Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mooching around MOOCs

What are we to make of the phenomenon of MOOCs?   I doubt anyone involved in Higher Education does not have a view.  There are the enthusiasts and the sceptics as a plethora of recent articles reveal e.g. The Crisis in Higher Education, by Nicholas Carr.  An example of the sceptic perspective is:

"The promoters of MOOCs have a “fairly naïve perception of what the analy­sis of large data sets allows,” says Timothy Burke, a history professor at Swarthmore College. He contends that distance education has historically fallen short of expectations not for technical reasons but, rather, because of “deep philosophical problems” with the model. He grants that online education may provide efficient training in computer programming and other fields characterized by well-established procedures that can be codified in software. But he argues that the essence of a college education lies in the subtle interplay between students and teachers that cannot be simulated by machines, no matter how sophisticated the programming."

It certainly seems true that most of the courses that have been presented to date do not involve what educators call epistemic learning.  In many ways the contestation is between learning and instruction, a point taken up rather elegantly by Nicholas Negroponte.

What neither article does is refer to the 40+ year history of The Open University (UK) in developing very effective pedagogic models to underpin large scale supported open learning courses.  Having now announced that it will take a leading role in a UK consortium (called FutureLearn Ltd) to deliver MOOCs I hope the experience of the OU will take the debate into new territory that has as its essence a pedagogy of personal and social transformation. After all that is what the world needs...and at scale. Or are we seeing a playing-out of the corporatisation of universities and with it the commodification of instruction (as I would not care to call it learning)? 

Thus far, as Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic notes:

'Research universities, which have little previous experience of online teaching, dominate the MOOCs offerings and this is evident in the outdated behaviourist pedagogy most in evidence. Most MOOCs are little more than OER with test material added.'

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