What I Want in a xMOOC

Listen, I hear you – many will respond to my title and say “nothing, I want nothing from an xMOOC and I hope they all become the passing fad that they are”. I feel your sentiment, but I think there’s value in xMOOCs, as bad as the pedagogy is behind them.

1. As a training program, which most xMOOCs are, they can be incredibly useful. For base knowledge, and introductory subjects, these are appropriate tools to get learners to the next step. What I want to see from the Coursera’s and Udacity’s is that they provide more flexibility – open enrollments, work at your own pace, maybe even mini-credentials per unit (via badging?) and most importantly, multiple pathways for learning. I would love to see an online course develop multiple methods of instruction that as a student, I could opt into if I’m having trouble with a topic. That would signal to me that it’s about learning, not about profit margins – because frankly, developing multiple methods of instruction for an online course is incredibly expensive. Putting on a venture capitalist’s hat (and it’s ill fitting on me, I will admit), this could give a company an advantage in being able to leverage the data to determine which learning method is best suited to a student/learner, based on prior successes.

2. Better mechanisms for assessment. All the MOOC platforms have great testing banks, but not much else in the way of advancing assessment. Coursera’s peer evaluation is a step towards something good – but it relies on peer assessment without any repercussions – I could do a garbage job of assessing someone and it won’t affect me – there needs to be a balancing here to ensure that peer assessment is valued as important. Programatically, it’d be easy to do, make sure that feedback exists, make sure it’s longer than x characters, and make sure that there’s a mechanism for providing ways to improve (could be as simple as an explicit “ways to improve this critera”).

3. Speaking of open, for the courses that are free, I’d like to see a commitment to openness, meaning that the materials created are able to be repurposed in other contexts, easily acquired, clearly labelled and ideally in a repository. Yeah, like that will happen. The only open in xMOOC is open enrollment.

Changing Course(ra): Ahead of the Curve?

I have to admit, I’m surprised it took this long for the knives to come out and chop away at all the mythic possibilities of MOOCs (which if done right, have a lot of promise for expanding the knowledge of those who are motivated to learn). I guess the mythic properties really belong to the Udacity, Coursera, EdX model of MOOCs – the idea of enabling learners worldwide to have access to University level education to better themselves, well really doesn’t ring true. Sure they know more, can even prove they know more in many cases, but doesn’t really move the needle in getting a better job (outside a select few from Udacity who impressed the professors so much they got jobs with Google and other tech companies).

What’s really interesting about Coursera’s shift is not that they’re adjusting their strategy (as with all startups, they need to adapt strategy or else they are unlikely to succeed) but the reasoning. According to the Chronicle article with quotes from Diane Koller “most Coursera users have degrees”. Which suggests that people who don’t have degrees don’t find this idea of education an avenue of inquiry.

The shift from sole content provider to platform for content with a credit broker situation is hopeful. Most districts and institutions have shifting values of what English 101 is constituted of – California’s values are different from, say, Alberta’s or Quebec’s. If Coursera can construct a way for a student from one institution in Bangladesh transfer credits to the University of British Columbia – at a cost of $30 per course – through Coursera’s platform of course – I think the possibilities are quite good that Coursera will make a nice tidy sum. Ivy League institutions may opt out of such setups – there’s no benefit to their image when transfer credit leads to a completion without the student stepping on campus. Where the inroads can be met is when you have a second tier institution who essentially give away their courses to Coursera, and wait for the transfer credit money to roll in.

This scenario doesn’t address what Coursera’s statements are around – making sure people get their first degree. However with immigration being a huge player in Canada’s development, and external accreditation of professionals being talked about for the last twenty years, perhaps this is a gap that’s worth filling. And that is getting people their first degree (in North America).

EDCMOOC Wrap Up and Reflections

I’ve been thinking a fair bit about the EDCMOOC course that was delivered through Coursera and I want to note what I think went right and what could be improved.

Unlike many of the other students, I like messy learning. The sort of thing where you’re overwhelmed with ideas, concepts, thoughts and half-baked ideas, and you muddle through and wrestle with some of the ideas – then pick what you want to focus on, and move forward with that. I wasn’t put off by this approach – it’s a sound pedagogical approach for me, but clearly not everyone is in the same space as I am.

I really, really like Coursera’s peer marking structure (when it works). I would’ve preferred a more robust scale and rubric, as I’m a bit of an easy marker. There were areas that I was stretching for connections to the content, if I had clearer marking objectives, I probably would’ve been able to give better feedback. I don’t think I gave terrible feedback at all, but it would’ve been better had I been able to interpret how the instructors (or facilitators in this case) would’ve liked to see. Again, I know why they chose the path they went down, and I agree with their approach pedagogically, but as a user/student, I needed just a little bit more.

The course has to be considered a success due to the sheer number of resources added to the course – starting out with four videos, and then watching the discussion boards grow with other resources was wild.

I purposefully chose to use other media to contribute, and I’m not sure how successful that approach was – twitter comments I made about the course seemed to be received well; blog posts were less viewed and commented on. I do cultivate my twitter feed much better than my blog, which is a bit sad I suppose. I could’ve pimped my thoughts and ideas through the discussion board (and a good web marketer would’ve probably done that for the positive linkbait it would be) but that felt, well, like a late-night TV commercial… I’m not selling a flowbee or a slapchop, in fact I’m not selling anything.

I was motivated by the piece of paper. I never really thought about it, but I was engaged because of the carrot at the end of the stick. Despite how ultimately worthless another piece of paper is, I wanted it. What can I say? I don’t have enough trophies in my life I guess.

It was interesting to see how many of the people I follow were part of the EDCMOOC – however that didn’t seem to generate any discussion outside of the discussion boards.

I wonder what would happen if all students rejected the peer marking approach. Is that the fault-line that no one will talk about?