BIG THOUGHTS HERE
“What’s a mooc?”
As you hint at, there is not very much new being offered by MOOCS.
Before the internet, we could videotape lectures and mail them out to thousands of students. Before we could videotape lectures, we could film them. Before we could film lectures, we could audio record them. Before we could record audio record lectures, we could publish them (in things we called books).
[...] BIG THOUGHTS HERE Source: Postmodern Conservative [...]
“ Paul and I agree that the MOOC, especially in its present state of development, seems “like a very poor substitute for being in a genuine learning space and community.” So does education online in general.”
Unfortunately I came to this correspondence rather late, but let me provide some feedback as someone who took the Introduction to Electrical Engineering Class over at MIT’s first offering last year at MITx, which is now part of EDx.
First ,about the talking head problem: there is no talking head problem. You could argue that there is a talking head. In the case of my course that would be professor Anant Agarwal. And it is true that what you see of him is essentially a video of his lecture. However, the first problem with your characterization is that Prof. Agarwal is an amazingly talented teacher, and speaking as someone who has taken his share of university classes in technical fields Anant’s approach to breaking down a fairly complicated field into material that was surprisingly accessible was absolutely remarkable (especially considering the content of the lecture was essentially identical to the course provided to first year MIT students). A so called ‘talking head’ video of a teacher of Anant’s caliber, in my opinion, was far more productive than the comparable class room experience with the typical substandard professor I usually had to deal with at my state university. In fact compared to the professors I’ve had I would consider Agarwal, despite the limits of the video format, to be at least as comparable in effectiveness to my best professors at university in the classroom.
The second problem with the characterization
of the talking head problem is that the MOOC experience in places like MITx and EDx isn’t limited to the individual and the lecturer. In fact the MOOC experience is better characterized as ocurring in a giant socially networked community working in collaboration. In the case of my class, the numbers globally were in the tens of thousands of participants most of whom were actively interacting on the bulletin boards supplied by the MOOC website which were categorized based on key words usually pertaining to topics from the course or problems from the homework. It turns out this environment created an interesting dynamic wherein in the small world of the MOOC there emerged a number of recognizable ‘super students’ who specialized in helping the other students with the more difficult portions of the problems and theories entailed in the content. Since the homeworks assigned were topically identical for each student but with different values, the students were forced to engage with the theories behind the homework in order to solve the problems. The ability to create an environment that leverages collaboration on this scale, in my opinion, tips the scale in the direction of MOOC’s over against the comparable class room experience for many potential subjects of study.
I will agree with you, however, that MOOC’s are NOT a one-to-one replacement of the classroom. My impression from my experience on MITx is that a necessary pre-requisite is that the students need to be comfortable with self learning. A MOOC is not going to be able to supply the kind of assistance that would be required, for instance, in introducing a 13 year old to critical thinking. What I do believe is that MOOC’s should have a place in the educational arc of an individual once that individual has achieved a certain degree of competence in learning such that he or she is able to direct their own development. This ability to be a self learner is what ought to be one of the primary objectives of k-12 education and the first two years of college in the classroom.
With that caveat, I can envision a curicuulum arc that would be classroom-based in k-8 with gradual phasing in of MOOC type learning in highschool. The first couple of years in college would have a classroom component but relying increasingly on MOOC where the content is conducive: engineering, mathematics and sciences being good examples, going into the third and fourth year.
Ideally MOOC offerings would be available for individuals into their professional lives, fulfillment of which would be acknowledged with professional certifications like the CPA, or in engineering PE, etc. Most importantly, if industry professionals could leverage their practical experience in the workplace in combination with MOOC’s to be verified by professional certification the economy would benefit from individuals who could now achieve a degree of rapid upward mobility in their career which is all but shut down today for anyone who doesn’t have the money or bandwidth to visit a brick and mortar university to get their MBA or graduate engineering degree.
In my opinion problem one in our economy is lack of upward mobility, the main cause of which is the time and cost of higher education the solution to which would be some kind of MOOC based approach in combination with professional certification. Not only is there a place for MOOC’s today, but they offer a very promising way to solve one of our most persistent problems in todays economy.
So I still don’t see why the MOOC would be better than a very good instructional manual. But maybe it could be as good for some technical instruction.
As I experienced it, the MOOC was atleast as good as the classroom counterpart that I experienced in university for the reasons I listed in the above post. The same resources available in the classroom were available in the MOOC offering, the only difference was that the interactive support was supplied by ‘super students’ in a social network environment as opposed to a professor and students in a classroom with walls.
If the presentation materials are well thought out as they were in the EE class at MITx, there doesn’t have to be a loss in quality in the overall educational experience.
I do agree that this medium is more appropriate for technical fields of study, though with increasing sophistication in social networking tools that may change as well.
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