“MOOCs are all about messing with boundaries, barriers, and silos.”
In May of this year George Siemens announced the “Mother of all MOOCs”, appropriately titled Change. The philosophy is sound: Why have a single person or even small set of people delivering course content when we have a global network of innovative thinkers to pull from. The result is a 30-week series currently happening and still in its infancy at just Week 6. But much of how the course is being delivered is disappointing to me, and some aspects so offensive to the very pedagogy that these men preach, that I believe they deserve to be called out on it.
Disclaimer: I admire and appreciate the work of Siemens, Downes, and Cormier in a huge way. I don’t pretend to be an expert in the field of online education. These opinions are my own. But having people to look up to also requires the critical thinking to question them on their process. That’s what this post is.
“Over the past four years, a growing number of educators have started experimenting with the teaching and learning process”
The Change MOOC has had a roller-coaster of issues in terms of technology to deliver content. BigBlueButton crashed. FuzeMeeting had issues. Although they found a license to use Blackboard Collaborate, Both Downes and Siemens put the call out to people asking for suggestions on how to deliver synchronous course content that would scale. DTLT responded by offering to help them using the same technology we use to broadcast and interact with our network everyday on DTLT Today. This to me is a beautiful thing: trying new products and figuring things out in the open, being willing to change your methods, and using a network of peers to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
But here’s where the criticism comes in. The idea that a course should use Blackboard Collaborate simply because it’s a comfortable space for instructors is just wrong. Much of my work is pushing educators to think differently, not just students. There is no reason that using a free tool like Google Hangout should be too difficult for an instructor that has something to say on innovation in education. If it is a deal-breaker, I’m not sure that instructor has anything I’m interested in hearing. In the process of experimentation with various technologies if we put the stipulation up that the instructor has to be “comfortable” then what are we fighting for?
“Through out this ‘course’ participants will use a variety of technologies”
As our session began at least one person voiced the concern that it felt like a private conversation they were watching. Although Downes had mentioned the possibility of opening up the Hangout to others that wasn’t done. My idea of using Google Voice to take live calls and pre-recorded questions during the event was shot down. Only Siemens was participating with the chat while the discussion was going on (and I recognize it’s difficult to have a meaningful conversation while reading a chat and responding to questions there). The call for interactivity was soundly ignored, and the result was a session that was not much more than a podcast of the folks running the Change MOOC. This stands in stark contrast to all of the ideas and suggestions we put forth both in the previous discussion as well as in e-mails throughout the week.
Communication with the MOOC seems to be another major problem. The announcement for our session with them went out just 2 and a half hours before the session began, even though we had been in talks with them throughout the week to put it together. 29 people attended, yet only 6 have viewed the archive. Again, I suspect most had no clue that the session was happening, and don’t know where to go to get the recording. Only today did I find the magic page housing previous recordings. When you go to Week 5 you get no indication of what actually happened that week. During the session they also announced major time change for the following week’s guest. The session would be moved to Sunday afternoon, just 2 days from when it was announced during that live session. The e-mail newsletter for this announcement didn’t go out until Saturday afternoon. I don’t believe at this point the drop in numbers for participating in this MOOC has much to do with the technological hurdles they had earlier on, I believe it’s due to no one knowing what’s going on.
“We will show you the tool, give examples, use the tools ourselves, and talk about them in depth.”
I want the Change MOOC to succeed in a big way because when the bar for online learning is raised we all win. Collaboration among peers in a learning network is a valuable thing and I think it failed in this context because in a moment of irony many people involved in the Change MOOC (both as participants, facilitators, and guest speakers) were not open to change. If we want to have a discussion framed around innovation in education we have to be willing to experiment and not afraid for things to go wrong. There should be no hard lines or absolutes. No one seems uncomfortable with the idea of using Blackboard software to deliver content about the “open web” or “innovative teaching practices”. It’s something I don’t think anyone in the Change MOOC would have hesitated to call out another group or institution on, but no one is pushing back on the Change MOOC.
And that needs to…well…change.