v6.2.3 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Educational assumptions discussed (Part II)

Well, here we are, part II of educational assumptions.  That last blog post was getting long, so here we are! These are still some ideas about things I jotted down in the margins, highlighted, or otherwise reacted to when reading a recent research article on Open Praxis by fellow MOOC researchers France and Jenny. Despite my issues and concerns with the article, it's still worth a read so that we can discuss the  things that came up in it.  In this blog post I am wrapping up the responses to some educational assumptions (or myths, depending on where you stand). 

Courses are not experimental
One of the views that came across in the article was that Cormier, as convener of Rhizo14, was experimenting on us learners. This seems to bring up two mental images.  The first is that we, as learners and participants, were in some sort of experiment, like the ones that IRBs warn you about (see Milgram for example), and that courses, whether MOOC or not, aren't by their nature experimental to begin with.  A course is never complete in some ways.  Each time we run our course we iterate though different designs based on the feedback we've gotten from our learners.  This is both explicit feedback through course evaluations and instruments like that, and through feedback like observing many learners not do very well in a particular test item.  As designers, and instructors, we always experiment in our courses to see what works best, or at least to see what might work best.  We experiment with the way we provide feedback, with the language we use in class, with the level of familiarity between us and out learners, with the course materials, with the presentation of those materials, with sequencing...and the list goes on!

At its core I would argue that teaching is experimental.  This is how we advance knowledge of what it means to learn in a variety of contexts.  If teaching we're experimental we would all, potentially, be doing the same thing in our courses. The reality is that we don't. To frame Rhizo14 as experimental, in this sense, not only connotes something nefarious going on, but also it denies the reality that as teachers we strive to improve our practice so that we can then in turn make changes that work for our learners and for the intended learning outcomes. How does one accomplish this?  Through experimentation - over or covert.  In the course that I teach (traditional online course), I've experimented with podcasting (and doing it a few different ways), different ways of engaging with learners in the course forums, framing assignments in different ways, and exploring badges as alternative credentials.  Do learners know that I am experimenting? Sometimes they do, and they can opt-in (example: issuing of badges last spring), and sometimes they don't and they think that this is a normal part of class (example: doing podcasts).  We all experiment - the key is to abide ethical teaching principles.

Learners are not complicit in educational acts
One of the things that didn't sit well with me about  the article (and raised a few red flags on the research end of things) were the quotations used by some informants to the survey.  I should say that it's not the quotation that bothers me, but how the overall narrative is framed in the article, and the experiences I had in the facebook group of Rhizo14. One quote is as follows:
Some questioned the lack of content in the course and felt that it lacked depth and theoretical discussion. For these participants the rhizome is “A pernicious, pervasive weed, rooted in a lot of dirt and “SH***””; “ . . .a ‘thug’ and can be very badly behaved”; “Part of one big family/ plant—joined at the hip”; “Clones of the “same damn plant.” 
 This level of vitriol is fine to express when someone is legitimately silenced.  However I do not recall seeing any serious, prolonged, discussion about this issue in the forums. So two possibilities I can think of is that either this quote is misquoted or misunderstood, or the frustrated learner didn't bother engaging with the community.  This to me is a problem.  Learners are supposed to be complicit in their own learning.  There needs to be a willingness to learn and to experiment with a specific form of learning, and thus engage with the community.  If the course name is "the community is the curriculum" what do you expect?  If the reality didn't meet your expectations it's up to you to  engage and make it happen.  After all, why do we keep talking about empowering the learner if the learners won't stand up and take charge?

In any learning environment, be it MOOC or traditional learning, learners ought to be part of their own learning.  They need to actively engage with peers and instructors to learn whatever is on the table to learn.  Otherwise, in my opinion, they don't have a leg to stand-on when they complain vitriolically like this.

In a course where the community is the curriculum, we gotta stick to the point
This connects with the previous myth.  Personally I didn't want to discuss Deleuze and Gautarri. Some did, so more power to them!  Don't get me wrong, at some point I am interested in reading what they have to say, but Rhizomatic Learning didn't originate with them - so why bother at this point in time when my time is short? The nice thing about MOOCs is that communities can form to discuss smaller parts that interest them.  There is no need to "stick to the point" and just explore the areas that are pre-defined by the course.  An an Open Course participants can go off on a tangent if they so wish.   In a traditional course, where an institution pays someone to make sure certain learning objectives are covered, then sure - OK.  In a MOOC, however, I do not think that this rigidity is necessary.

A MOOC needs learning objectives!
Perhaps I will be seen as heretical in my instructional design circles, but I disagree :)  cMOOCs don't necessarily need learning objectives, at least ones that are really rigid.  In a traditional course, yes we need them because that is the structure we are working under.  You have a curriculum that ties together, you have people working in unison to deliver that curriculum and to scaffold people into new roles as members of a certain profession.  Learning objectives are necessary.  It helps the instructional design process in those cases.

In the early days of MOOCs (for me that was 2011) I was actually astonished that MOOCs offered by big names in MOOCs didn't have learning objectives.  WTH?!  How can this be?  This is BS I though to myself!  Since those days I've pulled a 180 on this topic and at the end of the day, for me, it depends a lot on whether control rests with the conveners (as is with traditional courses) or the learners.  If control rests with the conveners, and you only get credit for what they tell you - then learning objectives matter.  If control rests with the learners, and the course is much more flexible as to what "completeness" means - then learning objectives, set by the convener, are almost meaningless.  The learners need to set their own learning objectives and pursue them.

Alright - so I think that takes care of all of the comments, thoughts, and reactions I had with this article.  I guess now it is time to make a dent on my Pocket reading :)
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