I have been thinking about this as we have moved through the MOOCMOOC. It is my primary concern that participants be given the tools necessary to be successful, while also being provided the freedom to follow their own learning paths. Determining one’s own path, goal setting and ongoing reinforcement will be necessary. I don’t think that this reinforcement has to come from a teacher; however I do think the reinforcement is necessary so that students will continue to engage in the MOOC.
As I consider the MOOC, I must consider two different types of students: The graduate student who enrolls in the MOOC for credit, and the lifelong learner who enrolls in the MOOC because they’d like to be a part of a vibrant learning community which in all likelihood will endure far beyond the end date of the class. I have developed learning communities for graduate students for about 15 years now, and I am highly confident with facilitating learning in a CMS. It can become redundant and stale – to be sure – but I’m also highly confident with it.
The graduate student who enrolls in the MOOC for credit may not be highly motivated to engage in social learning. This student has his or her own reasons for pursuing the degree, which might have to do with promotion, with pay scale, or with state mandates. Not the best reasons for engaging in a learning community! Therefore, with some (not by any means all) graduate students, the role of the instructor may be to herd cats.
Within the CMS I can manage the student’s expectation and mandate reinforcement from the community and through this, create some rewarding interaction (once students accept that they must engage, and then realize that they can set their own paths for engagement). The greatest challenge I have found is in assisting the student in forming the habit of engaging in internet research (self-directed around a certain topic) and then “showing up” to build the knowledge of the class. I manage these processes (as I have stated in an earlier blog post) through a highly behaviorist system of feedback. Don’t get me wrong – I’d love to toss that. I am happy to give up the idea that I must grade everything.
My graduate students find that once they engage in the habits that I outline, really, an A is the default. It’s HARD to get a B if you authentically engage in the environment. Students find their intrinsic motivation and realize that once they give the discussion a chance, they enjoy it. They naturally gravitate to those individuals whose postings are engaging. They begin to have real conversations in which they share their most important and valued lessons and resources. They create take-aways that are highly relevant to their personal environments. Some students are sad to see the community come to an end at the completion of the class.
On the other hand, those students who never authentically engage do the bare minimum in the class. They hover on the edge of the B-, and it is painful to read their postings and evaluate their progress. I can feel their pain as they blog. I can feel their disconnection. If these students will not engage in a small, managed environment where netiquette and social reinforcement is expected and enforced (not through proximity but through the awarding of credit) – how is it possible that setting them out into the wide world will motivate them more?
In short – how will students who are victims of learned helplessness endure in the face of a MOOC? Is the MOOC the solution to learned helplessness? I’m all about natural consequences – but what are the natural consequences to the learner who depends on external reinforcement for his or her academic identity? I know that the system created these students. What are our obligations now that they are in our class? In the past, I’ve tried to wean them off of their need for external feedback (with varying levels of success). How are they going to do in a sink or swim environment? What is my role in their success? How can I avoid the perception that I am “playing favorites” if I provide differing levels of support for students enrolling for credit vs. students enrolling for free?
I worry more about this student than I do about the lifelong learner. The lifelong learner has an internal locus of control. No one is forcing them to take this class. They have their own goals. If the proper spaces are created, and support materials are created this learner should blossom.
For this student, the teacher’s role seems to be that of the architect. The teacher can craft the proper support materials, create the proper learning spaces for each week, and develop a coordinated system in which the student may, if and when he or she chooses, develop their own support networks during the class. I wish all of education were like this. This student needs good support – doesn’t need his or her hand held – and can maneuver through the structure well, as long as the blueprint is clear. To me – this is straight best practice in instructional design.
This is my internal dilemma in the 3rd day of the MOOCMOOC and as I complete the initial design of my own MOOC – the #diffimooc – being offered starting January 14 (shameless plug).
I would look forward to the comments of my colleagues in the MOOCMOOC (and others)– both positive and critical – concerning my reflections. Am I just too entrenched in traditional educational practices and thinking?