Archive for September 2011
Much has been written about networked learning in general theoretical terms but much less on its applicability to specific learning situations in the real education world. Doubtless there are fundamental principles at work in all types of learning situations but current learning theory does not provide much in the way of detailed guides for all the vastly different types of education at all stages and in all topics and disciplines. Even within Higher Education there are significant differences in approach, for example in humanities-based courses as opposed to science and engineering.
Concerning MOOCs, Vanessa Vaile writes (in a comment on ‘#CCK11 Any Questions? (part 1)‘, “I think – hope – there’s a place for the mooc model and would also like to see less navel gazing and more trial runs in subject and discipline specific courses.” These are important points and led me to consider the problems of matching the MOOC model, or something like it, to typical university or college courses. For example, would a student on a humanities-based course, practised in writing essays and expressing a clear point of view in tutorials perform more satisfactorily in a MOOC than, say, an engineering student used to writing lab reports and participating in ‘example classes’? Or could all these students somehow be immersed together in one glorious joint MOOC reaping great benefit from multi-disciplinary contact? I have little idea but the issues thrown up do seem to go right to the heart of what Higher Education is about.
MOOCS! – A Disruptive Force in Higher Education ?
To return to the specific, some time ago (pre-web 2.0 days), I was involved in a very successful Group Design Project for engineering students at masters level where small groups of students acted as they would in an industrial setting, designing something from an initial spec with the aim of developing a fully working prototype and ending with a formal group report and presentation to a departmental audience of academic staff and peers. All the project planning, allocation of human and material resources, budgeting etc, was done by the students themselves with very little intervention on the part of staff who simply attended progress meetings, acting as consultants if requested. The students greatly enjoyed working in this way and learned a lot from the experience. Opening up such a project for networked learning, perhaps with national or international co-operation between a group of universities, would also be likely to work well. It also touches on the MOOC model with the shift from teacher to learner, collaboration through the network as an important part of learning and self-directed students finding their own roles and areas of expertise within a group.
What further benefits might be gained by moving further towards the ‘classical’ MOOC but without compromising the essential purpose of the project? Learning objectives could certainly not be abandoned in favor of completely self-directed learning as the project’s purpose is to simulate aspects of an industrial engineering design project with given specifications and firm deadlines. Could this become a ‘free’ project? Again no, at least not in the financial sense. Somebody has to pay for project materials, communications, lab facilities, staff time and the usual overheads. ‘Free’ in the sense of open to all might be a viable option and there may be interesting and innovative ways in which the project could be opened up to the public. But when all is said and done the project itself is designed by academic staff, aimed at mature, competent, well-motivated students at masters level and, unlike a MOOC, the drop-out rate is expected to be very low.
I have deliberately chosen to examine the type of learning situation I thought would be particularly amenable to MOOC influence in its design and, to some extent, this seems to be the case. The application of the MOOC model in many other learning situations (apart, perhaps, from the ‘orientation’ type of activity I’ve previously discussed) may be much less straightforward due to a lack of human or other resources or, perhaps more likely, fundamental conflicts between the MOOC ethos and institutional aims and objectives. Innovation such as networked learning certainly has a potential for disruption, good and bad, but in Higher Education with the careers and life prospects of individual students at stake, changes need to be carefully rolled out over a period of time as reliable evidence of the benefits grow.
Having decided some time ago to register for Change11 I find I’ve done very little by way of preparation and may become a Lurker. This contrasts with CCK11, my first MOOC, where I did some initial reading before the course began and had a reasonably clear idea about my learning objectives and expectations. But one thing I learned about MOOCs is that they are not really “courses” at all, at least not in any conventional sense of having to Learn Things. So this time, I’ve no particular expectations, partly because I will be pressed for time but also because the unusually flexible nature of the MOOC allows this – or just about any other approach!
I notice that almost regardless of the actual topic of a MOOC, much time and energy goes into figuring out what MOOCs are or should be and I’ve done my own share of pontificating about this too (Nature of the MOOC – and a Challenge for 21st Century Education ) but the humble MOOC is acquiring a life of its own and I think that attempts to corral it within the bounds of this or that theory is premature. The animal needs time and space to grow and develop and indeed this is happening as different varieties of open online courses come and go, whether they are MOOC-like or not. It is certainly exhilarating to see so much interest in Change11 but also in other types of open courses such as the Stanford University ones tackling subjects requiring specialist educational backgrounds.
My experience of CCK11 was good but rather different from what I’d expected. My main achievement seems to have been the CCK11 MOOC Cow infographic (I’ve just spotted it again popping up in Deb Seed’s excellent blog!) Anyway, this time I enter Change11 with no specific learning objectives apart from a keen interest in following the development of the extraordinary MOOC as it finds its place among online courses and in education in general. What you get out of a MOOC is very much what you put into it so I will try my best to contribute but if I do become a Lurker – so be it!