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Posted by on Apr 22, 2012

MOOC for Applied Learning and Research: Phases, Tools, and Autonomy

MOOC for Tools

I have been asked to facilitate a week of activities for an upcoming MOOC (co-facilitate, perhaps) and I am absolutely thrilled to mix it up with my colleagues once again on such a dynamic format. I will lay out my thoughts specific to this week of MOOC learning in a post or two soon, but I am still in the conceptual stages of developing it. I have ideas and ideas and they all swirl around and demand attention, but it will take a few weeks of brainstorming, collaborating, sequencing, refining, and disposing of these ideas before it actually takes shape. I want the design to be flexible enough to support the valid tangents that participants will more than likely pursue (I did when I was a participant).

That isn’t why I am here, however. This MOOC had me thinking about other potential derivatives of the MOOC format and whether or not what I am thinking about can even be considered a MOOC (perhaps just an open course would be better terminology).

I am thinking of a MOOC that is front-loaded with skill-based activities (tool-based) followed by immediate and collaborative opportunities. MOOCs as crash-courses in Tool X followed immediately by collaborative application towards Project Y (using Tool X). I find a limitation of MOOCs focused on disciplines with certain tool-based approaches (I think any applied science would fit here, including education, elearning, and mlearning) assume that the participant has that prerequisite tool-based skill. The ability to implement and operate the tool. For elearning and mlearning, I don’t believe this is always the case.

MOOC: Staggered, Phases

So why not a staggered MOOC? Two or three phases revolving two distinct phases for beginners, and the third for all levels of participants.

  • Phase I: Introduction to the field, purposes of employing these tools, and creating the appropriate toolbox
  • Phase II: Mini-courses on implementation of select tools
  • Phase III: Discussion and collaboration

Phase I and II would be the foundational work and Phase III would be the joint application, more akin to what we know as a MOOC.

This phased approach feels like it goes a ways towards leveling the knowledge base of some of the participant groups and hopefully providing a more rewarding medium across the board. In terms of actual participation, anyone could join any phase, but this approach provides the possibility of a less discouraged participation base. Does this approach assume greater participation? Not really. It just provides a mechanism for those eager, yet inexperienced participants to improve their foundational knowledge base.

Tools for Learning

I am intrigued by the possibility of a MOOC revolving around tools for learning, either tools to support learning and tools to monitor and evaluate learning activity. I think it is proper to develop courses grounded in learning theory, to work from theory to application to analysis to revision. This tool-based approach doesn’t exclude that grounded theory approach. What it does do is acknowledge that much of our learning activity is perpetually mediated by technology, that tools are often the implicit context in which we operate. To not know these tools fundamentally from design to implementation to best practices makes me feel like I am missing half the dynamic. So why not offer a skill-based set of mini-courses on these tools and their application as part of or a precursor to a MOOC? I would assume (and I would need to validate this assumption) that one would see an immediate spike in project activity using these tools.

So to approach this holistically, I would choose a handful of tools in the following categories, develop a set of activities around them, establish a collaborative network for communication (in any discussion board, social media service, or all of the above), develop OERs that methodically show how to implement these tools, and allow students to approach them a la carte.

Communication

Communication tools involve helping learners or teachers develop a comfortable, productive, appropriate and safe environment for demonstrating progress and reflecting on both their learning and their capacity for learning. These tools could include blogs, repositories (YouTube, Flickr, Audioboo/Soundcloud), the tools used to create these learning materials or knowledge representations (cameras, Photoshop, etc.), and the issues associated with their use (copyright, Creative Commons licensing, open access, open learning).

Collaboration

These tools would overlap with the communication ones, but a concerted approach to introducing tools that are used for academic collaboration, including social media, discussion boards, collaborative spaces (Google+, Google Docs, Skype). On another scale, Frontline SMS would be a part of this set.

These first two categories revolve around establishing a suite of tools for learner participation, to basically give them vehicles in which to communicate and collaborate. As a learning researcher (whether you like it or not), these tools also initiate the data production phases of learning research so the following tools allow you to capture that data, analyze and visualize it. One needs to consider the ethical issues of data collection carefully before proceeding so that would be an essential element of these lessons.

Data Capture

Capturing data is it happens.

Data Analysis and Visualization

Analyzing and visualizing that collected data to improve learning.

MOOCs=Autonomy to enact vision

These tools introduced than implemented (as collaborative group projects) and then discussed (in Phase III). The power of these tools for learning purposes is staggering, but this is one area it feels like being grounded only in theory and potential application seems like half the battle. Having the autonomy to implement these tools towards learning effect seems important as well.

I don’t mean that each and every learning researcher would need to learn each of these tools. But we should collectively be able to implement our own research projects using the tools at our disposal. So, if I put out a call for collaboration, I should be able to work within my learning community to draw on expertise across these various tools. That is the kind of collaborative autonomy I am looking for. So, I think a tool-based set of MOOCS would be advantageous for our community overall. For elearning, mlearning, and any other learning types out there.

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