As you can imagine, writing this with the awareness that it may be read by even a few people in the Siemens, Downes, Cormier MOOC, The Current/Future State of Higher Education is a bit more like skating on thin ice than I care to think about. More importantly, the purpose is not to question the value of MOOCs or Connectivism or the course creators. This is about understanding [my own] learning in the context of MOOCs relying on some consideration of accepted practice in relation to higher education courses, and then comparing these inputs with the experience so far in undertaking #CFHE12. From there I hope to gain further understanding into what contributes to effectiveness in a MOOC and how they may become a useful and accepted part of the future of education.
The Premise and Origin of MOOCs
George Siemens in his interview with Howard Rheingold makes many points that are interesting in terms of the origin of MOOCs, the learning theory embedded within them, the technologies, interactions etc, and even alludes to how they may be sustainable in current higher education models. The most important aspect for this post concerns the idea that MOOCs are essentially an “amplification” of the course being experienced by the enrolled students in a class and that this can occur at “little or no increase in cost”, provided of course, the labour intensive activities such as tutoring, assessment marking etc are not made available to non-enrolled learners.
This means that since the MOOC is simply an “opening up” of the course, the course itself should be mostly the same for non-enrolled learners that will not be assessed or credited as enrolled students. The sustainability of this type of cMOOC is made possible because delivery of the course is effectively paid for by the enrolled students. (This is a different financial model to xMOOCs.) In return for “subsidising” the non-enrolled learners, the enrolled students receive the full support entitlements, will have their assessment works graded and will receive credit. (These factors point to the potential for value-added (or Freemium) models for higher education courses.) The enrolled students also get access to a large and experienced knowledge network from which they can crowd source information and compare their own understanding. Since that aspect actually works both ways, it is a very useful win-win scenario.
It’s not about “Massive”
“Massive” is a relative term. A course that is highly specialised and/or at an advanced level may be described as massive with a few hundred students whereas a foundational course at first year level may not be considered as massive until it includes tens of thousands of students. In either case, however, the hype about “massive” emanated from the “opening up” of the course and the potential it represents for non-consumers of education, not the actual numbers themselves. While course numberers are relevant in addressing the inability of our current education models to scale (see reports at UNESCO UIS, OECD), the attribute of massiveness is not the greatest value of a MOOC. Of course, having said that, one of the values espoused in connectivist (and connectionist) approaches is that the size of the network of people involved will, up to a point, have an impact on the variety of knowledge sources, and therefore, network value.
What is a Course?
There is no doubt that #CFHE12 is both Open and Online but is it a course? In higher education there are accepted requirements for a unit of study to be accepted as a course or subject for credit towards an award. I randomly selected some examples of information that conform to University Guidelines for Program Approval with the only selection criteria being an education course that is local and one that is at Athabasca University, for obvious reasons. (TCHE2112 Orientation to Teaching at RMIT; and, MDDE601 Introduction to Distance Education and Training from Athabasca University)
Courses are required not only provide the general course information but also information on the objectives (goals), learning outcomes, learning activities, resources and assessment. (The formal versions of these actually become a legally binding contract between provider and student.) Good course outline documentation assists learners in managing their learning and in understanding the relationship between the learning and the assessment. The Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne provides Core principles of effective assessment and points out the benefits to learning that can be achieved through well structured assessment.
While there is no assessment component to #CFHE12 for non-enrolled learners, the absence of the framework for learning that is normally associated with a course does [in my experience] negatively impact learning. I accept that the “Learning Activities” are one way in which learning is assisted but they are different. They would most likely not constitute the same form of assessment tasks undertaken by enrolled students.
A more direct criticism of #CFHE12 would be that the “Learning Outcomes” are not all learning outcomes. They are a mixture of activity description or syllabus and outcomes statements. This together with an absence of assessment information makes it difficult to understand from a personal perspective whether one actually is likely to have achieved the course objectives/outcomes.
It’s not about Connectivism!
Before I get the flood of an email from the person who may have read this… The criticisms above are not from a lack of understanding of the way cMOOCs are intended to work, or the opportunity to “find our path through the chaos” as we proceed to acquire new knowledge. My key point is that the way this MOOC is structured, it could not be regarded as an authentic course by higher education standards and approval requirements. If MOOCs are not authentic then they cannot be regarded as a viable replacement for traditional online courses. In a sustainable model for MOOCs (or any other form of open education) it would be expected that while the opportunity to undertake an authentic learning activity may be free, the things that incur costs at a ‘per student’ level will be offered as value-added services, and this should be the only difference. This approach is clearly stated in the commercial or xMOOC business models. Notwithstanding any of that, the primary requirement should be around an authentic substitute for a course.
The enrolled students vs the non-enrolled learners
Given the situation described above, and that it is assumed that the enrolled students will be doing assessments, it would be interesting to know the nature and structure of those assessment tasks. On balance, the non-enrolled learners would have to treat this MOOC as a crowd sourced research activity rather than a “course”. That does not detract from the substantial value of interacting and learning in #CFHE12 but it does, at least in my mind, assist in defining the difference between those types of activities. On that basis, I would have to say that #CFHE12 is not a MOOC (course) for non-enrolled learners.
Of course, I may have all of this completely wrong and would welcome criticism and feedback.
There are also some definite implications for the future higher education and its structure and organisation if MOOCs or similar open education approaches were to be incorporated into the normal operations of institutions.