MOOC Madness

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I have been watching with interest the recent growing storm of new sites, courses and the associated discussion and debate surrounding MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses. I think its fair to say that MOOCs are currently the Zeitgeist educational technology trend. I don’t intend to share too many of my own thoughts on the subject in any great depth in this post except to say that I think, as with most innovations, that there are some exciting aspects to the MOOCs concept that I think need to be seriously considered by educators but also that  it is important that we see through some of the hype (and there is lots of that) that is being thickly troweled onto these systems. Sure, there seems to be lots we can learn from the implementation of MOOCs, I’m particularly interested in how these things scale (or not!), but much of what I have seen so far ‘grates’ against what I know to good pedagogical practice. Watching videos and completing online quizzes seems to be the de rigueur delivery and assessment model in many MOOCs. Is this really the best we can do today given the technology at our fingertips?

Anyway, regardless of this, I am still excited by the possibilities of MOOCs but am really seeking something better which is why I was pleased to see a recent article in Forbes entitled “Unishared: Revolution in Online Education Beyond Coursera, Edx, and Udacity” [you can read the first part but the rest seems to be behind a paywall]. The article focusses on a new system, Unishared, developed by Clément Delangue (which I have not even looked at yet but that’s not really the point). What I really liked was the quote at the top of the article by François Fourcade, Scientific Director at CIRPP (Innovation and Research Center of Pedagogy in Paris), Researcher at CRG Ecole Polytechnique of Paris, and professor at ESCP Europe (wow!) in response to the question “Why is there an eminent revolution about to happen in the way students learn?”, François said:

“For three main reasons. First, the teaching activity must be focused not only on the content, but more on the student learning processes. Second, the  teaching activity  must develop not only positive contents, but also soft skills and what we call “meta competences” such as the ability of oneself to feel that he or she is  actually learning. Finally, at the end of the day, the teaching activity must ensure a life-long employability of the students.”

Abso-flippin-lutely! This quote exactly sums up my thoughts on learning and teaching and what is also clearly absent from most MOOCs. It’s hardly revolutionary is it? I would hope that any half decent educator would read that statement and think…”errr…and…so what?” but in the context of MOOCs this would be, in my opinion, a massive leap forward. If these crucial elements can be integrated into an online system such as a MOOC then I think we will have made huge progress. But how can this be done.

Having spent a few minutes playing with UniShared (and to be fair it has only been a few minutes) I don’t think that this  is the platform which will revolutionise MOOCs, and to be fair to UniShared that is not what they are claiming.  There model is to build a social learning platform using Google Docs which allows online course participants to more easily collaborate. I see this as one piece of a larger online learning system but I’m not convinced that we have anything which is joined-up enough to provide the experience described by François Fourcade yet. I might just have to go and build it myself.


About Simon

Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth View all posts by Simon

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