You Say MOOC, We Don’t (Anymore)

While I have been unhappy for a year or two about the commercialization and institutionalization of MOOCs, the fact that MOOCs are the latest Big Thing in education is now causing me more trouble than that.

The Program for Online Teaching, a small group of dedicated, volunteer online faculty, offers an open online class in how to teach online. Originally designed for the online (and newly online) faculty at MiraCosta College, it was opened last year to the world, and was very successful. I realize now this was because newbies were at the center, and all the more experienced people were mentors and moderators.

Our goal was to provide a safe yet open place for people new to teaching online (many of whom are new to much of the open web) to learn how to articulate their own pedagogy and translate it into a meaningful online environment for their students. This is in opposition to the idea that all new online profs need is technical training in an LMS. Our dream was to help faculty develop their own online pedagogy and implement it using the tools that work for them.

At the same time as our course was evolving, the Massive Open Online Course movement took off, in its various forms and multiple formats. The original openness and extensive, distributed conversations and networks have become addictive for many, and there are wonderful participants who now go looking for the next MOOC as an outlet for their creativity and ideas.

I have been calling our POT Cert class a SMOOC (a Small-to-Medium) online class, since it isn’t huge. At first this was a light-hearted effort to share what we were doing. But I have used the term now in two paper proposals and a conference presentation. That is, I believe now, unfortunate. In fact, it may have been a horrible mistake.

Jenny Mackness, who researches MOOCs and is a class participant, has gotten to the heart of the matter, talking about the class on her own blog. Her analysis of the difficulties at the beginning of this class have been absolutely on target.

I think we are a task-based SMOOC, but that’s based on my own schema. If others think we are a MOOC, they will (and have) come into the class and overwhelm the people for whom we offer the class. We have already gotten into arguments about the philosophical approach, whether I should be asking more experienced participants to tone it down, whether I am violating the principles of MOOC by insisting on topical posts.

I’ve had it. I hereby disavow the POT Certificate Class as a MOOC. We are just an online class. If you’d like to join us, read the textbook, follow the syllabus, and post accordingly, you are heartily welcome. If you want to use us as a venue for your creative development as a networked individual and eschew the class structure and intention, I’d prefer you not join us in the class and I’ll happily interact with you in my networks (because I am a networked individual also and I love your ideas).

So this class is no longer appropriate for your research on MOOCs, it isn’t called a MOOC, and it doesn’t act like a MOOC. It is an open (but you have to email me first), online (but you have to read the textbook), class (as in set curriculum and syllabus). Its focus is helping people new to online teaching develop their own pedagogy through (limited and guided) immersion in the web environment. You may call it teacher-led if you must (though that hurts since we are facilitators – it is more syllabus-led).

This post will not be tagged potcert, because it’s not appropriate for the class itself. I am happy to continue this distributed conversation anywhere else but in the class (except in Week 19 in March, when we talk about MOOCs).

13 thoughts to “You Say MOOC, We Don’t (Anymore)”

  1. I love your realization. I stopped calling what I do a MOOC last year. I opened my class, but it is not a MOOC in the way that people have thrown around the term. It is my class, with their comments and activities, and it is open to the world. Anyone can come an join in the discussion and learn something about biology. With the help of our University Relations department, we even branded it differently. If your interested, come by or (the second site goes directly to the courses).

    For a while, I have been advocating the adaptation of the MOOC. Instead of trying to cram what you want into the concept of the MOOC, take what you like about the MOOC, what fits your class model and learning outcomes, and build an online environment to encourage students and help them master the concepts of your discipline. It has been working for me, even though I sometimes have to explain why I don’t call it a MOOC.

    So, I applaud your revelation. Viva the OPEN class concept!

    1. Thanks, Robert – your post is cheering. I like the idea you have there of Open Learning Opportunity – it has a friendly ring to it. I’d love to know how you track those going for badges? is that automated?

  2. I’m working toward some automation of the badges, but a fair amount is still personal time investment. Since I’m not a great artist, the kind folks at University Relations took my designs and made them look attractive :). The framework I’m using is based in moodle, and there is a function that allows for certificates and badges that I’m playing with. WordPress also has a badge plug-in that I’m using with my class that keeps blogs.

    Thanks for the comment about the title of the project. It took a while to come up with something that wasn’t intimidating.

  3. I haven’t been reading all your posts because I was going for reading more of participants blogs and commenting. Sorry. I’m not renaming my foray into WP blogging though.

  4. When I helped lead the breakout session about Online Education during All-College Day at MiraCosta this fall, I asked the 50+ in attendance (almost entirely faculty, mostly full-timers) how many had heard of MOOCs. Maybe three raised their hands. Clearly, you face a big challenge when you’ve got participants who have limited experience in using online tools, in different models for teaching & learning with technology, and in their fundamental sense of inhabiting cyberspace, mixed with people who are devoted MOOCers (and though the echo chamber of that group is large and loud, it is important to remember that it really represents a tiny, tiny slice of humanity). Until “MOOC” is disaggregated into more meaningful terms, I agree with abandoning it altogether, given the primary audience for which potcert is intended.

    1. As recently as last year, it was unnecessary to deal with these issues. We had a great mix of both experienced and less experienced participants, and no problems with expectations. I will articulate them more clearly in future, of course. So much has happened with MOOCs in the last year, in terms of activity and research and good/bad examples. I just wasn’t ready for the expectations of those coming in to have changed so much.

  5. Hi Lisa,
    Here is my response I am particularly interested in Jenny’s comments “I don’t think it works to tell bloggers what they can do on their own blogs, particularly if they have been blogging for many years. Also should we expect some to limit their thinking and writing while others catch up? How would you feel if your child was experiencing this at school?”
    That was likely her response to your view: “I think we are a task-based SMOOC, but that’s based on my own schema. If others think we are a MOOC, they will (and have) come into the class and overwhelm the people for whom we offer the class. We have already gotten into arguments about the philosophical approach, whether I should be asking more experienced participants to tone it down, whether I am violating the principles of MOOC by insisting on topical posts.” It seems that in SMOOC, you would prefer to have a “controlled open learning environment” based on constructivist learning (or social constructivist approach), and it is based on a structured learning pathway. As I have shared, there are nuances in between constructivist and connectivist approaches, as there are so much in common as well as differences, and there are certain merits and limitations that are inherent in the approaches. It seems instructivist approach would still be the dominating one, when an OOC is turned into MOOC – like x MOOCs. Do you see it that way?
    That’s also part of the reasons why I have participated in some MOOCs only, as I realized that some are OOCs, or the traditional x MOOCs. I enjoyed reading your posts, and your POT certificate course, though I didn’t enroll as my blog is more about reflection than an introductory blog for MOOCs.
    Besides, when I didn’t find enough support for an MOOC, I would not even bother to create one, as that is both become a liability and a burden to both educators and learners, when none is happy about the outcome. I would address the x MOOCs in part 2.

    1. Hello, John. Wonderful as always to read your view. Perhaps the difference here is that this class was not originally conceived as a MOOC at all, but when we opened it to the world it seemed to fit the definition. The definition has since changed, leading to different expectations.

      In terms of pedagogy, it is not static throughout the class. There is an instructivist core only in the sense that the curriculum is set. The rest is, as you note, constructivism. The expectation is social constructivism, but it is possible to do the class on ones own without conversation, although that misses a big part of the curriculum to do that. The intention is that as the class continues there is more participant independence.

      I don’t hold with the elementary classroom comparison. No one is “held back” by the activity of experienced members. If we do go with the analogy, it might be comparable to having high school students active in a 5th grade class, or other 5th graders who simply wouldn’t do the set assignments at all and intimidated the other students, who wouldn’t yet understand the relationship between what those people were doing and what was assigned.

  6. Hi Lisa,
    Wonderful too to think deeper into the way your class was structured. I am wondering if the multi-pedagogy would co-exist in a MOOC, as such pedagogy would evolve as the class progresses. New set of values and expectations may also emerge as learners develop competency and capability, allowing a number of pedagogy be adopted at different times, in response to the actual needs of learners and educators. I think the past MOOCs (c MOOCs) have influenced how some of the educators’ beliefs in pedagogy, though instructivism is still the predominant belief of teaching as a pedagogy – to ensure mastery learning is achieved.
    This is apparent in the x MOOCs, where the professors’ teaching is the basis of the course.

    As you said, there is an instructivist core as the curriculum is set. That is both rational and legitimate to ensure the learning outcomes are achieved, based on the instructors’ instruction and guidance. That is one of the major responsibilities of educators in ensuring the focus of learning (in terms of learning outcomes, and performance achievement – under competency based education and training).

    What could be challenging for educators in a MOOC is to understand that instructivism would not be perfect when dealing with hundreds or thousands of learners. However, that has become a myth when x MOOCs are introduced, when machine-grading are coupled with video lectures, leading to the belief that mass education could be tackled through “semi-automation” in education and teaching.

    I have elaborated on the issues and challenges in mass education based on such approach in my latest post.

    Thanks again for your great insights.


  7. Wow Lisa! I have gotten behind in my feed reader articles, and I love this one! I noticed a huge change in tone early on in the POTCERT group this year as well, and I thank you for so eloquently stating what some (me) were feeling. One of my mentees admitted to me privately via email that they were very intimidated during the first week or so of the course, and that since I introduced myself as “non-tech savvy” they felt much more at ease. I agree that it is an online certification course/cohort/group, not a MOOC. Thanks again!!!

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