Of MOOCs and Men

12 Oct

By Akiba Covitz

It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that a dividing line continues to exist between faculty members when it comes to MOOCs in particular and to online teaching in general.

That dividing line was there four years ago when I was working at edX, talking about MOOCs to faculty members at Harvard or Wellesley or Rice or TU Delft or Hong Kong Polytechnic. That dividing line is still there now, although perhaps it has moved slightly in what’s viewed as a positive direction, with more faculty having an open mind about the power of this medium.

In any case, let me break down the two camps.

There are professors who believe that online teaching and massively online teaching work. Let’s call them Massive Open Online Supporters (MOOSs).

These are the professors who believe that these online courses truly connect people with ideas and also connect people to each other. This is partly because MOOSs personally want a massive audience for their teaching. They also believe that the scale of those they can teach makes up for some of the possible limitations of the modality.

But these MOOSs also know that the online format allows for a more measured and more controllable form of interaction. For instance, the asynchronous qualities of online learning elements can help those who are not auditory learners engage with the materials when they might otherwise be discouraged.

On the other side, there are those professors who think that the human element of face-to-face teaching is not replicable in any way outside the four walls of the brick and mortar classroom. For them, the magic of the synchronous classroom is lost when any elements of it are not done face to face and – as David Brooks might have it – soul to soul. Let’s (unfairly) call these professors Massive Open Online Detractors (MOODs).

Most of the MOODs I know are not even remotely Luddites. Many, in fact, are among the most successful and innovative professors I have met, but just not online, and certainly not with MOOCs.

Further, given that students come with devices in hand, there may be a sense of fatigue with technology. Some faculty set up classroom tech use ground rules or even activate Wi-Fi suppression switches. I often find myself in class competing with ESPN, YouTube, texting, e-mail, etc. The frustrations are real, but online teaching tools are not, I argue, distractions, but true tools, even for MOODs.

The MOOC in the Middle
I don’t believe that there is any longer a question that MOOCs can teach people how to do stuff. I think that much is now quite clear, and the data is voluminous, especially given Coursera’s success with their Specializations. The question that very much remains is whether MOOCs can enable transformative teaching. This is beyond seeing them as consumers who possess newly transferred information. Put another way, can MOOCs transform students as people?

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on October 12, 2015 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed



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