Musing about MOOCs

The two MOOCs I’ve played with in the last two weeks couldn’t be more different. #Change 11‘s 1,000+ participants puts the Massive in MOOC, making Alec Couros’ EC&I 831, with 31 credit students and 131 non-credit students, feel positively cozy.

#Change 11 is loosely structured; participants are directed to create a Web presence, tag all their Web documents, and find kindred spirits. E&C 831 is a different animal. First off, the fact that it’s a credit-bearing course  sets up an expectation from the start: somebody must be running the asylum class; Alec, the credit-awarder, is. He keeps a running GDoc of class resources and notes. He’s also gathered all the for-credit students’ blogs into a G-Reader bundle, created a spreadsheet of non-credit students’ contact info, and facilitates class each week. In short, Alec has a slightly different presence (set of responsibilities?) in EC&I 831 than organizers George (Siemens), Dave (Cormier), and Stephen (Downes) have in #Change 11.

I started #Change 11 intending to participate as fully as possible for as long as possible. I lasted three days. I consider myself a fairly Web-savvy person, but I have to admit I could not figure out what was happening, or where, or, ultimately, why I– or anyone– would bother. Some of this is because I’m working on my dissertation proposal and have not got much of a  life outside of that. But I also felt uneasy with all the talk of connecting, connections, collaborating.  I don’t believe that learning occurs simply by virtue of connecting with others; I worry that we don’t spend enough time talking about the differences between cooperating and collaborating; I wonder if the word “community” gets thrown around too loosely; are “knowledge” and “information” the same thing? I could go on.

Alec’s course is starting its third week. I’ve attended the non-credit sessions, responded to some student blogs, & plan to continue. Despite the different course designs and my different experiences in #Change 11 and EC&I 831, each has been and will continue to be a complete success. That’s because, as a doctoral student in English Education, I’m thinking a lot about what it means to be a teacher and a learner in this digital age. I’ve long been convinced that Web-based technologies have the potential to blow the roof off of education as we’ve known it (and, yes, when it comes time to write my dissertation, I will need to find a different way to say that). The question for me (and for many) is, how?

What’s possible in higher ed is not likely to be feasible in secondary ed. What works for one student or teacher won’t work for another. I teach a class about literacies & technologies in the secondary English classroom in an M.A. program & I do it differently that Alec does. In a few weeks, Bud Hunt will be starting to facilitate a six week course through P2PU and I’m pretty sure he’ll do it differently than anyone else I’ve mentioned here. I’ve written in this blog about initiating professional development webstitutes on the English Companion Ning, which are yet other models of online learning.

Going ahead, I’m going to be thinking about the assumptions and beliefs that undergird the designs of these and other Web-based learning assignments & experiences. What social or cultural or educational philosophies or practices do they challenge? Affirm? What kinds of questions emerge?

I’m looking forward to finding out.


Image: via CC BY-SA 2.0








3 responses to “Musing about MOOCs”

  1. Alec Couros says:

    Thanks for this comparison, Karen. I’m really quite interested in how non-credit students experience my course (and of course, other MOOC-like experiences). I don’t think there’s ever a perfect model, but in my case, I feel that I have a core responsibility to my credit students, but try to serve their needs through engaging and sustaining the non-credit learners. For me it’s not just the philosophy of openness, but the pedagogical possibilities that I’m excited about.

    I hope that you continue with #eci831 – hope to see you there again next week.


  2. Karen says:

    I’m interested to see how the blend of credit-non-credit evolves, too, and what you do to facilitate that. Some day I’d be interested in doing a study comparing a couple of different models, the philosophies and goals underlying the designs, etc….then my advisor swats me on the head (figuratively, of course) and reminds me that this is Life Work and to focus on my dissertation.

    I hope you’ll be writing more about the pedagogical possibilities you’re observing and exploring. It’s a challenging time to be in education, but an exciting and hope-filled time as well. Thanks for the opportunity to participate in the course.

  3. Hi Karen and Alec
    I have facilitated an open post-grad course ‘Facilitating Online’ for the last few years. I am currently writing up a lit review about open ed and then carry out some research, looking at the experience of the students. We’re trying to work out what works best in terms of funding…would love to hear from you both about how sustainable you think MOOCs are…and if they are ever a model that can be applied to other ‘topics’ other than education. cheers Sarah

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