Connection not Content

A Blog for MOOCs and Other Animals

The Misunderstood MOOC

with 12 comments

MOOCow Mourns Misunderstood MOOCs
(Image based on ‘la vaca de los sinvaca‘ by José Bogado)

MOOCow Mooc Cow
@Gordon_L Let me onto your blog! mooc!
0 secs ago via Twitter for CowPhone

Gordon_L Gordon
@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
0 secs ago via Twitter for CowPhone

Written by Gordon Lockhart

May 19, 2013 at 9:51 am

Posted in Mooc

12 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I tweeted the post and was sure I left a comment : @MOOCow should have her own twitter account.

    I came back because to leave a link I came across in the Chronicle: What Professors Can Learn From ‘Hard Core’ MOOC Students,

    Did you see the University of Edinburgh’s review/analysis of their MOOCs?

    Vanessa Vaile

    May 22, 2013 at 4:16 am

    • Thanks for the link Vanessa. Yes I saw the Edinburgh report – the high proportion of participants with masters/ degree level qualifications is striking so xMOOCs are still preaching a lot to the converted in a sense.


      May 22, 2013 at 11:27 pm

      • I’ve been thinking about your point. It’s especially significant in view of courses now being developed to target community college and lower division core subject areas.

        “Preaching to the converted” seems to be a characteristic that both xMOOCs and cMOOCs share. Although not targeting the same participant base, there is notable overlap. We all keep running into one another in them. Content area and levels are factors too. Duke’s Composition I drew ESL, homeschoolers, high school students and other level appropriate writers. Then there were (always are) the curious educators. MOOC Watchers of the World…


        May 29, 2013 at 5:44 pm

  2. Agreed. The philosophy MOOC seemed to attract a larger proportion of ‘ordinary’ learners but they still seemed pretty well academically qualified and treating it all as a bit of an adventure – a self-learning opportunity. On the other hand some of them just didn’t ‘get it’ – couldn’t discard trad course expectations. Maybe ‘conversion’ MOOCs are needed to get Tom, Dick and Henrietta all singing from the same hymn book before they join the converted!


    May 31, 2013 at 11:08 pm

    • I’m not sure getting everybody on the same page is possible or even desirable if it were ~ too much like dogma and true believers.Scorers of individual performances test score a performance before a competition begins to benchmark or align scoring ~ essay graders do the same. Something comparable might improve understanding. At least when educators disagree about the model, sometimes they might be talking about the same thing. This has been on my mind because the casual faculty organization I work with is associated with a higher education advocacy coalition that is fanatically opposed to the shift to online learning and, with it moocs. That attitude is part of why I am not comfortable with the faith images.

      As more take courses, a body of how to will grow. A very basic, pragmatic mooc on how to mooc does make sense. I’ve been in a few that were supposed to address that but did not ~ loads of theory and technology but otherwise useless as a how-to, an academic failing, I suspect, especially in the humanities.


      June 1, 2013 at 12:39 am

      • If the distinguishing qualities of the MOOC (notably the ‘M’ and ‘O’ ) are to be preserved then I think it’s not so much getting everyone on the same page in the sense of probably undesirable pre-conditioning but more of getting people to discard the trad course dogma they bring along – and faith seems pretty strong there – eg the fervent belief of some xMOOCers in the power and significance of MCQ assessment passes all understanding!

        How to design a ‘how to’ MOOC? Maybe by stealth – focusing on something basic as the declared subject area such as online learning skills and tools and kicking off on an instructivist note – readings (straightfoward stuff avoiding jargon – no ‘theory’) – set piece videos (eg: forum etiquette). Then seamlessly angling towards learner autonomy – eg assignments that can showcase participant efforts encouraging the others to comment constructively and amplify so that some degree of co-operation emerges in researching new tools etc while the facilitators gradually loosen the scaffolding and join in the fun. Hmm … not really thought this through but the details could be less important than the skills and dedication required of the facilitators in such an exercise – and good ones may be in short supply.


        June 2, 2013 at 8:27 pm

      • I’m also dealing with the equally rabid against and would be hard put to say which group of true believers is most tiresome.A pox on both their houses.

        Did you see Audrey Watters’ graphic?

        How-to…I may already be doing something rather like that in an indirect way…scaling down before up would probably help too. Two categories of skills, overlapping, students and facilitators.

        fwiw you and la vaca (any relation to la vache qui rit?) are picking up fans


        June 2, 2013 at 8:58 pm

  3. Thanks Vanessa – I saw the Audrey Watters’ graphic and will look at the other link when I get home (driving all day from St Andrews) BTW impressive detail in this on the complexities of peer assessment: – Gordon


    June 3, 2013 at 8:31 am

    • Thanks for the link – that does look interesting. Laura Gibbs and I have been talking over assessment problem for a while ~ evaluating writing does not lend itself to indefinite scaling. Peer review has its limitations and takes more training than most courses have time for or are set up to do. On the other hand, more writing practice is always good, can’t have too much of it, and could scale better.


      June 3, 2013 at 8:56 pm

  4. […] images are Creative Commons. Opening and closing cows by Gordon Lockhart ~ the tearful cow above is adapted from Juan sin vaca […]

  5. […] @Gordon_L Let me onto your blog! mooc! 0 secs ago … 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!  […]

Leave a Reply to gbl55 Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: