Confused MOOCThink

I came across an article by the progenitors of #EDCMOOC on their initial thinking around MOOC pedagogy (MOOC pedagogy: the challenges of developing for Coursera). Riding on the Coursera engagement with the University of Edinburgh, the team designing the eLearning and Digital Cultures MOOC on the Coursera platform (that I missed enrolling for, though) was seeking to engage with the medium and pedagogy, planning and development and the wider implications for the practice of and research in eLearning and Higher Education.

The article makes a promising start by articulating the “digital mimicry” of the xMOOC platforms by calling out the fact that their models are digital extensions of the conservative education system. The authors also demonstrate their understanding that the MOOC innovation as one that questions and loosens the traditional notions such as institutional control, learning outcomes and assessment criteria.

They do acknowledge the precedents set by the cMOOCs, but dismiss them as being “populated by committed e-learning enthusiasts and remain untested as vehicles for delivering alternative, less ‘reflexive’ subject matter”, “pedagogically interesting, may not fit so well across other disciplines…radical fringes of what the Higher Education sector might be prepared to more fully endorse”.

Their focus is to preserve the “construction of the teacher that has an immediacy that can succeed at scale”, with the belief that the teacher’s role is somewhere in between “over-celebratory fetishizing of the teacher” and “(writing) the teacher out of the equation altogether”. They don’t subscribe to the hype that MOOCs (and the Open Education movement) will achieve grand visions of democratizing education or freeing of the world’s knowledge, but do believe that the MOOCs have some merit in terms of scale, diversity, experimentation & research, and augmentation to physical offerings of higher education institutions.

There intent is to see how the MOOC can operate in conjunction with traditional practices. Essentially, they base their interest on:

Online education is a trend-ridden field, and MOOCs might be seen as just another – rather high-profile – piece of ed-tech du jour. However, in their sheer scale, in the rapidity of their rise and in the profound issues they appear to be raising regarding the purposes of higher education and the future of the university, they are clearly something genuinely new, something more than simply modish. For this reason, they are surely worth serious engagement on the part of anyone interested in the digital futures of educational change.

IMHO, this is a very cavalier approach to think about MOOC pedagogy and I am sure the authors will want to defend their approach based on the learning they have had from actually putting this into practice.

Why do I say this? At the outset, you cannot think of cMOOCs and Connectivism from within the system – they are a disruption – xMOOCs being the (rather limited) innovation. cMOOCs questioned the existing paradigm, demonstrated an alternative (raised many questions that are still unsolved like, for example, assessments in a cMOOC environment) and laid a strong foundation for thinking about the disruption through the theory of Connectivism.

It is not enough to state they cannot fulfill grand visions of democratizing education or cannot work in less-reflexive settings. There must be an effort to quantify the “why” behind these assertions. There must be an awareness that networks that are democratic do not exhibit power laws, rather they are horizontal line graphs that require certain critical literacies (not only those found in “elearning enthusiasts” – dislike being called that).

There must also be a concerted effort to understand that the alternative to instructor-mediated “contact and dialogue” at small scale, towards preserving the quality of these interactions at a much larger scale, must have necessarily to leverage the power of the network (witness Alec Couros’s experiment to call for external mentors online for his physical class) and does not exist in the spectrum between “no-teacher” and “over-fetished teacher”, but rather in different conceptions of what a teacher can be (Atelier, Weaver and so many others that were discussed in CCK08).

It is also important not to bypass the role of technology in unearthing the progress, direction and quality of learning and acting as tools for the network itself to evolve and progress. Therefore, discussions around Learning Analytics, Complexity, Network evolution & collaboration, design of emergent environments for learning and new ways of implicit and explicit assessments must foreground any new design of a MOOC or any conversation around MOOC Pedagogy (if that is the right term – heutagogy was considered as more appropriate in some conversations).

What would count is if the authors directed their design efforts towards exploring the new paradigm from a new paradigm perspective, rather than force-fitting it to existing notions of what they think works and what does not. Their kind of MOOCThink confuses and perplexes me.

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