Conversation Series: Part 1
About this Series
Anyone who engages in any sort of research into the MOOC phenomenon will inevitably notice that online learners are not actually taking part, in the often spirited, conversations about how to educate online learners. Currently, MOOC focused conversations involve talking at, definitely talking about, and occasionally talking to online learners, but conversations are certainly not engaging with online learners. I believe that it is important that online learners contribute to these potentially revolutionary conversations about education, particularly online education. Through the articles on this Blog, I hope to contribute to changing this rather one-sided conversation about online learning into real dialogue between educators and learners.
This series of articles looks at what is currently happening with MOOCs from an online learner perspective and attempts to provide background and context for readers who are just discovering MOOCs. I hope to bring online learners of all kinds into the various conversations through exploration of the nature, and changing nature, of MOOCs by sharing my views and experiences and by providing links to relevant and meaningful conversations when possible. This is the first segment in a series of articles that explores some of these conversations about MOOC related events, their funding, and their delivery. As I continue to research this subject and write about it, I hope to better understand the reasons why learners are not part of the conversations, and therefore not part of the change, but at the effect of it. I do not believe that Educators have no wish to hear from learners. I think they desperately want to understand what motivates us and what works for us. Anything we as online learners can do to facilitate better dialogue between educators and learners will ultimately benefit everyone. If you are not already, expect to get sick of the word ‘conversation’!
Since I have no wish to regurgitate content that is already complete and well-presented elsewhere on the web, and because I do want to encourage conversations between online learners and MOOC key players, I prefer to offer links to other relevant conversations instead of quoting or rephrasing someone else’s work. I am hoping that if I seed enough links and develop enough content, some of you will jump in with your own thoughts and perspectives.
An Introduction to the Conversation
The key players behind MOOCs in present time are Educators and their Institutions; Private, Public, And Philanthropic Investors; MOOC Platforms Providers (x or c) such as Coursera, Udacity, and Open University. Also affected are the online learners; providers of Open Source Technology; and licensing bodies such as Creative Commons.
MOOCs, be they ‘x’ or ‘c’, and Venture Capitalists have one thing in common, and that is online learners. Conversely what they do not have in common is the online learner. The goals, aims, and objectives, of each type of MOOC, are fundamentally altruistic, and humanist. A cMOOC follows a connectivist model of delivery, while an xMOOC follows more traditional models of delivery. It may seem like I am splitting hairs by separating MOOCs into xMOOCs and cMOOCs, but the distinction is an important one, largely because of the Venture Capital factor that I will discuss a little later in this article.
Debbie Morrison, an instructional designer and educator, does an excellent job of summarizing the history and the differences between the two MOOCs in her article, The Ultimate Student Guide to xMOOCs and cMOOCs, this article is very comprehensive and I recommend readers spend some time reviewing her wonderful contribution. I won’t be dealing with cMOOCs in this segment, but a I have posted a brief note about cMOOCs here, (will open in new window) for context.
A Look at the Current State of the MOOC Phenomenon
xMOOCs and Venture Capitalists are inextricably linked for the moment, and association affects cMOOCs. Venture Capitalists want to make money, lots of it. Venture Capitalists have brought money to the xMOOC table because that is what VCs do. They invest in high-risk business plans in the expectation of sizable profits in a relatively short period.
Venture Capitalists are not known for patience when it comes to return on investments and it would be dangerous and ludicrous to assume any philanthropic principles motivate them or their actions. Venture Capitalists want to make money, lots of it, and they are not interested in waiting for their returns. This in turn is causing xMOOC providers, and other Open Source instructional tools providers to step out of their intended business plans and move in new directions without adequate dialogue, and certainly without consensus within the communities they are developing.
On the heels of the Year of the Mooc, we are seeing the MOOC honeymoon phase ending. VC pressure can be seen in the shifts in vision states and delivery of the “open” and “free” elements that define MOOCs.
- As of January 2013 textbook provider Flatbook Knowledge, the first commercial provider of open textbooks (2007), has ceased to offer access to textbook to students for free via the web. These textbooks were available — for a fee except to students— in print, digital (ePUB and PDF), and audio formats. Admittedly, Flatbook Knowledge is still a cost-effective resource, but the company has had to step back from its original business plan to satisfy VC investor demand for early revenue streams.
- Udacity recently launched a, not-for-free, MSc Degree program in collaboration with Georgia Tech and with AT&T sponsorship. Moving ever closer to an online model very different from a MOOC.
- Coursera is rapidly moving towards selling, (for various purposes) aggregated data about its online learners (the hidden fee online participants consent to in the privacy agreements). Regrettably, the data mining aggregated is NOT being shared with the instructors who develop and deliver its courses.
Given that millions of dollars have been invested in Coursera and Udacity alone, one might assume that the University Professors and their staff are being well reimbursed for their efforts, but this does not appear to be the case. Cathy Davidson, Professor of English and John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and Co-Founder of HASTAC is in the process of developing and then teaching a MOOC. She shares some of what she has discovered to date about what it takes to put on an xMOOC in her article entitled “Clearing Up Some Myths About MOOCs“. On the one hand, the realities make it difficult to imagine Professors continuing to support MOOCs and on the other hand it can’t help but highlight the very real passion educators have about educating. It is definitely something for MOOC participants to keep in mind when lodging concerns or complaints about course content or structure in course Discussion Threads.
Dr. Keith Devlin a mathematician at Stanford University also shares some insights into MOOC delivery and student feedback on his Blog, MOOCtalk. He is currently leaning to a view of MOOCs as MOORs for Massive Open Online Resources and his belief that there is more to MOOCs than credit or degrees is articulated well. It should be noted that his “MOOR” concept closely resembles a cMOOC. This is yet another thought provoking article from the teaching community where conversations about MOOCs, particularly MOOCs and higher education abound.
A great deal has happened since the first xMOOC was introduced in 2011 and it seems like something new is happening hourly behind the scenes almost every hour of the day. The innovations many are hoping MOOCs will bring to education may or may not come about, but online learners need to become a part of the change that is sweeping North America and the globe. This means participating in conversations. Starting conversations. Joining conversations. Continuing conversations and adapting conversations. Educators are struggling to understand a new type of learner and they deserve some feedback outside of the course discussion boards.
In future articles I will continue to reflect on xMOOCs and cMOOCs and how they are developing, keeping one eye on how the money trail may affect MOOCs and online learners. I will eventually get to who online learners are…but lets face it..that is a huge topic best developed in stand-alone posts. I hope you will come back and join me. In the meantime, comments are more than welcome…in fact I really hope to hear from you soon! Ciao!
What others are saying:
- MOOC Skeptic Proposes an Anti-MOOC MOOC (insidehighered.com)
- Librarians and the Era of the MOOC (scilogs.com)
- MOOCs Beyond Professional Development: Coursera’s Big Announcement in Context (mfeldstein.com)
- The Pedagogy of MOOCs (edtechfrontier.com)
- Major Players in the MOOC Universe (studentforce.wordpress.com)