Connection not Content

A Blog for MOOCs and Other Animals

#Change11 : MOOCs in Higher Education

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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 ?

MOOCs - a disruptive force in Higher Education ?

Based on ‘la vaca de los sinvaca’ by José Bogado and ‘Maths Tower 2’ by Phil Carlton

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.

Written by Gordon Lockhart

September 30, 2011 at 10:37 am

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  1. […] post: #Change11 : MOOCs in Higher Education « Connection not Content Posted in Higher Education Tags: education, general-theoretical, has-been, its-applicability, […]

  2. […] but current learning theory does not provide much in the way of detailed guides for all […] [Link] Fri, 30 Sep 2011 10:37:26 +0000 […]

  3. Well, of course I like it ~ even if we are still circling the subject of what to a mooc if we ever get the modality nailed (not unlike the old saw about the Great Dane chasing a sports car ~ what will he do with it if he ever catches it?). Group projects, perhaps a series or online community of interrelated projects, seem likeliest application, although that is still out of the skill and motivation range of, say, the average community college student. In other words, less likely where the learning needs are greatest unless the orientation model could further adapt to self paced study. Although not my preferred academic area, the better designed business and administration programs could do something with it. I’ve taught comparative literature courses that I could imagine shaping to a mooc. It’s still early yet…


    October 13, 2011 at 2:56 am

    • Yes it’s very early and much water may flow under many bridges before anything much can get tied down. I had 2 other applications in mind that I originally meant to discuss – one was the sort of ‘short course’ that universities run for companies eager to update their employees on some latest technology trend. A substantial fee is paid, participants attend full time for a week or two, get lectured at etc and expect to leave with a massive volume of printed notes as there’s little chance of learning anything much in so little time! – but at least there’s the opportunity to ask questions and maybe network a little. So masses of content and a tight deadline to meet – difficult to MOOCify in any way.

      The other application I had in mind was the sort of course we ran as an incentive to encourage girls – around 14yo – to consider doing an engineering degree (before they were nobbled by cultural pressures to do otherwise!) They lived for a few days in a student hall of residence, did some projects and had a few entertaining lectures and demos. This is more the orientation model and so might well be up for MOOCification – or something like it.



      October 13, 2011 at 3:44 pm

  4. […] feeding “knowledge” back to the organization.  Why?  As shared by Gordon here in his post: The application of the MOOC model in many other learning situations (apart, perhaps, from the […]

  5. […] Gordon succinctly summarises here: […]

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