#Introphil Mooc – Fourth Week Impressions
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.