.html
Next Thursday I will be hosting #ukedchat for the second time. I have selected a challenging and contentious question:
Are schools (as physical spaces) necessary to facilitate learning in the 21st century?
It is prompted by my feelings with regard to the current state of education in the UK. It is my contention that the current system of education is broken and that it will not be fixed if we continue to wait for others to do it for us.
Sir Ken Robinson in his closing speech at LWF12 talked about this specifically, reminding us that we (the teachers) are the education system. He argued that “we need to be part of the solution for the revolution and not part of the problem”. This is not easy though. Teachers are facing a diametrically opposed set of challenges. On the one hand they are being bombarded with negativity and criticism from a government, determined to stymie the revolution and return our education system to the Victorian era from which it was born. On the other hand, there are a plethora of social and technological shifts occurring that ask difficult questions of teachers and the education system:
How are new technologies and social media changing the way we learn?
What is a teacher and what is their purpose?
Can the web offer as good an education as that which is offered in schools?
Can new learning models such as MOOCs, or new forms of accreditation, such as Mozilla’s ‘Open Badges’ project, offer equally valid and meaningful learning experiences; empowering the learner to circumvent the system?
And make no mistake, mainstream education is already being circumvented. Keri Facer reminds us of this in her book ‘Learning Futures: Education, Technology and Social Change’. She draws attention to the fact that schools, increasingly, find it difficult to define their sense of purpose due to the relentless push for them to focus on results and league tables. Creativity? Is off the agenda! Consequently, many groups are dissatisfied with the quality of education schools can offer. Tutoring, home-schooling, ‘free schools’ and truancy are all responses to this. Perhaps the message is that schools (in their current form) do not meet the needs of learners in the 21st century.
Therefore, I believe there is value in a discussion about schools and their role in education. In the face of social and technological change, are schools (as physical spaces) necessary? If not, what is the alternative? If yes, are they fine as they are or do they need to change to meet learners’ needs? Finally, if we believe change is necessary, what can we do to enact it?
It is this that I would like to explore on Thursday. I hope that you will be able to join me.
[Update: Saturday, 3 March] This was the 87th instalment of #ukedchat. You can read a summary of the discussion here and read/download a PDF archive of all the tweets here.