The Web of The Future

Sometimes I miss the early days of the Web 2.0 craze. In a lot of ways, it was what spawned this website in the first place, where we used to have several contributors that would dig into the latest website looking to make it big on the Web 2.0 craze. It was always fun to see what new, weird mixes of ideas were coming along to challenge MySpace (remember them?).

I also remember all of the speculation about Web 3.0… which seems silly to even say a term like that now. But when I hear people talking about the future of the Learning Management System, or a what a true MOOC platform would look like, or our need to create an actual Personal Learning Environment tool, part of me likes to go back to those days of dreaming big and seeing what trickles out.

What of the future of the LMS/MOOC/PLE platform world isn’t one specific software design, but the next evolution of the Internet?

Before there was a “Web 2.0,” people were kind of just happy consuming content online. When they were made aware of the fact they could contribute content easily, people jumped on that opportunity left and right. But to be honest, even though the ability to do that existed for a long time before the Web 2.0 “revolution” happened, the execution was often clunky or odd. The true Web 2.0 “revolution” was about making it easier for the masses to join in. And, of course, certain other factors like the rise of high-speed internet and faster processing power helped immensely. But few people sat around wishing it would happen – it just seemed to appear overnight, fueled by a few skilled visionaries.

What if the next “revolution” in the Internet gives people the ability to remix the web itself? For example, if you wanted a site that had certain features of Facebook, a few Twitter options, the ability to interface with email, and the look of Tumblr, you would just click a few boxes and – Presto! – instant custom web platform for your specific purposes.

In a way, you can do a lot of this already if you know some serious coding. Or you want to tear apart WordPress or Drupal or some other open-source program. But what if someday we get the “Web 2.0-moment” where all of a sudden we can remix the Internet at will?

What this could mean is that we would have no one specific platform to rule over all LMS/MOOC/PLE needs. When you really think about it, the push to figure out what a MOOC platform “should” look like has a bit of a One Ring feel to it.

What if every instructor could remix tools to create whatever platform they needed for their class? What if students could remix tools to create whatever platform they wanted to learn through? Take the friend request function from Facebook, rename it “learn request”, mix it with the Twitter feed and hashtags, mix in some Tumblr magic for easy re-sharing, plug-in Digg’s ability to tag and comment on things, add Disqus ability to port comments across sites, and whip it together with Google’s search algorithms to help you find certain things in the mass stream and BOOM – there is your PLE that you plop onto your own domain. Or this remix is your “course” /community that you deliver your class through.

People are talking about remixing content – which is great idea. But I want to be able to remix the Web itself. And I want a quick, easy interface to be able to do so on the fly. And then change it next semester if I need to.

The Biggest MOOC Ever? NARC101: The Thought Processes of the Individual at This Moment in Time

A few more random thoughts from the MRI13 conference. Which probably won’t be the last. One of the ideas explored at the conference was that “course” is really a bad descriptor for open learning. “Community” would be a closer idea, especially if it is one that can continue after the official “course” end date passes. We also know that many cMOOCs rely as much on informal learning as they do formal learning. Some are even going into completely student-directed learning such as the DS106 Headless course.

Now, I’m not trying to say that we should get rid of instructors or SMEs or guides or what ever you want to refer to basically the person in charge. But the general direction of most good MOOCs are towards being community-oriented  gatherings for people to learn formally and informally with as much student-involvement/leadership as possible. As I was pondering this, something about it seemed really familiar. As if I had been a part of this for a long time and didn’t realize it. Then it hit me – we have all been a part of some of the largest MOOCs ever for a long time and may have not even realized it.

Facebook. Twitter. Tumblr. You name the social network. They are all… MOOCs.

Take Facebook for example. It is massive. It is open and online (and not just in the sense of free and digital). It is a community. And we are all learning things – whether it is informally about what our cousin had for dinner or a formal bit of knowledge that is similar to what we would find in college. Just today I watched a video about creating aluminum sculptures out of fire ant mounds. I probably saw a dozen creative videos just like this is some of my college art classes. Scrolling down my  feed just now I see at least a dozen things that would have counted as content back in college. And hundreds of other things that wouldn’t, but still count as informal learning.

But Facebook itself is completely learner-centered. There is no teacher dictating the content – we all get to share whatever we want. Or maybe Zuckerberg does see Facebook as course (NARC101: The Thought Processes of the Individual at This Moment in Time). Maybe “what are you doing right now?” IS the learning topic of any given social network.

Anyway, I am sure that I am not the first to think of this, and I know there are holes in my analogy. But what I really want to get at is this: what can we learn from Facebook and Twitter and other social networks about what it means to be in a massive, open, online, learner-centered community? Yes, I know that Facebook is not open in the sense of DS106 and supporting ideas of owning your own digital identity. But I think we can learn some things about how people interact in massive open online communities, what kind of interfaces they like, what they don’t like (especially when Facebook makes one of its infamous flubs), etc. I don’t have any specific thoughts off the top of my head in that area, but I’m sure I will soon :)

Give Me an M! Give Me a C! Blah Blah Blah To All This Theory!

So, yeah, there was this little conference that kind of became a big deal in Arlington right down the road from where I work. The MOOC Research Initiative exploded from the get go when people realized it wasn’t just another “death to the universities!” propaganda event. Well, many of us expected Jim Groom to open some minds at the opening keynote – but he went beyond that. It was more like a great disturbance in the force, with a hundred minds being blown by awesomeness and then suddenly silenced by possibilities they had never imagined. And the awesome continued through the other keynotes, presentations, funny-but-thought-provoking quips by George Siemens in between events, and keen observations on Twitter.

There were two things I noticed at the conference. One is that some of my biggest problems with xMOOCs in the past has been the sense that the people pushing them are focusing too much on the M and C and not understanding the O’s at all. Many people pointed out at MRI13 that “course” is not really the best metaphor for describing a MOOC. Community is a much better idea. But if you are focusing too much on making a “course” and forgetting the community…. you are just re-creating a 1990’s online course rookie mistake.

And how can I condense most problems with the hype about Massive in less that a book? Why does everyone focus so much on how these “courses” can scale up? Why aren’t you worried if they scale down to smaller “courses”? Is your “course” really that good if it has to have 2000 students to work? If it was really a good “course”, wouldn’t it work just as well with 20? But than again, how far is too far on scaling down? I have been in xMOOCs that would work best with 1 student (because that would make it more of a self-guided mentorship). If you course works best with one student rather than 100,000 – you have yet another big problems.

Too many xMOOCs (and even a handful of cMOOCs) completely misuse the Open and Online part of MOOC. They tend to think that Free and Digital means Open and Online. As many people at MRI13 pointed out, Open is not just “Free.” If content can’t be remixed, its not open. If the design process is not open to allow students to contribute, its not open. If the content is still stuck in your proprietary delivery system, it is still just an LMS on steroids, even if you let everyone get in.

And finally, Online. Look, making content digital and putting it on the webs is not all there is to being Online. The web is a networked, interactive, social community. If your “course” is basically a digital version of a lecture hall that is put on the web, your “course” is not truly Online. Its just digitized bad pedagogy.

Which bring me to theory – the second thing I noticed. As Martin Weller points out, several people were suggesting that we move past theory or that theory no longer matters. That might be true if more people were actually getting the theory behind MOOCs correct in the first place. I rarely hear things like Heutagogy and Sociocultural Theory mentioned at these conferences even though they are really what we need to be focusing on. So the its not that we need to move past theory – its that we really haven’t touched on theory enough. There is so much confusion over the research results because we don’t have a strong enough theoretical base to frame the research and data properly in many cases.

Look at it this way. Pedagogy and Andragogy focus on structured education. MOOCs tap into personal learning networks and all types of unstructured informal learning. Heutagogy focuses on learning how to learn, double loop learning, universal learning opportunities, a non-linear process, and true learner self-direction. Pedagogy and Andragogy focus on creating “courses.” Sociocultural theory, when used in education, looks at the effect of communities and cultures on learning.  When we continue to talk about Pedagogy and Andragogy, we are framing the conversation with concepts that no longer fully apply. There are strains of both in MOOCs to be sure, but MOOCs have also moved way past those basic concepts.

Another thing I noticed – while reading the Twitter stream and thinking “who wrote that awesome post” or “who is this cool person” I was shocked to see people in my own Ph.D. program that I have never met! This made me realize that for the most part, we are still thinking of MOOCs and courses as silos that don’t interact with other courses. The colleagues of mine are probably in the online cohort, which I never get to interact with. Or at least in some other courses that I haven’t taken yet. But why do we not have online cohorts interacting and learning with residence courses? Why are we not interacting with and learning from other universities that are offering similar courses? Why are we so isolated in our courses? Can the Massive part of MOOC also describe the scale of who we interact with? A Massive conglomerate of people that are learning the same topic? I don’t know if that is a problem with Massive or Open or both… but something that seems to get missed in all but a few cMOOCs.

My only other regret from MRI13 was that I missed so much due to the ice storm. Jim Groom and I never got to go grab TexMex and go thrashing (skateboarding for you posers out there) in downtown Arlington. Letting ice stop you is for wimps. I also hear that Shirley Alexander, Bonnie Stewart, Amy Collier, and Tanya Joosten killed it during their panel – wish I could have caught that. I also couldn’t track down Blacktimelord and other people that looked really cool by their Twitter profiles. But I did get to see some people speak that I had never heard before. I ran into old co-workers and bosses that are still staying a part of the emerging conversation. I found out that George Siemens in now officially a co-worker, with a temp office two doors down from mine. Of course, he is leading a project that Harriet and I proposed over 5 years ago and were told it was too radical and out there for UTA to ever go for…. so I’ll try not to be bitter :) A prophet is not welcome in their own hometown after all. At least I have found other Universities here that want to work on my ideas – I was being quite literal in this post when I said I was working on some of those ideas :) I have come to accept my role as squeaky wheel on the edge of things that most people ignore because I am constantly questioning every thing.

Oh yeah – there was also Stephen Downes on a steer. I really like Stephen even though he occasionally misunderstands what I’m blogging about :) I wish I had gotten a chance to meet him and pick his brain of all the awesomeness that is in there. I’m also glad he is finally realizing that xMOOCs are different than his vision of MOOCs.

We really need to do this again or keep the momentum going or something.

MOOCs are Actually a Pretty Ancient Idea

With the upcoming MOOC Research Initiative Conference starting tomorrow (or today for the pre-conference cool kids), I wonder how much attention will be given to the history of MOOCs? Seems that most people only go back to the 1980s – or maybe even the 1920s or 1890s – for the roots of the ideas behind MOOCs. Lately I have been pondering if that is not far enough.

The truth is, the idea of free, open massive courses that are shared through whatever “lines” of communication were available as well as through personal learning networks goes back for centuries. Many, many centuries. Not with me? Let’s look at the Bible.

Now, whatever you think of religion, hang with me for a second. Jesus Christ would teach in open areas where anyone could join the class and interact with other participants. People would hear those teachings and then go out and tell others. Paul would write letters and then tell the recipients to read his teachings aloud at meetings and then have his “learners” send the writings to other cities so that others could read them. Paul would also go to public areas and teach his lessons and then people would leave to debate these teachings elsewhere. Of course, this was really just a part of the Greco-Roman society at the time – open air gathering places where anyone could stand up, teach, and then the crowds would debate with each other or even the teacher. People would come back to learn more or even request that teachers come to their town to share. Some would even take ideas they heard and teach it themselves in their own meeting places.

Sure, the “lines” of distribution were much slower that our current internet “lines,” but all of this was still an early version of “online.” These “lines” were just dusty stone-paved roads and verbal communications instead of electronic fiber-optics and digital interactions. But the massive and open part of these “courses” still existed.

Not to mention that I am being ethnocentric for brevity sake here – many other cultures and religions had open teaching through whatever means they had at the time. As long as people have been able to write, teachings were copied down and passed on to those that wanted to learn. And what about the pre-historic oral societies before that? Were cave paintings the original MOOCs?

I haven’t studied it yet, but I am starting to wonder if our closed educational systems based on one-way knowledge transmission are more of a modern anomaly than historical norm. Even if not, a historical look at the true history of massive open learning delivered through whatever was on “line” at the time is long over due.

Disruptions: If You Announce It, They Won’t Come

Everyone thought the iPhone would flop. That same group of “everyone” also thought that Google Wave would kill email and disrupt how we communicate online.

One thing I have learned in my few years in Ed Tech is that the “everyones” are usually dead wrong. If you announce a disruption before it happens, it usually doesn’t. I would argue that something is technically not disruptive if you actually see it coming. That seems to be against the very definition of the word disruption.

So I guess Coursera jumped the shark today and did what I have predicted for a while. But as Alex Usher says in the article, “nobody ever got rich telling people that the revolution wasn’t coming.” Amen to that. For the record, I personally would like to see disruption in the higher ed field. I just don’t think the current ideas that are getting press are going to do it.

Instead, I like to look to things like University of Mary Washington’s work with Jim Groom and company.  The right Reverend Groom is often the public face of the whole movement, but he freely gives credit to many on his team. I want to ponder for a minute what the team is doing:

Domain of One’s Own. Wow. I mean – talk about massive. Look, anyone can attract hundreds of thousands of people by giving stuff away for free. I could pack dirt in plastic bags and still give away thousands if I advertise it is free. To me, the whole “M” in xMOOCs is pure gimmick because it is free. And you want to pat yourself on the back for attracting big crowds? Try starting something like Domain of One’s Own – that is massive in scope (even if few sign up for it). Everyone gets a space of their own to control their own online presence? Massive. Don’t give me free stuff that attracts thousands of sheep all to do the same cookie cutter thing. That’s not education. That is factoid distribution.

UMW Blogs. So you open your course up to anyone and you think that is the be-all-end-all to openness online? Hogwash, as they used to say. I can do that with a few clicks in Blackboard, Moodle, Desire2Learn, or any other LMS. If you still have one controlled access point to the content, there is still a feeling of being closed in. When content creation is as open as the distribution, then that is getting closer to true openness online. Giving people a blogging platform to create content and present as they want? Yes. Sticking a bunch of videos of one star professor speaking online for everyone to watch? Not quite.

DS106. I have said it before and I will say it again: digitizing bad pedagogy is not a revolution. It is borg assimilation. Online courses should be dynamic just like the platform they utilize (the interwebs). They should be different every time they are offered, they should be open, distributive, innovative, and… well… they should be like ds106. To me, xMOOCs seem like they are just sticking the same old same old in a box that will stay the same for everyone taking them, but just open up the door for anyone that wants to come in. Sound familiar?

ThinkLab. This, to me, is the ace-in-hole that many innovators are missing. Basically, a place to experiment with new ideas. They have a 3D printer for crying out loud! I would like to see it expand to online experimentation – but so much of that is going on with the other three that it is probably not necessary. Harriet and I have been championing an experiential space to explore emerging technology in education for years now at conferences and other venues, but mostly this has been falling on deaf ears. Glad to see someone out there is actually open to the idea.

To be honest, what UMW is doing is truly the logical extension of cMOOCs – the original flavor of MOOCs that got lost in the general conversation. Which is a good thing, because I would hate to see what would have happened to cMOOCs if the “everyones” got a hold of it instead the underdogs. Or maybe xMOOCs are what happened when the “everyones” stepped in?

I’m Still Confused as to Why Lecture Hall Classes Are Bad and xMOOCs Are Good?

To this day, you still read about people condemning the stereotypical “lecture hall” college classroom. Herd hundreds of students in a room, have a lecturer spew knowledge out on them for an hour, test, repeat – there is your class. This concept is labeled as “bad” because it just enforces the “sage on the stage” model with no interaction, no problem solving skills, no deeper learning, no life application, etc. And I would agree with the critics of this model that it is bad pedagogy.

But stick this exact same model online and get enough media hype about it and suddenly it is a good idea? I’m confused.

Sure, open learning is a great idea. And obviously I like online learning. But open online learning based on bad pedagogy is still just as bad as the lecture hall class that uses the same pedagogical model.

Of course, I have been labeled a Luddite just for questioning the almighty xMOOC… but I am glad to see others are starting to do the same. The hype cycle for xMOOCs is still following the same path that the cycles for Google Wave and Second Life followed.

“But it gives people that can’t afford college in developing countries a chance to get an education!”

So…. what is wrong for the rich kids at Universities is okay for the poor people of the world? Someone that pays a lot of money can complain about bad course design and being herded like cattle through a system – but people in India and inner city America should just be happy to get whatever crap we toss their way?

Look – I love new ideas and deconstructing the university as much as the next EduGeek. But we still have to recognize bad design when we see it and call it out. And I am glad that there are still scholars sounding alarms about where technology is taking us. I don’t always agree with the alarms they sound, but they raise good questions in an age when many of the public figureheads of “ed tech innovation” seem to be afraid to step out of the corporate line. It seems like you have to love it or hate it…. with discussion and disagreement all lumped into the “hate it” category. You can read the comments on pretty much any article on The Chronicle that questions anything coming out of the corporate sector to see that people don’t know how to respectfully disagree or even realize that sometimes it is good to question everything.

“Question everything.” Give me a minute to let out a sigh here and remember the good old days when that was considered the cool thing to do. Back in the days before EduPunk was stolen and most of the “innovators” in our circles sat by and let it happen, or worse, mocked Jim Groom for speaking up for the purity of his baby.

Dang, I am starting to sound like a hippie. Time to go ingest some red meat. Maybe then I will see the light of the xMOOC.

Or maybe someone can point me in the direction of a good xMOOC that doesn’t just replicate what happens in large lecture halls all over the world? Every time I sign up for one, I just have a sense of deja vu and start feeling a loud “Mooooo…..” coming on.

The End of the (MOOC) World is Nigh

Anyone remember Second Life? It started off as a bleeding edge tool that a few educators experimented in. Then it exploded in popularity, with proponents calling it a “game changer” and the “future of online learning.” Then people started questioning whether it was really that big of a deal. In no time you had two diametrically opposed camps set up: one that thought Second Life was a pointless waste of time, and another that started telling people that questioned it that it was here to stay and that they should get over it and move on. Then before you knew it…. Second Life completely disappeared out of the conversation – almost overnight.

Isolated incident? What about Google Wave? Same cycle (even though it was forced to be a bit under the radar at first because of the restricted access imposed by Google). Once people started dividing and taking extreme sides…. poof. It died.

That is pretty much the cycle you see with many education tools and concepts. Under-the-radar experimentation gives way to mass exposure and hype, which brings out people that question the hype, which devolves into rigid camps and opposing sides, and finally ending with the quick death of the tool or idea.

Blogs, e-books, Twitter, and all these other tools that live on seem to so do so because no one really knows if they work or not. When the proponents stay open and honest about the short comings of a tool they champion, that tools seems to stay around a lot longer.

When a tool or concept gets labeled disruptive before it actually disrupts anything…. it more often that not dies out. But not before people take extreme sides and miss out on the good points the “other” side is making. The good news is that services that still live on after the death of the hype cycle (like Second Life) still see a core of people that experiment and do interesting things.

So far this year, it seems like the same cycle has been set in motion for MOOCs. First sign was an Inside Higher Ed article that slams MOOCs for being “designed to impose, not improved learning, but a new business model on higher education, which opens the door for wide-scale profiteering.” There is a good point in that statement: the business model behind many MOOCs is questionable at best. But I would say this statement goes a bit too far in painting an extreme picture of ALL MOOCs. Which could be said about many of the points in the article – something good to think about, but possibly taken to a bit of an extreme viewpoint against MOOCs.

In response, Mark Smithers questions the Inside Higher Ed article and defends MOOCs by saying that “Much of the learning that takes place in MOOCs is of the highest quality.” Smithers gives no definition of what exactly he means by highest quality… and I have probably heard about 50 million definitions of what “highest quality” means in the past few months alone. Then add on top of that the fact that many researchers will tell you it is impossible to really rate how high the quality of learning is… I’m not sure you can really say that one way of the other.

[What I would say is that the current dominant model of MOOC skews heavily towards independent learning, multiple choice testing, talking head videos, and other passive learning techniques that social constructivist leaning people like me feel does not lead to high quality learning. That is up for debate even in the social constructivist circles…. but I think it is really hard to say definitely either way.]

I think both articles have good points that fans and critics of MOOCs should take to heart. But I also think both articles embrace hyperbole that is not helpful to the debate. I don’t know much about the authors of the Inside Higher Ed article (there are 6 of them for a 14 paragraph article), but I do follow Smithers and he consistently makes great points in his blog.

Now we have problems cropping up like a MOOC being pulled suddenly for no reason and this week a teacher leaving a MOOC possibly because students didn’t want to work to his standards (don’t sign up for a course and then whine that the instructor wants you to actually work hard). All part of the cycle that usually ends in the death of the “over-hype phase” of a tool or idea.

Not that it is bad for these over-hype phases to die. It brings out the true believers and gets rid of the posers.

I think what further exasperates the problem is that those of us in Educational Technology (myself included) forget to consider what a small fishbowl we occupy. I talk to friends and students on campus all the time about online learning. Those outside of Ed Tech circles have rarely heard of MOOCs. Many are still asking me “how on Earth can you take a class online?” Many, many more than most people reading this blog would believe. Just because MOOCs are all over our news outlets doesn’t mean that they are disrupting anything. I just don’t agree with Smithers that “MOOCs are a classic disruptive innovation that fits the model described by Christensen precisely”…. yet. It may get there. But so far, my gut is telling me it is going to die out like others. If I am wrong, no problem. Won’t be the first time this hour.

Of course, I have to stop for the obligatory detailing of the “two different MOOCs”. First there is the original flavor of MOOC that was championed by Downes, Siemens, Groom, Levine, Cormier, and others. I say “was” because many of these leaders have hinted at or secretly admitted that they are ready for the MOOC hype to die. Sorry if I exposed some of you guys… but its time to come out of the closet on your feelings about MOOCs :).  But few people actually read this blog, so probably no harm done. Then there is the current, much more dominant flavor of MOOC (that are most often featured in the news) by MIT, EdX, and Udacity. Most of the discussion about MOOCs is about this newer, more dominant model.

The bigger problem with this whole area is really with our discipline as a whole. We have slowly changed from thought leaders to thought followers. Instead of evaluating trends or tools and asking “does this work at all and if so, where, how, why, etc?” we just say “this is the way that it is happening – get on board or get out of the way!” We think we are helpless bull-riders stuck on the back of a raging bull… not realizing that it is possible to tame the bull and utilize its full potential. Because a wild, raging bull is not good for anything but gawking entertainment and goring people. A trained bull can still do all that and much, much more.

And yes, I know that education has been stuck in a dictatorial-based mindset for a long time – with administrators telling everyone what to do (even though they never stopped to find out what really works) and “sage-on-the-stage” educators boring students to sleep. I agree that model doesn’t work, either. But we don’t need to swing the other way and just say “this is the way the world is going… grab on or get left behind!”

If Steve Jobs had listened to people telling him where the world was going, there would be no iPhone, no iPad, probably not even a mouse on any computer. But Jobs had a vision for the direction he thought the world should go, and he took the world there. He didn’t let the world take him to a place where “no one wants a computer in their cellphone – Palm phone sales are dismal!”

Or think of it this way: one of the biggest complaints I hear from some teenagers once they grow-up and enter into adulthood (the two don’t always happen at the same time) is that their parents didn’t reign them in enough. For these people, their parents were so concerned with being the cool, hip parents that they didn’t stop every once in a while and say “that’s not a good idea.” Really – I hear it all the time when I talk to college students. They don’t want dictators … but they wanted more guidance than they got.

What I am saying is we seem to be missing the middle ground. We don’t need to be dictators or hype-worshipers. We need leaders that question everything but still end up liking some things. We have a few out there, but we need many, many more. We need to reject the idea of the constant negative naysayer as much as we do the overly optimistic hype proselytizers.

I guess I am just coming out of the closet myself as a pragmatist in many ways…. and hoping that others will take that path, too.

So I Guess The Future of Education Looks a Lot Like the Current and the Past

So a lot has been said about the problems that Coursera ran into with a recent MOOC “stumble.” The anti-MOOC crowd is screaming “I told you so”, while the pro-MOOC crowd is brushing it off as “just a risk that we take with experimentation.” At first I was trying to figure out what the big deal was – courses get cancelled all the time, often for no reason. I have even heard of MOOCs getting cancelled for various reasons, too. Why the fuss here?

Part of it is probably because of the way it happened, but I think the real reason is a bit larger in scope: the magic savior/disruptor of higher education, the promised one that was to come and fulfill all prophecies and lead us into a glorious new educational future – has proven to be just as fallible as any other tool or idea.

Maybe we are beginning to realize that the problem with education today is not necessarily the system or the structure or the pedagogy or the tools, but it is the people using those systems, structures, pedagogies, and tools incorrectly. Maybe we are now realizing that our awesome ideas that will destroy higher ed can themselves be misused in the wrong hands. Maybe we are beginning to realize that the people in charge of cool, new hip systems can make just as bone-headed decisions as the suit and tie guys in charge of academia if they don’t have the correct information.

Maybe it is time to realize that the road to true revolution in academia is not about disruption or trying to recreate the “mp3 of the educational world” or even about revolution at all. Maybe it is about spending the time to train people correctly in how to use the correct tools in the correct way. Maybe it is time to stop making fun of the people that are calling for research into new ideas by saying that they are “resisting the inevitable future” (sometime research reveals that new ideas are good – so its not like people calling for research are resisting new ideas).  Because I am starting to think that the only inevitable thing about the future is that we will be doomed to repeat the past if we don’t learn from it. This whole scenario with Coursera seems to just be us repeating past mistakes because we didn’t try to learn from them along the way.

Maybe it is time to stop looking at mistakes as something to be discarded and start looking at the them as something to learn from and possibly even improve upon.

A MOOC By Any Other Name…

So I guess it is no secret that some people don’t like the term “Massive Open Online Course” or its common abbreviation “MOOC.” Certainly, it is hard to go to Academic Deans and other administrative positions and ask to teach a MOOC – they will quickly dive for a policy manual to see if you are uttering a racial slur. It just sounds funny to say, especially in many situations.

But I think the biggest problem with the term is that “MOOC” really doesn’t accurately describe many massive, open courses (as David Wiley pointed out in the article linked to above). Now when you are talking about the flavor of MOOCs created by MIT and others, “MOOC” is a pretty accurate descriptor. They are “massive” thanks to national exposure, they are “open” to anyone who wants to take them, they are always “online,” and they are most definitely “courses” with a start point and an end point.

But when you are describing the O.M. – the Original MOOC – the term MOOC usually begins to break down. They don’t have to be “massive.”  They do have to be “open” (and we can pretty much ignore any courses that aren’t – because then it could be just like any other online course). Jim Groom and others have theorized that they don’t have to be “online” – you could set up the O.M. model in hybrid course or even a touring bus for that matter. And calling a MOOC a “course” is more than a bit limiting. Sure there are those that go through a MOOC as a course, with a start and a finish and credit earned and all of that. But some just take part. Some stay in the course even after finishing and make it a part of their life. So MOOCs are really somewhat a course and somewhat not.

So we are really left with “open” and “course.” But we need something to describe this thing – “open course” just doesn’t cut it. Since they are built on connectivism, I guess we could added “connected” in there. But, of course, “Connected Open Course” won’t work. Other than… ummm… obvious reasons… “connected” really sounds more like the way old people described the Internets in the 1990s. And “course” still just doesn’t work. I guess these things are more like experiences. “Open Connected Experience”? Or maybe more like “Open Connectivist Experiments” if you really want truth in advertising? I guess for the admin types you would still need “course” in there – so how about “Open Connectivist Course-Like Experiments”? OCCLE’s (pronounced “oak-lee”… or “oh-slee”)?

Yeah, I guess you’re going to be stuck with a lame name no matter what angle you try…

Do MOOCs Really Matter In The Overall Picture of Education?

This morning I was pondering what impact Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) would have on the overall landscape of education. Most people involved in education that I speak to haven’t even heard of them. Many people (myself included) drop out of them before they really get started. So the question we have to wonder is: do they really matter if they aren’t going to be the next big thing in education?

Many educators certainly seem to have an obsession for searching for “the next Google” or the next “Facebook for education” or the next big thing to change the face of education.  Some think that MOOCs will be that next big thing, others think they are going nowhere.

The problem is not the with MOOC, but with the question. We don’t need one specific thing to the be THE end-all big thing for education. We have suffered too long in systems that want to have one cookie-cutter answer for everything. Want to teach an online course? Into the LMS box you. Want to blog? The LMS box has that for you, too.

I am starting to talk to more and more students that never read the syllabus of their online course. They feel the courses are becoming too similar and predictable – so why bother re-reading a cookie-cutter syllabus? If students are getting so used to online courses that they are going on cruise mode to take them, then it is time to shake things up a bit.

For most of us, the importance of the MOOC format is not the idea itself, but the fact that it represents a different way of teaching a course or idea or skill. We don’t need it to become the next big thing – we need it to become one of many new formats that online courses can be taught in.

And we need many other formats out there to spring up and gain traction. We need to offer a greater variety of formats and options, just like you see in face-to-face courses. Do you teach Science labs with the lecture method? Do you sit Art students down in the self guided labs and hope they figure out how to create art? Face-to-face courses have different formats (even though some do need to break out of the one or two they are stuck in), so online courses need to follow suit…. maybe even blaze new trails.

So even if you can’t stand MOOCs, you should at least follow their development and support their existence, or else it will be back to the cookie cutter for us all.