Before we examine MOOCs in more detail, briefly consider if the MOOC approach could be adopted in your own area of education or training. Post your thoughts in your blog and then read and comment on your peers’ postings.Now, just which field should I address? Computer science or language learning? How about both?
And for now, I'll restrict myself to the type of MOOC proposed by Cormier, Siemens etc, the "connectivist" MOOC.
So I'll answer "yes" and "yes" and "no" and "no".
One of the bits of material supporting this activity was a video interview with the aforementioned Mr.s Cormier and Siemens.
What really jumped out at me was that little after a minute into it, George Siemens basically says that the system emerged from how they were running online conferences. Sound familiar? Well, a few weeks ago I came to the conclusion that the MOOC had far more in common with a conference than a "course".
So it's utterly trivial to ask whether the MOOC has a place in any given field: if there are conferences in that field, a conference-type MOOC can work.
So that's "yes" and "yes". Now onto "no" and "no".
I'll start with a quote from Isaac Asimov that I picked up from somewhere in the last week while working through blog posts on MOOCs:
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”This could have been written for Web 2.0. (No further explanation needed.)
But in the MOOC setting, it's particularly salient. The whole idea of connectivism is to learn from each other... but we're not experts. Everything I've read or heard from Cormier or Siemens to date seems to mention but quickly gloss over the fact that their MOOCs have focused on educational technology, a field with many informed practitioners, but no confirmed experts. In fact, on of the papers mentioned in the disastrous Fundamentals of Online Education Coursera module described online education as being "at the buzzword stage", a thin euphemism for the fact that it's all opinion and no "knowledge". And that's the space that conferences have always occupied: the point where we're sitting on the boundaries of the state of the art, where informed practitioners of roughly equal knowledge try to contemplate and push those boundaries.
But when there is an expert, why should we rely on the knowledge of peers, who may in fact turn out to be wrong?
Nowhere can this be more clear-cut than in the computer field (or at least "the discrete mathematics field", of which CS is a subset).
At the level of programming, there can be no subjective discussion about the best way of carrying out a given operation, because the methods can be empirically measured. We can measure execution time, we can measure memory constraints, we can measure accuracy of results. We get a definite right and wrong answer. Yes, we can devise collaborative experiments where we pool our resources and share our data to find out what those right and wrong answers are, and in computer science courses we often do, but that serves not to teach the answer, but to teach the process of evaluating the efficiency of an algorithm or piece of software.
We do not generate more knowledge of how the computer works by discussing, only of how we work with it.
So there's my first "no", but this is not really specific to computer science, because in any undergraduate field, you teach/learn mostly the stable, established knowledge of the field. Very little in an undergraduate syllabus is really open to much subjectivity in terms of knowledge, and in arts degrees, the subjectivity is restricted pretty much to the application of established knowledge.
Everyone discussing MOOCs at the moment seems to be talking about "HE" (higher education -- ie. universities) and not acknowledging that fundamental split between undergrad and postgrad.
So I've stated that no undergrad stuff can follow a connectivist approach, is it still worth saying anything about language specifically?
I think so.
Because language learning, more than any other field of education, can be scuppered by overenthusiastic learners -- the biggest obstacle in any language course is the presence of learners: how can I learn a language by hanging around with a bunch of people who don't speak the language? And yet, for most of us these courses are vital if we are ever to learn a language.
And I myself have benefited greatly from informal networks of learners offering mutual support, so why not a MOOC? Because the informal networks I have benefited from are of vastly different levels, so there's always been someone with some level of "expertise" above you. But once you formalise into a "course", you're suddenly encouraging a group without that differentiation; a group of roughly equivalent level. An overly confident error pushed by one participant can become part of the group's ideolect -- a mythological rule that through the application of collective ignorance crowds out the genuine rule. Without sufficient expert oversight, how is this ever to be corrected?
A language MOOC would most likely be of far less use than either traditional classes or existing informal methods....