learning unhinged

a reflective post on the final day of #moocmooc


  1. The meta-MOOC that I've been participating in since last Sunday is drawing to an close.  For me, I believe it was a wise investment in time, because I've made a number of new Twitter connections, and I've deepened my knowledge of this new learning phenomenon.  
  2. The collaborative document that I contributed to on Monday describes two ways in which MOOCs are beneficial:
  3. First, support for "self-directed learners who want to focus on learning more, obtaining new perspectives on a topic of interest or obtaining a new skill...."  I am currently taking Udacity's Intro to Physics's course and I've found the instruction to be of very high quality and engaging.  And I feel that I'm learning at a faster rate than I did during a typical undergraduate course, when so much of what I was doing was required.  
  4. Second, and I see this as distinct from the first point, is the ability to engage with co-learners who are interested in the same topic and who are also making an investment in time by participating in a MOOC.  For this collaboration to be truly effective, the learner must be confident enough to insert him or herself into group discussions and must be able to work effectively with the social tools used in the MOOC.  
  5. At this (arguably) early stage of development, MOOCs have some obvious weaknesses:
  6. First, how well do the underlying tools support co-learner collaboration?  I'm a huge fan of Twitter, but the online meet-ups have to some degree been constrained by the tool's limits:
  7. But time will make the tools work better, right?  Maybe - but there are cases when they move in the opposite direction:  
  8. After a horrible incident in which a journalist lost digital data on multiple devices, Google stepped up its efforts in encouraging users to use two-step authentication for Google services.  This was both responsible and appropriate on the corporation's part.  But what does this tightened security mean to the MOOC participant who activates two-step authentication and then uses Google and its related services (like YouTube, Blogger, Google Plus, and Google Drive/Docs)?  When you use a friend's device, or a public computer, or when you clear your browser's cache for security reasons, you'll get this message when you try to access a Google-related service:
  9. The user can access services relatively quickly, as long as they have their mobile device on their person and can retrieve the verification code transmitted by Google.  I don't want to overstate this specific problem, but there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to efficiently using the full array of tools that could be used in a MOOC (some of which have been organized by co-learners in this week's MOOC).  
  10. The second weakness relates to credentialing, particularly the ability of academic institutions to use MOOCs.  The University of Washington is one of a number of institutions working with Coursera to offer courses through a MOOC.  Just reading the first paragraph of this announcement, you'd think that the UW-Coursera effort is truly radical and groundbreaking.  But a close review of the details, as described in this Inside Higher Education story, makes it seem like a moderate extension of UW's existing online programs: 
  11. - "the university does not plan to offer course credit for its MOOCs. What it does plan to do is offer people the option of paying to take versions of its Coursera offerings that include additional layers of online instruction and assessment that will be make the courses 'more conventional'"
  12. - "while students might be able to redeem their completion certificates for credit toward a University of Washington degree, they could do so only if they enrolled as tuition-paying students at the university"
  13. Steve Kolowich, the author of this story, cites a New York Times article on Coursera's work with research universities; the article emphasizes the fact that some of the institutions will offer credit for MOOC completion and includes the claim that "this is the tsunami."  My mind raced to one metaphor:  
  14. Closely related to credentialing is assessment.  I did not actively participate in the assessment and outcomes discussion in canvas, but it's an interesting discussion thread and I'm continuing to review and think about it.  Regarding institutional MOOCs, Petra Dierkes-Thrun noted that "what maddens me a bit about the current state of the debate in xMOOCs is that a) assessment and accreditation debates often trump contents/methods/pedagogical strategies debates (which are much more important, in my eyes), and b) that it's automatically assumed that MOOCs must 'mirror' the 'course' as we know it."
  15. I will wrap up this post by referring to Robin Wharton's post in the assessment and outcomes space; he offered a set of questions for how participation in MOOC MOOC might be assessed.  As a MOOC novice entering the week, I feel that I benefited a great deal through participation:  in learning about MOOCs, in developing my professional network, in encountering new sources of information, and in learning about the use of online tools ("strategies for professional or pedagogical engagement").  It's been a fun and instructive week for me.