CCCC 2014 Reviews

C.08 "MOOCing Back to School: A Roundtable of Professors as Students in Massive Open Online Courses"

Reviewed by Jason Tham (jasontham27@gmail.com)

Chair: Steve Krause, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI

Drew Loewe, St. Edwards University, Austin, TX
Elizabeth Losh, University of California, San Diego, CA
Judy Arzt, University of Saint Joseph, Bloomfield, CT
Jane Lasarenko, Slippery Rock University, New Castle, PA
(Absent) Alexander Reid, University at Buffalo, NY

As a master’s candidate who has just defended his thesis on MOOCs, I was very excited to attend this roundtable presentation. I was particularly interested in how these presenters, who were all professors at the time they participated in one or more MOOCs, describe their experience as students in these open courses.
In this session, the presenters spoke briefly in their opening statements, presenting their thoughts and encounters in their respective MOOCs undertaken, followed by a short, open discussion on the floor.

Drew Loewe, “Another MOOC in the Wall, Part II: Hey Teachers, (Don’t) Leave Them Kids Alone”

Loewe began his statement by positing that writing MOOCs make teachers the architects of the course, instead of mentors or educators. He thinks the MOOC structure assumes that the instructors’ roles are to provide information, model concepts, and deliver the course, rather than working closely with students and their writing.

In his experience, the instructor/professor was “absent from the classroom.” Due to the fact that his MOOC instructor did not respond to forum inquiries and was simply a faceless authority in the course, he thinks it doesn’t benefit the student if there’s no quality student-teacher interaction and guidance from experts.

Loewe also mentioned that since MOOCs relied on peer grading, it’s the blind leading the blind. According to his knowledge, three quarters of students in his writing MOOC were not native speakers. As such, he criticizes the current form of “unguided peer response” and “holistic peer grading” as thwarted.

Loewe concluded his statement by arguing that writing MOOCs are not writing courses. In traditional writing courses, students are more likely to receive personal attention from their instructor – and that’s what makes learning effective and fun, according to Loewe.

Elizabeth Losh, “Telepresence, Ubiquity, and Mess”

Losh began by telling a story about a Coursera Meetup in the heart of Silicon Valley. During her MOOC, she attended a meet-and-greet organized to allow MOOC takers to get together in a face-to-face manner. There, Losh met some friends she had just made via the MOOC. In her presentation, Losh showed us some photos from the Meetup, all of which depicted a sunny day and an open picnic with many smiley faces. The occasion served as a celebration of learning and an opportunity for students from around the country to finally see with whom they were studying in their respective MOOCs.
Losh mentioned there were students from overseas who had also asked for the Meetup to be live-streamed. She described how online friendship had developed over the course of the MOOC she undertook, and many people seemed to have more hopes than just to gain content knowledge through the MOOC. Losh observed that many students “needed more than just the course materials,” they also revealed hopes to take advantage of a MOOC as an entry point to U.S. institutions and education. Students hoped to get into US institutions through affiliation with MOOCs, Losh said.

At the Meetup, Losh also met with the instructor of the HCI MOOC she took, Scott Klemmer from University of California, San Diego. She said that students were asking questions and trying to get the most of their conference with Klemmer at the Meetup. It seemed students were really hungry for knowledge. After conversing with Klemmer, Losh concluded that many online teachers, unlike Klemmer, have no idea about digital interactions. Hence, when they deliver their courses over a MOOC platform, they rely solely on the panopticon of the learning management system and failed to interact with their students.

In the end, Losh concluded that distance-learning platforms couldn’t divorce themselves from the new forms of participatory culture that promotes learning. Presence, of both the instructor and the students in the MOOC, is crucial to a successful learning and teaching experience.

Judy Arzt, “MOOCs: A Global Collaborative Community”

Unlike other presenters on this roundtable, Arzt said she had a good experience with an educational technology MOOC (ETMOOC) she took last year. From the way she described the nature of the course – where students collaboratively create the knowledge content – it is possible that MOOC was a cMOOC (Connectivist MOOC).

Arzt described that the course utilized Google+ as the learning platform. She also revealed that most students of ETMOOC were professionals, not traditional students, who came from “all over the world.”

Besides Google+, other open source tools such as blogs, Blackboard Collaborate, and Twitter were used in the ETMOOC. Arzt said she enjoyed the pedagogy of participant-centered approach, with the participants creating their own goals, grading, and coursework, and experts leading the discussions. Some professionals in the field also assumed leadership roles to contribute to the value of the MOOC and helped other participants in their professional development.

Even after the ETMOOC has completed, Arzt said she is still connected with many of the coursemates she met through the MOOC. In fact, she met four of them in person at NCTE in the fall. The sense of community cultivated through the MOOC experience lives on as participants continue communication with one another online, in joint authorships, and conference presentations.
Arzt argued that we should be careful about what we say (generalize) about any teaching/learning environment such as a MOOC because not all MOOCs are disconnected or dreadful for teaching and learning.

Jane Lasarenko, “Put ‘em Together and What Have You Got? Bibbity-Bobbity-?”

Lasarenko expressed her frustrations on using the various tools integrated in the MOOC she took. She felt overwhelmed by the technology. It was almost a deal-breaker for her to go back and forth between the social tools used in the Duke Composition MOOC.

She described how there were already more than 15,000 posts in the forum during Day One of the MOOC. She said many new students/learners might be confused about which contents are important in the coursework, due to the overflowing information and forum activities that went on during the MOOC.

Lasarenko later distinguished learners from participants. She said the way the MOOC was run made it hard for a learner to participate in the conversations. At some point she felt she has to “shut up” after not being able to navigate herself in the busy forum.

She also didn’t get good feedback for her assignment evaluation. She agrees with Loewe that students do not know how to grade their peers’ work.
Based on her experience, Lasarenko thinks that a MOOC that’s based on a few videos to teach the course content barely scratches the surface of higher education. It is rather a kind of “very superficial, broad-based education.” As Lasarenko puts it, it is “dangerous.” In her own words, Lasarenko admits that, “MOOCs can be a lot of fun and good for professional development," but “not so much for learning.”

Steve Krause, “Alone in a Crowd”

MOOCs are lonely, according to Krause. There is a need to interact with fellow MOOC takers, as evident in the use of social media in the courses and also Loewe’s account. Echoing Loewe, Krause thinks MOOC professors are ghosts: they don’t interact in the discussion and peer assessments, they pre-recorded the MOOC videos far advance before the MOOC began, and they are just “not there.”

Many MOOC instructors today turn to Google Hangout as a way to “connect with their students.” Yet, Krause argues that Google Hangout is a frustrating technology – the discussions are always about the tool, as it’s hard to use.

In a face-to-face course, students are more likely to get a sense of presence among other bodies around the lecture hall than in MOOC, in which Krause calls a “one-sided deal.” Students don’t feel connected in MOOC. Everyone is individually learning the content rather than cultivating a collective experience. It resembles an online banking model, Krause said.
As learning to write and rewrite should be a social experience, Krause thinks MOOCs are not the best platform to teach writing as he has found MOOCs to be “solitary, isolating, and disenfranchising.”

Open Discussions

During the open floor conversation, an audience was curious and asked about the effectiveness of social media integration in MOOCs. Krause responded that based on his experience, Coursera simply dumps 50,000 some participants into “one bucket” on Twitter/Facebook/Google+. Many times, these participants do not know how to navigate themselves within these social spaces for learning purposes.

Responding to Loewe’s statement on “unguided peer grading,” Nicholas Carr, who was in the audience, said that calibrated peer review may be an answer (i.e. ELI Peer Review) for writing MOOCs.
Another question that was asked by the audience was on data-driven instruction.

The audience was curious about the quality of big data, i.e. how generalizable are these data to actual demographics that MOOC providers like Coursera seek to serve? Who were the samples? Presenters from the roundtable agreed that characteristics of professionals and self-motivated students don’t match the actual student populations that MOOC providers are trying to use the big data for.

In closing, the presenters and the audience came away with two disconnections that might have caused misunderstanding and unrealistic expectations among MOOC providers, instructors, students, and college administrators:

Disconnection 1: MOOCs for credit.

Are students really asking for college credits after taking their MOOCs? It seems like Coursera’s business model is pushing that, but is that the reality?

Disconnection 2: MOOCs will replace composition classrooms.

MOOC writing teachers are not aiming to replace their face-to-face teaching with MOOCs. They don’t want to grant credits either. It’s just another low/no stakes experience that one can try out.
After listening to the presenters’ statements and responses from the audience, I think we need a roundtable that brings together MOOC developers (such as Coursera) who can speak for their operations, instructors who have taught MOOCs, and students of MOOCs to share their experience and discuss challenges faced in the teaching/learning process. I don’t see these kind of conversations going on – we are simply complaining/praising the MOOC learning platform in separate vacuums.

CCCC 2014 Reviews

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