Power Structure in MOOCs

I’ve thought about power in it’s relationship to students a lot. When I taught I was always uncomfortable with the idea of telling someone something, and having no one question it because I stood at the  front of the room. It’s the biggest reason I left “teaching”. In the greatest irony, now I run training… anyways, it seems like that power structure is nigh impossible to subvert. I had hopes when MOOCs started to appear because it seems like the self-empowerment idea on steroids – but in most instances the students are guided/forced to learn things. At the end (and there’s always a start and end to these things), the instructor via the marking of the computer, puts a stamp on your booklet, and you’ve completed the course. These kinds of MOOCs do very little to disrupt the notion of power in a “classroom”, in fact they reinforce the existing power structure entirely. I reckon it’s because we replicate the environments we know online, we have a “semester” or course start and end dates, we have teacher telling us what to do, and in what order to do them in. We follow lockstep, because that’s the role we expect to be in.

There’s the more connectivist MOOCs, and these seem a little more freeform. I know that in the Connectivist and Connective Knowledge and DS106 models, there’s more empowerment. Still, there’s George and Stephen, or Jim, Alan and Martha at the heads of those MOOCs. Those mentioned will really balk at my idea of them being at the head of those courses and will point to the many others that make them happen (in front of the proverbial curtain and behind), and my statement isn’t intended as a slight against them. The personalities of those contributors are key in driving people to those ideas within those courses/events/happenings.  Within that structure, people will look to those who champion the idea to guide how they experience it. How does one break that implicit power structure?

I think the next step in breaking the power structure is to set up an open course on a loose subject and have people set their own objectives. Guidance should be given on how to set good objectives, and other’s objectives should be ranked/rated using the Coursera peer marking strategy (except up the number of people marking to 5 or 6 to improve the reliability of the results). So if you set up a too easy, or too difficult to manage objective, the crowd can give you feedback on how to challenge yourself or how to manage your expectations. Scalable is important… then students use the tools they have to to find and aggregate content. Using the DS106 model, they can design their own assignments and periodically submit them for peer marking.  Pull in Howard Rheingold’s work with information reliability on the Internet. Really, the whole thing becomes crowd sourced, content, marking, assessment, how to assess your own learning, setting your own goals, creating your submissions.. everything.

Of course, all this pipe dreaming is predicated on the open web staying open. As copyright lawyers seem intent on locking down information behind paywalls, this approach may not be possible. Hell, it may not be possible now…

Reflections on The Changing Role of The Teacher – Week 9

CCK08 – Part of this concept is explained in my previous post, “Paper” #2 for the CCK08 course. I’ve read some others’ papers (Lisa’s, Maru’s) and probably realized that I went in a different direction than maybe I’d wished. The benefits of hindsight, no? There was a lot of discussion about how teachers are going to give up their instructional power (and I’m sure a lot of teachers will point out that they are not as powerful as maybe this course suggests and that the curriculum designers and administrators of the higher education institutions are really the power mongers…) and transform into any number of possible titles.

Oh, how beautiful that concept would be. The reality of the situation is that this isn’t going to be an overnight process. Which is unfortunate, because by the time we get around to it, the moment will have passed and there will be yet another theory to replace connectivism et al. Schools are mostly still in a didactic, lecture first, ask questions later mode. In fact, that phrase makes me think of “Kill ‘Em All, Let God Sort ‘Em Out” t-shirts hanging in the head shops of the 80’s. Maybe a t-shirt with a very suit-and-tie lecturer holding up a pointer stick with the tip smoking, with “Lecture First, Ask Questions Later” on the front and “Fail ‘Em All, Let Admissions Sort ‘Em Out” on the back. 

I digress. I also went for  a job interview yesterday, which was interesting because the position was for a tech support-like, e-learning position at a university. The support would be for a strictly problem based learning program. During the interview I was always mentally aware that “oh yeah, I have to remember to think of a program, not a distinct course…”. So there are places that are doing this decentralization of learning, shifting the teaching from the teacher to the learner. Was really a great interview from my perspective, I learned a ton about how things can work.

The changing role of the teacher will always be tied to the power issue, who has it, what are they willing to give up to others’ and are they set on keeping it.