MOOCs, or massive open online courses, are a grassroots democratic innovation that will turn the higher ed business model on it’s head. Or a disorganized pipe dream with a complete lack of accountability that will go the way of Friendster and the Dodo bird. It depends on who you ask.
These online courses, many being offered free of charge by top Universities, are a way to provide access for would-be students who are motivated but disenfranchised. MOOC enthusiasts point to rising education costs that fuel massive student debt. Students are deposited into a “real world” with a terrible job market, indentured servants to their degree with a salary that is lost in the hulking shadow of their debt. I would argue that while this is true, maybe point the finger at wages that have stagnated since the 1970′s? But that’s for a different blog.
Detractors say that they won’t work, people won’t complete them, there isn’t enough accountability, people can cheat, there is little value since many don’t offer assessment. I am on board with this last criticism to a point; I have taught myself to knit, build a table(with help), and prepare many different dishes online, and when I was done I knew if they were right or wrong. It is little more slippery with intellectual work, how does a student know he/she REALLY gets it without some teacher involvement? Many MOOCs offer peer review, which can be constructive, but what if the whole group is lost at sea? Wouldn’t that be a case of the blind leading the blind?
It’s really too soon to say. According to Wikipedia, the first MOOC was offered in 2008, so this movement is really still at it’s infancy. It just might change everything forever, or it might fizzle out. In the meantime, here are my ideas for the place of MOOCs in education, society, the world!
Who are MOOCs for? MOOCs offer access to huge populations of the world that previously would have never considered higher ed possible. I enrolled in a Gamification course with Coursera (which I didn’t complete :*-) and was amazed at the nations represented by enrolled students. It’s hard to make an argument that this is anything but good, especially since professors are volunteering their time and the institutions who pay the bills that are associated with MOOCs can afford it.
MOOCs also offer professional development for the college grad who missed out on a skill while in school, or wants to stay current. This is an application I can see using myself. I have enrolled in an early literacy class to take during my two month break, just to keep my mind where it needs to be. I would imagine the flexibility of these courses would also appeal to teachers looking to fill PD requirements.
My online googlings haven’t yielded evidence that people are doing this, but I am intrigued with the idea of teaching a MOOC to a high school class. I think that the low-stakes nature of the MOOC could be a great way for students to get a feel for college-level work. A commonly cited criticism of MOOCs is the lack of interaction, which can make it difficult for students to connect with learning. The high school librarian could co-teach a MOOC, using the readings, standards, and assignments from the real course, but offering support and explanations during the course. This process would familiarize students with the idea of using a syllabus, reading journal articles, and writing on the college level. It could also be a powerful confidence builder. Can you imagine the pride each student would feel after successfully completing a course from an Ivy-League school?
Future: I like the idea of MOOC “bites”. These would be short courses that drill down on one concept or skill. This model would be less of a commitment, and they could even be joined together for people who want a bigger picture. For example, my #IST611 class, IT in Educational Organizations, consisted of 15 separate but related modules. I think it would be very user-friendly, in the MOOC version of this course, to break these up, allowing students to select only what they need. This would make MOOCs more individualized and I’m willing to bet would result in an increase in completion. These MOOC minis could also be pulled into high school curriculum quite easily, or even used for summer programs or enrichment.
Are MOOCs The Next Internet? Maybe not. I do think that these courses reflect the generous and optimistic spirit of web innovators. The ideas that led to the development of MOOCs might be grandiose and idealistic, but if they improve lives and education, even on a non-grandiose scale, I say bravo!