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Sunday, March 31, 2013

MOOCs: Still not asking the right questions (#MOOC, #tillben)

Although I can certainly appreciate studies and discussions around MOOCs (such as Why 72% of Professors Won’t Give Credit for MOOCs), the tendency is to still ask the wrong questions.

The only aspect of a MOOC (or massive, open, online course) that most educators can agree on is delivery.  Virtually everyone agrees that if a course is labeled as being a MOOC, that the course is being delivered online.  This is basically where it ends when it comes to agreeing on what the notion of a MOOC is supposed to be. There seems to be vast interpretations as to what massive, open, and course actually mean when putting a MOOC into practice.  Let's consider a few questions:
  1. How many learners are required when taking a MOOC so that the experience becomes sustainable, scalable, engaging, effective, and efficient for each learners?
  2. How many learners are required so that groups (clusters) naturally form based on the interests, needs, and learning preferences of each learner?
  3. Are course materials licensed under a commercial or non-commercial Creative Commons license? Certainly there are other relevant questions pertaining to share alike, derivative works, etc., but there seems to be quite a division between those who support commercial and those who support non-commercial open educational resources (OERs).
  4. How should open authorship from MOOC learners be licensed (e.g., commercial or non-commercial)?
  5. What type of educational platform (if any) should be used to host a MOOC?
  6. How long should a MOOC last?
  7. Should credit be given to the learner by an accredited institution for completing the MOOC?
  8. How should assessment factor into a MOOC (both for those credit-seeking students as well as non-credit-seeking students)?
  9. How can synchronous and asynchronous forms of communication produce the ideal learning environment for a MOOC?
  10. What learning theory or theories are most appropriate when it comes to implementing a MOOC?
When we ask professors who are teaching MOOCs these types of questions, we miss the point. Let's take one question as an example,
Do you believe students who succeed in your MOOC deserve formal credit from your home institution? (72% said no)
Asking this question in isolation does little to gain insight into properly interpreting the response.  We might be better off if we cluster this one question around the following set of questions,
  1. Are you a tenured teacher?
  2. How long have you been in the teaching profession?
  3. How long have you been working at this institution?
  4. Have you ever held an administrative position?
  5. Have you ever taken a course online?
  6. Do you use social media to assist your own learning?
  7. Do you use social media to assist your teaching practice?
  8. What type of technical support is available at your institution?
  9. What type of pedagogical support is available at your institution?
  10. Is the MOOC you are teaching included in your teaching contract?
 The answer to the last question is key.  Imagine an educator who teaches a MOOC as part of their teaching contract believing that their students should not receive formal credit for completing the course. 

Let's avoid asking whether MOOCs are a fad or trying to understand where we are on the life cycle of MOOCs because the best we've done so far in labeling the term is to categorize them as being cMOOCs and xMOOCs.  In other words, we are trying to reach conclusions and make generalities of a term (i.e., MOOC) that is to date, hard if impossible to define.  We need a broader lexicon or a more descriptive way of labeling the different types of MOOCs based on learning theory, forms of communication (asynchronous/synchronous), and delivery (online/face to face), among others.  Using a blanket term like MOOC does little to add to the conversation unless it's followed by some of the more detailed questions presented above.  These questions are only the beginning and will depend in large part on the local context and problems that are unique to the learning environment of local stakeholders. 

More studies are needed in order to better understand which facets of a MOOC work and which don't (at the local level) so that over time we may begin to see patterns that can be transferable to other contexts.  But we are not there yet, and will never get to this point if we continue asking the types of questions presented in the Chronicle.  Posing such questions shows a lack of understanding of the complexities that make up a typical teaching and learning environment.