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Multilitteratus Incognitus

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Critique of Making your own Quasi-MOOC

With three MOOCs done (only undertaking one now), I have a little more time to go through and read what has been piling up in my Pocket account.  Now, over the past couple of years there have been a number of articles on building your own MOOC, from a variety of people.  Some in publications like Learning Solutions Magazine, some in eBook form, some in in Blog form.

One of the blog-form posts comes by way the blog "Managing eLearning" and the title is How to make your own MOOC. I was quite curious to see what the author had to write about the topic, but I was seriously disappointed when I read it.  My main issue with the article is that it ascribes to  a very centralized xMOOC, offered by an "elite" University.  I don't think that the "elites" have it right.  I applaud the exploratory spirit of some "elite" Universities, but they get many things wrong. So, building on this xMOOC model seems just wrong to me.  In this article there are 6 principles, or key ingredients to build you own MOOC. The article is really basic, and the headlines can possibly apply to almost any online course.  That said, let me deconstruct the areas that I have an issue with:

Underlying assumption of the author is that "massive" means "tens of thousands of users, ensuring that there is someone out there who is able and willing to answer almost any given question." and that this type of Massive is developed by "Brands. Educational brands. Big brands" like Harvard, MIT, Berkley, and so on.  I completely disagree. We had MOOCs before these "elite" universities decided to jump in with their interpretation of a MOOC.  The universities, or entities, doing this were not big brands, but people still went to them and had a learning experience.  Massive, as I have written before, is not a static amount.  Massive can vary depending on the subject at hand.  An introductory level Algebra course will be more "massive" than a graduate master's level advanced course in biomimicry. They can both be MOOCs, but the underlying requirements for the course will determine how many people actually sign up.  If a regular biomimicry course enrolls 8-15 students in a semester, then 150 students is actually massive for that course.

Next up, let's look at the author's "ingredients" for a MOOC.

Ingredient 0 --> An LMS: The author writes "If you don't already have one, you will need one. Social features, especially discussion forums, are a must." I honestly completely disagree.  An LMS is not a requirement for a MOOC, especially if we are considering discussion forums.  In a MOOC, the LMS discussion forum doesn't work well, let's face it.  We can work with the technology we have, but what it boils down to, and what we've seen thus far in the last 2 years of xMOOCs is that forums aren't well suited for this, at least in their current incarnation.  An LMS also does not address the design decisions of a distributed MOOC, where the LMS is a bit antithetical to that way of thinking about a course.

Ingredient 1--> Synchronous design: The author uses a slightly modified understanding of what synchronous is, so that's something to keep in mind. What the author suggests is that all learners need to move in lock-step. While building an online learning community is important, I disagree that MOOC learners need to keep in lock-step, moving through the same type of materials and activities.  I can see some people ahead of the curve, and some straggling.  The key ingredient is that community, not the synchronicity of the material.

Ingredient 2--> Short Learning Activities: Here we have a suggestion that we work on bite-sized learning activities, like Khan Academy.  While I agree that short videos are a good (compared to hour long cognitively overtaxing alternatives), but I disagree that Khan Academy style videos are "it" for MOOCs.  We are back to a didacting sage-on-the-stage approach that isn't really helpful. Sure, some elements of this might work, but it's not something that you can generalize across the board for all MOOCs, across all disciplines and across all levels.

Ingredient 3--> Require Peer Review: I think peer review is great.  Peer review for a grade, however, not so much.  Peers, even more knowledgeable (MKO) peers, aren't the subject "expert".  I can learn a lot from peer to peer scaffolding, however at the end of the day, my peers aren't necessarily qualified to grade me, and have that be my final "grade" for the assignment.  Additionally, while I do think that peers can learn a lot from one another, forcing peer review, in an open course seems antithetical to the open ethos of the course.  If I don't want to share my work, that should be fine.  If I want to share my work, that should be fine too.  Self-selecting, self-appointed peer review groups are preferable to forcing everyone to be in a peer review if they want a certificate of participation.  A better way to deal with this, in my opinion, is what OLDS MOOC did with badges for peer review.

Ingredient 4--> Required Group Work: While this may be good in "regular" online courses, I think that in the MOOC front it's too contrived and too antithetical to the find your own path.  In smaller, "regular" online courses where you have fewer students, requiring group work is necessary because people may not self-organized in ways that encourage active community engagement.  In MOOCs, however, this is much less of a problem because you will always have people there that are able to kindle the flame of community sufficiently for others to jump in. Adding required group work, for a course that gives students no formal credit at the end, for me, adds a barrier to entry.

Ingredient 5--> Teaching Assistants I've seen quite a few MOOCs run without TAs.  Remember, just because 100,000 people registered for your MOOC, not everyone is serious about participating.  You may just have a ton of people on your hands that are window-shoppers and never bothered to unregister when they decided that the MOOC was not for them.  TAs seem a bit of an overkill.  What would be better would be a core "team" of subject experts, each tackling a week of the upcoming topics, and they all contribute to the kindling, along with other MKO peers.
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