I’m writing this as the CFHE12 MOOC ends its first week. Experiencing the class is prompting me to blog more about it here (link to my earlier post on it) in an anti-Brian Lamb way. That’s partly because MOOCs loom ever larger in my work on the future of higher education. Every time I visit a campus administrators, instructors, and support staff raise the MOOC topic. If the thing is a flash in the pan, it’s flashing quite brilliantly in October 2012.
At the same time this CFHE12 course provides a two-step reflective opportunity. We can think about it as an example of the MOOC movement, an instance of certain ways of engaging that urMOOC/cMOOC approach. We can also focus on the class content, consisting of what its instigators are presenting and what participants are sharing: the future of higher education, which might well include more MOOCery.
1. Working through CFHE12 reminds me of Jim Groom’s claim that MOOCs are the most Web-centric form of teaching and learning. I encounter the class through the distributed, loosely joined ways I engage with the Web, or how I use the Web to engage with the world. For example, my Tweetdeck columns feed me a river of discussion, either to the class hashtag or @me . Twitter is also where I push out my own thoughts and probes. The Desire2Learn LMS discussion board hosts (so far) a giant set of personal introductions, plus conversations about the first week’s readings. Webmail (Gmail) presents George and Stephen’s daily update, which points me to classwork. A Diigo group points to Web resources, while adding some commentary. Facebook exists, but I haven’t had any class connections there. App.net is also quiet.
I move across all of these, looking for the surfacing of arguments, crashing out onto the sea of venues. I hunt for where people discuss the topics which concern me (and isn’t that what we all do online?). From this venue churn I pick out interesting people to pay more attention to – already the MOOC is working as a matchmaker. And I get meta, pointing non-participants to the class, and reflecting on it.
The differences with face-to-face classes or classes grounded in traditional course management systems are stark, even this many years into the MOOC movement. There’s no single place for the class, either bricks and mortar or online, but a spattering across the net. I built my own personal learning environment to be in the class, cobbled together from tools I already had. And this process changes the way I think of some of these. I’m treating this site as a blog, at last, for instance.
So far so Web-like. It works for me. But it also reminds me of the problems so many people and institutions have with MOOCs. The DiY aspect, the multiplying swarm of components clearly makes some institutional managers balk. The amount of presupposed experience can daunt those without that background, or those who lack confidence. The emphasis on participants over instructors clearly threatens instructor-centered pedagogy (and pedagogues).
2. The topic of higher education’s future is obviously a complex and dynamic one. So it’s not surprising to see CFHE12 begin by firing a few salvos at the subject; or, to choose a different metaphor, selecting several different pathways into the ecology.
The class takes an admirably international perspective. The readings include one article on India, technology, and education. Participants have taken this further, opening up additional topics on globalization, South Africa, developing nations, and European academe. It’s vital to think through the future this way. Americans in particular can no longer afford to maintain a national horizon for educational strategy.
Economics has also appeared as a major theme, from sustainability to cost to entrepreneurial issues. No economist has weighed in, nor have class materials really plumbed the subject.
Technology hasn’t been a driving force in discussions, at least not in a very technical way. Some readings and participants see the digital world as pushing change, but we haven’t stared into the depths of HTML5 or iOS app development.
One conversation is especially futures-oriented. Participants identify major drivers of educational change. So far the discussion focuses on economics. I hope it will grow with the passage of time.
In sum, the class is churning away at an initial stage, putting out feelers and probes, building up social ties. CFHE12’s instigators have not imposed a framework, not have participants organized into clearly demarcated schools of thought. It is interesting that so many are interested in money and its impact on education. Interesting, and appropriate to our times.