Another day, another MOOC fires up its engines and fills my Twitterstream. And Moocmooc is about as meta as it gets: a one week MOOC that will analyze the form itself. And interestingly they’re using Instructure Canvas as the delivery platform, which is the LMS that UMW adopted a year ago. It’s interesting to me in fact because I pondered at some point last year whether a MOOC could be run openly using Canvas as the engine. The possibility to make courses public exists, the ability to pull in RSS feeds is there (though a bit limited at the moment), and it’s a pretty decent interface. Important to many is that there is much less setup involved in using a system like that as opposed to building it in WordPress like what’s been done in ds106. But as I headed over to the Moocmooc I noticed something that bothered me:
Why do all the discussions for the #moocmooc require a login? Doesn’t the second O still stand for open?
— Tim Owens (@timmmmyboy) August 12, 2012
Ignoring that I meant “the first O”, this seems to be a trend for a lot of newer courses that are being referred to as “MOOCs”. The Udacity, Coursera, etc model all require you to be logged in and registered on a course in order to view and interact with any of the content. Call me crazy but what part of that is open? The fact that it’s free? Last time I checked Facebook doesn’t cost a dime and is open for registration by anyone, and yet no one in their right mind would call that space “open”. Quite to the contrary it is constantly referred to as a walled garden.
Some of the pushback to this criticism seems to be that anonymity is problematic in these spaces, spam becomes a problem, or simply that tracking identity is more important. Here are a few of the comments I received on Twitter:
— Pete Rorabaugh (@allistelling) August 12, 2012
— Jared Stein (@jstein) August 12, 2012
(Worth noting that Jared works for Instructure now so great to have him thinking about these things in the context of their LMS)
@timmmmyboy O for Open, not A for Anonymous.
— Joshua W. Scott (@eduvangelist) August 12, 2012
Here’s the problem I see with this trend. The whole point of open conversations is that they’re accessible to a wide audience, audiences that aren’t always going to sign up and register for your course. Google can’t crawl the data you have behind that firewall (regardless of whether it’s a free registration). If it’s not being crawled by search engines, and all links to that data get stuck behind registration screens, it’s not going to be seen by a lot of people. Indeed after finding I’d have to register I just kind of lost interest in Moocmooc. It would have been interesting to read some of what people were saying in there, but the last thing I need is another user account and password, nor should have I have to sign up for a course simply to see what people are saying within it.
If you want to be open, be open. But that means accepting that there are tradeoffs and understanding the worth of those tradeoffs. I’m not arguing for complete anonymity by all parties participating in a course, but a baseline effort should mean being able to publicly present the work being done and discussions taking place in your course without putting it behind a login screen in order to truly call your course “open”.