Why are “massive,” “open,” and “online” often seen as threats within the hallways of higher education? MOOCs have become the scary monsters under the bed, unpredictable in the dark bedroom of teaching in the age of the Internet. Are they going to destroy everything professors, administrators, and even students hold dear about teaching and learning?
The distinction between cMOOC and xMOOC is pedagogically very significant for understanding the impact of networked learning on higher education. While the mainstream press has generally approached MOOCs with curiosity and some degree of balance, much of “MOOC Mania” in the higher ed press has been of the fear and loathing variety and readily lumps both styles of MOOCing together.
While xMOOCs “extend” the traditional, lecture-based classroom into virtual environments, cMOOCs have been quietly revolutionizing what we can do as learners and as educators. (If you’ve never done so, take a peek at ds106 for a really cool example.) I’m currently participating in the second networked learning opportunity coming out of Northwestern University’s Masters in Learning and Organizational Change program. Piloted by an unsung hero of connectivist learning, Jeff Merrell, this open learning community (primarily visible on Google+ and on Twitter #MSLOC430) is associated with a face-to-face class of MSLOC students, creating special challenges around the fine lines between openness and structure. For those of us engaging only with the connectivist open part, we get to re-connect (some of us met a year or so ago in Exploring PLNs, another open MSLOC gig that focused at a meta-level on defining and delineating the nature of personal learning networks, while allowing participants to almost effortlessly make new PLNs). Participants encounter and grow their curiosities as much as their knowledge through our discussion comments, blog posts, and comments on each others’ posts. The etiquette is to comment, and I have found the pressure to not just “lurk” but also to say something extremely refreshing. Academics often don’t want to say anything until it is polished and publishable. Connectivist MOOCing often means a more raw approach, one in which the writer/commenter feels vulnerable and exposed.
Perhaps more messy than massive, cMOOCs can be confusing at first glance. Dave Cormier reminds us that focus is central; you have to have a reason for connecting, for engaging. What am I trying to accomplish by adding another piece to my overblown schedule, spending most of a Friday reading, thinking, and engaging with questions about networked learning? I want to reflect on how I learn what I learn, so that I can apply those reflections in my teaching.
Instruction is not equivalent to learning. Such a simple statement, made here by Steve Downes, where he argues that the “clear-instruction-is-all-you-need” philosophy is the central problem with most learning management systems (like Moodle or Blackboard), and ultimately with much of the obsolescence of traditional classrooms.
Maybe MOOCs will go away if faculty and administrators dig their heels in hard enough. But most likely this impulse is more like closing your eyes and hoping the monster is really just a dust bunny under the bed. Networked learning is not going away. And the coolest thing about it is that it means we finally have to relinquish control of the classroom and allow it to become a cooperative, collaborative space – whether virtual or face-to-face.
Faculty dialogue that can actually contribute to shaping change in higher ed has to get off the restricting dualism of choosing between the MOOC-bashing or the MOOC-celebrating bandwagons and attend to the specificities of new pedagogical practices. We need to try, participate, make, and do.