Open but Counted: A Model for Open Classes

There has been a debate for some time, likely since even before the Connectivism Massively Open Online Course (CCK08) offered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2008, about the “worth” of open online classes. The current analysis by Dave Cormier, who has also co-taught such classes, is valuable in setting up some of these issues, which he did in response to a critic named Ken (whom, if I recall correctly, was also part of CCK08).

The issue of how to rate the value of an open online class is, it is acknowledged, ultimately up to the individual participant. I participated fully in CCK08, and I did it for graduate course credit. That credit was important to me. A number of open learners like to brag that they are just in it for their own learning, not in order to move ahead in their careers or get a degree. But professional development in a career (particularly a career like mine) is too often neglected and should be heartily appreciated by employers, be them public or private educational institutions. Course credit, particularly graduate credit, is the currency in that transaction, just as a degree is the currency for getting a job.

open sign
CC Flicker by loonyhiker

Yes, I do learn for learning’s sake, and I do it all over the web. But a class is seen by most people as more than a collection of resources with a social network attached. Most people want it to somehow be led by experts. If we are using that model anyway, and such experts are connected to institutions of higher education, why should learners not be able to get official credit? CCK08 combined a small group of officially enrolled students with hundreds of looky-loos, learning-for-learning’s-sake learners, trend spotters, and other interested people. The brunt of the conversation was carried by the instructors, the officially enrolled learners and a small group of strong open participants. The enrolled students had “buy-in” and made a more sustained contribution — hundreds of others might have learned a lot from the class but they didn’t add to it.

In examining why people sign up and then leave such courses, it is a mistake to dismiss the lack of official credit as a reason. There are numerous courses on the web that are fully enrolled because they offer, if nothing else, continuing education credits that people can use in their careers. Some of these classes are lousy. Why take a great class and make it exclusive to those who don’t need credit?

The best model that has emerged thus far is the credit/non-credit open course exhibited in Alec Couros’s graduate classes and CCK08. In both, a small group of students is enrolled officially through a university, with required assignments, assessment and a grade. But the content and social interaction (the heart of the course) is open to all to participate. This provides vast participation without “managing” hundreds of students, and allows many different types of learners to participate.

This type of class is not at all new — optional credit courses have been offered for many years. It is still the best model in the internet age, in fact even more so because the online environment allows the outsiders to be insiders and truly contribute. It makes a better experience for both teachers and students, socially authorizes the activity, and forces the university to participate in new learning methods. Sounds like win-win-win to me.

1 comment to Open but Counted: A Model for Open Classes

  • Ed Webb

    As an active non-credit participant in CCK08, and less active tourist in CCK09, I’d endorse the above from my different perspective. The active core of enrolled students, enhanced by the most active of us non-credit folks, led by experts, made for a sometime exhilarating experience. It seems a good model to replicate.