MOOCs are not revolutionary, but they are part of something bigger, more varied that is revolutionary: big open mostly-online things like courses that are having unavoidable initially minimum impact.
As usual, the consequences of this revolution may be good and/or bad. I hope we can try to make a difference and succeed.
MOOCs Non-Revolutionary; Narrowing Too Soon
Self-identified "pure" MOOCs are the least revolutionary of the recent arrival of very large open-access fully online course offerings. They are not revolutionary in the principles they espouse and attempt to embody. Constructivism, connectivism, open education are well-intended and often helpful extensions of the progressive education movement that has been gaining and ebbing in influence and implementation for many decades. They are not revolutionary in the impact they are likely to have beyond the first wave of zealots.
I'm talking about the MOOCs that most loudly claim narrow, romantic ideals about the nature of human beings and, consequently, the kind of learning that most people "should" find best.
Some of these recent self-identified MOOCs are admirable experiments, but seem to embrace self-imposed and unnecessary doctrinal limits. They could become more of a distraction than a contribution.
It is much too early to focus the newly bursting energy for experimentation and competition in creating new KINDS of big, open, mostly online courses. [It is still much too early to accept the current overwhelming reliance on access to text and asynchronous interaction via text.]
Meanwhile, we may have begun major - perhaps revolutionary - educational change that the most extreme progressive purists cannot perceive, that the most extreme consumerists cannot understand, and that the most astute educational publishers fear.
I'm talking about some of the possible emerging consequences of applying new technological capabilities to old commitments to share information and knowledge as widely as possible. Librarians in general and public libraries in particular have for centuries(?) been committed not only to permitting access but also to responding to inquiries and to enticing more widespread, frequent, and effective use of their information resources - which are no longer limited to print materials.
Real Revolution - Unavoidable Minimum Impact: Cumulative, Elusive, Obvious
Changes that many see as incremental, inconsequential, or distractions are accumulating - and the aggregate is revolutionary change.
That said, there is still reason to raise hopes - and fears - in response to the best publicized recent activities advancing this direction: The Open Education Resource movement, took a big step when MIT's OpenCourseWare project was officially launched in 2003 and the big, open, online course movement accelerated with the first 3 Stanford Engineering Open Online Computer Science courses - which clearly achieved "massive" enrollment - in October, 2011.
At the very least, these trends are allowing many more people to see what is really being done, what is being required of students, at the most selective, expensive, colleges and universities in the United States. To see the quantity and quality of reading assignments, project assignments, etc... what is being demanded and expected at the top.
Even if the course content revealed, the curriculum revealed, and the instructional practices revealed are not entirely appropriate for other institutions or admirable in themselves, their availability is likely to have revolutionary impact.
[Comment from community college math teacher shortly after MIT began making course materials openly accessible: “Now I can see what they include in 1st year calculus. I don't expect to teach the same kind of course, but I have a better idea of what my department should try to teach to help my students WHO MIGHT WANT TO TRY TO HEAD IN THE SAME DIRECTION AS MIT STUDENTS.” ]
Good and/or Bad Consequences?
Even revealing these insights into the elite institutions may have consequences: both good and bad.
- Reveal to the vast majority the widening gap of quality between the elite and other colleges and universities. Encourage achievable improvement.
- Combat pressures to dilute the curriculum at less expensive, selective colleges and universities as byproduct of pressures to increases the student/faculty ratio and reduce tuition and reduce net cost.
- Increase pressures to extend, enhance the curriculum and teaching/learning options among expensive, selective colleges and universities as byproduct of competitive pressure to stay in this elite group... in ways that continue to generate ideas, practices, resources that can be used by others to improve their own teaching/learning individually and programmatically
- Help raise goals for course content at less expensive, selective colleges and universities
- Increase interest in figuring out how to supplement, improve, use open stuff ... how can the "better" residential institutions....
- How can the community colleges and other less expensive institutions use these to better serve.....
- How can new kinds of institutions use these to ....?
- Shape and use these resources to respond to variety of learning capabilities, needs, styles? variety of teaching needs, styles, capabilities?
- Reveal to the vast majority the widening gap of quality between the elite and other colleges and universities. Raise unmeetable expectations
- Pressures to reduce net cost and tuition at less expensive, selective colleges and universities continue to result in focus on increasing student/faculty ratio and ignore curriculum and other practices at the top
- Increase pressures to extend, enhance the curriculum and teaching/learning options among expensive, selective colleges and universities as byproduct of competitive pressure to stay in this elite group to levels that are punitive for learners and teachers and at a pace that is disruptive to institutions.
- Raise goals for course content at less expensive, selective colleges and universities too far, too fast - beyond the reach of those who are likely to continue to need these institutions
- By increasing interest in figuring out how to supplement, improve, use open stuff divert too many resources from continuing efforts to improve more traditional teaching/learning
- How can the community colleges and other less expensive institutions use these to better serve..... without sacrificing the aspects of their offerings that continue to be so beneficial to so many - under-prepared, first-time college, ...
- How can new kinds of institutions use these to ....?
- Allow early trends in these resources to prematurely limit the variety of learning capabilities, needs, styles and the variety of teaching capabilities, needs, styles that are permitted, supported, encouraged, ..
- Allow early trends in these resources to prematurely limit the variety of learning and teaching practices that are considered respectable [make the left-handers learn to write right-handed]
IMAGE selected by Steve Gilbert 20120926
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