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?

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