Sip tel innovation report 2


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Sip tel innovation report 2

  1. 1. SIP TEL Innovation Report 2: MOOCs Introduction: The topic of this briefing paper is MOOCs (massive open online courses). It describes what they are and where they came from. It provides a summary of current MOOC initiatives together with an assessment of their educational value and potential. The paper will draw on Jisc Advance resources and the outcomes of other Jisc programmes and initiatives. A range of links will be provided to enable drilling down to whatever level of detail is required. In 2010, Dave Cormier1 described how: ... a MOOC integrates the connectivity of social networking, the facilitation of an acknowledged expert in a field of study, and a collection of freely accessible online resources. Perhaps most importantly, however, a MOOC builds on the active engagement of several hundred to several thousand “students” who self-organize their participation according to learning goals, prior knowledge and skills, and common interests. This is scary stuff for traditional campus based academics only familiar with face-to-face classroom based teaching. It is not scary at all for today’s teenagers who live in the world of social networking and already self-organize their participation in the informal learning environment of their daily online social communications. What MOOCs appear to be trying to do is harness this widespread, vibrant but chaotic online social activity and inject a structure that will lead to defined learning outcomes. There is no convincing evidence that this has yet been achieved, but the reality of mass online social communications cannot be ignored in educational planning. A Reflection on Self-organised Learning: When something new comes along that requires new knowledge and skills, it initially tends to develop organically within a self-organised community of committed individuals. Later it becomes more structured and efficient and, when accepted as part of the established educational system; appropriately regulated, validated and funded. A recent example of how this happens in practice can be seen in the development of Hang Gliding as a form of recreational aviation. In the early 1970’s a few pioneers were experimenting with the design of foot-launched gliders based on a relatively primitive grasp of the principles of aeronautics. They shared their experiences and learned from each other, both in terms of glider design and how to fly them. Some of them died when it didn’t work: it was important to learn quickly. As the sport grew, schools were set up by the more experienced pioneers. Gliders were manufactured and sold commercially rather than built in garden sheds. When it came to the attention of the Civil Aviation Authority, regulations were applied. Eventually there were pilot and instructor qualifications established within a national training framework. But the point is that it started with self-organised learning by learners. There were emerging experts amongst the learners, but there were no teachers but themselves. The description of MOOCs by Dave Cormier reflects this early stage in development and implies that 1
  2. 2. perhaps it will remain this way. History suggests otherwise in the context of established educational systems, but there is always the possibility that this may actually be a game changer. Boven2 comments that since MOOCs are so new and have been the subject of such little research, it is difficult to say exactly how their story will play out. He notes that in the same way, the principles of Bell3 in the 19th century presaged a world in which education was seen as something attainable by anyone in society regardless of means or method of access. It never really worked out in the way he envisaged. It remains to be seen whether MOOCs really represent a turning point in open educational opportunities for higher education, or whether they also are just another attractive, but unsustainable idea. There are several cases of universities that were founded without walls that have now become standard public universities, the UK Open University4 being a prime example. The existing system has simply accommodated these new players in the game of higher education without succumbing to the predicted earth-shattering changes. Perhaps MOOCs, if the concept proves durable, will be equally absorbed into the educational mix. An alternative view might be that the popular conception of a MOOC as an educational course is applying a formal structure in an entirely inappropriate way to what is actually a fine vehicle for informal online learning and, in doing so, risks nullifying the potential benefits. The principles of Connectivism outlined by George Siemens and Stephen Downes5 are worth reflecting on in this context. It was, after all, the subject of the first MOOC: Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions. Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources. Learning may reside in non-human appliances. Learning is more critical than knowing. Maintaining and nurturing connections is needed to facilitate continual learning. Perceiving connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill. Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of learning activities. Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision. This is all about learning communities and being an individual in the learning community who is both a learner and a teacher. That is what the web facilitates and is why Google and Wikipedia and the other online gateways to learning resources have become so influential. The final bullet point above may be considered to be the most important. It asserts that for effective learning the online learners must be confident decision makers. In other words they must have effective research skills and the ability to select the best resources and exploit them to achieve their learning goals. 2 3 4 5
  3. 3. Such skills are not just the preserve of the postgraduate community. They are easily assimilated and applied by children as soon as they gain access to the Internet and their various mobile devices. But it does point to an entirely new pedagogy that is no longer based on the classroom broadcast model. What MOOCs should not do, and it is not clear that this has yet been recognised, is to replicate the broadcast model rather than create a new pedagogic approach that supports self-organised learning. The current Ancient Greek Hero MOOC at Harvard, for example, worthy and intellectually stimulating that it is under the inspirational delivery by Nagy6 , still retains the structure of a broadcast course. MOOC principles derive from the reality of open educational resources. The Internet has created an online environment for learners where learning materials in any subject area are freely accessible. This naturally leads to a scenario where the key skills for learners are in the learning process itself. It changes the role of the academic from a subject expert to a guide in the effective acquisition of skills and knowledge regardless of subject. That is not to say that subject experts are not needed, only that their role has changed. In higher education they remain as the researchers and developers of new knowledge. However, from as teaching point of view, perhaps a reflection on the medieval apprenticeship system may be appropriate: students learning by doing in the presence of experts. The Current MOOC Landscape: Yuan and Powell from Jisc-CETIS published a white paper7 in 2013 that provides an excellent summary and critical assessment of the development and future potential of MOOCS. It notes how they are a relatively recent development launched in 2008 with the Connectivism and Connected Knowledge course8 by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. They comment on the distinction between the connectivist approach, outlined above (cMOOCs), and what has been described as the content-based approach (xMOOCS) which reflects the conventional institutional delivery model. It further distinguishes between the for-profit and non-profit models for MOOCs and the rationale behind the business models for each. This nascent delineation is perhaps to be expected but may distract from the more important debate about the nature and future of MOOCs themselves. MOOC delivery platforms have emerged, largely through collaboration between institutions and the injection of venture/philanthropic9 funding. This again risks missing the point, perhaps being stuck in the history of locally owned and managed servers and systems. However, if the local servers and systems are viewed as incrementally adding to a global shared computing capacity then an entirely new vision is enabled. This of course underpins the whole Cloud Computing10 concept. Prominent amongst the leading MOOC providers is edX11 , a non-profit organisation hosted by MIT and Harvard University. The whole OER movement, of course, was precipitated by MIT when they made all their course materials freely available online12 in 2002. I’m 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
  4. 4. currently participating in an edX MOOC which is disappointingly structured as a large scale, lecture based, talking-heads course. The lecturer is excellent, but so much is being missed by not exploiting the capacity to present a variety of rich content. Another prime mover in the MOOC arena is Coursera13 , which is is a for-profit company with a range of courses offered by a (growing) global partnership of 83 institutions including the University of Edinburgh. It espouses a world-wide, world class education underpinned by sound pedagogic principles and includes peer assessment as part of the learning mix. I completed the Edinburgh Coursera course on e-Learning and Digital Cultures and concluded that it was: 1. A taster course for learners intended to promote the online delivery offer; 2. A toe dip in the water for the university itself, rather unsure of how successful it would be. It sort of worked, although I’m not sure I learned anything. I was impressed by the peer assessment process, however, and feel that this may be an important and pragmatic component of future MOOC courses that are quality assured and credit bearing. The UK Open University has set up FutureLearn14 as a private company with a range of institutional partners to deliver MOOCs. FutureLearn has yet to be launched, but is promoted as an extension of the OU OpenLearn provision which is already making a wide range of teaching resources freely available online. The current website is clearly a marketing vehicle, though detail of what will be offered is lacking and the marketing message is weak as a result. It doesn’t inspire confidence in the initiative being a successful venture, which is surprising for an institution with so much experience in distance learning and renowned for its innovation. There are a number of other players in the frame15,16,17,18 some of which are for-profit, others not. The business model for future sustainability is not clear at all at present, the current initiatives being mainly supported through project funding or venture capital. There is a rather woolly aspirational mix, in the literature and dialogue, of altruistic free education for all coupled with anticipated spin-off paid for services including tutor support, assessment and award of qualifications. Nothing that has been said so far about sustainability and a viable business model for Moocs that is particularly convincing, but there is an element of inevitability about the whole MOOC/OER development that tells us a sustainable business model will eventually emerge. There may be some burned fingers on the way, however. Jisc Advance resources on MOOCs Jisc Infonet has assembled a useful collection of articles about MOOCs19 including reference to IP and copyright issues that need to be considered20 . Amongst the resources referenced 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
  5. 5. is an article from Universities UK that provides a detailed HE viewpoint of current developments21 . This article provides a useful summary of the main global players in the market and their funding arrangements. It also comments on a range of issues central to the debate about MOOCs, including pedagogy, potential business models and academic accreditation. Some concluding remarks about educational value and potential: There can be no doubt that the affordances of the Internet, in terms of providing access to learning resources and learning support, will transform the educational landscape. The traditional educational culture will resist, of course, but eventually young teachers who grew up in the online environment will become the educational designers, institutional managers and policy makers of the future. They will continue, of course, to promote the educational values, principles and practices of Socrates, Pythagoras, and all those other inspirational pedagogical innovators that followed over the millennia. However, they will now be working in a new social communications environment and will have access to a completely new set of tools and can adapt their teaching practices accordingly. That is not to say that MOOCs are automatically a good thing. The jury is still out on that one. Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. However, the fact that there is capacity, through the Internet, to facilitate learning on a massive scale demands serious consideration both in terms of the potential benefits and the necessary changes to conventional course design and delivery to cope with it. These considerations include: The fact that we are talking about courses. This immediately ties the process to the conventional teaching process and structure and may be the root of the problem that many people have in visioning how it will work and why it has value. If we talked about learning then that immediately changes the emphasis and the agenda; Design and delivery. By calling it a course, it implies for most people structured sequential delivery, a quality assured process, formal assessment and, finally, certification. The problem is that although the sequential delivery process is there in most MOOCs, the other components are not. People are therefore confused because they are used to conventional courses being focussed on achieving qualifications, rather than enhancing learning; Massively Open Online Learning. Now we’re talking about a learning journey, not a qualification journey. We can start thinking of the global Internet itself being the institution, the community of learners and the community of teachers. We are back to self-organised learning, to common learning goals, to co-learners and co-teachers. So what does this mean in practice, and what does it mean for the future of MOOCs? Well the principles of Connectivism outlined earlier are a good start to answering this question. We need to be thinking of learning and the accreditation of learning as two completely separate things. Massively Open Online Learning (MOOL) will facilitate the learning with the extent of the learning goals determined by the learner. Academic institutions can offer assistive services 21
  6. 6. here, including tutor support. If the learner wishes to have their learning formally recognised, they can submit for examination in a manner approved by the validating institution. As noted earlier, there has been considerable discussion about a viable business model for MOOCs and a conclusion that may be drawn is that MOOL is a more accurate descriptor and that supportive and validating services should form the basis of a business model. The more prestigious institutions are likely to be the most commercially successful in this regard. Tony Toole July 2013