These are the thoughts I had while flying home after the MOOC Research Initiative Conference, held in a very icy Texas. As an aside to my general thinking about the conference, I noticed that in the cab on the way to the airport and in the line waiting for the plane, people were laughing and talking. They were all sharing stories of being stranded and of being on "hold" for hours with airline agents, and stories about where they slept--or not. There was much less cell phone diving than I saw on the way out to Texas.
Five days after arrival, what had I gained? Certainly, the ice storm made me lose a day or two, although, the conversations among the stranded were as interesting, if not more interesting than the ones within the confines of the conference. The best conversations took place in the bar over wine and food! ---- “Social and community”, surprise, surprise.
On Monday morning I received an article in my email, commenting on how Penn State discovered that the MOOC courses aren’t panning out the way they had hoped (of course it was blasted across the journal-ways.) My question was, “what was their hope?” I think that anyone who thinks that these courses will net them 40,000 new students right out of the gate, who are tuition-paying-credit receiving folks, may have elevated the power of hope to a new level.
Throughout the conference, the question of who MOOC students are kept popping up in the context of success and completion. Everyone wants to know who the students are and what they are doing. We, at MSJC, also wanted to know what the students were doing and why.
Really, when we think about it, we know who they are. They have told us in the myriad of survey’s we’ve run and in the discussion forums and in the ad-hoc Facebook groups. They are curious, interested, serious, casual, honest, dishonest, angry, loving, helpful, lost, funny, old, young, men, women, teachers and students and we should be listening closely to all of them.
Each one had a reason to enroll in the MOOC they chose. Many enrollees had educational reasons to participate, some of them, however, just wanted to watch. The traditionally defined successes seem small in comparison to the numbers who enroll. Of course, we ask ourselves, “How long would it take us to teach 3,000 students successfully in regular online or face-to-face courses?” That idea helped us put some of it in perspective, but in our beginning writing course, I mostly saw people who wanted to be part of a community. In our course it was a community of writers, and/or a community of conversation, and/or a community of learning. They were social and they were curious. As teachers we were reminded, in a gigantic way, of why we got into this profession.
These classes are an opportunity to bring people together around information sharing. Why would we trash-talk the vehicle? With all of us retreating more and more into our headphones and mini-screens, isn’t it time to be using the digital potential for building global community around education? I honestly don’t care about how many of anything we have in these courses, I care that the ones who know what they enrolled for, receive it! I care that the others find something interesting and expand their thinking at all.
I am tired of making the numbers matter. I understand that there’s a great deal to learn from the research and it’s amazing that we have such a terrific opportunity to do that. I guess my concern, now, is that we will focus in the wrong direction and see MOOCs not worth the trouble.
I’m not a “Pollyanna”. I understand that everything costs money, so won’t the 3000 who earn certificates justify the cost? If not, then we need to share our content and expertise more, not less. We’ve been suspicious of the .org’s turning into .com’s and likely should be asking some questions about that, but then let’s look at all of it for what benefit it has on a global scale.
So many times, I’ve see innovative ideas in education get dragged through the mud and then abandoned before we really had time to explore their potential much past the hype. Maybe when we get the discussion forum coding figured out we will be able to report the research around connection and community. I hope that happens before the platforms go the way of the Dodo.... uh.... Udacity-bird.