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Archive for April, 2013

Stephen Downes puts it succinctly when he says:

MOOCs were not designed to serve the missions of the elite colleges and universities. They were designed to undermine them, and make those missions obsolete.

Yes there has been a great rebranding and co-option of the concept of the MOOC over the last couple of years. The near-instant response from the elites, almost unprecedented in my experience, is a recognition of the deeply subversive intent and design of the original MOOCs (which they would like very much to erase from history).

The subversion of MOOCs in the past two years by the elites has been more prominent than the subversion by MOOCs of the elites. Stephen makes the intentionality explicit for MOOCs (cMOOCs) when he states that the design of the cMOOCs was explicitly to provide agency to people who cannot afford to walk the pathways of the elite.

The argument goes, obviously much far ahead than just this. The Connectivist principles “(L)earning is the process of making connections” and “(K)nowledge is the network” predicate a complex system where outcomes cannot be precisely designed for predictable outcomes – something that traditionalists cannot ever agree with.

Case in point. I am part of several corporate and non-corporate content development initiatives. One of those is in teacher education (teacher educators, student-teachers and teachers). The traditionalist notion is still where one can design the best content that takes care of most of the audience, with experts becoming the single point and authoritative source for knowledge.

After all, no teacher can go wrong if she follows the lesson plan made by an expert who knows the subject and the learning challenges inside out through experience.

I am confident that this claim is absolutely incorrect. The lesson plan was conceived, implemented and evolved through multiple iterations by an expert in specific settings (language, audience, regulatory environment, subject complexity, expert’s own capability to deliver, access to resources, and many other unique experiential parameters).

This is the reason why the taste of food when one person makes it is in one location with local ingredients is different from another preparation of the same dish using the same ingredients, perhaps in a different location, by the same or a different person.

Add to that the temporal complexity itself – that the same dish when tasted by the same person may really not taste the same to her on two different occasions because initial conditions have changed up to the point of consumption.

Add to that the implicit assumption that all experts can, in fact, design. It is not immediately obvious that they can, and that area of design itself is extremely specialized and needs training and continuous evolution.

What happens in reality is that good teachers are able to learn and adapt the expert’s advice to what is applicable to their own context. When they adapt, refashion, integrate and deliver the ideas of the expert for their audience and environment is when they become active co-creators and designers themselves.

All this means that the notion of teachers as receptacles is as pervasive as the notion of students as receptacles of boxed knowledge. We shall continue to educate our educators the way we educate our students – a moronic impasse that perpetuates the traditional system rather than subvert it.

I am also concerned the way the subversion of cMOOCs is really happening. The following debilitating arguments are frequently made by the traditionalists:

  1. We need teachers. Don’t think that this will replace them.
  2. Technology cannot substitute for proper teaching in institutional contexts.
  3. MOOCs are unproven methodologies, unsuitable for rigorous academic endeavors
  4. MOOCs are the work of eLearning enthusiasts
  5. MOOCs are the logical next step in taking the traditional systems online, but quality can only be reliably determined by the traditional system
  6. Experts are the best instructional designers of content. Best in breed content can be created for maximal effectiveness.
  7. Many more such arguments…

Well, as arguments that display a only a cursory understanding of the cMOOCs, these are chimerical and obstructionist. The arguments that must be focused on are altogether different.

  1. How can one design learning environments for emergence and self-organization?
  2. How can one measure evolution of the networks that form one’s learning in ways that are meaningful to self and to the rest of society?
  3. How do learning networks evolve and adapt – at personal/atomic and multi-node levels?
  4. How do we architect content and connections so that they become intelligent about and aware of the needs of the network?
  5. And many other such questions…

But for us to focus on these, we must make many more attempts to really understand what cMOOCs stand for, how subversive they really are, what impacts do they have on teaching and learning and what ultimately, is the promise of adopting these systems. Perhaps a visioning statement from Stephen, George and Dave would be appropriate at this juncture.

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