Are MOOCs the New Textbooks? Misunderstanding the role of the teacher

February 26, 2014 at 1:56 am 5 comments

An interesting blog post by an important CS researcher in programming languages and software engineering, but with a deep misperception about teaching.  Teaching is not presentation.  Making “production” better doesn’t make the teaching more effective.  Student engagement pedagogies are likely to make teaching more effective, but it’s still an open question how to make those happen in a MOOC.

But the presenter of a MOOC is not likely to be a passive player in the same sense. Video is a dynamic medium, that used well can establish a significant emotional connection between the speaker and the audience. This is already clear in some MOOCs, and as production gets better and better this emotional quality of the courses will only improve.

What’s more, MOOC instructors are always at their best. They never have an off day. They never have a pressing grant deadline. All those bad takes got edited out. The students will also always hear them clearly, and when they don’t, the MOOC instructor will patiently repeat what they said. As many times as the student wants.

via Are MOOCs the New Textbooks? | Flexible Learning.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kathi Fisler  |  February 26, 2014 at 11:12 am

    I didn’t see Gregor’s post as claiming that teaching is presentation. I read the argument as merely saying that MOOCs are better for creating emotional connection than traditional textbooks, and that production will strengthen the ability to make that connection. From there, I see him asking what adverse impacts that would have on the classroom component of teaching. I expect most of us don’t feel in competition with our texts for our students’ attention.

    There’s an interesting question here about the role of emotional connection in engaging students in good pedagogy. Surely there has been some research on the relative roles of instructor personality and pedagogic techniques in creating effective learning environments (any pointers?). Isn’t Gregor encouraging us to think about how the personality within a MOOC might change the parameters?


    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  February 26, 2014 at 3:12 pm

      No, I don’t know of research about emotional connection due to instructor personality in terms of student learning, but I see how that question would come up when thinking about MOOCs. MOOCs are the opposite of education as a design science. Good educational activities are designed, where we consider where students are and what outcomes are desired. MOOCs ignore that — they assume that we can provide the same thing to everyone and that someone (anyone? Certainly not “all”) will learn.

      We can’t design instructor personality. It’s not a variable that we can manipulate. We do know lots of variables that we can manipulate, like student engagement pedagogies — which we don’t know how to do in MOOCs. I think Gregor is emphasizing the wrong issues to get more learning.

      • 3. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  February 26, 2014 at 5:00 pm

        I think the theory is not that you can “design” instructor personality, but that you can select for it. If you only need a few instructors (the main MOOC hypothesis), then you can select for particular presentation skills or personality.

        MOOCs and online courses generally are an excellent thing for homeschooled high school students. I’m not sure that they have a big role in higher education, though. My own teaching is strongly anti-MOOC. Next quarter I’ll be spending 3.5 hours a week in the classroom and 12 hours a week in an undergrad lab—hands-on lab education is not MOOCable.

  • 4. shriramkrishnamurthi  |  February 26, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Mark, I wonder if you’re reading this too literally.

    I know the writer well and I believe he full well understands the point you’re making. His course is excellent: I know universities that are actually using it to augment their classes. He goes well beyond mere presentation. (One person — who does understand that teaching isn’t the same as presentation — told me, “Wow, this is so good, I wonder what I’m doing in the classroom.”)

    Personally, every semester, I build 1-2 days of slack into my schedule for “disaster days”: days that go so badly that 10 minutes in I can tell it’s not working, I ask the class “This isn’t working, is it?”, they say yes, so I stop what I’m doing, we chat about something else, and I come back with a better class next time. In a MOOC, there’s no need for any of these. In that sense, it’s a clear improvement in presentation, without saying anything about the other aspects of teaching.

    [Full disclosure: I don’t really believe this argument. I actually think stopping a lecture short and admitting to it being a disaster is hugely humanizing, and thus an important thing for a student to see. And those impromptu discussions we have in the rest of the class are perhaps the most interesting of their education.

    We also know from several other settings that people learn as much from mistakes and errors as they do from perfection. Which is why I’m not ready to replace myself with a “perfect”, MOOC version of myself, _even_ if my pedagogic style could bit into current MOOC formats (which it doesn’t).

    So, I think you focused on the flaw at the wrong level.]

    • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  February 26, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      I don’t know the author (except by his reputation), so I can only interpret his words. Being a good teacher is not about being a good presenter. Saying the same thing over and over in the same way (which is all a video can do) doesn’t lead to more learning — which is what I see this quote saying.


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