Weekend Reading: the MOOC Catchup Edition

moocsThe latest thing that has everyone buzzing in higher education are MOOCs—Massively Open Online Courses. MOOC companies like Coursera, Udacity and Harvard edX courses offer free content to anyone, anywhere, and at any time. MOOCs have been criticized on many counts: for being an ineffective mode of instruction; for their high attrition rates; and their problematic handling assessment. Yet its supporters claim that MOOCs are an important intervention into the skyrocketing rates of college tuition, and champion the ability of MOOCs to offer much-needed instruction to impoverished people around the world. MOOCs have also thus far been limited to elite institutions. Bringing things to a head is San Jose State University’s controversial move to offer college credit for MOOC classes, which has fanned fears of a growing turn by state institutions to use MOOCs instead of regular classes. Its detractors fear  that MOOCs will lead to the future unemployment of faculty at non-elite colleges and universities, leaving face to face education to be the privileged preserve of the elite.

In this Weekend Reading, I catch ProfHacker readers who may have missed the debate up on the MOOC debacle. This Reading focuses on some of the most significant posts and articles that I’ve come across. The Reading is not meant to be comprehensive, but to give an overview to the major issues within the debates.

  • “The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform.” Aaron Bady (@zunguzungu) has been a significant critique of the MOOC movement. In this comprehensive essay he gives some background to the original history of MOOCs in terms of an original class by George Siemens and Stephen Downes where a class of 25 students was opened up to 1,500 online participants, and which “was part of a long-running engagement with connectivist principles of education.” Unlike this original vision of the MOOC, however, Bady argues that “If the MOOC began in the classroom as an experimental pedagogy, it has swiftly morphed into a process driven from the top down, imposed on faculty by university administrators, or even imposed on administrators by university boards of trustees and regents.”
  • “What Can MOOCs Teach Us About Learning?” On her HASTAC blog, Cathy Davidson talks about what she finds hopeful about the future of MOOCs: “We are taking baby steps with the medium right now, and, fortunately, a lot of dedicated, earnest, serious thinkers are asking what MOOCs can teach us about learning so that these first steps will help us taking gigantic, important leaps in the future.   We are collecting the data, keystroke by keystroke, that will help us understand more and more about what modes of learning work in what situation and for whom.  We will soon know more about what motivates students to stay in a course, what makes them drop (the MOOC drop out rate tends to be very high), what motivates them to learn in the first place?  What motivates them to form peer discussion groups, online or off, around course content?  How many go from an introductory course to a deeper one–and why?  In other words, the quantity of data and the increasing sophistication with which we, aided by the machine, can read and analyze and parse and visualize data, means that we are learning more about the minutia of learning now than we have ever known before.    If we get over the hype of the MOOC at this moment, if we can think about this as an initial foray into a major breakthrough in knowing how we know, in metacognition, great new forms of interactive learning are possible.”
  • “An Open Letter from the Philosophy Department at San Jose State to Michael Sandel” Sandel is a Harvard professor who created a MOOC SJSU faculty were encouraged to use in their curriculum. In response, the Philosophy program writes: “In spite of our admiration for your ability to lecture in such an engaging way to such a large audience, we believe that having a scholar teach and engage with his or her own students is far superior to having those students watch a video of another scholar engaging his or her students.”
  • “Coursera Jumps the Shark.” In which Coursera admits that MOOCs are not a sustainable business model, and it will plan to instead compete with Learning Management Systems such as Blackboard: “Remember when Coursera – the world’s largest purveyor of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) – was going to disrupt higher education, and put hundreds if not thousands of public institutions out of business? I know it’s hard to cast your mind back all of eighteen months, but try. Actually don’t.  Because it’s all over. Yesterday, Coursera did a weird strategy about-face by announcing that, rather than competing with public colleges, it’s going to start competing with Blackboard instead.”
  • “MOOC HQ” A curated page of links on MOOCs by Hilary Culbertson of HASTAC. “Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been making waves ever since Sebastrian Thrun and Peter Norvig’s course on AI enrolled 165,000 students in 2011. Key questions include: How does the massive scale of these classes impact the pedagogy? What is the place of a MOOC in a traditional higher education curriculum What kinds of learning can MOOCs supplement or replace? What makes a MOOC innovative (in other words, how do we leverage the MOOC form to innovate rather than perpetuate pedagogical practices)? How do we address the problems raised by MOOCs, such as unprecedented incompletion rates? (And — perhaps most importantly — are these problems really problems?) As the discussion around MOOCs evolves alongside the MOOCs themselves, the HASTAC community remains deeply engaged. This collection is designed to highlight posts on about MOOCs, online learning, and digital pedagogy.”


MOOC Alternatives

  • Hybrid Pedagogy’s MOOC MOOC (@hybridped), a self-generated, learner-focused MOOC about MOOCs, in which anyone can participate. MOOC MOOC starts TOMORROW (June 15th) at 12am EST and ends on the same day at 11.59pm EST. 24 hours of MOOCs about MOOCs: “MOOCification is really a kind of pillaging. You take what works about MOOCs, the best pedagogy they open up, apply it to more traditional classes, and then politely (or not so politely) spit out the rest.”
  • FemTechNet’s DOCC, or “Distributed Online Collaborative Course,” an attempt to redesign MOOCs according to feminist principles: “In the following, Alex Juhasz and Anne Balsamo discuss FemTechNet, the network they have activated to produce the first distributed online collaborative course (DOCC) that demonstrates not only innovative thinking about emergent technologies, but also addresses — as its central topic — the long histories of feminist engagements with technology and cultural innovation.” Also see the DOCC information page on the FemTechNet website.


Image Credit: Hybrid Pedagogy

What are your thoughts on MOOCs? What other articles would you recommend? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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