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MOOCs Boldly Go Where We've Never Been Before!

Credit: Photo by Giulia Forsythe under a 
CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 License

The internet sustains an educator's need to be a life-long learner, to create, share, network and collaborate with others. MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses can provide educators with the means to boldly create and engage with one another for professional and personal development like they've never done before. MOOCs are FREE online courses offered by reputable universities around the world. Anyone can sign up and pay nothing. As a matter of fact, I signed up for a course on E-learning and Digital Cultures taught by the University of Edinburgh that begins January 28th, 2013...paid nothing! (If you want to join me, please sign up. I would love to engage more personally with my followers.)

I can't wait to create my own content, and also interact with my teachers and peers globally to see how they will influence the content and products I will create. MOOCs are different than traditional courses, many following the connectivist learning model, where the learner is in control, and many still being more teacher-centered. In the connectivist MOOCs, or cMOOC, the instructor acts as a facilitator, a coach who models proper online communication, helps learners identify credible content among other roles, but does not "pave the path" for what or how students will learn. Yes, the instructor sets learning goals for students to meet at the end of the course, but it's up to the student to decide if and how those goals are met. For students who enroll in a MOOC for credit, the instructor will be the assessor, as in a traditional class, but for non paying, not for credit participants, the learner both self-assesses and is peer assessed.  The instructor provides specific readings and other content, but this teacher selected content is meant to spark conversations among learners, prompting learners to take charge of their own learning. Learners set out to build their own personal learning networks searching for credible content via various credible sources to share with other learners.  Learners organize the variety of credible content found and prove they've made sense of it all by  creating original digital content in the form of learning spaces, such as a blog, wiki, video, social media, etc. showing what they have learned so everyone can then learn from it.


Although it may sound like learning is haphazard, it's not because the theory behind learning in a connectivist MOOC, or cMOOC, contends there is always chaos in learning, and part of the learning process is for the learner to find effective ways to make sense of that chaos. Learning should be an ongoing process that never ends the way it does now in traditional courses; learning never stops if we continue to have conversations by blogging, tweeting, emailing, videocasting, and creating digital content about the topics and subtopics we set out to learn in the first place (Watch George Siemens, cMOOC pioneer explain.)

It may sound a bit confusing, but just think how learning takes place now. Let's say we're taking a class about incorporating problem based learning in our curriculums. In a traditional course, the teacher selects the content, students read, discuss, and may even create a product, but the learning stops once the course objectives chosen by the school or teacher have been met.  The interaction with fellow students is finite, and the teacher and the texts he/she select are the only sources for learners to acquire knowledge.  

In a cMOOC, knowledge comes from many credible sources, and learning about the original subject becomes infinite since students create their own original space to learn, whether it be wikis, Twitter hashtags, blogs, videos, FaceBook group pages, Google Hangouts, etc. The interaction about and around the original topics never ends because the students create content in these learning spaces based on the knowledge they gain from the networking experience. Isn't this what life long learning is all about? Passionately pursuing a subject in as much depth as possible and learning not just from one source or from one person, but from a MASSIVE group of people's sources and perspectives?  Connectivist MOOCs use aggregation tools to organize participants' individual learning spaces so that students can make sense of it all and then create their own valid digital interpretation.   

George Siemens, cMOOCs pioneer explains, "The content isn't what you're supposed to master at the starting point; the content we provide you with at the start should be the catalyst for you to converse to form connections with other learners in the course, with other academics around the world. To essentially use the content as a conduit for connections." 

Now, as excited as I am about taking my first Massive Open Online Course, I understand from my research that MOOCs aren't perfect, nothing ever is, and I accept that. From what I've read online, it appears that the Coursera course I'm enrolled in will be more teacher centered, or xMOOC, following a more traditional approach where the learners consume the information from   several sources, but don't necessarily get to create an original product. However, whatever my MOOC turns out to be, connectivist or traditional, I think what's perfect about any type of MOOC, for now, is the fact that learning is open and free, monetarily (also, at least for now) and intellectually. I hope I get to choose how I synthesize what I learn, and how I network with participants through a blog, wiki, videocasts, social media or whatever digital format I want. Dave Cormier, another MOOC pioneer who coined the term MOOC, says, "In a MOOC, YOU can choose what you do, how YOU participate, and only YOU can tell, in the end, if you've been successful, just like real life."

What I don't get about MOOCs is why educators haven't leveraged the power of this technology to improve the quality of professional development. I guess the answer to my question is the same as why so many still don't incorporate tech in their classrooms. We really have no excuse now, the power to improve our content knowledge and even our teaching methods is instantly available at no cost.

Whether connectivist or not, I would also love to see MOOCs disrupt the status quo in higher education, so once and for all we realize a test score doesn't determine a student's intellectual worth; there are a gazillion and one ways of learning something, as much as there are a gazillion different sources and presentation formats for the same topic; above all, MOOCs prove every student is worthy of the opportunity for global-networking, problem-solving, and creation to make a valuable contribution in a medium of choice to further his/her learning and the world's.  


Check out the video with Dave Cormier explaining how MOOCs work:

 


Here are some MOOCs you may want to explore for yourself or to recommend to older students:

Venture-lab-Learn from Standford Professors, for FREE
  • Some MOOCs have prerequisites; some don't.
  • MOOCs may use both synchronous and asynchronous tools.
  • cMOOCs encourage students to engage with both teacher and student selected materials throughout the course. The teacher and student select digital content, such videos, guest speakers, blogs, tweets, articles, FB discussions, emails, etc. are meant to spark conversations and interactions so learners can in turn create original content.  The content is aggregated so "the massive" group can then "re-mix" the information, creating a solution, product, or outcome.  
  • When participants pay for the MOOC since some students do sign up for college credit, then the learning outcomes are set by the instructor, but when you enroll in a MOOC for no credit, you determine your own learning outcomes. You assess if you met your learning goals, and your peers in the class evaluate you through the level of engagement you receive on your culminating or ongoing digital product.


As a teacher there are learning management systems allowing you to create your own MOOC like courses. Visit Canvas-Instructure.  I'm working on creating a course now for sharing my ideas on problem/passion based learning. Look for a future blog post about this.


Success in a MOOC Requires YOU to:

"ORIENT, DECLARE, NETWORK, CLUSTER, FOCUS"

Watch Dave Cormier explain how:
 


The Networked Student In a MOOC



Learning Spaces: Teacher Centered VS. Student Centered Instruction in MOOCs

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