Saturday, October 06, 2012

Thinking about Peter Sloep's comments

Peter Sloep has some thoughtful comments in his Networked Learning Scoop-it on my MOOC-opalypse post.  Here's his comments in purple, and my responses in black:

The line of argument followed in this essay is a familiar one: MOOCs are there to stay, there are all these apocalyptic predictions about the disappearance of colleges and universities as we know them, hence, to stay employed, I'd better make the student experience worth their money. Apart from the observation that it is a bit ironic that only now that jobs are on the line we start thinking about giving value for money, there are many problems with this kind of argument.

I was joking about being concerned about my job; I'll probably be over-the-hill by the time academia feels the big impacts of MOOCs.

First, Rosie argues from the assumption that MOOC-courses are bound to improve shortly. I am not so sure, I actually think that on the average, when more people jump on the MOOC bandwagon, the quality will go down. Yes, the better courses may be tweaked to offer a better learning experience, for instance by replacing the fora with more intelligent ones that help the learner find sensible stuff amongst the massive number of not-so-useful entries.

If most of the people who jump on the MOOC bandwagon are only doing so because it's trendy, we might see a decrease in average course quality.  I don't think that's likely - I expect most institutions will try to produce good courses, and as more courses are out there, competition will motivate improvement.  But even if the average course quality is no better,  having more courses will mean we have more good courses.

Second, Rosie guesses that flipped classrooms, which provide tutoring next to a (free) MOOC, won't convince the students. That depends, I would say. Read Jonathan Marks' contribution, sitting next to this one. Also, she believes "nobody knows enough about how learning works to do a credible job of this". That simply isn't true. There is a long tradition of research on distance education which explains how to do this online and much research on learning in face-to-face settings other than classrooms and lecture halls which offers valuable insights (see my blog on Katie Vale's presentation, below). It is true, though, that this research has often been ignored by people used to and happy with ordinary lecturing.

I stand by the 'nobody knows enough...' statement. There's a fair bit of research and some valuable insights (including those that motivate flipped classrooms), but not nearly as much as we need.

Third, Rosie then concludes that "[...] one advantage a university gains by offering Coursera courses is that the enormous numbers of students and the online record-keeping make it possible to collect unprecedented amounts of data about student learning. But in practice most of the data will be worthless unless we carefully design our courses as learning experiments.' Under the label of learning analytics such data collection is already taking place and delivering insights. And, yes, it does make sense to carefully design courses as learning experiments. That is precisely what Harvard is doing with its EdX platform (again, see Kathie Vale). I would hope many more colleges start to do so, designing other learning environments than the default lecture hall and learn from the experience.

I couldn't find the Kathie Vale link, nor anything by Googling her.  I read the Wikipedia entry on Learning Analytics, which reinforced my impression that this is primarily a set of tools we can use in our learning experiments.  Learning analytics can be applied to 'found' data (e.g. any Coursera course) but is going to be most valuable in the context of carefully designed experiments.
 
In summary, I don't believe the apocalyptic predictions about MOOCs for one minute. The educational landscape, shaped by learning needs and wants on the one hand and forms and environments for learning on the other, is too vast and rugged to be surveyd to the full by a search party led by commercial MOOC providers alone. However, it is a good thing we start to question the traditional, much trodden roads to learning. If that is what they manage to achieve, we should thank them for that. (peter sloep, @pbsloep)

I don't really think that the rise of MOOCs will lead to the collapse of universities.  Not because universities deserve to be preserved in their present form, but because the whole structure of higher education is so very very conservative that even apocalyptic forces will cause only slow incremental changes.  But I'll save this for another post.
   

9 comments:

Peter Sloep said...

thanks for continuing the discussion. It is all pretty much undecided in MOOC-land, which is why I do the scoops .... Two comments. First, you ask for Katie Vale, a link to her presentation can now be found in my blog post on her presentation: http://pbsloep.blogspot.nl/2012/10/how-to-improve-teaching-with.html (it wasn't available yet when I wrote my comment on your original post).
Second, like me Tony Bates in a blog argues that design should take precedence over 'big data'. Of course, having lost of data available is useful (actually, I have a PhD working on educational recommender systems which only function with sufficient data). Nevertheless, their availability can never be an excuse for bad design. But I think we are of the same opinion in that respect.
http://www.tonybates.ca/2012/08/05/whats-right-and-whats-wrong-about-coursera-style-moocs/

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Anonymous said...

thanks for continuing the discussion. It is all pretty much undecided in MOOC-land, which is why I do the scoops .... Two comments. First, you ask for Katie Vale, a link to her presentation can now be found in my blog post
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