A couple of things came together recently, which is almost always my foundation for a blog post.
First, Stanford University is about to offer an open, online course on Artificial Intelligence.
At roughly the same time, discussion in the EduMOOC Google Group had two interesting threads, one about the work a few of us are doing trying to expand the Wikipedia page on MOOCs (see my last post), and one about what a MOOC is.
My definition of a MOOC sticks to the basics:
- M = Massive: needs tons of participants (this is why my own History MOOC failed)
- O = Open: all resources must be available on the open web to anyone who wants to join
- O = Online: no on-site attendance required, everything is online
- C = Course: has a course structure, with set facilitator(s), topics and timeline
That’s it. During the discussion, some individuals have considered that a MOOC must have other elements to be a MOOC. These elements include:
- connectivist pedagogy
- no cost to participants
- a structure set up to deliberately encourage connections among students
- an intention to encourage lifelong learning
I see these as good ideas, just not required for a MOOC. The argument about Stanford’s AI class, and whether or not it’s a MOOC, is based on the extent to which it complies to these desirables rather than whether it is Massive, Open, Online and a Course. It qualifies (if a bunch of people come) on all four, even with a pricey textbook, no set structure for student communication (so far as we know), and no clear intention to encourage learning beyond the course.
Jeff Lebow asked during the Hangout why it matters how we define MOOC? My answer is that the MOOC has been presented as a model. I have participated in several of them, and tried one myself. It failed to fit the model. I am now part of offering another open, online class that should by rights be a MOOC.
This is our POT Online Teaching Certificate Class, which starts September 1. It is open, online and a course. It will likely again fail the Massive test (we have 32 people so far, and I expect a total of no more than 50). As I’ve mentioned before, I have a theory that general education courses will always have trouble succeeding as MOOCs, because unlike all the previous MOOCs, we do not have:
- promotion and support by the leaders in the field (the ones I chided for not helping out on Wikipedia)
- fame ( I am known online only among a small group of diverse educators, and the efforts of a small group of committed, volunteer faculty like POT just won’t be seen as an effort worthy of the same kind of attention)
- a large technical support system (it’s mostly just us with our free tools)
If I were to add such things to the definition of MOOC, people would rightly say I was nuts. The simpler the model is, the easier it is to discuss it, the more broadly it can be applied, and good discussions like this can happen more often.