I have been hearing more and more somewhat demanding calls for a definition of a MOOC. Is it this video-based experience in which knowledge may be tested, and may it lead to course credit? Is it a social experience that leads to an article or a grant? Is it harbinger of the downfall of the University or is it the savior of the institution? What on earth is this MOOC of which you speak?
My response – well good luck defining that.
A MOOC is what the student enrolled in the MOOC will make it. It could be a one week dive into an online experience that allows them to explore (with support) a certain tool. It could be watching that 15 minutes of a two-hour video that allows you to learn that skill you need. It could be emailing the professor and getting some gem of information that fills out the puzzle for you. Or maybe it’s just the albatross around your neck, reminding you that higher education isn’t the same as it was even a year ago. A MOOC is what you make it. Define it, and it loses that mystery.
I did a lot of research on MOOCs, and I have a Pearltree you can look at if you want more information on my resources. I like Catholicism because it was the first Christian Church. I studied Poe because he wrote the first mystery. That doesn’t mean that I’ve never been to and enjoyed a Baptist Church, or that I’ve never read and enjoyed James Patterson. But there is something a little magical about firsts. Firsts reveal something that was not known before, and firsts reveal roads that were initially invisible. I like firsts. I find a lot of joy in understanding firsts, and in seeing how all the others base their own interpretations on them.
The first people to write widely about the MOOC had a nice little philosophical framework. Now I won’t debate whether this is a Theory or a Pedagogy – but regardless – there is a framework. The research made sense, and it’s a great place to start.
Those who are still confused about what a MOOC is should go back to that framework and read the early work of Downes and Siemens. I’m not saying they know it all – and I’d bet they won’t say that either. I’m just saying, there is value in understanding the “firsts” and measuring subsequent efforts against them. There’s value in building on this.
Now I am nothing if not a pragmatist. I am probably pragmatic to a fault. I am boringly pragmatic.
Therefore, I say the first responsibility of those individuals who experiment with MOOCs should be to their paying students. It’s great to give your product to the world. It’s an individual choice (I think it should be) and it’s a service to others. It’s wonderful to support people who don’t pay in your class. And it’s great to engage your students in helping each other as well (whether they pay or don’t pay). But ultimately – if I have to decide where my effort will go – it is to the paying student. This is the student whose work I will grade. It’s the student whose emails I immediately answer. And it’s the student I will go out of my way to help.
In the MOOC – we have to create a community that is self-sustaining. We can’t be dependent on a professor for day-to-day help and guidance. I am seeing even in my contained online courses that this is possible. I don’t understand why a MOOC is less a MOOC if paying students are in it. I also don’t understand why a MOOC is less a MOOC if you can’t see the thousands enrolled. I guarantee that you will not see the thousands enrolled.
Those who try to define the MOOC should take a couple of them. I’m not saying take an xMOOC. You can watch video on ETV or on Discovery and probably learn just as much. Take a cMOOC. Take the etMOOC or the moocMOOC or the oldsMOOC. There are many people enrolled. You hardly ever see them. There is a core group that populate the twitter chat. There are highly visible students: organizers who take the discussion to Google or to Facebook. But they disperse. Part of the mystery of the cMOOC is the way that it morphs according to those involved and their levels of involvement.
A MOOC is what you make it, man.