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MOOCs might prove a practical answer?

November 12th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

I had a fascinating meeting with two representatives of a Bejing school district last night. They are in Bremen as part of a European programme which including other things is developing a programme for the Continuing Professional Development of vocational teachers in the city.
They came to visit us to discuss e-learning and how the use of new technologies might help in their project.
The big issue that emerged was that of the scale of they challenge they face. Most of the teachers in vocational schools have received no pedagogic training at all, gong straight from university to become a teacher. Because of pressures on the system, the CPD programme is being organised out of school hoursd. Attendance is voluntary. And the teachers are keen. A recent seminar held on a Sunday attracted more than 800 particpants! The biggest issue is that there are not enough resources to organise a tradtional CPD programme. There are simply too many teachers who want to participate and not enough trainers. And that is when we started thinking about Massively Open On-line Courses (MOOCs). The infrastructure and access to networks and computers is relatively good in Bejing. Teachers are open to new ideas. Could we organise a programme that combined face to face events with on-line provision open to all who wished to attend? How could support be organised? What kind of platforms and tools would be required?
I started out as a sceptic about MOOCs but the meeting last night has changed my thinking.
If you are interested in hearing more about the project, we recorded a quick podcast with the Chinese colleagues and we will try to get this online in the next couple of days.

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8 Responses to “MOOCs might prove a practical answer?”

  1. All fine and dandy!
    The Chinese teachers have the resources and the willing. That is basically what it takes (one of the most important part = inner motivation). Hwever, it’s my opinion that if they are beginners, the massive course should be divided into smaller clusters – because then people would be more compelled to get started, and above all to remain in the group.
    I really value what G. Siemens and S. Downes have done. Most people are critical of it, but the fact is that they have created an amazing opportunity for people to network, to connect to other like-minded educators, and thus learn in a connected world, and for free (very important too). Nevertheless, it’s my impressiontoo (and I might be wrong) that the group that stayed coherent, as part of this experience, is amller than the one that started, and above all it is mainly composed by people who already were quite comfortable with ICT and were used to this new way of learning.
    My expereince in EVO (TESOL – CALL-IS) is different, since we never get that huge number of people. But we do get numbers like 200 in the first week, then it starts to schrink.
    I know we can’t aim at everyone, and that there will always be people who change their minds after a while, but in an age where we place the individual in the centre, we also need to create instances where the learning environment becomes rather personalized and comfy!
    Having said that I still run EVO workshops and I love them. But I also host workshps on knowschool with Max. 20 people, two moderators, and a supporter. The environment is great, because you get like 90% of the members participating.
    I think for beginners it might be less intimidating. But there is nothing like trying! 🙂

  2. > Most people are critical of it…

    Do you really perceive that? From my perspective, most people have been supportive…

    Anyhow…

    The total course ‘sign-ups’ were about 2200 people.

    There remain about 1880 people signed up to the ‘Daily’ email list.

    Participation in the Moodle forum and the Elluminate discussions has dropped sharply.

    So what can we say about that?

    Yes, it’s true that “it’s my impression too (and I might be wrong) that the group that stayed coherent, as part of this experience, is smaller than the one that started.”

    Which would be a concern if ‘group coherence’ was one our objectives going in. But it wasn’t. Quite the opposite – we encouraged distributed participation (indeed, one participant was harshly critical, saying I was trying to steer people aware from the coherent group activities, and toward independent activities).

    Like the Work Literacy project, our course was structured as follows: “First of all, we developed all activities for three levels of participation: Spectator; Joiner; and Creator. The majority fell into the first category and the Creators took on the role of facilitating where necessary.”
    http://www.jarche.com/2008/11/post-work-literacy/

    There are elements of the course – the Google Group, Connectivitas, for example, or the Chilbo community in Second Life – that I don’t know about in any sort of detail. I will be speaking to the Spanish Second Life group next week – it will be my first encounter with many people in that group.

    The point (to my mind) of a MOOC is that you do *not* attempt to create a ‘coherent group’ – it is exactly this practices that abuts us up against limits of scale and manageability. Rather, we allow students to form groups if they wish, but we do not require it.

    I don’t depict the lowering of numbers as ‘shrinkage’. Rather, I see it as a restructuring of participation, as some who offer more input at the start remain on the fringe for most of the course. Provided we maintain some link to them (that’s why the Daily is so important) they continue to participate as a spectator.

  3. Graham Attwell says:

    Tend to agree with you Stephen. I see the MOOC as open networked communities and in that regard scaling up may increase the opportunities for learning. Forms and levels of particpation are somthing which may take some time to fall out of the MOOC experince and for us to understand. But then the big question for me is what sort of support and approaches ot teaching and learning we adopt to support such networked participation. The Connectivism course provides us a great test bed for that.

  4. There must be a middle ground. Large US state universities, think UCLA, have for a long time practiced what might be called MONOCs (massively open not online courses 😉 Pretty much anyone could come to the lecture series and the better teachers were and are able to use techniques in rooms of nearly 1,000 people to get discussion going in the auditorium: buzz groups, cascades, etc. These are not completely unlike the threads that were a feature of #CCK08 discussions. But, as Cristina said, there is great learning and assessment value in smaller facilitated (peer or asymmetric) groups. MONOCs have a small army of graduate teaching assistants who run seminar groups around the MONOC. A feature of many MONOCs is that participation has several dominant modes: lecture/no-seminar, seminar/no-lecture, lecture/seminar, no-lecture/no-seminar. Blended massive open courses add modalities through podcasts, asynchronous and synchronous discussion fora. The University of Missouri was running open discussion boards for MIT’s open courseware fora, for example. UC Berkley podcasts damn near every lecture.

  5. Frances Bell says:

    Coherence can mean integration of diverse elements rather than some sort of congruence/consensus. CCK08 also marches in step to some extent, with weekly schedules and timetabled synchronous events.
    It will be interesting to see what happens to blogs and forums when it has finished.

  6. Stephen Downes and George Siemens modeled and demonstrated the role of “teacher” in open massive courses. As mentioned in our weekly Ustream live session today, when we learn on open spaces we become teachers by default, you learn by observing others and vice versa.
    Others may like or dislike the way you handle and process information, they have other models to chose from.

    Graham, I think that a MOOC might work well for your purposes. You’re talking about 800 participants. Your question about how will you organize support may be broken down to little steps; I mean, to define support for what. Technical support, concepts support, etc. You’ll need volunteers to moderate. As Cristina mentions, the EVO sessions are great providing support but they handle less numbers.

    I know that somehow you’ll find a way to solve this issues, you have a great project here.
    See you around. Maru

  7. Rory McGreal says:

    Actually a dropout rate of 2200 down to 1880 is very small (10%). This is much better than the dropout rate in traditional university courses even those with small classes. AND what is better a course of 30 students where 3 drop out and 25 complete successfully OR a course of 2 million students where 1 million drop out and 800 000 complete successfully. We need to rethink whether or not completion rates are determinants of quality. In fact in traditional classes the ‘quality” of classes was considered higher when they had a higher drop out rate. I would suggest that in the 21st Century where we are challenged to educate 6 billion people, that having Mass courses with high dropout rates will serve us better than having elite courses with few students and few droputs.
    All the best
    Rory

  8. rechard hou says:

    Hi, I am interesting in MOOC, and I am doing a project of MOOC of china, I searched MOOC in google, but I cat find more valued information, so I want to jion your group,may be it existing, to share my opinion. thanks.

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