By Marianne Krasny
The number of students signed up for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) reached an astronomical 17 million in 2014. But are these free online courses truly fulfilling their promise of democratizing education?
Most discussions about how MOOCs are making education accessible to the masses focus on numbers — numbers of students and of countries where students are from. Multiple efforts have been launched to make online learning accessible in poorer countries. In Rwanda, the Kepler project provides online courses to students who lack access to quality higher education, and in Tanzania, the World Bank supports MOOCs to equip quip students with marketable IT skills. But what about citizens right here in the US?
Last spring, I taught a MOOC called “Reclaiming Broken Places: Introduction to Civic Ecology.” For me, teaching the MOOC was a chance to spread the word about something I care deeply about — how people in cities around the world are reclaiming trashed out lots, polluted streams, and even earthquake induced landslides. And how they are transforming these “broken places” into something of value for the environment and their communities—like community gardens or pocket parks.
Most MOOC students in the US are white, well-educated, and well-off. But here was my special opportunity because the very people MOOC developers want to reach—those less privileged who don’t have access to expensive college educations—are often the people who create a community garden or pocket park in their neighborhood. I wanted to understand why these folks were not taking MOOCs.
So I started what is known in the business as a “LOOC” or Local Open Online Course. Actually I started multiple LOOCs. Two for women living in public housing in Washington DC, one at a community center serving Hispanic senior citizens in Providence RI, one sponsored by the non-profit Sustainable Queens in New York, and one at a center for people with disabilities in Yakima WA. I hired local professionals to adapt the MOOC for these small groups of learners who normally would not sign up for—let alone have heard of—MOOCs. The ideas was that the local professionals would show the video lectures and guide the students in the course readings and discussions.
[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/higher-ed-beta/cultivating-moocs-one-learner-time ]