Last fall, I took my first ever MOOC, Greek and Roman Mythology, with professor Peter Struck at the University of Pennsylvania. I was impressed by how closely this approximated taking an actual university class, and with tens of thousands of students all over the world. I became interested in MOOCs as a phenomenon, and in looking more closely at other ways of learning on the internet. So I signed up for this class, E-learning and Digital Cultures, which is another animal entirely — no lectures, no quizzes, and a lot of videos to watch instead of articles to read. We’re supposed to blog about it, so here I am, jump-starting my blog a few weeks late with some reflections
Many of the week 1 and 2 readings and viewings were too abstract and philosophical to get me going, but I was interested in this article and its rebuttal. In the rebuttal, Aaron Bady contrasts online classes with traditional on-campus education, which he calls “the real thing.” I don’t think it is. The real thing is what happens inside each student, and is largely the result of the work they put in, helped along by interactions with peers, professors, and readings/viewings, etc. which shape those efforts, for better or worse. I like the idea that a Udacity “badge” would tell someone more about my ability to do specific work than my long-ago, woefully non-specific BA from Pomona (one of those “elite colleges”).
I’ve taken classes at at least a half-dozen colleges and universities, and some of them were pretty fancy. I don’t remember all of my professors, and was truly impressed by them only a handful of times — and those times were at the more elite institutions. Even so, there were many times when I didn’t get much from the classes, but I did the assigned work and got the credit and forgot about it. The thing I like about MOOCs, at this stage in my life, is that I feel very much in control of my own learning. I can skim as needed, and go into more depth where I’m more interested in a topic. I don’t need to impress anyone, but if I want competition to drive my ambition, I can find that any time by logging on to the forums.
There’s no “quality control” when it comes to your fellow students, but on the whole that’s probably a good thing. We will weed ourselves out, to a certain extent, and become aware of which other students we want to listen to/read, and whose posts we can just skim past. I only need to learn based on my own goals and from my own starting point. For someone who isn’t focused on getting a particular degree or getting into a specific profession, that’s enough.
In week 3, Humanity 2.0: defining humanity – Steve Fuller’s TEDx Warwick talk (24:08), http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/podcasts/media/more/tedx?podcastItem=steve_fuller.mp4 touched on the topic of democratization and equality of access. Although there’s still a division between the info-rich and the info-poor, more and more people, more and more communities, are coming online all the time. We are moving towards a world in which we all have access to information and education, and that is profoundly exciting. What will we do with that access? I don’t know. Currently, I see a lot of people using it to re-enforce their existing beliefs, to form communities which are closed to divergent opinions. You have to be alert to this pitfall, to be able to evaluate truth-claims, and that’s a skill we can develop in schools and in real life interactions, as well as on the internet. Genuine dialogue also happens, though, and it’s the cutting edge of our evolution as a society. MOOCs alone can’t bring a solid education to the isolated and disadvantaged, but they’re a great resource for those who have attained basic literacy and have the desire self-discipline to continue as independent life-long learners (as long as they have internet access!).
As I see it, the most important things that schools should be teaching, beyond basic literacy and communications skills, is the ability to evaluate what you’re reading and seeing, to distinguish the true from the bogus, the worthwhile from the misleading. That’s a long project.
Anyway, those are some of my reflections on my latest MOOC adventure. I’ll probably post more in the coming weeks.