Ceci n’est pas une . . . MOOC

Photo Credit: heloukee via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: heloukee via Compfight cc

This is just part one of my thoughts on finishing the EDUCAUSE Leaning Initiative (ELI) spring session on the MOOC phenomenon, if that’s the right word for it, “Learning and the MOOC.” Fad, hype, innovation, new wave, learning thingy, or as someone noted MOOCOW (massive open online course or whatever). Anyway, the information is still settling and I’m still a skeptic, not in an oppositional way, just in a way that suggests all my questions haven’t been answered. I also recognize that my history of having taught for over twenty years, only the last three or so online, probably has a lot to do with that skepticism.

I love teaching online, so it’s not that part that worries me. I think it’s the M that worries me, but that’s all tied up in my being in the field of English and how much the concept of giving detailed written feedback has been so central to my teaching. It’s in the feedback that the student and I finally develop that one-on-one relationship that is necessary to teaching and learning academic writing (whether all students need to learn how to write the academic essay is another story for another post). I can see that such feedback has to be scrapped, no matter how big a staff there is to support faculty, but I don’t know what’s left and whether you can really call it a composition course. I’m interested to see what Georgia Tech does with its planned freshman composition MOOC, especially after their admission that “our courses are not equivalent to a semester-long college-composition course” because “there is simply no way to adequately evaluate the writing of thousands of students.” Then what is it? Will such courses be called Reading and Talking About Composition? Will the thousands of students be up to the chore of any amount of peer review of each other’s writing when they know it will never be evaluated by a professional?

I’m also worried about a trend, pushed by the Gates Foundation particularly, to shove developmental education students into MOOCs. Our neediest students in a MOOC. Instead of inviting them to join a personalized higher education environment, it seems we would be herding them into cattle cars. Would we even notice the ones who dropped out, since the high dropout rate in MOOCs is considered a given?

The ELI session was divided into two days, with day two ostensibly focused on “MOOC Quality Assurance and Analytics.” The impression I came away with is that we still don’t know what we’re doing in trying to collect and analyze the massive amounts of data we will collect in MOOCs, in fact, I’m not sure people know what to collect or how. As a result, many of the presentations seemed to be going over the familiar ground of how we analyze what we already do, instead of developing new methods for new purposes. It was noted often in the chat that this was the case, and I was sympathetic to the presenters, but still wished for something more. It all added up to my sense that we are not ready to institutionalize the MOOC and experiment with our students.

The other emphasis on day two was on MOOC providers, the cans into which we are packaging this education, glorified LMSs that offer the ability to handle or wrangle your MOOC masses. Canned education–I can’t get that image out of my mind.

I’ll look at some more positive aspects of MOOCs from the first day of the session in my next post, now that I got all those worries off my chest. In the meantime, you might be interested in this good read about whether MOOCs are already peaking and heading for that inevitable valley of disillusion: “MOOCs Near the Peak of Inflated Expectations.”

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Categories: education, learning, online learning, teaching, technology

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