Entering week 4 has inevitably brought me to thinking about the end of the MOOC, and what we might think about doing differently next time. Of course, I chose the word ‘differently’ as an intentional avoidance of ‘better’, not because I’m under the delusion that this MOOC has been perfect, but rather because the notion of ‘better’ may possibly be redundant. ‘Better for whom?’, would be my immediate question. The scale and diversity of participants leaves one with the sense that no one strategy can please all the people all of the time. For every post that claims there are too many videos, there is another asking why we didn’t include more videos. The solution is not to slip into an ‘anything goes’ approach to course design, however. Certain modes matter more than others, and our strategy has been to stick to our convictions of what we believe to embody good pedagogy.
Furthermore, my own persuasion would be that a sound learning experience is neither necessarily enjoyable or consciously a learning experience. What I mean here is that learning is not limited to pleasurable activities, and nor is it something you can automatically identify. Although we perhaps seek the pleasure of achievement, the process of learning may be demanding, and I would argue necessarily so, lest we merely engage in the affirmation of what we already believe to be true. Neither should the moment of learning, I suggest, be thought to arrive instantly, nor at a point which we can control. My grasp of difficult concepts often comes when I’m not expecting it to. As a teacher, to maintain these convictions in the spotlight of a massive course may take a level of courage one is not used to, particularly as the statistics appear to reveal that ‘educators’ form a significant proportion of out participants.
There are certainly things that we can do differently, and it is of course from the generous comments, criticisms and feedback from our MOOC participants that I draw the following ideas. While this kind of open education may be interpreted by some as obligation-free – implying that if you don’t really like the course there is no commitment to stay – I have been pleasantly surprised by those who have offered constructive criticism, whilst clearly not perceiving the course to ‘be for them’. Rather than adopt the idea that the open access of the MOOC necessitates an open exit, I’d far rather encourage dialogue: tell us why it is not working for you. I am aware that it is asking quite a lot of busy people, but the benefits are mutual if those people wish to continue their learning elsewhere.
Firstly, I have been noticing some comments about underestimated workload. The recommended 3-5 hours per week is perhaps something to consider with regards to our thoughts on content. While it may be that our curation of content within the Coursera site requires more time to engage with, I suspect the vast amount of writing produced by course participants is also contributing to the time people are dedicating to the MOOC. Of course, participant blogs, images and posts are every bit as much of the content as the resources put together by the teachers, and seen in this way creates an overwhelming task of ‘course reading.’ Not only the sheer scale of this participant-created content, but also the navigation required to access these contributions, is something that perhaps needs to be factored into estimated hours. However, I would be cautious about this implying that all content needs to be read in order to understand what is happening in this MOOC. I see no problem at all in someone ‘tuning in’ for an hour a week, picking and choosing a few resources, and leaving the five week course with some kind of different outlook on ‘e-learning’. That would seem to be the kind of open education we are talking about, rather than maintaining the idea that (all) education has to be about mastery.
Secondly, I’ve been thinking about the idea that we make the course objectives clearer: essentially ‘this is why the course will not be for you’. While that might seem to be a strategy that prevents disappointment for those joining and realising the MOOC is not what they thought, I wonder where that leaves us with regards to diversity. I want people who believe in instructional design to come and take our MOOC and be critical of the teaching methods, much more than I’d want them to not enrol in the first place. I don’t say that flippantly or disrespectfully, as I would want to be able to enrol in, and gain valuable learning experiences from, courses that utilise differing teaching methods to my own. I don’t ‘agree’ with much of the theory that underpins instructional design, for example, but that doesn’t mean I’m under the illusion that I have nothing to learning from the many valuable principles embodied in courses which have been designed in this way. Just as dividing people into sub-groups would seem to sweep the problem of scale under the carpet, specifying who the MOOC is for and who it is not for appears to homogenise to some extent.
The number of times I have read ‘I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this EDCMOOC’ tells me to keep working with diversity, and to stick to my convictions.