Friday, August 17, 2012

Random thoughts about MOOCs

I’ve been thinking about some assumptions about MOOC that I’m reading in articles in the news. MOOCs are compared to face-to-face college courses.

MOOCs could be useful as a replacement for large lecture courses offered face to face. MOOCS will allow us to outsource those large lecture courses. MOOCs on more specialized topics are ignored in that conversation.

Students are plagiarizing. Students might not be who they say they are. Perhaps plagiarism and “are you who you say you are” only matter if you want to certified participation in the course. Otherwise, why drag all that baggage into a MOOC setting?

Students might repeat courses until they can get a good grade. That can’t be good, right? You should only get one chance to master a course. Obviously if you don’t get a high score the first time you encounter the material, you must not be very bright. If you flunk, that’s it for you! Yes, students might be gaming the system (whatever the system is). Or they might be learning the material. It seems to me that this matters if the main purpose of MOOCs is to identify gifted students (which seems to have become Udacity’s goal.) It only matters if you want to certify that a student is an A+ student.

Some MOOCs rely on peer assessment. This method can’t possibly provide useful feedback for students because a MOOC is not really a community of peers. Anyone can join a MOOC. Your work might be reviewed by someone unsophisticated! They might not even speak English as their first language! Could you learn anything from a reader who is not well-versed in academic writing? This concern is based on the assumption that our only readers should only come from the traditional academic community and the only form of writing should be traditional academic writing. It also only matters if participants are concerned about their grade in the MOOC. Course-like MOOCs such as those offered by Udacity and Coursera are just like courses – and students worry about their grade.

Some MOOCs rely on quizzes. Quizzes can’t provide evidence of Real Learning. Is Real Learning measurable and quantifiable quizzes or by any other means? This is an assessment issue for face-to-face courses as well of course. It’s thrown into relief by these courses being online.

We librarians want to be engaged in MOOCs. We can’t stand to see a bunch of learners trying to forge ahead without our guidance. We could just sign up for courses on a voluntary basis and audit the course and help out informally in the discussion forums, but I sense that some librarians would rather be invited and identified as assistants by course developers. Why institutionalize our participation asking librarians to work for free? Why not just do it? If librarians jumped in, what about writing coaches? I’m involved in discussions with the TLT-Group about what higher education faculty do after they retire. Could MOOCs provide an outlet for doing good works?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Coursera's Fantasy and Science Fiction Course

I've been sitting in on Dr. Rabkin's Fantasy and Science Fiction course offered via Coursera. There's a good article in the Chronicle of Higher Education today (August 16) about incidents of plagiarism. One thing that frustrated students doing the assessing - the course developers hadn't anticipated allowing for a zero grade for suspected plagiarism. Some students accused of plagiarism complained that they had NOT plagiarized. With no one in the instructor role, who mediates?

Laura Gibbs (faculty member at U of Oklahoma) who's quoted in the article has been blogging about the course and has plenty to say various problems that have arisen in these weeks of the course. (The course started July 23). I agree with a lot of her comments.

Example of one thing that's bugged me: When the course started, there was no course calendar with all the dates written out. If the essay on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is due on a certain date, list that. Don't just say that the essays are "due Tuesdays."

Another issue: Availability of the books for the course. Most of the books for the course are available via Project Gutenberg and other open access sites. There are only two books that are not available for free. Some students overseas were having some problems getting their hands on those two books (though perhaps by now those students have been able to order copies.) The two books not available for free: Ursula LeGuinn's The Left Hand of Darkness and Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. If you wanted to run an open course that concentrated on modern science fiction where fewer books are available open access... that would be a barrier for a world-wide audience - and students who might not be able to afford the books.

The units each week close with short videos where Dr.Rabkin discusses that week's book. Yes, you know what I'm talking about - those often maligned talking head videos. (But you know what? Dr. Rabkin has something to say! I'm happily watching the videos.) One of the glitches: The early videos have had subtitles in English and Spanish. This week's videos now have English subtitles. It seems that they are catching up with providing captions and transcripts. I presume that next time the course is offered, the videos would be re-used and all of that would be in place at the start of the course.

Another concern: The discussion forums. Originally there were no discussion forums for each unit. The course developers added those after we got started. If the developers took a careful look at how the discussions have developed, they could start out the course with more distinct forums.

Student support: Could Coursera provide a set of links to information on writing? Students in the course (including Dr. Gibbs) provided links and made suggestions about improving writing skills. Students also provided each other with resources about the readings. Should those be gathered up for next time? What about including an information literacy piece on Coursera? Perhaps they could offer some information on how to search for additional resources - or at least point to some information literacy materials. (That brings us to the "where are the librarians" question. Do librarians have a role to play in MOOCs?)

Note: We've got a few self-identified teens in the course. According to the terms of service, that's a no-no - but I hope that they didn't kick enterprising teens out of the class. I would have loved an opportunity to participate in a course like this when I was that age.

The Fantasy and Science Fiction course is just like a course. Dr.Rabkin pointed out in an announcement this week, this is the same course and schedule for readings that he uses in his face-to-face course at University of Michigan. Should the course be less traditional and more 21st century? Perhaps students could have been encouraged to start those Facebook groups and circle up on Google+. Perhaps students should have been encouraged to create videos or other projects like writing their own fairy tales instead of those short essays, but some students have thought of that on their own. Perhaps the traditional course is as good a place to start as any.

So...there are some issues - but there are plenty of messages in the discussion forums with thanks to Dr.Rabkin for offering the course.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Breaking up with ebooks???

Sarah Houghton Librarian in Black wants to break up with ebooks. I hope it's a momentary fit of exasperation. Librarians need to persist in working with content suppliers and make ebooks work. Here's one reason: kids like digital books. See this article from the Tampa Bay Times: Hillsborough "myON" users read more than 1-million books in just six months. I'm the first to admit that ebooks can have their problems - BUT I would be reading a lot less without them.