Moving Beyond MOOCS: Could we move to understanding learning and teaching?

June 5, 2015 at 7:14 am 9 comments

We’re years into the MOOC phenomenon, and I’d hoped that we’d get past MOOC hype. But we’re not.  The article below shows the same misunderstandings of learning and teaching that we heard at the start — misunderstandings that even MOOC supporters (like here and here) have stopped espousing.

The value of being in the front row of a class is that you talk with the teacher.  Getting physically closer to the lecturer doesn’t improve learning.  Engagement improves learning.  A MOOC puts everyone at the back of the class, listening only and doing the homework.

In many ways, we have a romanticized view of college. Popular portrayals of a typical classroom show a handful of engaged students sitting attentively around a small seminar table while their Harrison Ford-like professor shares their wisdom about the world. We all know the real classroom is very different. Especially in big introductory classes — American history, U.S. government, human psychology, etc. — hundreds of disinterested, and often distracted, students cram into large impersonal lecture halls, passively taking notes, occasionally glancing up at the clock waiting for the class to end. And it’s no more engaging for the professor. Usually we can’t tell whether students are taking notes or updating their Facebook page. For me, everything past the ninth row was distance learning. A good online platform puts every student in the front row.

via Moving Beyond MOOCS | Steven M. Gillon.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. shriramkrishnamurthi  |  June 5, 2015 at 7:21 am

    I found this comment funny: «Most use a single camera stationed at the back of a large lecture hall. Those watching at home feel as if they are eavesdropping on someone else’s class.» I’ve had people tell me this was one of the _features_ of my MOOC: they said, “It helped me feel like I was actually in a class at Brown, and gave me a sense of what that was like”. To someone who already works at a western university this might seem like a triviality (or worse, as the author suggests), but to someone who hasn’t had that benefit (which is who MOOCs were trying to reach, right?), it can be quite thrilling.

    Also: «Popular portrayals of a typical classroom show a handful of engaged students sitting attentively around a small seminar table while their Harrison Ford-like professor shares their wisdom about the world. We all know the real classroom is very different.» We do?

    Then again, look at us here, taking the HuffPost seriously. For all we know, this could be an advertising spot. Watch the dramatic arc: “Education expensive! MOOCs! No, not MOOCs! Wait, maybe MOOCs! But college! No, not college! Here’s a link to my course!” Does the author get some money off each student who takes the course? If so, that would have warrant a disclosure statement…

  • 2. rademi  |  June 5, 2015 at 8:56 am

    I think you are describing an MOOC without adequate personnel.

    My one experience with an MOOC was different. One teacher, half a dozen grad students as TAs, dedicated forums, and good use of other media.

    That said, my experience in that context was not perfect. I had to abandon the class about half way through because of time conflicts with professional commitments.

    Still, I felt very much engaged, for the months when I was able to keep up with the class.

    But I imagine an MOOC like that involves a lot of hard work. People who think that an MOOC is just some automated thing that does all the work for them are likely the problem here.

  • 3. nickfalkner  |  June 9, 2015 at 12:00 am

    You can probably guess that I have two responses here, the first is that the front row is not available to many in the real world in the first place, with the second being that, for far too many people, any seat in the classroom is better than none.

    But I am involved in a, for us, large MOOC so my responses have to be regarded in that light. Thanks for the post!

    • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  June 9, 2015 at 10:52 am

      Nick, I know that you know the literature in this space, and care about design and assessment. Can you say something about how you designed your MOOC to reach those who would not otherwise get access to formal educational opportunities? And since your MOOC has started, do you know yet if you achieved that goal — are you reaching people who would not otherwise get access?

  • 8. Guy Haas  |  June 9, 2015 at 10:33 am

    I’ve tried a few MOOCs. Earlier this year I completed one (CyberSecurity). Reflecting back, I think the reason I kept at it was because of the interaction in the discussion forums. I consider myself lucky because in this particular MOOC we had a few participants that were obviously employed in the field. At least two or three were very good at it. So, the instructors and TAs provided a nicely structured course, but it was engagement with others (?experts?) in the forums that kept me so interested. Why these few that obviously had already mastered the introductory material were participating is an interesting question… If you followed them through the course as I did, it was no longer an introduction, but in depth coverage. I could see that the instructors and TAs were swamped with helping those having a hard time. The “front row” interaction was actually among themselves. So, whatever…

  • […] Guzdial posted over on his blog on “Moving Beyond MOOCS: Could we move to understanding learning and teaching?” and discusses aspects (that still linger) of MOOC hype. (I’ve spoken about MOOCs done […]


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