Last month I wrote a blog post on MOOCs prompted by a British institution joining one of the major MOOC consortia. In the subsequent period there seem to have been daily announcements about new MOOC developments and institutions joining one or other of the major MOOC consortia with over 140 courses currently available. The OBHE in their analysis of MOOCS ‘MOOCs and disruptive innovation: The Challenge to HE Business models’ considered that the disruptive innovation lies in the shift of cost away from students, in the area of accreditation with the establishment of global exam centres, and by providing employment services. Both Udacity and edX have announced partnerships with Pearson to provide assessment centres (see MOOCing On Site), with Colorado State University’s Global Campus announcing last week that it would accept credit from a Udacity course if they received a “certificate of accomplishment” and passed the course via an assessment centre (see A First for Udacity: a U.S. University Will Accept Transfer Credit for One of Its Courses). The same article notes that a number of European HE institutions (including University of Salzburg, the University of Freiburg, the Free University of Berlin, and the Technical University of Munich) have also accepted credits awarded via Udacity courses. Currently however the majority of students taking a module offered by one of the major MOOC providers receives a ‘certificate of accomplishment’ or equivalent and agree to an ‘honour code’.
One of the perceived limitations of the MOOC model was that it was seen to be most appropriate to quantitative subjects, especially in terms of assessment and the use of objective based questioning. However modules in the Humanities are starting to appear in MOOC module catalogues including the Coursera module ‘Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World’ and ‘Modern & Contemporary American Poetry’. In the case of the former peer assessment has been used where a student on submission of an assignment is automatically provided with the assignments of four other students to mark anonymously using a grading rubric.
The criticisms of MOOC type delivery are many. In the July ‘JISC Webinar ‘What is a MOOC’? (see MOOC: JISC webinar and a few thoughts) Martin Weller referred to a ‘tendency to conservative approaches’ and David White referred to the missing personal element, the ‘see me’. Morris et. al. In their blog post ‘The Myth of Efficiency: a #digped Discussion’ develop a similar theme highlighting the impact of a lack of academic community and the stresses of solitary endeavour. George Siemens in his post ‘What is the theory that underpins our moocs?’ develops the ‘conservative approaches’ theme referring to a hub and spokes model where “the faculty/knowledge at the centre and the learners are replicators or duplicators of knowledge”. These are just two of many points of critique that have been expressed, but academics such as the ‘anonymous Frank Framington’ have found themselves with a dilemma in raising these issues versus openness and access. George Siemens is forthright in stating “While we debate pedagogical models and the ideologies informing different MOOCs and the corporate interests of open courses, the lives of students in different parts of the world are being changed with these projects. And that should be our real focus.”
So what will be the impact on HE? Doomsday scenarios have been envisaged by some including the provocative Epic2020 scenario and video. Perhaps more realistically will be an increased focus on what bricks and mortar institutions can offer students and the wider community beyond that of the mass online offerings. Where face to face delivery is only delivering the ‘hub and spoke’ model then may be the differentiation will significantly diminish, especially in light of the rapid innovation and investment taking place in the ‘MOOC sector’. However, where face to face time is used to maximise learning through building on students active participation, contribution and community, where students have the opportunity to engage with the local environment and region through authentic activities, and through providing personalisation and a supportive environment, then these mass online offerings are not to be feared but rather provide an opportunity to learn from aspects of real innovative practice.