What the MOOC?!

Based on ‘la vaca de los sinvaca’ by José Bogado

Coursera…edX…Udacity…Khan Academy. Lately it seems you can’t escape the talk about MOOCs. And when it comes to opinions,  people seem to be either fanatics or fearmongers. This makes me wonder if any of the folks writing about MOOCs have actually enrolled in one. So I decided that before I spout an opinion, I’d better try one out first. I recently enrolled in a Coursera course on Critical Thinking, and have peeked into a few more (by enrolling and un-enrolling). I was looking at them from a few different perspectives: instructional designer, student, and blended librarian.

From an instructional designer perspective, my first impression was “what’s the big deal here?” They are not that different from any other online course except for the fact that they are free and open to the public. They utilize an LMS-style design complete with a pretty traditional online format of video lectures (I must admit, well-produced), automated quizzes, and discussion forums. I think in the experimental development of MOOCs, innovative instructional design should be the first and foremost priority. After all, if the real goal is to provide effective instruction simultaneously to the masses, you need to experiment with new technology tools (e.g. automated essay grading) and pedagogies (e.g. gaming). That said, I think we all know that the real goal of MOOCs like Coursera, et al. is brand-extension.

From a student’s perspective, the course I enrolled in isn’t particularly rigorous – a 3-4 hour weekly workload estimation. So far I have been able to complete the weekly assigned lectures, quizzes and homework in about one hour. Some of the others appear to be more rigorous. What is interesting is that a lot of the students – at least those enrolled in my course – aren’t your traditional college students. They range in age from high school to senior citizen. MOOCs seem to attract the independent, lifelong learners out there. And that’s a good thing. On the other hand, for traditional credit-seeking students, the rigor is inconsistent and assessment is problematic – automated quizzes work fine for some subjects, but peer review, not so much. Read this scathing analysis by an instructor who took two Coursera courses.

From a blended librarian’s perspective, I examined the role librarians should be playing in a MOOC. I believe there should definitely be a librarian on the design team for an institution’s MOOC. Though, at this point in the MOOC game, I think that role should be limited to the contribution of open access resources, copyright guidance and input on integrating IL skills into assignments. I know some librarians have shown interest in being embedded in MOOCs, but the design of MOOCs needs to be further developed to better clarify the role of embedded librarians. On the other hand, for librarians who enjoy “slamming the boards,” by all means get out there and experiment with “slamming the MOOCs!” Another role for librarians in MOOCs might be in designing a MOOC that teaches new media literacy skills. Food for thought.

Are MOOCs here to stay? In some form or other, I say yes. However, with everyone joining the gold rush, there is currently a lot of “blind leading the blind.” I predict only the strong and well-funded will survive. The strong will be the MOOCs designed by the most innovative groups and utilizing the best research-based practices. The well-funded will be the elite institutions, and those that can attract the most lucrative sponsorships. If nothing else, I hope that this MOOC craze will help transform higher education into something better and more affordable than its current state.

Looking for a listing of MOOCs? Try CourseBuffet

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