Thursday, December 27, 2012

Why MOOCs Work


1. Student Motivation

This is one of the criticisms of MOOCs and the "flipped classroom model": students in those scenarios need motivation to be successful. Students are not born motivated. Lack of student motivation is not an excuse for classes not working. If you are a teacher and your students lack motivation, you need to get into another line of work. Part of what teachers do is inspire and motivate. Many teachers can't help but being motivational because they are enthusiastic about their field. Teachers can provide opportunities for the students to reflect on why they are in the class and be given opportunities to contribute to the class - in my experience, this is often enough to motivate students. I would often get students in my English classes who were used to teachers doing the work for the students. This is not a problem with MOOCs. Students can be taught motivation. As Siemens puts it, we need to foster autonomous, self-regulated learners.

2. Facilitated Connections

True learning occurs when the student chooses the modality in which the learning takes place. In traditional education, that modality is forced (typically, static classroom lecture mode). If the student accepts the choice, he or she is a "good student." What would happen if the learning materials were in different multiple formats; open, accessible and maybe sometimes asynchronous and the students got to choose which version of the material they used and how they engaged with it? Why can't "lecture" also be a video stream, podcast, or recorded event? Then the "live" bit can occur when the students decide to get together and review the materials, discuss them, and then later bring their questions to the facilitator. These reviews can happen in a Moodle discussion forum, Facebook, Twitter, or even in virtual worlds like Second Life.

3. Self-Organization

Teachers need to have faith in the students ability to self-organize - this is how revolutions, religions, and AA meetings work. Humans have evolved to do this very effectively, just ask the wooly mammoth. To this end, students need to be encouraged to use the media with which they communicate as a learning tool. If the students like discussion forums, make that available. If the students are texters or use Facebook, encourage them to take the discussion their. Even if you are not a chronic tweeter, why not have instructions available to students who are? What happened in my Connectivsm and Connective Knowledge class was that discussions took place in a wide variety of fora and then a self- or group appointed "leader" would bring our questions back to the course facilitators for clarification. Often the best thing that the facilitators did was to stand back and let us learn.

4. Content Curation

There was no text book for Connectivism and Connective Knowledge. The course consisted of many of the articles and readings that lead the facilitators to Connectivism, but also the people behind those ideas. What George Siemens and Stephen Downes are really good at is bringing the right people together to talk. They have been exploring these ideas for a while and they were good at breaking down how they arrived at some of their conclusions. Fortunately, the ideas are new enough that the people that helped them out along the way are still with us. So a "lecture" in this course consisted of some weekly readings, a video or two, and a live, weekly presentation by the facilitators or someone like Dave Cormier or another "guest lecturer." These lectures would often start out as a lecture and then evolve into a conversation with the facilitators and students. You would be really surprised at how open people are in your discipline to being a guest in your course via webinar or Skype.

So therefore, getting together with an instructional designer and creating course guides that account for the different media would be really helpful. Fortunately, George Siemens and Peter Tittenberger also thought of that with their "Handbook for Emerging Technologies" which needs to be updated and put back onto a wiki somewhere - maybe at College of the Redwoods or a college near you - so it can be added to and revised.

For Connectivism, the medium is the message - teaching Connectivism any other way than a MOOC is as ridiculous as buying a book about free, open text books from Amazon.Com. I hope that the critics of MOOCs take the time to actually take a course, even as a lurker - they will gain immensely from the experience, and who knows? They might even learn something.

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