Saturday, December 7, 2013

Probe Concerning MOOCs

Interesting discussions about MOOCs at yesterday's CUNY IT  Conference. Unfortunately, the panelists were not asking the right questions  about MOOCs. They should be analyzing MOOCs as a MEDIATED learning experience,  not as an equivalent to in-person learning. The MOOCs I've audited were all  one-way, video and reading assignment based with assessments consisting of  multiple choice questions and special projects  each week, of which only a few were discussed. Interactions happened between  participants in chat rooms or meet-ups, with little or no direct interaction  with the instructor. A MOOC learning experience is more like reading a textbook  than attending a lecture or symposium.

Another way to look at it is, What  would Socrates have said about MOOCs?

Socrates: You know Phaedrus, that's  the strange thing about a MOOC, which makes it truly analogous to painting. The  painter's products stand before us as though they were alive, but if you  question them, they maintain a most majestic silence. It is the same with a  MOOC; they seem to talk to you as though they were intelligent, but if you ask  them anything about what they say, for a desire to be instructed, they go on  telling you just the same thing forever. And once a thing is put into a MOOC,  the presentation, whatever it may be, drifts all over the place, getting into  the hands not only of those who understand it, but equally of those who have no  business with it; it doesn't know how to address the right people, and not  address the wrong.
-Adapted from Plato. The Collected Dialogues of Plato:  Phaedrus. (New
Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1961), p.  521.

In  fact, what MOOCs are is a rear-view mirror attempt by educators to create the  mass audience for education on the web that emulates the structures of the old  electronic media. Finally, educators are figuring out how to use the media  ecology of television to deliver academic content to numbers of viewers rivaling  television or radio in their prime. Can advertiser support for MOOCs be far  behind?