I recently joined several hundred researchers and practitioners in Arlington, TX, for the inaugural research conference on MOOCs (programme). I joined an invitational pre-conference workshop (handy blog synthesis from Bodong Chen, and working notes), and spoke at a conference panel on “Certifying MOOCs”, highlighting the role that learning analytics may play in assessing deeper learning at scale.
Chaired by one of the original conceivers of the MOOC concept, George Siemens, the MOOC Research Initiative (MRI), funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, seeks to move from the hype around MOOCs to more solid research. As the MRI website says:
“The dramatic increase in online education, particularly Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), presents researchers, academics, administrators, learners, and policy makers with a range of questions as to the effectiveness of this format of teaching and learning. To date, the impact of MOOCs has been largely disseminated through press releases and university reports. The peer-reviewed research on MOOCs has been minimal. The proliferation of MOOCs in higher education requires a concerted and urgent research agenda. The MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) will begin to address this research gap by evaluating MOOCs and how they impact teaching, learning, and education in general.”
The list of projects funded under this programme is a great first start in placing MOOC design and evaluation on more solid ground, and includes the OU’s Martin Weller & Katy Jordan.
George Siemens’ opening talk to the pre-conf workshop wasn’t recorded, but the theme was pretty much what he shared in his OpenEd2013 keynote. He, and several speakers over the next 3 days, not least his cMOOC partners in crime Dave Cormier and Stephen Downes, reminded delegates that MOOCs were originally conceived as a way for open learning to challenge conventional pedagogies — something that many newer-comers do not realise, as mainstream universities have caught up with online learning, and appropriated MOOCs within a more conventional content delivery paradigm. Enjoy George’s talk (+ slides):
There was a passionate opening keynote from Jim Groom showing what’s possible in terms of highly engaged online learning when DS106 digital storytelling students took ownership of their learning (plus some debate on whether this translates to other disciplines), plus other projects which clearly are transferable. A fantastic panel (Amy Collier, Tanya Joosten and Bonnie Stewart) chaired by Shirley Alexander kicked off the final day, asking What Happens Next? Post-MOOC Hype, and a closing talk on where the open adaptive platform OLI v2 is heading, with Dawn Zimmaro valiantly standing in for a snow-bound Candace Thille — all replayable here. Martin Weller wrote a blog post capturing some of the spirit in the closing panel, urging delegates to keep innovating despite the many pressures that seek to commercialise MOOCs, which entails appealing to the most familiar forms, making them naturally conservative.
While some people are upset by what they consider the retrograde development of MOOCs as they’ve gone mainstream, in my view this is simply part of the natural process of media evolution, in which a new medium takes shape through initially replicating existing media and practices, before it finds native forms. Remember, cinema started by pointing a camera at a theatre stage… In this line of thinking, we should therefore be grateful for the oxygen of publicity that MOOC mania is currently giving to online learning as a serious modality, and to the deep questions now being asked around the value that institutions add to raw content and peer interaction.
In this spirit, my slides from the Certifying MOOCs panel sought to question exactly what kinds of learning we are trying to certify, especially given the problem of authentic assessment at scale without human mentors, and thus the potential role of learning analytics in getting at what we might consider to be proxies for deeper learning, social capital, epistemic thinking, etc.
Oh, and Dallas ground to a halt when it snowed, with many of us stranded for at least a day, many for several. Made the UK’s snow clearing operations look positively Scandinavian in their efficiency… Thanks Martin for rescuing me from a night on the street, and George for getting us to the airport in the end!