Today I serendipitously stumbled upon this website. It is for a MOOC — Massive Open Online Course — about MOOCs. MOOCs are a part of of a new, and some what controversial, trend in higher education. There are lot of debates about its purpose, technology, pedagogy, etc. Part of the UVA kerfuffle over the President’s dismissal and then reinstatement had to deal with MOOCs. I find it to be really fascinating stuff.
At the same time, besides what I wrote in the opening paragraph, I know very little about them. I am, however, interested in them. They’re a significant development in higher education, the industry where I hope to someday have a long career. The debates surrounding them has many to question the nature of an education — both pedagogically and in-terms of public-access to education. While I’m more interested in the philosophical debates surrounding MOOCs and their implications for the future of higher education, the former education major in me also likes the idea of learning about the pedagogy of online instruction. I took some online classes for my MLA and have continued to have some interesting discussions about the format with one of my old mentors. I also have strong ideas about higher education, what its mission should be, and my own teaching philosophy.
Anyways, I signed up for the MOOC MOOC course. Our assignment today was to write a collaborative 1000 word essay using Google Docs with our fellow classmates. These classmates, of course, were complete strangers and all came to the course with varying levels of interest, skill, and background about the subject. We were required to cite 3 articles, include one image, all by 6 p.m. eastern defining “What is a MOOC” and explaining “what it does and does not do.” It was a thrilling and fun task. Because I joined the course late, I was in the newly registered group which, at times, had over 20 collaborators.
The pace of writing challenged me to both read the articles critically, but also think through my stance and how to relate it (and at times defended it) to my fellow writers. Undoubtedly, many of us gravitated toward our interests and specialities to produce some really interesting and solid essays. The forced collaboration accelerated my pace of learning and filtering of information. It brought me up to speed on the debates and points of view not always clear in the articles. At times I just sat back in awe, watching the essay evolve before my eyes. Within minutes the blank page filled with words, pictures, and comments. We debated issues both of interpretation/preference (xMOOCs versus connectivist MOOCs), style (such as how to cite our sources), and conclusions in sort of a meta-reflective way. Headings allowed us to all work on our own pieces and then move sections around to provide a clear, coherent, and organized piece (I’m sure at second glance, it might not be so clear & coherent as I am imagining).
The subject matter was MOOCs but so was the instruction. While we did have 7 collaboration groups, we were in an anonymous online environment populated by a large number of students and given information to digest and tasks to complete. My Day 1 MOOC MOOC experience was awesome. After the 6 p.m. deadline we engaged in an active and open twitter chat. The chat reinforced many of my own thoughts about the collaborative process, but sparked questions about activity rules, organization of labor and content, time commitment (and constraints) as well as how to define authorship.
While I’m still not sure I know all the difference and complexities of MOOCs, I do think I have a better grasp of the views and debates surrounding them. I also have better idea of their history. In the end, it was a very worthwhile and educational experience, both in the collaborative process and the ultimate message of our essay. If you want to learn more, you can follow this link to the collaborative essay I worked on.