MOOC MOOC – Day Two

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.

You can read the finished essay here: A Mooc by Any Other Name (4)

Final Thought

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.

MOOC MOOC – Day One

Yesterday I enrolled and began participating in MOOC MOOC a week long, Massive Open Online Course about Massive Open Online Courses.

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?

Education has purpose but faces huge challenges!

purposed-badgeI am not due to write my contribution to the #500words campaign for purpos/ed until Tuesday 8th March. However, I have woken this morning still thoroughly energised by last night’s #ukedchat special – hosted by one of the founders of purpos/ed – Doug Belshaw. As such, I felt that I should share a few thoughts here and now, lest they be forgotten amongst the myriad of ideas and notions swirling around my brain.

To paraphrase what I wrote on Doug’s blog last night after the discussion – one of my concerns about the state of education is that not enough people actually stand up and take action. They are happy (or not) to sit in the staffroom grumbling about the current governments stance; or to bemoan the limits of the curriculum; or feel that standards are slipping, yada, yada, yada. But they are not ready and willing to do something about it. And I don’t mean do something about it in the ‘take to the streets’ and ‘march on whitehall’, do something about it. I mean stand up and raise these issues with SLT; speak to the principal, parents, governors about how they believe education should be; ignore the heard and do something different in the classroom; have the conviction to believe in what you say in the staffroom and go and do something about it.

I do not believe that it was at all surprising to any of us involved in the discussion on #ukedchat last night that we are not happy with the state of education; that we feel the current government’s idea of what “good education” is does not fit with our own beliefs; or that most of us felt learning should be more student centred. I mean come on, most of us involved in the debate are edupunks – we break the mould everyday, whether its David Mitchell leading the Primary blogging revolution or Dawn Hallybone evangelising about the merits of games based learning. Of course we care, of course we’re engaged, of course we will stand up but that’s because we have been doing so for some time now.

We need to mobilise the educators who are not like us; who are, perhaps, more afraid than we are. Those educators who share similar beliefs and values but perhaps do not have the skills or the guts to go against the grain. Maybe they are an NQT and don’t want to be seen as an upstart still considered ‘wet behind the ears’; or maybe they are a veteran who doesn’t blog, tweet or Facebook and so feel that their voice will not be heard. How do we give these people the courage and means to be heard? To do something different? To challenge the status quo?

This purpose, this debate, this mission is bigger than those of us who are standing square and tall; spitting in the face of traditional Victorian education. It is about each and every child, parent, educator who faces many more years of a curriculum/education that is not fit for purpose; that is not forward thinking; that will not facilitate the sort of learning that will open doors for people. Instead it is closing them, firmly shut. How do we motivate young people to see education as something to be valued and something that is theirs not ours? How can we help them to claim it for themselves? How do we get parents to understand that education is about much more than grades and a getting a job ‘when the learning is over’? These are huge challenges; huge purposes that need to be addressed if the engagement and passion on display last night is to be turned into more than rhetoric.

What binds us all is the belief that education does have a purpose (although this is different for everyone) but in 2011, more than ever, it faces huge challenges.

686 words! Gah! How I am going to stick to 500 words, I have no idea?!? However, you will be able to read more about what I believe the purpose of education is on Tuesday 8th March, right here on James Michie “…a 21st Century Educator”.