This blog was started as my reflections on the 2011 Change MOOC. It is now an on going journal of my thoughts on Higher Education, specifically teaching Biology.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What is a MOOC?

Today's topic in #MOOCMOOC is "What is a MOOC?"  There are some collabrative documents being worked on to answer that question, to which I have commented, but I realized that I needed to take a moment to really think about the question myself.

To answer the question, a MOOC is inspiration.

Huh?  It is a learning opportunity that a person accepts, and then they are inspired to chart their own path to knowledge.  The best MOOCs I've participated in have been able to inspire me to explore, read and write (even if it notes to myself).  The worst one inspired me to leave (I hate being talked at...as opposed to having a conversation with).

The concept of the MOOC is also inspiring, and that is what I love about it.  George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier have each done an amazing job building the foundation of what we see today as MOOCs (specifically connectivist MOOCs).  These foundations are then available for us to use, reuse, remix and adapt.

Earlier today, Roy B posted a comment to #MOOCMOOC about different kinds of MOOCs.  He made a great comment: I am concerned by what I perceive to be a counter-productive "mookier than thou" theme that runs through many of these references.  The references that Roy B is referring to are the papers that have been published about MOOCs in the past year or so.  I love the idea of something being MOOKIER, and he is right that it is concerning.  It also is at the heart of why I hate questions such as: "What is a MOOC?"

Why hate the question?  First off, it sets up conditions where people try to pimp competing definitions or nitpick specific, and often irrelevant, details.  Second, it diminishes the inspiring quality of the core foundation of a MOOC.  Do we want to define it so we can credential it?  Do we want to define it so we can package it?

Answering the question in a collaborative way is a great exercise for us to ferret out our own preconceptions and ideas, but it can also lead to division and exclusion.  It is also a great cognitive exercise.  Still, much can be lost in the process, so I'm glad that the process is only lasting for a day.

Since I think it important, I'm going to repeat what I said about MOOCs:  They are inspiring, both in terms of content and framework.

I don't use the term MOOC for the courses I teach, save as in reference to the inspiration.  Why?  Because it is not a MOOC in the sense that most people use the word.  It is inspired by MOOCs, and is based on many tools used by MOOCers, but it is not a MOOC.  Why do I say that?  It deals with the audience.

Undergraduate students, for the most part, are not adult learners.  They have not made the transition from being passive learners to self-actualized active learners.  MOOCs require initative, they require active participation, and even if your just lurking, you have to go out of your way to read things.  That does not sound like most undergraduates.  My courses therefore put me in the role of both Teacher and  Facilitator, where as a MOOC needs a facilitator more than a teacher.  The goal is to have students to become more active in their learning.  Yes, I have to hold them to task at the beginning, but if Spring 2012 is any indication, many of them can then fly.