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Posts Tagged ‘xMOOC’

First published by EDU Tech on 24th July, 2014

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are an exciting new development in online education. In this article, Viplav Baxi explores the origins of MOOCs, their two main (‘c’ and ‘x’) variants and why it is critical to appreciate the distinction.

October 2008. Three Canadians, George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier started the first Massive Open Online Course called Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CCK08) based on a new theory of learning called Connectivism proposed by George Siemens in 2005.

Positing Connectivism as a learning theory for the digital age, Siemens asserted that learning is the process of making connections. These connections could take different forms such as those found in physical, social, cultural, conceptual or biological networks. These connections shape our learning because they help us navigate the increasing over-abundance of information and knowledge, leverage diversity of opinions and build the capacity to know, learn and adapt.

Stephen Downes proposed a new definition of knowledge which he called Connective Knowledge. Downes asserts that knowledge is the network. As Downes states: “at its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks”.

Dave Cormier is credited with coining the term ‘MOOC’ itself! He is also well-known for the theory of Rhizomatic Learning.

CCK08 transformed the way many people, including me, thought of education. The 12-week course was open and free. Over 2,200 people registered from over the world.

Even before CCK08 started, participants shaped the curriculum by suggesting areas of personal interest. Each week of the course, facilitators would briefly introduce the topic and suggest relevant open resources. Experts were invited to engage with course participants on each topic followed by an unstructured online conversation. Learning was distributed – participants interacted through tools they were comfortable with (like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and SecondLife). The facilitators made their network connections and activity public, so participants could follow the leaders in the field and keep abreast of the latest developments.

Each day, using Stephen’s gRSSHopper technology, participant contributions would be harvested from all over the web, important contributions identified and a newsletter sent on to all participants enabling them to keep up with the activity in the course.

A few students (including me) signed up to become the first paid students in this the first ever MOOC. We submitted 3 essays that were evaluated directly by the instructors. The final certificate was awarded by the University of Manitoba (the course hosts) at the end of the course. Like many others, I started a CCK08 Blog that has a collection posts from each week of the course.

Participants self–organized to form many virtual and face-to-face open learning networks (that outlasted CCK08). They adapted material into their own language and context. The facilitators were always available as expert co-learners rather than as instructors. The sheer diversity in the community created tremendously exciting opportunities for learning.

CCK08 also illustrated four key principles of MOOCs – diversity, autonomy, open-ness and interactivity. Learning “emerged” rather than being pre-designed. Participants learnt to be practitioners rather than just “learning to know” or even “learning to do”. CCK08 also redefined the roles of teachers and students. The role of the teacher as an expert learner was to model and demonstrate while the learner had to practice and reflect.

Such a learning ecosystem reflects the reality of learning in a digital age, where information is over abundant, knowledge is increasingly specialized, change is extremely rapid, networks & social media have revolutionized communication and learning has become largely informal.

Such systems of learning can potentially solve the burning problem of employability of our students. It can help them gain the capability to become lifelong learners, negotiating external changes. It can raise the quality of teaching and learning significantly, in an equitable and affordable manner.

Since 2008, there have been a large number of MOOCs on the lines of CCK08. These MOOCs such as the Future of Education, Critical Literacies, Rhizomatic Learning and other versions of CCK itself, have seen rich interaction globally. A lot of published research and a strong community of educators, theorists, developers and thought-leaders have emerged. The new field of Learning Analytics has also emerged as a corollary of this approach.

Later, in 2011, two Stanford professors created an online course in Artificial Intelligence. They took the decision to make this course open and free for anyone who wanted to enrol. To their delight, almost 170,000 students registered for this course!

They discovered that people did in fact like the idea of coming online to learn in large numbers if the course was taught by reputed professors from top universities, was accompanied by a certificate from the university and was free.

Interestingly, they also started calling their online courses, MOOCs. The name stuck and MOOCs, so defined, soon caught popular imagination when more top universities got involved, technology to effectively manage large sets of learners matured and venture capital (& institutional) funds started backing the concept. Soon, we heard of massive investments in MOOCs and some of the top university brands like Stanford, MIT, Harvard and others backing them.

To distinguish between the two, Stephen Downes termed the original MOOCs ‘cMOOCs’ (for Connectivist MOOCs) and the newer ones as ‘xMOOCs’, the “x” standing for being an extension of something else.

That something else was really the type of eLearning that had grown very rapidly since the late 1990s. Corporations and even online learning providers found it expedient to digitize expensive face to face training and create standardized, mass learning experiences for their employees, in order to cut costs and save lost working time.

For the most part, this type of eLearning tried to simply replicate the traditional classroom and curricular practices online. In traditional online learning, all learning is centrally directed, restricted to the closed boundaries of the course, performed generally alone (collaboration features see very low usage patterns), mass personalized with rigid pre-determined learning paths and assessed largely through objective type assessments.

This type of eLearning had already failed to scale for many reasons. It was designed for stereotypes of industrial age learners. It ignored the diversity and overabundance of information that is present in real life. It ignored the autonomy of learners to personalize the learning experience. It ignored the richness of interaction on the World Wide Web. It ignored the “conversation” and “connections” in learning. xMOOCs are extensions of this type of eLearning.

By only incrementally extending this type of online learning, xMOOCs have massively magnified challenges such as low retention, rote learning, low employability and lack of student ownership, motivation, interactivity and engagement. It is as if they have ignored more than two decades of insights from online, open and distance education.

Backed by venture funding, top universities and media hype, xMOOCs have captured popular imagination. India has not remained immune to this hype. Addressing the need for personalized interaction and for integrating LABs, high quality online self-paced content is to be blended with face to face local faculty interactions and LABs. This addresses some shortcomings of the xMOOCs, but in essence remains their extension.

What we should be doing instead, is to build massively open connective learning ecologies that can help our students and teachers to become capable, connected and responsible digital learners – the promise of the cMOOCs (and of an ideal educational system).

These ecologies will both need and encourage experimentation and innovation. And they will yield better results because learners will be better connected and more in control of their learning.

The important question is: do we really care enough?

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MOOCs are not books

A startling post by Bernard Fryshman – Books Are MOOCs, Too, leaves me with conflicting thoughts. If he is talking about xMOOCs, I could perhaps agree to a level. If he is talking about cMOOCs, I couldn’t disagree more!

Bernard makes the points that books are mobile, ubiquitous, accessible, excellent supplementary material for your degree preparation, comprehensive and “massive”. He likens the MOOC hype to the hype that surrounded television based education. He believes that “reading a book requires much more active involvement than watching a MOOC online” and that “(T)eachers find it easier to assign a specific homework assignment in a book than a “viewing” in a MOOC”. Among other insights is his insight that books have the advantage of privacy and a serendipity that is “unlikely in a MOOC” and the prediction that “it is hard to envision more than 5 percent of the 20 million postsecondary students in the US drifting over to MOOCs”.

I guess books have a massive audience, are available online, are (sometimes) open to those who can afford them or if they are free, and they (especially textbooks) are built around the course. Perhaps Bernard’s conception of the BOOK is that of being Best Oracles Of Knowledge, that if consumed well, should predictably result in knowledge replication.

Books and their contents, whether offline or online, whether backed by collaboration or not, whether available openly or not, are simply one element of any learning experience – they are the compiled thoughts of the authors’ state of knowledge that others can benefit from. Textbooks lend themselves to supporting degree preparation since they are specifically written for that context.

However, to liken them to MOOCs on the basis of these, dilutes the essence of what the online learning world has been talking about for the past few decades.

The xMOOCs can argue that MOOCs can extend the textbook experience by bringing in online collaboration, crowd performance reporting, connect with the instructor and engaging multimedia content apart from other online affordances. But they can only do just that – since their current format is merely an extension of early approaches to open courseware with the addition of these online social elements.

The concept of online (free or paid) multimedia instruction from the experts is hardly new or revolutionary, but the hype machines have been active for the xMOOCs. It is a little depressing that they picked up the MOOC moniker, the result of painstaking work by George, Stephen and Dave, put brand and dollars behind it, and got lucky. It seems that we now have nonsensical variants like SPOCs (Small Private Online Courses). Tony Bates makes a huge indictment of the the xMOOCs when he states:

In my view, MIT will struggle to make an impact on educational research if it continues to ignore the potential contribution of educators. It is as if researchers such as Piaget, Bruner, Vigotsky, Carl Rogers, Gagné, and many later researchers had never existed. Can you imagine anyone trying to develop a new form of transportation while deliberately ignoring  Newtonian mechanics? Yet this is what MIT is doing in its educational research.

cMOOCs are incomparable to textbooks, or to xMOOCs, or for that matter to courses in a traditional context. They are a different paradigm altogether that stands outside the conventional lens – I would go so far as to state that the xMOOCs are literally inside the box of traditional education, while cMOOCs stand outside the box – that cannot be viewed by the lens of what we traditionally define as the formal learning or university experience.

So when it comes to textbooks and the cMOOCs, Bernard’s analysis falls flat. Textbooks and cMOOCs are simply not comparable.

In the cMOOCs, any one resource is not as important as the connection making process itself – the sense-making and way-finding is the core of the learning experience. Navigating the “conversation”, “context” and the “network” in a cMOOC and deriving learning therein, are perhaps the most important parts in a cMOOC.

Learning to define and set your own plateaus of competencies, learning to be instead of learning to do or know, learning to navigate the over abundant flow of digital information, learning to grow your network and make it richer all the time – these are the critical literacies of the cMOOC world.

Textbooks may or may not be part of the design of a cMOOC – that is largely irrelevant. What is important is designing a cMOOC environment so that it is suitably complex and adaptive.

The cMOOC starts not from the definition of a syllabus and design of the videos, but from making available the teacher’s network – the continuously changing and adaptive nature of her learning. Within that, she decides to give focus to a sub-network that she wants to engage learners on, with the expectation that her learners will usefully (to them) conjoin their network to hers, resulting in far richer learning for both.

The cMOOC starts from a technology base that is geared to expose that network of people, resources and concepts, for extension through reflection and practice. Exposition is non-existent, the best practice is to model and demonstrate your learning processes to your students.

The cMOOC starts from an understanding that diversity and autonomy in the network is very important. In that sense, and this is especially tough for critics of the format, it is not controlled or predictable. However, I foresee that soon we will have ways to understand how such complex ecosystems can be designed for maximal learning effectiveness.

Which is another point for cMOOCs – they are nascent and evolutionary as of now. They are directional and aspirational, and not transactional in the traditional sense. Does that make them less useful or applicable? Not really, but you need to know the difference in approach to be able to use them successfully, as George, Stephen and Dave have repeatedly demonstrated, whether with CCK or Critical Literacies or EdFutures.

Let us face it. We cannot bemoan the fact that the education system is broken, while continuing to find ways to reform it. We must look at alternatives and not disparage those alternatives because either we do not understand them or we lack the patience and conviction to fix the issues in education.

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