I have now been an enrolled student in two classes being referred to as MOOCs (Massively Open Online Classes). I attended a discussion today that was offered by George Siemens in his blog post “What’s wrong with (M)OOCs?“. I commented there on some challenges to MOOCs in traditional disciplines, but I am also formulating some ideas regarding the possible different types and formats of MOOCs as I adapt my own thinking in a way that will help me design a History MOOC.

The advantages of MOOCs are many. They open up both content and instruction, and allow people from all over to participate in a class. But even after only a handful of offerings have been attempted, it is clear that there is a spectrum of course design for MOOCs.

The Open-Open MOOC

At one end is what I’ll call the open-open MOOC, where the scaffolding for the course is minimal. There might be one or several “instructors”, but there are no lectures or required assignments. Any synchronous meetings are purely optional. Guidance might consist of weekly topics, perhaps phrased as suggestions. The course environment might be set up in a central location for part of the class (for example, an instructor’s blog or a Moodle installation), but the use of it is de-emphasized. Instead, course activity is distributed as widely as possible. For today’s web technologies, that usually means each student creating his/her own Personal Learning Environment through blogs, wikis, and RSS aggregated feeds. No one’s work is truly “assessed” (as in graded) but may be featured through distributive means such as retweeting or linking from ones own blog. The course may have start and end dates, or it may be so open as to really constitute a form of guided community instead.

An example of an Open-Open MOOC would be the recent PLENK course, taught by George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier.

The Open-Closed MOOC

In the middle is what I’ll call the Open-Closed MOOC, where the root of the course is a for-credit class (usually offered via university or university extension). The start and end dates are set, usually by the sponsoring institution. The “core” students are there to earn a grade, so their work is assessed. The technologies used may be identical to an open-open MOOC, and those who are not officially enrolled (but may have “registered” somehow so they are known) have an active role to play. Their work and activities may be indistiguishable for those who are enrolled, or they may be given a separate role, such as mentor or contributor.

An example of this format might be EC&I 831, taught by Alec Couros.

The Closed-Closed MOOC

A Closed-Closed MOOC (I realize that seems to contradict the world “open” in MOOC) would simply be a large course, offered on-site or online, where only the materials/content, and perhaps commenting in a connected community, is open to the web. The instructor would not monitor the non-enrolled student activity, but rather allow it to contribute to the closed class, and vice versa. In a very closed version, student activity could reside in a course management system or other controlled/semi-private space, and the world outside the course could be connected via blogging, RSS feeds or other technologies. Some student work might be private, and some public.

A number of courses may fit this model, including standard on-site or online courses which access the larger world in various ways via the web.

The pedagogy used for each model is heavily influenced by the nature of web-based communications and source-gathering. The more heavily these are used, the more learner-controlled focus is likely. In the Open-Open model, the model itself forces a decentralized, learner-directed approach. In the Open-Closed and Closed-Closed models, the pedagogy for enrolled students can range from more instructor-directed work to more student-centered activity, so long as such activity can be shown to match course outcomes as determined by the institution.

My distinctions might provide for a way to discuss such courses in a way to encourage greater openness and variety of pedagogical approaches. As I noted on George’s blog, the challenge of offering a MOOC may be about larger issues, such as instructor workload, institutional restrictions, and lack of resources. But the fact is that each MOOC so far has been taught by a particular kind of tech-savvy instructor teaching a subject already suited to (and dependent on for meta-referential research purposes) the Open-Open framework. Perhaps we can consider now massaging the possible frameworks to enable other kinds of instructors to see where their work would fit.

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