Posted by: Gillian | April 8, 2013

MOOCs – no change in HE?

Steve Downes has written a really useful set of notes from the ELI conference.  They are worth reading in detail but a few things really struck me:

  1. To make the most of MOOCs a university’s sense of self needs to become larger.  The protectionist view that finds the ‘best’ lecturer and creates the glossiest video to safeguard the brand of the institution is an old way of doing business.  It is what happened when distance learning first stepped from correspondence courses to multiple-media.  Eventually, institutional budgets and student demands to see their ‘own’ lecturers meant that less contrived, more immediate materials were made available for students and staff to discuss.
  2. The QA question of ‘residency’ (aka ‘hours of required study’) is an emotional one for traditional institutions but one that should perhaps be past its sell-by date in a connected world where learners bring a wide range of experiences to the table.  While completion rates are a necessary accounting measure and also a source of value-for-money reassurance to bill-payers, in and of themselves they have nothing to do with proving learning.  Outcomes assessment has been with the formal education community for many years.  Outcomes often include behaviours.  There is perhaps no need to link outcomes assessment and academic residency beyond that of enabling more predictable accounting.
  3. xMOOCs (lecture hall, got bigger) are a modern manifestation of a very old tradition indeed, that of letting auditors into lectures provided there was space and, perhaps, allowing them to ask questions but not assessing any ‘homework’ they saw fit to attempt.  They are not the same as cMOOCs which bring together experts, beginners and amateurs from all around the globe, all on different points in their learning paths, adapting the offering and the ‘course’ to suit their own needs as they progress.  The differentiation made at the ELI conference between students and learners is fundamental to the difference in the two approaches.  In the modern world, lifelong learning is seen as an economic necessity. xMoocs may be a very valuable means of higher education outreach but the ‘inreach’ cMOOCs has perhaps the greater potential for enriching the education and economic environment.
  4. Academic writings have been in digital form for many years and traditional university students in most countries are more used to gaining access to library resources online than they are to getting up at dawn to beat the queue for the only book on the shelf so, why are academic libraries still reserved for students and academics on traditional courses?  With the availability of PayPal and similar systems, it should be possible to make very modestly priced subscriptions to all the big libraries available to everyone – or perhaps a two-tiered system with a very modestly priced ‘access’ subscription and another fee for seeking the help of the librarian.
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