A Pedagogical Look at MOOCs

As a part of Open Education Week 2014, Professor Gráinne Conole and I plan to hold a webinar (details to be announced shortly; watch this space) on the topic of A Pedagogical Look at MOOCs. This webinar is not simply a University of Leicester production; it will be part of the EU-funded eMundus project, one task of which is to map out patterns of open educational partnerships between institutions around the world. An example of such a partnership would be the OER University, or a university accepting some form of credit for successful completion of a MOOC.

Our webinar will take a pedagogical look at MOOCs in the following way: first we choose 5 MOOCs, each corresponding to a primary learning approach taken in the MOOC. Then we map each MOOC against 12 dimensions identified originally by Grainne in her blog post “A New Classification for MOOCs” (and with thanks to Stephen Downes for identifying the last two dimensions (Downes, 2010)). Below is my initial attempt, having chosen only 2 MOOCs so far: the Open University Learning Design MOOC (OLDS), which I identify as constructivitst, and the original George Siemens Connectivist MOOC. Many thanks to Paul Rudman for his input on this mapping exercise as well.

One obvious question is: how does one pedagogically categorise a MOOC? Another big question: how are we defining these dimensions and what would constitute Low, Medium, or High for each one. I am interested in your views on these and other questions — please comment! I include the webinar abstract at the end of this post.

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Webinar Abstract: As the number and variety of free online courses and MOOCs increases, it becomes more important to be aware of their differing pedagogical approaches. After initial attempts to categorise MOOCs as cMOOCs and xMOOCs (roughly, C for connectivist and X for EdX –style), it began to be clear that more nuanced categorisation was needed, and especially when considering the course’s primary learning approaches. Taking Conole’s 12-dimensional MOOC classification (Conole, 2013) and choosing 5 learning approaches often used in elearning (Mayes & De Freitas, 2004) (Bird & Conole, 2013), we categorise 5 MOOCs as an exploratory exercise for this webinar. Does this exercise display clues to the direction of MOOCs and free online courses in general? Are there any warning signals which we as educators should note? In the context of the eMundus project, does this classification help quality officers make decisions in open educational practice, for example about accepting credit for a completed MOOC?

Bird, T., & Conole, G. (2013). From E-Learning to M-Learning. In From E-Learning to M-Learning. Singapore. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/tbirdcymru/from-elearning-to-mlearning

Conole, G. (2013). A new classification for MOOCs. e4innovation Blog. Retrieved January 25, 2014, from http://www.e4innovation.com/?p=727

Downes, S. (2010). Fairness and equity in education. Huff Post Education.

Mayes, T., & DeFreitas, S. (2004). JISC e-Learning Models Desk Study Stage 2 : Review of e-learning theories , frameworks and models.

 Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester

MOOCing for learning or MOOCeting for earning?

At the ALT MOOC SIG gathering in Southampton on 6 November, we were assured by Helena Gillespie, of University of East Anglia, that MOOCing is definitely a verb. I’d like to add a new one to the ever-increasing glossary of the MOOCosphere: MOOCeting. It is perhaps best explained by the image below:

Language of the MOOCosphere

Language of the MOOCosphere, G. Witthaus

It is clear that there have been two strands of MOOCs developing for some time now, and this distinction is often couched in the language of xMOOCs vs cMOOCs. Having previously carried out research into the Open Educational Resources university (OERu), which is dedicated to widening participation in higher education, I have become familiar with the language used to describe and bring into being a means of enabling everyone, everywhere, to get a fully accredited degree from a recognised institution by learning from openly licensed content on the Web. The key concepts that are at the root of the discourse here are: enabling massive numbers of learners with limited financial resources to get an accredited higher education qualification; reusing existing course materials; providing a basic level of support for learners to access the resources and navigate their way through them; disaggregating the provision of content, teaching and assessment for the benefit of the learners; providing assessment and accreditation at cost, and ensuring sustainability of the process.

The emerging discourse about the MOOCeting version of MOOCs, is, as the name implies, informed and dominated by institutional Marketing Departments. The primary question seems to be, “How will this benefit the institution?” Answers are speculative at this stage, but tend to centre on notions around “expanding our global footprint”, and ultimately recruiting fee-paying students by “converting” MOOC students into “real” students. To do this, the strategy is to develop MOOCs with substantial amounts of new, glossy materials, particularly video content. The quality of the content, both in terms of academic quality and high-tech multimedia quality, is seen as critical to the success of the project.

One thing both MOOC strands seem to agree on is that the MOOC explosion is innovative. Ultimately, it may happen that both strands move closer to one another in terms of the other dimensions too, as the apparent side-effect of institutional marketing might bring unexpected but valuable benefits to those institutions that are not explicitly seeking it, and the apparent side-effect of widening participation might actually turn out to be an important factor in the ultimate success of the MOOCs that are aimed at recruiting students with deeper pockets.

I have created a slide presentation containing more of my thoughts on MOOCs and some random factoids from these recent conferences:

Blog post by Gabi Witthaus

Confessions of a PhD student (14): I am a MOOC dropout.

A couple of months ago I participated in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for the first time. I was intrigued about the MOOC movement. I only had a general idea: free courses, prestigious universities, thousands of students, access to anyone with an Internet connection… I wanted to know more about the learning design, the interactions between participants, the assessment processes, the challenges …

I signed up in Coursera and enrolled in a course on information and communication technologies in education. I had 18,000 fellow course mates. The course consisted of activities based on independent study and self-evaluation surveys. There were some synchronous sessions, which in practice were mere videos of the teachers. Interactions were fostered through a Twitter hashtag and a number of discussion forums.

My first impression was: Chaos. Instructions were not clear for everyone. Different resources had inconsistent information. There were lots of questions. Some people seemed to have no experience with communicating online. A thread about a technical problem could have a random post of someone introducing themselves (?!). This is not an issue with a small group of participants… but when you have a group of 18k… It is overwhelming…

I dropped out after a couple of days. I am not proud of it. I am part of the statistics, of those who failed to complete the course. However, I also think it was the best decision for me at the time. I had four main reasons to stop:

  1. I felt lost in a sea of chaos. The large number of students with different skill levels derived in an overwhelming amount of messages being sent without following a coherent structure. I could not keep up with that.
  2. Course content was not completely self-explanatory. Some instructions were confusing. Different resources had inconsistent information. The teachers could not answer all the questions. Again, I felt lost.
  3. It was a free course. Dropping out had no significant consequence.
  4. The time and effort needed to make sense of the MOOC seemed to exceed the expected benefits. For me, it was not worth it.

Are all MOOCs the same? Is it only a matter of enduring the beginning?  Maybe after a while it improves? I do not know, but I will soon start another MOOC. Hopefully I will obtain some answers.

***

Why do people drop out of MOOCs?

  • Overwhelming chaos
  • Unclear guidance
  • No losses or significant consequences
  • Efforts to succeed exceed expected benefits

PhD students share research and encouragement

Ming speaks at PhD Day June 2013

Ming speaks at PhD Day June 2013

Today and tomorrow (24 and 25 June 2013), our PhD students are gathering in Leicester from far and wide to share their research thus far and to encourage each other on the journey. Tony Ratcliffe presented his work remotely via Adobe Connect from Canada. Nada presented her work before she returns to Saudi Arabia to continue field research there. Marion Waite presented her PhD topic on MOOCs and online learning, in her first time joining us in person. Grace, Yan, Brenda, Bernard, and Natalia also presented, some of these in preparation for the annual School of Education PhD presentation day which will happen this Saturday. The recordings from this session are posted here in order of occurrence:

https://connect.le.ac.uk/p3x2urnca91/

https://connect.le.ac.uk/p1eotdv97qg/

https://connect.le.ac.uk/p3g2bveovi7/

https://connect.le.ac.uk/p2qjjj1osk7/

MOOCs and mobile

Among the various MOOC platforms, which really work as mobile platforms? The FutureLearn platform in the UK was meant to have been designed with mobile in mind from the start. I have not done a MOOC on FutureLearn yet, and may very well find myself factilitating or teaching one soon enough, so I would really like to know if learning through FutureLearn, or any other MOOC platform, works well via mobile devices.

Is this a picture of mobile MOOC? Photo by Ed Yourdon on Flickr

Is this a picture of mobile MOOC? Photo by Ed Yourdon on Flickr

To this end, I have created an extremely short survey — 4 questions! — to try and get a flavour of MOOC learners’ mobile experience. If you have participated in a MOOC and attempted to do so via a mobile device or two, please would you take the survey here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/53F3V2H   

I will be reporting the results of the survey next week at our Open Education Week webinar entitled New Global Open Educational Trends: Policy, Learning Design, and Mobile, on 11 March 2013 at 12.30 GMT. The Open Education Week website has details of how to join in – everyone is invited!

And I will report my survey findings on this blog as well.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist & SCORE Research Fellow, Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester

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