Thursday, 18 October 2012

MOOCing: To boldly go where no one has been before!

MOOCING for all!

The age of the STAR TREK ACADEMY is here.  Distance learning was something that became included for younger members of the Star Trek Enterprise in the popular saga by Gene Roddenberry.  The concept was already there in the Australian idea School of the Air.  Now we have the MOOC!

Massive Open Online Courses have arrived with the sites such as edX, Coursera and ALISON (see links at top of the page).  In order to understand this experience myself (and to formalise my own self-taught learning) I have joined an edX course CS50X .

As part of a group examining online course delivery "based" (world wide collaboration via Google tools)  at a separate institution I became aware of the idea of MOOCs.  An article ( was one that the Bank Street College  OFLC Course/Group recommended for reading.  Having read the article I was struck by the my own experiences using social media and the ways I have been instructed post 16 years old.  

In classes for A-Levels we had 30 per class for Maths, Physics and Chemistry but only 10 for Biology!  The engagement socially with the learning experience was better in the smaller groups as the interaction between tutor and pupil were easier and more immediate!   This  pattern of pupil to real-life tutor  experience continued through my Scottish University where we had classes of between 100 and 200 in size with tutorial time spent with a group of 7 to 8 pupils in the early years.  This last model was a better experience than Sixth Form A levels but owing to previous training of how to learn in a formal context was like being at school.  At later stages in the first degree experience we had increasingly less formal instruction in  "class" but there was still "traditional" engagement techniques.  After all these were research Professors with a teaching load of Undergraduates as opposed to teaching Professors! Plus they did not have the whizzy presentation to engage pupils as we have today and break up the delivery of material.

Having seen the first lectures of the CS50x course I was struck by the content compared to my experiences as an undergraduate 20 years ago.   Key concepts although delivered at quite an active pace were not that many in the 2 hour lecture/MP4.  What was apparent was the audience participation and the "pausing" to explain the learning outcome.  The online experience was also made more interactive and a non-popcorn/coke/beer movie experience by the occasional question appearing to check understanding of key concepts.  This is a simple but key trick to keep the solo listener engaged.  The peer pressure of note taking neighbours being absent in this environment.  That was also apparent in the auditorium the lack of note taking materials when we did see audience shots.  The material was online in the form of video recordings of the lecture, transcripts, Tutorial  materials and most importantly web-links (the most difficult thing to note down quickly).

The forums signed up for the and program critique requests  starting to appear, addresses some of the MOOC's social limitations.  It does require a collective interaction of learning.  It does require confident self-learners.  It does play to the strengths of undergraduate enthusiasm in asking the question, why? Or more important that very difficult statement , I don't understand.  This is the  a potential pitfall of MOOCs that social media can overcome by doing what most pupils from the age of 3 do without thinking they are doing it, which is peer to peer learning!  It is also a challenge to the "closed filing cabinet" state of traditional academic work.  If you are not on the privileged list of one to one personal contact that knowledge acquires a proprietorial existence. 

The universal aspiration of knowledge being free can be a reality but only if a MOOC  engages social interaction in a learning community.  Competition to be the first to think of an idea will always be there, social interaction dose spur uncovering of  new concepts.  Would we ever have known about Darwin's theories in his lifetime if he had not been in correspondence with Wallace?  Historians of life sciences argue who was the greater Wallace or Darwin? And who should be on the pedestal carved in stone?  MOOCs potentially have the ability to speed up dissemination of  understanding of knowledge but have to overcome the inertia of lack of communication between learners.  A problem experienced in UK, if not all UK classrooms, for the majority of pupils driven by need to fulfil a curriculum!

So the major conclusion of the article, is to start to engage socially.  Be confident to record your experiences in a learning journal or blog.  And more importantly to be persistent and leave your "footprints" in the sand to see where you have been when you look up to see where you want to be!


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