MOOCow Mooc Cow
@Gordon_L Let me onto your blog! mooc!
0 secs ago via Twitter for CowPhone
@MOOCow Of course MOOCow – good to see you again!
MOOCow: Thanks G – Sigh!
G: You don’t sound as happy as you did the last time you were here MOOCow. What’s up?
MC: Oh – just the usual celebrity appearances for keynotes and blogs and I enjoyed tweeting for Surprise Endings but as for MOOCs – I just can’t believe how stupid you are!
G: MOOCow! I earned a Coursera certificate on a philosophy MOOC – I can’t be stupid!
MC: I don’t mean you – I mean the whole stupid human race! Here you are on this planet, in real trouble with every imaginable problem under the sun and then down come MOOCs like manna from heaven and then what do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO ?
G: Um – steady on MOOCow. Of course there’s controversy about MOOCs but there’s progress too – leave them alone long enough and they’ll develop their own culture!
MC: Oh yeah? – like yoghurt?
G: MOOCs are very new. It’s understandable that some people are less than enthusiastic – professors are worried about their jobs.
MC: It’s not understandable at all – it’s IRRELEVANT! You can educate the world now for a song and a sixpence and what happens instead? Overpaid academics in their plush ivory towers squeal on about face-to-face teaching while thousands of people cram into clunky forums expected to teach themselves from YouTube videos given by rock-star professors. And would you believe it? The biggest problem with MOOCs is how to make money from them!
G: Ahh! – in the early days learners interacted freely with each other in connectivist MOOCs using their own blogs and social media for discussion – sharing resources. Topics were explored together and connections made …..
MC: Well and good but I’m not the first to say that MOOCs are just vehicles for education. Even George Siemens says “MOOCs are really a platform.” I say that MOOCs are Massive, Open and Online and you’re supposed to learn something – end of story. Even you know they’re not really courses. A MOOC really is Something Else - quite different and you ought to be finding out exactly what. Some old git keeps saying that putting trad courses into MOOCs was like making the first railway carriages resemble stage coaches so as not to terrify the passengers!
G: That was me – I thought it was apt.
MC: Not if things stay like that! OK then, so what do YOU think makes for good MOOCs?
G: Er .. the pedagogy maybe … educational technology?
MC: Wrong again! Come on – what was outstanding about some of these MOOCs you were in, whether you interacted, lurked or just sneakily downloaded all the videos and went away?
G: Hmm … a philosophy lecturer, very active in the forums, responding expertly to questions, sharing resources – even quelling trolls with diplomacy and constant good humour!
MC: And that MOOC on ‘The Modern and the Postmodern‘ you hardly did any work for?
G: Prof Roth’s videos were excellent – tremendous enthusiasm there. He even admits to learning something himself in ‘My Modern Experience Teaching a MOOC‘ – just like they say happens to facilitators in cMOOCs!
MC: There you are! Pedagogy or Ed Tech’s NOT the thing. It’s PEOPLE that make MOOCs good. And bad too – I’ve seen snarky facilitators rubbing up learners the wrong way in MOOCs – including in your beloved cMOOCs. I’ve seen MOOCs with incompetent organisers peter out only after a few days. I’ve seen disgruntled rock-star professors crash MOOCs! And it’s not just facilitators and organisers. Learners have no idea what to expect from a MOOC.
G: They did in the classic cMOOCs – some initial chaos and confusion maybe but people knew what to expect.
MC: And who were these learners?
G: Mainly educators of all types.
MC: Hardly your typical learner – eh? For every one of these early cMOOCers you’ve now got scores of ordinary learners fooled into these xMOOC things. They think they’re trad courses on the cheap with bells and whistles complete with serious credentialing. They’re so conditioned by exam-ridden education systems they spend more time arguing about assessment than learning anything!
G: But credentialing is important!
MC: Don’t muddy the waters! Learning and credentialing are separate issues – just see what Bonnie Stewart says in Inside Higher Ed - her young assistant, Dave Cormier also says interesting things about assessment. I say a MOOC is a MOOC as long as it’s for learning but there’s nothing stopping you bolting on anything else if you must – credentialing, sponsored textbooks, promotional doughnuts ….
G: You’ve got to admit there’s some clever people out there making predictions about MOOCs.
MC: Too clever by half – “You can take people to the water but you can’t make ‘em think!” is what we cows say about people.
G: Don’t be so cynical. It’s not easy to make predictions based on learning theory but some authorities do say that ….
MC: LEARNING THEORY? PREDICTIONS? AUTHORITIES? – my hoof! Did any of your authorities predict the Internet? They were even dubious about Twitter and Facebook when they came along but now social media’s running through their theories like thick gravy. Get real G! You’ve got big ears, some people have big feet and some happen to have big cognitive powers. Sure, listen to what they say – it’s best when they fall out with each other and start swearing – just see that Audrey Watters! You can learn a lot that way but you don’t need to take anyone’s advice. “Think for yourself” is another saying we cows have.
G: Um … I think that was Immanuel Kant.
MC: Look G, global education’s a global problem and MOOCs are in their infancy – don’t leave them to the corporate mercies of one fading superpower. What does it mean when one bright 11-year-old from Lahore excels on a physics MOOC?
G: Well …
MC: It means there’s plenty more bright youngsters where that one came from. Get ‘em into physics or any of that STEM stuff you use to solve problems. Even getting people to think critically before they start writing crap in YouTube comments is worthwhile. Learn how to design and run your own MOOCs and how to tailor them for people with different learning objectives and perspectives. Learn how to beat instructivist conditioning. Use Open Educational Resources if you can but if you can’t then pay for new stuff. Get decent facilitators who know how to hold a learner’s hand when it’s needed. Pay them if you have to – though I’ve seen bright sparks in MOOCs as learners who’d be happy to help out as facilitators next tine round. As for rock-star professors, celebrity brings its own rewards (as I well know!) and maybe they can sell their books but pay ‘em well too so they make time to mix with the learners. You’ll also need to invest in better video technology so they can make their awesome videos and you need to buy some more ….
G: Hey MOOCow – STOP! Where’s all this money coming from?
MC: Don’t ask me – I’m just a humble MOOC Cow. Do your own thinking for a change! I’m late for another keynote – byee!
G: Humble? ……. Come back MOOCow !
MOOCow Mooc Cow
@Gordon_L M-M-MMMOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOCC-C-C !! #think4urself
0 secs ago via Twitter for CowPhone
Essence of MOOC - I’ve been trying to filter out from all the hype and controversy, the essential and distinguishing features of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) – as they are right now, out there in the field.
- MOOCs are About Learning - In essence, MOOC’s are concerned only with learning something, somehow. A good reason for MOOCs having a stupid but distinctive name is to clearly distinguish them from anything else – particularly traditional ‘courses’ and their associated baggage.
- MOOCs are Popular - MOOCs are surprisingly popular. From the very first cMOOC in 2008 the numbers of participants has continued to astonish and even overwhelm their organisers. There is a strong demand for Higher Education, however effective MOOCs may be in delivering it.
- MOOCs are Accessible - At a stroke, MOOCs have become freely available to thousands of students all over the globe, who, for whatever reasons, would not have had any access to Higher Education or, very importantly, access to fellow learners.
- MOOCs Inhabit a Massive Space - The web extends way beyond the limitations of any classroom, library – or any nation. MOOCs that climb into boxes and pretend to be traditional courses inevitably limit their potential.
- Diversity is of the Essence - The openness of MOOCs attracts an extraordinarily diverse range of participants, differing in so many different ways – race, culture, language, age, background, motivation … This is a strength that deserves to be recognised – and catered for.
- Facilitation is of the Essence - Whatever the pedagogical colours of a MOOC and whatever labels are applied (facilitators, teachers, instructors, organisers, staff, professors, TAs, sages on stages, guides by sides, …), the dedication and skills of those responsible for organising and running MOOCs are crucial.
- Technology will be of the Essence - Many of the difficulties suffered by current MOOCs (clunky communications, scrappy aggregation, sub-standard videos, less than synchronous sessions, crude monitoring and assessment techniques …), are down to the limitations of current technology. This is likely to improve – rapidly.
Other features are maybe not quite so compelling. Serendipity is one since many MOOC participants report quite unexpected discoveries in MOOCs, or as a result of taking MOOCs. (I finally completed my first SF short story as a result of taking a MOOC on philosophy!) Also, time is not of the essence – good MOOCs never die!
MOOCs and Museums - The Science Museum in London has always fascinated me. When I was a boy my parents could leave me there for hours, happily pushing buttons on the interactive displays or watching their amateur radio station talking to the world. Now, years later, everything is far more sophisticated but the Science Museum is still massive, open and free for anyone to enjoy and engage with and as popular as ever. Friendly experts and curators chat in small informal groups that you stumble into – or out when you’ve had enough. Excited kids with notebooks rush around doing projects and there’s a wealth of info for dedicated learners including specialist lectures at set times.
A good museum makes great use of a massive space for a wide range of open activities attracting a diversity of visitors. You might come in to study a particular exhibit or maybe just wander around looking at whatever interests you. You can follow predetermined paths to learn all about ‘Space Travel’ or ‘Climate Change’ or you might just retire to the library for peace and quiet and some deep study. Nobody calls you a ‘dropout’ or a ‘lurker’ because you don’t participate much or fail to complete some prescribed chunk of learning! There’s so much stuff around you’d never learn it all anyway. Perhaps you did learn something or perhaps you will next time you come. Your learning is entirely your own business.
No analogy is perfect but isn’t this the kind of informal learning environment that the vast majority of MOOC participants, including the so-called ‘dropouts’, really want – perhaps in spite of themselves and the vested interests pushing them this way or that? Participants who drop in and out of a MOOC, perhaps returning next time round to participate again or only to download something of special interest, have a lot in common with museum visitors, coming and going – just as they please.
At the end of the last xMOOC I participated in, a significant number thought the ‘course’ had been too easy and just as many thought it was too difficult. Neither opinion is surprising given the diversity of participants. Why shouldn’t a MOOC be like a good museum and actually try to be all things to all people? There’s plenty of space out there to embed anything you like in a MOOC without going too off-topic. For example, recommended paths for particular groups – ‘courses’ if you like in the everyday sense of the word ( ‘route or path taken by something, such as a stream, that moves’ – The Free Dictionary). No doubt, a relatively small but important group of learners would want to ‘pass the course’ by some sort of assessment procedure – and why not? Several MOOCs might be linked together in a single overarching MOOC, or even MOOCs within MOOCs within MOOCs – ad infinitum! The mind boggles and I’ve blogged before about ‘super-MOOCs‘ but isn’t the essential MOOC sufficiently flexible to support a wide variety of different approaches (pedagogies, facilitation styles, technologies etc) on a grand scale? MOOCs really do want to be massive!
Final Topic – This week was about Time Travel. Initially I thought there would be little to say about it without getting into big time physics but I was very wrong. Metaphysics is the name of the game, “a branch of philosophy that investigates the ways that reality could intelligibly be”, according to the introductory note and the idea was to use time travel as a case study. You may suppress a good laugh at the possibility of transporting a person backwards or forwards in time but things become less clear and considerably more involved, when you actually examine the logic. Consider the ‘grandfather paradox’ – go back in time, kill your own grandfather so you can’t exist in the first place – contradiction. But there are circumstances where logic dictates that you could actually go back in time and apparently intervene – remember that tall story a grandfather tells about how he once narrowly escaped death by a mysterious and unknown assassin…..?
Futuristic Flashings – I used to supervise lab projects using electronic logic gates. For example, designing a circuit that flashes a light 1 second after a button is pressed. Someone in the forum drew attention to a SF short story where a device is invented so that the light flashes 1 second before a button is pressed! This caused mental illness, anxiety and depression in the story because of an apparent loss of free will. I had an interesting argument with someone in the forum who held that free will would be unaffected. If I choose to press the button without seeing it flash then something (nature, God, whatever) must stop me if the device is working properly – even if the ceiling has to fall on my head! On the other hand, if the light suddenly flashes and I choose not to press the button then something else must – perhaps the cat passes by and accidentally presses it. These scenarios suggest a significant loss of free will to me but my inconclusive search for a definition of ‘free will’ reveals little consensus anywhere about what the term means. Now all this is fantastically weird and probably quite impossible but it does demonstrate how some very basic issues can be examined rationally by anyone without resorting to SF, or spending 10 years becoming a research physicist! I mentioned something along these lines in one of the introphil FB groups but somebody thought “hoi polloi” should not bother about such things! All the same, I’m adding it to my expanding list of ‘What Philosophy is For’.
cMOOCs and xMOOCs – My strong impression is that an overwhelming number of people taking this philosophy xMOOC are leaving it well pleased. Of course there was some nit-picking. Some participants expected different content and presentation styles – greater or less difficulty, longer or shorter videos, no funny accents, less talking heads, less humour, more shots ‘on location’, no mirrored reflections of female lecturers in museums(!), no dressing up for Serious Lectures on Time Travel….. Some criticism was very constructive, particularly about the awful forums, but the focus on the MCQ assessment process by participants, almost regardless of its real educational value, suggests that many are greatly influenced by baggage dragged in from traditional face-to-face courses. This of course is not discouraged by Coursera – presumably with a view to eventual monetisation of the MOOC.
To my mind, the undeniable success of this particular xMOOC lies centrally with the team of facilitators at Edinburgh University rather than with Coursera. Yes, there were sages on stages but some of them did actually descend to mingle with hoi polloi. In particular, Dr Richmond, of Time Travel fame deserves special mention. He popped up all over the forums, right from the beginning of the course and must have spent an inordinate amount of his time dealing with questions. He also quelled the inevitable trolls and stroppiness with impressive diplomacy and constant good humour. I hope he’s had due recognition and some relief from his normal university duties – or maybe he’s just been exercising his special skills!
Some time ago I wrote something on ‘Why can’t an xMOOC be more like a cMOOC?‘ but now I’m wondering what cMOOCs might learn from a good xMOOC? Good and conscientious facilitation is a must – I remember a certain cMOOC where all the facilitators suddenly vanished for days without explanation. Also, I think that the connectivist claim of knowledge being “literally in the connections” is (setting aside philosophical misgivings) rather less valid without some really strong connections with the experts. Some introphil participants certainly made valuable contributions that helped and connected with many others but I think most participants would agree that the contributions made by the professional philosophers were consistently of a very much higher standard in clarity and content and rather more effective in pushing along the educational process.
Are Scientific Theories true ? – very interesting topic for me this week. At issue is whether ‘truth’ is the aim of science (scientific realism) or whether science doesn’t need to be true to be good (anti-realism). This is a big topic to cover in a few short videos but from where I sit, the lecturer, who went to the trouble of having some relevant shots taken in an Edinburgh museum, did a very good basic job.
In the forum – I had an interesting discussion about what a realist would make of quantum mechanics. Here’s a quick resume: The humble electron is a good candidate for consideration. As time passes the realist, on the basis of widely accepted experimental evidence, is pleased to associate various properties with this tiny but concrete object (spin, charge, etc) and accepts all this as at least, approximate truth. Then quantum theory comes along. Although the realist happily accepts a probabilistic view of electron states on the basis of good evidence, she has some difficulty keeping her realist hat on while trying to accept that the electron is ‘really’ not one thing or another until it’s observed.
This may not be particularly relevant to the scientist in the field but it’s certainly a provocative thought if you happen to be a realist. Maybe a purpose of philosophy is to act as a gadfly. As Socrates is reported to have said, “to sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth.” I will add this to my list headed, ‘what philosophy is for’.
cMOOC found in an xMOOC ! – I’m convinced that inside every xMOOC there’s a cMOOC trying to get out. This can be difficult because of the way things are set up, particularly with Coursera’s terrible clunky closed forums but, just as in cMOOCs, there is a natural tendency for at least some participants to cooperate, create, share and make connections. Some examples – one participant posts her reflections, not only on current course material but on supplementary references she’s actually studied: all with helpful links. Various study subgroups have been set up by participants under headings of nationality, age, location, subject specialist etc though I haven’t noticed very much activity in these very recently. There are a number of helpful experts, mainly in the physical sciences and computing areas, who really do seem to know what they’re talking about – maybe contrary to my initial impressions when some people seemed more defensive and less tolerant of the poets! A good example of DIY spirit was the participant who, single-handedly, produced a complete transcript of this weeks videos before the official version was available.
Comment Scraping – I undertook to unleash my Comment Scraper on the introphil MOOC but my main computer with all the programs crashed more than a week ago. I’m hoping to get it back today and if so, comment scraping can be restarted, though some comments will be irrevocably lost because of missed aggregation.
‘Should You Believe What You Hear?’ was the title for this week. It was all very interesting to me as a Scotsman because there was so much to say about David Hume and his rival, the religiously trained Thomas Reid, also a Scottish philosopher who became a professor at the University of Aberdeen in 1752. Reid was the more trusting and thought people were naturally inclined to believe what others told them and that they tended to be truthful themselves. Hume on the other hand was all for ‘intellectual autonomy’ – think for yourself and don’t trust testimony unless you have evidence that it’s likely to be right.
I knew almost nothing about Thomas Reid but David Hume of course is very well known and his views seem far more in tune with the world today than Reid’s. Reid appeals to ‘Common Sense’ as a guiding force in his ‘Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense’ (1764) although, to me anyway, some of his beliefs seem lacking in just that! To be fair, the same could also be said of some of Hume’s beliefs judging from a video on Louise Taylor’s excellent blog. I’m beginning to think that all philosophers tend to push the boundaries of common sense a little too far but maybe that’s part of what philosophy is for, as well as asking and thinking about questions instead of answering them.
I tend to place some reliance on common sense. What else have we got when we move out of our own personal areas of expertise? If common sense is the distillation of life’s experience that we carry around in our heads, ever ready to deal pragmatically with day-to-day problems, it should not be too surprising that one person’s common sense can be very different from another’s. Also, common sense ideas from the past have often been shown to be wrong. All the same, it’s unsettling to think of common sense just floating around unanchored in a sea of subjectivity.
Years ago, a panel of luminaries such as Julian Huxley, Alfred Ayer, Jacob Bronowski, Bertrand Russell etc would come together on an extremely popular BBC radio programme called ‘The Brains Trust’. One question for discussion that I remember was, “What is common sense” but what sticks with me is not their actual words of wisdom but my astonishment at how elusive definition seemed to be and how much they had to say about it. I can’t come up with a good definition of common sense either. Who knows? Maybe I will by the end of this course!
In the Forum This Week
An anonymous participant (I’m uneasy about anonymity but there can be good reasons for it) posted a comment in the forum wondering why some people there already seem so familiar with philosophy. After all, it IS a course with designated teachers and students and furthermore it’s an INTRODUCTORY course so students should have little or no previous knowledge of the subject. This was followed by some choice remarks on self-aggrandising participants obstructing reasoned debate.
SIGH!! – On reflection, I remembered my own puzzlement on entering my first MOOC (CCK11 a cMOOC on ‘Connective Learning’) and finding some participants who seemingly knew it all and had attended the same course, once or even twice before! This turned out to be fortunate. They were usually quite willing to encourage and share with the newbies – I’m still in touch with some.
Anyway, I got carried away and posted something along the following lines on this and some other issues that were bothering me. It’s a bit preachy but I’ve more or less reproduced it all here, not only because I’m lazy (or it’s going to sink without trace in the mammoth forum!) but because I think it says something about ‘MOOCs-of-our-time’ in general – and xMOOCs in particular.
Address to Disgruntled Participants
I’m an academic, a retired one at least, with the time to have participated in several MOOCs since 2011. MOOCs are relatively new so it’s inevitable that many of you joining a MOOC for the first time have expectations based on your experience of traditional courses. A MOOC is, or can be, a very different animal – some say it’s NOT a ‘course’ at all! First and foremost, a MOOC is for self-learners. How could it be anything else? Individual attention by the facilitators is in short supply given thousands of students – we’re lucky that the level and quality of contributions made by our facilitators is unusually high.
Open admission to a MOOC results in a wide diversity of participants who differ in educational background, age, language, culture etc. Of course a MOOC on a ‘popular’ subject like philosophy attracts those who already know, or think they know, along with those who know very little. The challenge for us is to learn to learn from each other – not to expect the last word in squeaky-clean knowledge to be pumped one way into our brains by the facilitators!
A challenge for facilitators is to frame the syllabus so that everyone has a fighting chance of departing with something of educational benefit, including the vast majority of the 90,000, the so-called ‘dropouts’ who, for whatever reasons, will not complete the MOOC. Personally, I can’t think of a better strategy than what’s being done – presenting basic philosophical nuts and bolts with the minimum of technicalities and a nod and a wink to the philosophers and issues of our own times. This suits me very well as a beginner but there’s also numerous links to additional material for the more advanced and (in spite of such a clunky forum) plenty opportunity for them to assist others – there’s certainly good examples of this happening.
MOOCs present far less of a problem when it comes to ‘trolls’, ‘know-it-alls’ and so on than for a traditional course. Just move on, don’t react – start your own thread somewhere else. The facilitators will act if there’s a serious problem.
Finally, on the videos – this is probably the first time that some of the facilitators have tackled anything like this before and I think they’ve done an absolutely excellent job. Nothing wrong with constructive criticism of course but some comments I’ve seen appear very unfair. Lecturing may seem effortless (particularly if you’ve never done it yourself!) but very few people are naturals and most have to work hard to get it right. It’s hard enough lecturing to a traditional classroom of students where at least there’s some opportunity for feedback but lecturing at a dumb camera must be quite a change. I suspect that considerable time and effort, planning and rehearsal has gone into the making of these videos – and they’re all being made freely available to us.
This week I tried really hard to connect with other participants through the forum – but without much success. This is unsettling – not like the cMOOCs. Far better to slink away with the notes and downloaded videos, they’re really good, and abandon the connected learning thing.
If that’s my emotional reaction then what about someone with less of an educational background, or whose English is limited, having to wrestle with such a mammoth and clunky online forum? All 90,000 people said to have enrolled for this MOOC may not be using the forum but hundreds certainly are! Unless a post catches the eye in the first few hours of its birth it dies an early death; a fate suffered by many many posts. I doubt if the authors ever return again after a couple of tries. Setting aside fundamental objections to stuffing hundreds of participants into a closed and centralised forum, it’s not so very difficult to come up with suggestions on how to improve navigation and other features of the forum as it stands – and some participants already have. I would head the list with a basic forum FAQ so that for starters, participants could learn how to find their own posts!
Fortunately, it’s in the power of MOOCs to triumph over adversity and the Massive in MOOC is ensuring that impressively large numbers of participants are engaging in the forum and probably learning something. As always for MOOCs, exactly what’s being learned can be difficult to pinpoint but there’s certainly vigorous discussion. Some participants are expert in one field or another and their contributions can be illuminating – or even intimidating if they become impatient with the non-experts. The trouble with philosophy is that no topic is off-topic so there’s endless debate on just about everything under the sun (or beyond it!) and not all is particularly philosophical. On the other hand there are excellent contributions by individuals who are labelled, ‘Instructors’ and others by ‘Students’ focusing more on the philosophical angle – the questions behind questions rather than the questions themselves. I’m coming to think that’s what philosophy is, or should be about.