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Agenda and first round of speakers announced for upcoming MOOC event

Open Education Europa RSS - 14 Octubre, 2014 - 15:11
Summary: 

Are MOOCs providing the European workforce with necessary web skills? That is the key question being explored at this upcoming one-day event taking place in Helsinki on November 17th.

Interest Area:  Schools Higher Education Training & Work Learning & Society

Agenda and first round of speakers announced for upcoming MOOC event

Open Education Europa RSS - 14 Octubre, 2014 - 15:11
Summary: 

Are MOOCs providing the European workforce with necessary web skills? That is the key question being explored at this upcoming one-day event taking place in Helsinki on November 17th.

Interest Area:  Schools Higher Education Training & Work Learning & Society

The Moodle 2.8 QA Cycle is underway: Testers and Bug Trackers Wanted!

Moodle News - 14 Octubre, 2014 - 14:40
With a code freeze in effect Moodle.org has kicked off the Quality Assurance and Testing cycle for it’s next release. The QA cycle is an opportunity for the community to try regular Moodle...

The Cargo Cult of Game Mechanics

OLDaily - 14 Octubre, 2014 - 14:27
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Steven Wittens, Hackery, Math & Design, Oct 14, 2014

Really interesting article and really interesting presentation. The thesis is essentially this: game design today has devolved into moneymaking systems that depend on "whales", that is, a small number of compulsive users who will pay to keep playing the game. This is "gaming as serious media." "It generally involves taking away choice, using scripts instead of simulations, with mini-games and quick-time events thrown in to amuse your hindbrain. It's tacitly saying that real storytelling, real human comedy or tragedy, can't happen while a player is in control. It's non-sense of course, plenty of games have done so before." The analogy with serious games in learning is clear, and I think the case is well made. See also this deconstruction of Chrono Trigger.

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Categorías: General

Could a Newly Launched Metaphorical Search Engine Really Work?

OLDaily - 14 Octubre, 2014 - 14:27
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Neurobonkers, Big Think, Oct 14, 2014

I spent a little time playing around with Yossarian Lives, a search engine that produces metaphorical results for search queries. The idea is, you pit in a search term, it responds with a set of images, and you can select an image, give it a title, and add an explanation. You can then save your idea to a list, and view other people's ideas. I had mixed results, but some of the ones others have produced were quite good. Sadly, the service is really only useful as a toy, as the image sources are commercial libraries and any actual use could get expensive quickly.

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Categorías: General

Deadline extended: eLearning Papers call for submissions extended until November 2nd

Open Education Europa RSS - 14 Octubre, 2014 - 13:15
Summary: 

Issue 40 of the eLearning Papers will explore assessment, certification, and quality assurance in open learning.The deadline to submit a paper has been extended to November 2nd, 2014.

Interest Area:  Schools Higher Education Training & Work Learning & Society

Deadline extended: eLearning Papers call for submissions extended until November 2nd

Open Education Europa RSS - 14 Octubre, 2014 - 13:15
Summary: 

Issue 40 of the eLearning Papers will explore assessment, certification, and quality assurance in open learning.The deadline to submit a paper has been extended to November 2nd, 2014.

Interest Area:  Schools Higher Education Training & Work Learning & Society

Bricolage by smart people

OLDaily - 14 Octubre, 2014 - 02:23


Daniel Lemire, Daniel Lemire's Blog, Oct 13, 2014

I've argued 'Against Digital Research Methods' in the past. Daniel Lemire summarizes the same point nicely: "It is fascinating how we have a hard time dealing with the fact that R& D is in fact nothing else but bricolage done by smart people."

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Categorías: General

The 10K Hour Rule: Deliberate Practice leads to Expertise, and Teaching can trump Genetics

OLDaily - 14 Octubre, 2014 - 02:23
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Mark Guzdial, Computing Education Blog, Oct 13, 2014

This is a pretty good article, not only because it invokes the classic 'make a PBJ' example, and not only because it cites the  proper source for the 10,000 hours of practice rule (hint: not Gladwell), but also because it provides an intelligent discussion of how the rule applies, offers a telling argument against the counterproposal (that skills are innate and not learned), and teaches us the value of focus and reflection in learning. But there's a not-so-subtle shift from "people can learn" to "people can be taught" and an invocation of the  mysterious "power of a great teacher to go beyond simple rote practice to create deliberate opportunities to learn," as though no other means were possible to accomplish the same thing by oneself, or with the aid of friends, projects, life experience or software. See also: Practice Does Not Make Perfect.

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Categorías: General

Comparing xMOOCs and cMOOCs: philosophy and practice

Tony Bates - 14 Octubre, 2014 - 01:45

They’re big: but will they survive? Image: © Wikipedia

The story so far

For my open textbook Teaching in a Digital Age, I am writing a chapter on different design models for teaching and learning. I have started writing the section on MOOCs, and in my previous post, ‘What is a MOOC?‘, I gave a brief history and described the key common characteristics of all MOOCs.

In this post I examine the differences in philosophy and practice between xMOOCs and cMOOCs.

Design models for MOOCs

MOOCs are a relatively new phenomenon and as a result are still evolving, particularly in terms of their design. However the early MOOC courses had relatively identifiable designs which still permeate most MOOCs. At the same time, there are two quite different philosophical positions underpinning xMOOCs and cMOOCs, so we need to look at each design model separately.

xMOOCs

I am starting with xMOOCs because at the time of writing they are by far the most common MOOC. Because instructors have considerable flexibility in the design of the course, there is considerable variation in the details, but in general xMOOCs have the following common design features:

  • specially designed platform software: xMOOCs use specially designed platform software that allows for the registration of very large numbers of participants, provides facilities for the storing and streaming on demand of digital materials, and automates assessment procedures and student performance tracking.
  • video lectures: xMOOCs use the standard lecture mode, but delivered online by participants downloading on demand recorded video lectures. These video lectures are normally available on a weekly basis over a period of 10-13 weeks. Initially these were often 50 minute lectures, but as a result of experience some xMOOCs now are using shorter recordings (sometimes down to 15 minutes in length) and thus there may be more video segments. Over time, xMOOC courses, as well as the videos, are becoming shorter in length, some now lasting only five weeks. Various video production methods have been used, including lecture capture (recording face-to-face on-campus lectures, then storing them and streaming them on demand), full studio production, or desk-top recording by the instructor on their own.
  • computer-marked assignments: students complete an online test and receive immediate computerised feedback. These tests are usually offered throughout the course, and may be used just for participant feedback. Alternatively the tests may be used for determining the award of a certificate. Another option is for an end of course grade or certificate based solely on an end-of-course online test. Most xMOOC assignments are based on multiple-choice, computer-marked questions, but some MOOCs have also used text or formula boxes for participants to enter answers, such as coding in a computer science course, or mathematical formulae, and in one or two cases, short text answers, but in all cases these are computer-marked.
  • peer assessment: some xMOOCs have experimented with assigning students randomly to small groups for peer assessment, especially for more open-ended or more evaluative assignment questions. This has often proved problematic though because of wide variations in expertise between the different members of a group, and because of the different levels of involvement in the course of different participants.
  • supporting materials: sometimes copies of slides, supplementary audio files, urls to other resources, and online articles may be included for downloading by participants.
  • a shared comment/discussion space where participants can post questions, ask for help, or comment on the content of the course.
  • no or very light discussion moderation: the extent to which the discussion or comments are moderated varies probably more than any other feature in xMOOCs, but at its most, moderation is directed at all participants rather than to individuals. Because of the very large numbers participating and commenting, moderation of individual comments by the instructor(s) offering the MOOC is impossible. Some instructors offer no moderation whatsoever, so participants rely on other participants to respond to questions or comments. Some instructors ‘sample’ comments and questions, and post comments in response to these. Some instructors use teaching assistants to comb for or identify common areas of concern shared by a number of participants then the instructor or teaching assistants will respond. However, in most cases, participants moderate each other’s comments or questions.
  • badges or certificates: most xMOOCs award some kind of recognition for successful completion of a course, based on a final computer-marked assessment. However, at the time of writing, MOOC badges or certificates have not been recognised for credit or admission purposes even by the institutions offering a MOOC, or even when the lectures are the same as for on-campus students. No evidence exists to date about employer acceptance of MOOC qualifications.
  • learning analytics: Although to date there has not been a great deal of published information about the use of learning analytics in xMOOCs, the xMOOC platforms have the capacity to collect and analyse ‘big data’ about participants and their performance, enabling, at least in theory, for immediate feedback to instructors about areas where the content or design needs improving and possibly directing automated cues or hints for individuals.

xMOOCs therefore primarily use a teaching model focused on the transmission of information, with high quality content delivery, computer-marked assessment (mainly for student feedback purposes), and automation of all key transactions between participants and the learning platform. There is almost no direct interaction between an individual participant and the instructor responsible for the course.

cMOOCs

cMOOCs have a very different educational philosophy from xMOOCs, in that cMOOCs place heavy emphasis on networking and in particular on strong content contributions from the participants themselves.

Key design principles

Downes (2014) has identified four key design principles for cMOOCs:

  • autonomy of the learner: in terms of learners choosing what content or skills they wish to learn, learning is personal, and thus there being no formal curriculum
  • diversity: in terms of the tools used, the range of participants and their knowledge levels, and varied content
  • interactivity: in terms of co-operative learning, communication between participants, resulting in emergent knowledge
  • open-ness: in terms of access, content, activities and assessment

Thus for the proponents of cMOOCs, learning results not from the transmission of information from an expert to novices, as in xMOOCs, but from sharing of knowledge between participants.

From principles to practice

Identifying how these key design features for cMOOCs are turned into practice is somewhat more difficult to pinpoint, because cMOOCs depend on an evolving set of practices. Most cMOOCs to date have in fact made some use of ‘experts’, both in the organization and promotion of the MOOC, and in providing ‘nodes’ of content around which discussion tends to revolve.  In other words, the design practices of cMOOCs are still more a work in progress than those of xMOOCs.

Nevertheless, I see the following as key design practices to date in cMOOCs:

  • use of social media: partly because most cMOOCs are not institutionally based or supported, they do not at present use a shared platform or platforms but are more loosely supported by a range of ‘connected’ tools and media. These may include a simple online registration system, and the use of web conferencing tools such as Blackboard Collaborate or Adobe Connect, streamed video or audio files, blogs, wikis, ‘open’ learning management systems such as Moodle or Canvas, Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, all enabling participants to share their contributions. Indeed, as new apps and social media tools develop, they too are likely to be incorporated into cMOOCs. All these tools are connected through web-based hashtags or other web-based linking mechanisms, enabling participants to identify social media contributions from other participants. Downes (2014) is working on a Learning and Performance Support System that could be used to help both participants and cMOOC organisers to communicate more easily across the whole MOOC and to organise their personal learning. Thus the use of loosely linked/connected social media is a key design practice in cMOOCs
  • participant-driven content: in principle, other than a common topic that may be decided by someone wanting to organise a cMOOC, content is decided upon and contributed by the participants themselves, in this sense very much like any other community of practice. In practice though cMOOC organisers (who themselves tend to have some expertise in the topic of the cMOOC) are likely to invite potential participants who have expertise or are known already to have a well articulated approach to a topic to make contributions around which participants can discuss and debate. Other participants choose their own ways to contribute or communicate, the most common being through blog posts, tweets, or comments on other participants’ blog posts, although some cMOOCs use wikis or open source online discussion forums. The key design practice with regard to content is that all participants contribute to and share content.
  • distributed communication: this is probably the most difficult design practice to understand for those not familiar with cMOOCs – and even for those who have participated. With participants numbering in the hundreds or even thousands, each contributing individually through a variety of social media, there are a myriad different inter-connections between participants that are impossible to track (in total) for any single participant. This results in many sub-conversations, more commonly at a binary level of two people communicating with each other than an integrated group discussion, although all conversations are ‘open’ and all other participants are able to contribute to a conversation if they know it exists. The key design practice then with regard to communication is a self-organising network with many sub-components.
  • assessment: there is no formal assessment, although participants may seek feedback from other, more knowledgeable participants, on an informal basis. Basically participants decide for themselves whether what they have learned is appropriate to them.

cMOOCs therefore primarily use a networked approach to learning based on autonomous learners connecting with each other across open and connected social media and sharing knowledge through their own personal contributions. There is no pre-set curriculum and no formal teacher-student relationship, either for delivery of content or for learner support. Participants learn from the contributions of others, from the meta-level knowledge generated through the community, and from self-reflection on their own contributions.

This is very much a personal interpretation of how cMOOCs work in practice, based largely on my own experience as a participant, but much more has been written and spoken about the philosophy of cMOOCs, and much less about the implementation of that philosophy, presumably because cMOOC proponents want to leave it open to practitioners to decide how best to put that philosophy into practice.

What is clear though is that Downes was correct in clearly distinguishing cMOOCs from xMOOCs – they are very different beasts.

Coming next to a web page near you

Now for the fun part. Over the next few days I will be writing about the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs, focusing particularly on the following question:

Can or do MOOCs provide the learning and skills that students will need in the future? 

I can in fact provide you with the short answer now: a resounding NO, for both kinds of MOOC, although one is a bit better than the other! Tune in later for the full details.

Feedback, please

In the meantime, I need to know whether I have got it right in describing the two kinds of MOOCs. Does my description – because that is all it’s meant to be at this stage – match your experience of MOOCs? Have I missed important characteristics? Do I have my facts wrong? Is this useful or is there a better way to approach this topic?

Marx, use value, exchange value and social networks

Pontydysgu - Bridge to Learning - 13 Octubre, 2014 - 17:53

I have to admit I am not a great fan of lectures on line. there seems far to little human interaction and the slick production of things like the TED talks has got both ‘samey’ and somewhat tedious. But I loved this lecture by David Harvey on Karl Marx delivered in Amsterdam with no slides and no notes! As the blurb says “David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology & Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), and the author of numerous books. He has been teaching Karl Marx’s Capital for over 40 years.”

David Harvey does not shy away from the politics of Karl Marx. But his focus is on Marx’s writings and ideas as a tool for social science and analysis. For those of you without the time, interest or patience to listen to the whole video the particular bits I found interesting include his ideas around rational consumption (about 30 minutes in), the idea of accumulation by dispossession (some 38 minutes in), the idea of management of the ommons important (after about 47 minutes) and contradictions over the role of the state (towards the end of the lecture and before the discussion).

Harvey talks a lot about contradictions – the biggest being the contradiction between use value and exchange value. As Wikipedia explains: “In Marx’s critique of political economy, any product has a labor-value and a use-value, and if it is traded as a commodity in markets, it additionally has an exchange value, most often expressed as a money-price. Marx acknowledges that commodities being traded also have a general utility, implied by the fact that people want them, but he argues that this by itself tells us nothing about the specific character of the economy in which they are produced and sold.”

Much of David Harvey;s work has been in the area of urban development and housing and he explains how this contradiction applies there and its implications. But it may also be a useful explanation of understanding what is happening with social networks. Social networks have a use value for us all in allowing us to stay in touch with friends, develop personal learning networks, learn about new ideas or just letting off steam to anyone who will listen. OK – the exchange value is not expressed as a money price. But most people now realise that social networking applications are seldom free. Instead of paying money we give our data away for them to use. And in turn they use this data to try to extract money from us through buying commodities. This is all fine as long as the use value exceeds the exchange value. But as social network providers try to monetise their products they are constantly upping the ante in terms of exchange value. In other words we are increasingly being required to sign over our data as well as our privacy in order to use their applications.

Alternatively social networks are trying to push ever more commodities at us. An article in the Gaurdian newspaper yesterday over Twitters attempts to build a business model noted: “Chief executive Dick Costolo has talked longingly about growing, and eventually making money from, the huge number of people who view tweets without signing up. This is fine on YouTube, where most of us watch the content without producing it and only sigh a little as we’re forced to watch ads when we do so. In contrast, sponsored tweets are a bit like being asked to pay for gossip from your colleague over the coffee machine.”

All this means more and more people are questioning whether the use value of Facebook and Twitter is worth the exchange value.

And such contradictions are hard to resolve!

The first batch of EMMA's MOOCs goes live

Open Education Europa RSS - 13 Octubre, 2014 - 13:31
Summary: 

The European Multiple MOOC Aggregator (EMMA), a large-scale piloting of MOOCs on different subjects and in different languages, is about to unveil its first batch of MOOCs. The registration for the first MOOCs will be opened at the beginning of October.

Interest Area:  Higher Education Training & Work Learning & Society

The first batch of EMMA's MOOCs goes live

Open Education Europa RSS - 13 Octubre, 2014 - 13:31
Summary: 

The European Multiple MOOC Aggregator (EMMA), a large-scale piloting of MOOCs on different subjects and in different languages, is about to unveil its first batch of MOOCs. The registration for the first MOOCs will be opened at the beginning of October.

Interest Area:  Higher Education Training & Work Learning & Society

Le modèle 70:20:10 - Bien plus que des chiffres, il évoque le changement

Educación flexible y abierta - 13 Octubre, 2014 - 08:47

Dans ce nouvel article pour #ecollab, Charles Jennings, l'un des plus grands spécialistes du modèle 70:20:10, nous en explique les 5 grands principes

See it on Scoop.it, via Educación flexible y abierta

Facebook’s Identity Authentication Is Broken

OLDaily - 13 Octubre, 2014 - 02:16


Alec Couros, Open Thinking, Oct 12, 2014

Centralized systems eventually break down. In the current case, it's Facebook's identity service. As Alec Couross has described in the past (here’ s the original post  which outlines the problem and here is the followup) he has been beset with an endless series of people faking his account. "These profiles have shown up on sites such as Twitter, VK.com, Match.com, Christian Mingle, and most prominently, Facebook." And now, to add insult to injury, he writes, "while I have successfully had Facebook take down hundreds of profiles, apparently they no longer believe that I am Alec Couros."

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Categorías: General

Is It Ever Okay to Make Teachers Read Scripted Lessons?

OLDaily - 13 Octubre, 2014 - 02:16
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Terrance F. Ross, The Atlantic, Oct 12, 2014

I guess that if the teachers were completely unqualified, and the students unable to read, then there might be a benefit to reading scripted lessons. But I think the benefits would be pretty minimal, and as critic Kate Redman says, “ Such an education is unlikely to spur the imaginations of the students or encourage critical thinking or social mobility. It is more likely to lead to rote-learning, and would likely leave little flexibility. There is no evidence it can serve as a permanent approach.” Nonetheless, such an approach has been taken by Bridge International Academies, a for-profit company that has has more than 350 locations and 100,000 students in Kenya. And if it's true that "at the only schools available to these families there was very little education being delivered," then this is better than nothing. But I still think (from a very distant first-world perspective) that they money they take from the system could be better spent. Via Doug Belshaw / Audrey Watters.

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Categorías: General

What is a MOOC?

Tony Bates - 13 Octubre, 2014 - 01:03

© Giulia Forsythe, 2012 and JISC, 2012

MOOCs as a design model

I have already covered seven different design models for teaching and learning in Chapter 6 of my open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age. I have dithered a bit over whether MOOCs are a unique design model, because they contain a mix of familiar and somewhat unfamiliar approaches to teaching and learning – and also because there are different forms of MOOCs. I also don’t want to give too much attention to a form of teaching and learning that is already grossly overhyped. However I have decided to bite the bullet. I have to deal with MOOCs somewhere in the book, so a chapter on models of design for teaching and learning seems as good a place as any.

Because this topic is too big for one blog post, I plan a series of three or four posts. I could do a whole book on this topic , but this section of Chapter 6 has to be concise and accurate, while also dealing with the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs, particularly with regard to meeting the needs of learners in a digital age, which for me means asking the question: can or do MOOCs provide the learning and skills that students will need in the future? Also please remember this book is aimed at teachers and instructors who are NOT specialists or even experienced in online learning, so the content of this blog post in particular will not come as a surprise to any of my regular readers.

This is the outline I am proposing for my section on MOOCs in Chapter 6:

  • Introduction
  • Brief history
  • Key characteristics of MOOCs
  • the xMOOC design model
  • the cMOOC design model
  • Strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs
  • Personal conclusions, including the political-economic context that has driven the MOOC phenomenon
  • References

I will cover the first three bullets in this post, the design models in one or two more posts, followed by my analysis of MOOCs in my last (couple of) post(s) on this topic.

Introduction

Probably no development in teaching in recent years has been as controversial as the development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). In 2013, the author Thomas Friedland wrote in the New York Times:

...nothing has more potential to enable us to reimagine higher education than the massive open online course ….For relatively little money, the U.S. could rent space in an Egyptian village, install two dozen computers and high-speed satellite Internet access, hire a local teacher as a facilitator, and invite in any Egyptian who wanted to take online courses with the best professors in the world, subtitled in Arabic…I can see a day soon where you’ll create your own college degree by taking the best online courses from the best professors from around the world ….paying only the nominal fee for the certificates of completion. It will change teaching, learning and the pathway to employment.

Many others have referred to MOOCs as a prime example of the kind of disruptive technology that Clayton Christensen (2010) has argued will change the world of education. Others have argued that MOOCs are not a big deal, just a more modern version of educational broadcasting, and do not really affect the basic fundamentals of education, and in particular do not address the type of learning needed in the 21st century.

MOOCs can be seen then as either a major revolution in education or just another example of the overblown hyperbole often surrounding technology, particularly in the USA. I shall be arguing that MOOCs are a significant development, but they have severe limitations for developing the knowledge and skills needed in a digital age.

Brief history

Elements of MOOCs have been around for some time. The British Open University, funded by the U.K. government, started offering open degree programs by distance in 1971, although sadly its degree programs are no longer free. Nevertheless, much of its teaching material is still open through its OpenLearn portal. Some of the British OU’s courses are also quite large (around 5,000 students).

In 2003 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) began offering digital video recordings of many of its lectures and accompanying materials such as slides for free downloading through its OpenCourseWare (OCW) project. Apple opened iTunes U in its iTunes store in 2007. I TunesU enables educational audio and video files from universities to be downloaded for free. It currently has over 50,000 entries. OpenLearn, OCW, and iTunesU are just some examples of open educational resources, free for students (and also instructors) to use in their learning and teaching. However, they are not courses.

Fully online credit courses have been offered by school boards, colleges and universities since 1995, usually in parallel with the on-campus version of the same course. Credit-based online learning has been gaining ground steadily, with increases in annual enrollment for fully online courses averaging between 10-20% per annum per year across the higher education system in the USA, resulting in somewhere between 25 to 30 per cent of all credit enrollments by 2012 (Allen and Seaman, 2014; US Department of Education, 2014). However, access to online credit courses requires admission to university and the payment of tuition fees, so although online, they are neither open nor massive.

The term MOOC was used for the first time in 2008 for a course offered by the Extension Division of the University of Manitoba in Canada. This non-credit course, Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CK08) was designed by George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier. It enrolled 25 on-campus students who paid a tuition fee but was also offered online for free as an experiment. Much to the surprise of the instructors, 2,200 students enrolled in the free online version. Downes classified this course and others like it that followed as connectivist or cMOOCs, because of their design.

In the fall of 2011, two computer science professors from Stanford University, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, launched a MOOC on The Introduction to AI (artificial intelligence) that attracted over 160,000 enrollments, followed quickly by two other MOOCs, also in computer sciences, from Stanford instructors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller. Thrun went on to found Udacity, and Ng and Koller established Coursera. These are for-profit companies using their own specially developed software that enable massive numbers of registrations and a platform for the teaching. Udacity and Coursera formed partnerships with other leading universities where the universities pay a fee to offer their own MOOCs through these platforms. Udacity more recently has changed direction and is now focusing more on the vocational and corporate training market.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University in March 2012 developed an open source platform for MOOCs called edX, which also acts as a platform for online registration and teaching. edX has also developed partnerships with leading universities to offer MOOCs without direct charge for hosting their courses, although some may pay to become partners in edX. Other platforms for MOOCs, such as the U.K. Open University’s FutureLearn, have also been developed. Because the majority of MOOCs offered through these various platforms are based mainly on video lectures and computer-marked tests, Downes has classified these as xMOOCs, to distinguish them from the more connectivist cMOOCs.

In 2014 there are approximately 1,000 MOOCs available from universities in the USA, and 800 from European institutions. Also there are MOOCs now in several languages besides English, but mainly in Spanish and French.

Key characteristics of MOOCs

All MOOCs have some common features, although we shall see that the term MOOC covers an increasingly wide range of designs.

Massive

In the three years following its launch in 2011, Coursera claims over 7.5 million sign-ups with its largest course claiming 240,000 participants. The huge numbers (in the hundreds of thousands) enrolling in the earliest MOOCs are not always replicated in later MOOCs, but the numbers are still substantial. For instance, in 2013, the University of British Columbia offered several MOOCs through Coursera, with the numbers initially signing up ranging from 25,000 to 190,000 per course (Engle, 2014).

However, even more important than the actual numbers is that in principle MOOCs have infinite scalability. There is technically no limit to their final size, because the marginal cost of adding each extra participant is nil for the institutions offering MOOCs. (In practice this is not quite true, as central technology, backup and bandwidth costs increase, and as we shall see, there can be some knock-on costs for an institution offering MOOCs as numbers increase. However, the cost of each additional participant is so small, given the very large numbers, that it can be more or less ignored). The scalability of MOOCs is probably the characteristic that has attracted the most attention, especially from governments, but it should be noted that this is also a characteristic of broadcast television and radio, so it is not unique to MOOCs.

Open

There are no pre-requisites for participants other than access to a computer/mobile device and the Internet. However, broadband access is essential for xMOOCs that use video streaming, and probably desirable even for cMOOCs. Furthermore, at least for the initial MOOCs, access is free for participants, although an increasing number of MOOCs are charging a fee for assessment leading to a badge or certificate.

However, there is one significant way in which MOOCs through Coursera are not fully open. Coursera owns the rights to the materials, so they cannot be repurposed or reused without permission, and the material may be removed from the Coursera site when the course ends. Also, Coursera decides which institutions can host MOOCs on its platform - this is not an open access for institutions. On the other hand, edX is an open source platform, so any institution that joins edX can develop their own MOOCs with their own rules regarding rights to the material. cMOOCs are generally completely open, but since individual participants of cMOOCs create a lot if not all of the material it is not always clear whether they own the rights and how long the MOOC materials will remain available.

It should also be noted that many other kinds of online material are also open and free over the Internet, often in ways that are more accessible for reuse than MOOC material.

Online

MOOCs are offered at least initially wholly online, but increasingly institutions are negotiating with the rights holders to use MOOC materials in a blended format for use on campus. In other words, the institution provides learner support for the MOOC materials through the use of campus-based instructors. For instance at San Jose State University, on-campus students used MOOC materials from Udacity courses, including lectures, readings and quizzes, and then instructors spent classroom time on small-group activities, projects and quizzes to check progress.

Again though it should be noted that MOOCs are not unique in offering courses online. There are over 7 million students in the USA alone taking for-credit online courses.

Courses

One characteristic that distinguishes MOOCs from most other open educational resources is that they are organized into a whole course.

However, what this actually means for participants is not exactly clear. Although many MOOCs offer certificates or badges for successful completion of a course, to date these have not been accepted for admission or for credit, even (or especially) by the institutions offering the MOOCs.

Summary

It can be seen that all the key characteristics of MOOCs exist in some form or other outside MOOCs. What makes MOOCs unique though is the combination of the four key characteristics, and in particular the fact that they scale massively and are open and free for participants.

To come
  • the xMOOC design model
  • the cMOOC design model
  • Strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs
  • Personal conclusions, including the political-economic context that has driven the MOOC phenomenon
Over to you

1. Is this an accurate description of MOOCs and their history?

2. Is there something I have left out that needs to be included in this basic description (remembering I will be going into more detail about completion rates, assessment, etc., in describing the strengths and weaknesses)?

Coming next

In a day or two: the design models of xMOOCs and cMOOCs

References

Allen, I. and Seaman, J. (2014) Grade Change: Tracking Online Learning in the United States Wellesley MA: Babson College/Sloan Foundation

Christensen, C. (2010) Disrupting Class, Expanded Edition: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns New York: McGraw-Hill

Engle, W. (2104) UBC MOOC Pilot: Design and Delivery Vancouver BC: University of British Columbia

Friedland, T. (2013) Revolution hits the universities, New York Times, January 26

U.S.Department of Education (2014) Web Tables: Enrollment in Distance Education Courses, by State: Fall 2012 Washington DC: U.S.Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics

 

 

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