Last year I spent a lot of time evaluating the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) phenomenon. The MOOC philosophy of free education to the masses had immediate sex appeal, but there are some glaring roadblocks that must be addressed. First, not everyone will have access to the technology necessary to consume the course material. While lack of accessibility is not enough reason to terminate the project, we need to be careful when touting the power of the MOOC. Secondly, MOOCs often lack the personal connection that is often found in a face-to-face learning experience. The fact that MOOCs are free presents its own set of problems, and something worth highlighting. I only completed one of the twelve MOOCs I have enrolled because each lacked personal engagement or I was overwhelmed by the amount of connectivity. Accountability is crucial for my success, and most of the MOOCs I have taken are missing something in that area.
To be completely honest, the only MOOC that I completed was Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies, and it was because
I paid to take it. Initially, Coursera was offering all of their courses for free, but in 2013, they launched the Signature Track in 2013. The Signature Track cost me $50, and the primary take away was an electronic certificate that doesn’t hold any value. Although completing the Signature Track was not a life changing event, the experience did reinforce the fact that we need to have a little skin in the game. My initial investment was enough to spark my internal motivation, and was part of the reason I finished all of the coursework for the Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies MOOC.
The purpose of this post isn’t to condemn the entire concept of the MOOC. My goal is to change how we view the consumption of the material presented during the MOOC, and empower my readers to build a more robust learning experience with their peers. In other words, educators can become facilitators of learning by leading conversations around their MOOC learning experience with people they see on a daily basis. Adding a face to face component will hybridize the MOOC and make the experience much more powerful. Using the MOOC platform in such a way is not limited to classroom educators, and I would encourage people from all industries to think about ways they can use MOOCS to enhance their team by providing quality professional development. You can find a list of Coursera’s courses here.
Part of my role at Eastern Nazarene College is to oversee our Supplemental Instruction program. Supplemental Instructors are peer educators that provide a classroom/discussion based content review experience for most of our general education courses. This year, we have mostly veteran Supplemental Instructors, and the standard professional development isn’t going to challenge my students as much as I would like. During our first meeting in 2014, I introduced this group of peer educators to Coursera, and expressed my desire to work through one of these courses together. Instead of selecting a course for the group, I left the decision up to the students. After a short conversation, the group decided to enroll in Student Thinking at the Core, an education course offered by Vanderbilt University on the Coursera platform. This course shouldn’t be too overwhelming because it only requires 3-4 hours of coursework per week. To ensure accountability, the students have agreed to meet for one hour a week to discuss the course material face to face. I have also launched a tutor blogging site called Tutor Pub, and students are encouraged to post their reflections on that platform.
The ENC MOOC experience doesn’t end there! Everyone on my professional team has signed up to take the Student Affairs MOOC offered by Colorado State University. This course is going to be a little different than the Coursera course because participants will be using the Blackboard learning management system. Blackboard has a nice user interface, and I appreciate the work they have done to make their product mobile friendly.
Examining MOOCs through this new lens has been a excellent experience. There are several ways I can use this technology to drive my institution forward. MOOCs can be a great tool for innovation if used properly, and I am excited for what the future has in store for my institution.
Onward and upward!
How are you using MOOCs for your professional development? What courses are you taking, or have already taken?