MOOCs as community??

Here at Athabasca University we’ve finally begun serious talk about our approach to MOOCs.

We are working through two models, trying to decipher the pros and cons of each or both. These are:

  1. Run one of more of our own MOOCs, based in whole or part on our current online courses. In order to be a MOOC, the courses should be free and that creates some challenges. Obviously a revenue or substantial service model needs to be developed for sustainability.
  2. Cherry-pick a few MOOCs, offered by others, and after asserting that they are equivalent to an AU course allow and promote students to challenge the course for AU Credit.

Both models offer challenges. Giving credit for work outside our traditional online courses is a scary option as it may lay us open to critique for being not a rigorous school and giving our very transferable credits away too easily.  However, rare  amongst most universities, Athabasca already has an approved Challenge Exam Policy for many of our undergrad courses. This means that may students register and schedule an invigilated exam that covers the course materials. They can buy textbooks if they choose. They get no library, tutor, counselling or other academic support. However,  the number of students going this route has dropped substantially – to less than 1,000 year when we upped the fee to $354.   Many are worried that if we reduced the fee to the $30-60 range that Coursera charges for its “signature track” too many of our regular students would opt for the cheaper option which is about 40% or so less than our regular tuition.  I think the market value for challenge accreditation should be closer to $125 which should easily cover our admin costs. This MOOC for credit option is cheaper, easier and initially of lower service value but it may appeal to a whole new class of learners – Sound Familiar?? These are the characteristics of a classic disruptive technology.  Very scary indeed!!

The second debate  at Athabasca revolves around a MOOC platform. There are a number of options available including recent announcements of the availability as open source of the platform used by EdX and Stanford. But here at Athabasca, we are tending to look at ways to re-purpose our existing platforms. Moodle is an obvious choice and in addition we have quite a substantive elgg social networking platform that could be used. New instances of either of these platforms could work.  I think the choice depends on the nature of the MOOC. If the MOOC is of the so called xMooc variety with a tight predefined curriculum and learning outcomes, lots of teach centric videos, quizzes and threaded discussions, then likely MOODLE is best. However for cMOOCs in which students are encouraged to bring and develop their own personalities, web presences and artifacts using an emergent or connectivist pedagogical design, the ELGG based platform with its capacity for student created blogs, bookmarks, tweets, user generated videos, etc. may be best.

I was interested to read the article with Simon Nelson the director of the Uk’s collaborative MOOC consortria FutureLearn  led by the Open University.
Nelson sees FutureLearn as much more than xMOOC delivery platform, and hopes their platform may develop like a Facebook social network for lifelong learning.  We are trying to do this at Athabasca with our Athabasca Landing project – a boutique network, open to all members of our wider Athabasca community. But we are finding that it is hard to win a critical mass of users and to get buy from our administrative services. Academics and students have many options beyond the mega sites of Facebook and LinkedIn and as always, have limited amounts of time and energy. Perhaps with more MOOCs activity would increase, but then we might have to open our “walled garden, with windows” to any who enrolled in a MOOC – regardless of their intent to learn and contribute.

Anyone who has solved all of these issues, please contact us immediately! 🙂

 

MOOC pedagogy and accreditation

Most of the cacophony of comments and posts about MOOCs and their disruptive potential has focused on their free cost to students, high enrolments, superstar teachers and high prestige Universities.

Relatively little has been published, much less researched, about MOOC pedagogy. A thoughtful article by C. Osvaldo Rodriguez in EURODL mapped the evolution of the so called cMOOCs to connectivist generation of pedagogy that Jon Dron and I wrote about in IRRODL.  Conversely, given the focus on measurable outcomes and dissemination of content, it isn’t too much a leap to suggest (as Rodriguez’s does) that most of the big name xMOOCs are following the mass education model pioneered by open and distance education institution which we referred to as first generation, cognitive behaviourist pedagogy.

But putting labels on delivery models, doesn’t really lead us forward, unless we are also brave enough to venture into issues of effectiveness. However ontological differences between the models make comparisons based on effectiveness challenging. It is easy for traditional and constructivist pedagogues to jump to arguments about educational effectiveness that have at their root, notions of intense interaction with teachers or at least with peers. Of course with 100,000 students one has to change normal definitions of “intense interaction” to even begin to argue about effectiveness from a social-constructivist perspective.  Thus, most social constructivists focus on the opportunities for peer interaction and point to the emergence of meet-ups and online study groups as spontaneous evidence of MOOC effectiveness. I see these as a capacity, but in my experience of adding or even encouraging optional opportunities for peer-to-peer interaction, it doesn’t lead to much take-up  (beyond those exchanging telephone numbers with potential romantic partners).  However, with 100,000 students even a take up of a few percent is not insignificant and may be life-changing for some learners. Continue reading