Yesterday I wrote a post about MOOCs, jumped in the car, and pulled away from the coffee shop, and only then did I realize I never defined what a MOOC was in the post. I hear about them so much in my day-to-day life that I forgot that people who don’t work in instruction, or higher ed, or something related might not have the repeated exposure. So, if you want some background, check out this video:
(Thanks to Carol Cramer for the video link!)
Okay, on to part 2: The Google Power Searching class was a good, solid, and useful experience, but not necessarily the first type of class people think about when they think about MOOCs. I think most of us, in higher ed at least, think about the courses that really started with Open Course Ware and now are offered through collaborations like edX or Coursera. These are courses offered by accredited universities and taught by actual faculty members. The content, in many cases, covers the same span and depth as a semester-long traditional course. It’s literally an online course, but offered to thousands of people at once (and therefore, has little personal contact with professors). When you hear about the potential for MOOCs disrupting higher ed, this is the type of thing people are talking about. And since this is what people are talking about, I wanted to give one a try. Here’s part two of my MOOC story:
Internet History, Technology, and Security
Who: Offered by the University of Michigan. Class taught by Charles Severance, PhD.
What: A class that is conducted online, complete with lectures, activities, discussion forums, and assignments. Videos include interactive segments in which you have to answer a question correctly based on the video to continue watching. These questions, from what I’ve seen, have been detailed enough to keep you focused on the video rather than letting your mind wander. Assessments include six quizzes, a peer-graded reflection, a peer-graded midterm, and a final exam.
When: This course is taking place from mid July through late-August/early September. Each section had several medium to long-length videos to watch and questions to complete. The current week, for example, as just over an hour worth of video to watch total. The assessments have a specific window of time in which students had to take and grade them. Passing the class leads to a certificate.
Why: In this case, I did partially sign up for content. I’m interested in the evolution of the information environment and always include a day on how the internet has changed in the past 5-10 years in my LIB100 class to encourage students to think about how it might change in the next 5-10 years as they graduate and begin working. I thought I’d probably learn something useful in this class that I could share with my students. But my main reason for signing up was to learn what it feels like to be a MOOC student and my meta reason for signing up was to learn more about MOOCs, online education strategies, and to have the experience of being a student again (I find being a student from time to time helps me understand their needs better).
Learned: Unfortunately, I ended up dropping out right as the first quiz was due. This class had way too much emphasis on assessment for something that fell below work, family, and professional obligations. The emphasis on grading also meant that I didn’t feel like I was “part” of the class enough to keep monitoring the videos and discussions since I was opting out of the assessments. I think I was expecting something a bit more self-paced and with a lot less focus on interactive participation. I was imaging something that would fit into my typical work-flow that includes listening to podcasts while driving or having TED-style videos play in the background when doing simple, task-based work. This class was not that.
That being said, I was going in with assumptions about how the class would be structured and my lack of participation now is due to the fact that the class didn’t fit those expectations. It’s not that the class was a bad one or that it didn’t meet my expectations for learning. It’s just one of those “I only have 24 hours in a day” things and I couldn’t find a way to fit it in.
On August 8th we learned that 42,935 people were enrolled, 22,651 people had watched at least one lecture, 11,402 people had taken the first quiz, and 5,808 had submitted the first peer-graded assignment, so I was comforted to know I wasn’t alone in stopping my participation so early. But I was equally comforted by Dr. Severance’s message that it was okay to just lurk. He said, ”Heck I am lurking in the Science Fiction class I love listening to Eric Rabkin’s lectures when I have a bit of spare time – and actually learn from his lectures (literature was never my strong suit) – but I don’t want a certificate. So don’t take the quizzes and ignore all the due dates.” Essentially giving those of us interested in learning without credentialing permission to do so. (Which, of course, we didn’t need, but it’s nice to have.)
My main take away at this point is that I got the learning outcome I had hoped to get from this class: Understanding what it feels like to be a MOOC student. I also learned a bit about what online education looks like from this perspective, had the frustrating experience of being a busy student again (good to remember!), and even learned a bit of content. So, for me, this was a very successful MOOC.
And when we hear people questioning the values of MOOCs and if they really will disrupt education, I think the main thing we should keep in the front of our minds is that MOOCs aren’t traditional college classes. People sign up for different reasons, have different expectations, and different measures of success. If people wanted what you get from a college education, they’d get it by taking a college class. If they just want some continuing education, to experiment with different styles of learning, or for some other reason, a MOOC might be a good fit.
It’s all an experiment at this point: for students, for the faculty, and for the consortia offering these courses. A high drop out rate doesn’t necessarily mean failure. It means something, but even more likely it means several somethings for different groups. We probably want to dive into that for more information as we look at them, but for now I think it’s short sighted to assume that drop outs mean it’s not working.
I’m also concerned about the conflations that pop up in blog posts, radio shows, and even respectable newspaper articles between online education, for profit education, MOOCs and the like. I was talking with a colleague this morning about it and to us it seemed similar to if people in higher ed had a hard time seeing the difference between community college, universities, and graduate degrees. They are all related, but different things. And something that works well in one setting (let’s say for students pursuing vocational training at community college) won’t necessarily work as well in another (let’s say students pursuing graduate degrees). Just because something doesn’t work for graduate degree seekers doesn’t mean it should be eliminated entirely from all education, especially when it would work in other settings. Likewise, it’d be nice if we could all appreciate the differences, however nuanced, in all these new and emerging types of online-based education.
On a related note, I’m reading an amazing book right now, Christensen and Eyring’s The Innovative University, and just last night dove into the section on online learning. We have a lot to be paying attention to in higher ed, but in libraries too, to stay relevant as all of this shifts around. Some of it probably won’t change, and some of it won’t change for a long time, but things certainly will and we will want to be ready. For example, did you realize that the current standard of faculty researcher/expert giving lectures is less than 300 years old (according to Christensen and Eyring, p. 56 in their book). 300 years in the history of education is pretty recent, and that model was disruptive at the time compared to the existing model of many graduates teaching the same content they learned without being involved in knowledge creation or further education. The entire book is filled with such thought provoking pieces of history and information, and the online section is as well. And education is one of the most conservative professions. I suspect a non-traditionally offered degree would get me somewhere faster in the business world than it would in higher education, and probably sooner than higher education will adapt to offer less traditional types of certification, but it’s coming. (For a bit of what that might look like, Pick. Up. This. Book.)
Which is all a bit further from MOOCs than I meant to get in this post. So the tl;dr version of this? If you’re at all interested in a MOOC, try it out. If you drop out, you might not have learned the content, but you’ll have learned something about experiments going on in higher ed, and we all should be keeping up with those experiments as we’re likely to see disruption as a result of them for a while yet. Any insight into what those disruptions might be will serve us well as we think about the future of our roles, service, and value in the educational environment.