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Posted by on Dec 19, 2012

MOOCs, w/the learner hat on: What am I taking and why

I have written before about MOOCs. I have participated in MOOCs as a student and facilitated one as well. I have published articles about MOOCs, along with my colleagues (also fellow MOOC participants and creators). I say all of that ahead of time as I have reservations about their current structure and the levels of hype surrounding them. I do not think they are the most revolutionary thing in the history of education as many, if not most, are pedagogically suspect. I do think they are disruptive, but I am beginning to hate that term as it applies to education as it is condescending to those working within the system to transform education.

Yet all of that paragraph I just wrote is my take on MOOCs as an education professional, as a member of higher education, as a cog in that machine. For the rest of this post, I will transition to student and gush a bit about the excitement I feel when confronted with such choice for learning. I have signed up for several MOOCs via Coursera, I would sign up for MOOCS via edX (if I understood any of them), and will more than likely engage in a few via Open University’s FutureLearn (although I briefly switched from student to marketer there when I typed that name (FutureLearn) as I don’t like how it seems to be speaking to the industry as opposed to the students). I dabble and peruse and join and engage and will most certainly learn things. As a student, I love, just love, the ability to choose. From that choice, I immediately see structure emerging from my choices. How some of the MOOCS I have registered for are just for fun, some correlate however ambiguously to some Renaissance notion of education as a rounded individual, some are clear responses to knowledge gaps, and some are strictly professional.

This choice, this almost unlimited choice, presents an opportunity for the student to cast structure on openness. How they choose these courses says as much about their learning needs and self-identities as learners as much as it speaks to a larger learning marketplace. As a student, the choice is exhilarating and the coupling of courses and brand-recognizable entities (famous universities) cements the allure of the process. Students still need to navigate this choice as time is still a limited commodity, despite the seemingly limitless nature of open learning. One still has manage their learning and perpetually reflect and assess their progress. But that is after the fact; the choice presented in open learning and MOOCs is the definition of excitement.

I thought I would be completely transparent about this process, this engagement in MOOCs as a learner (as opposed to those other roles). I wanted to put forth what I am taking and why I am taking these particular courses. I wanted to reflect a bit on my engagement in this brave new world (despite my reservations). So below are the Coursera courses I am currently registered for, along with one I highly recommend if one wants to explore the potential of online learning and digital space; this recommendation comes from past experience as I know these instructors and have taken the course in the past. Click on any of the images to go to course page.

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This is the course I wanted to recommend for those new to online learning and want to experience a course that is built on sound pedagogy as opposed to merely porting a face to face course online. There is quite a bit of expertise in this course and their methods are engaging and highly reflective. So you will learn and you will enjoy this learning process. Highly recommended. Disclosure: I graduated from the MSc in Elearning programme at the University of Edinburgh, from where this course emerged.

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I am participating in this course as I have a love of ambient audio, which I have written about before, and I participate in the Elernenmuzik project, a sound project dedicated to exploring the role of music in elearning. So there is a mix of pragmatism and curiosity in my participation in this course. I am always listening to music or out and about capturing ambient audio via Audioboo and so I figured there is merit in understanding digital sound design both conceptually and pragmatically. I want to broaden my understanding of audio in general as I see that as one of the directions that our engagement with technology will take; we are beginning to move away from text (even as I type this blog) to embrace less intrusive interactions with technology. We will see a lot of audio, video, image, and tactile-based technological environments in the future.

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This course relates to my ongoing research interest, mobile learning. I have had this fascination with mobile learning for quite some time dating back to work I did in Africa and observing how communities were appropriating technology for direct need with little to no hesitation. The possibilites for learning seemed limitless and I still believe that to be true. I am pursuing this research in my doctoral work, specifically looking at how mobile learning can be used for Humanities practice in higher education so having some actual capacity for creating mobile content and applications, or at least to understand how they are created, seemed wise.

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This one relates to the previous audio course but it has a slightly more pragmatic bent on exposing learners to different tools, evaluating those tools, and developing a toolkit for use in creating music studio environments. I will not so likely be employing these to create music, but rather ambient audio, but I wanted to know which tools were available and develop some capacity for evaluating these tools for my own ends.

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I am taking this course to reinforce the other mobile development course, but focusing a bit more on Android. As a consumer, I greatly prefer the ease and clarity of iOS-styled applications, but the world, especially the developing world, uses Android. Android is open and so communities can support their own development, building for their own need. So I begrudgingly cast an eye towards Android development.

I only presented my Coursera choices above, but there are many more. When all is said and done, we need to participate and explore these spaces and see what they have to offer. We can deride, chide, criticize them all we want (and much of that criticism is valid, helpful, and appropriate), but we need to be involved in their future development. As researchers and educators, there is no real excuse not to jump in and explore what potential these formats have for own learning development and for learners we support. I am most curious to hear what others are taking and what learning needs those courses support.

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4 Comments

  1. Delighted to read your good review of e-learning and digital cultures as I’d already registered for the next one. I’m also thinking it will help me explain a lot of this to colleagues (whom I am trying to break of the habit of planning for the future by watching the rear view mirror).

    I completed the Coursera Fantasy S/F literature course ~ a group of us from the independent FB group started a book group because we did not want to stop th smart book talk. Would that be moving into a community of practice?

    It too am enjoying the smorgasbord and enrolled in a few more lit courses that I sort of followed for a while but drifted off from. I saved readings and might catch one the next time out but think I am more interested in courses outside my discipline. Starting connectivist means guilt free participation at whatever level you choose ~ not doing all the assignments, just following or falling away. Other students fret over that: I just quote Stephen to them.

    Venture Lab’s DNLE was a disappointment and with implications that I found disturbing. I’m not interested in being a Beta rat or crowdsourcer for Stanford… not does the siren VC call do a thing for me. Wannabe venture capitalists competing for points developing “learning environments” is just a bit creepy too, although not as much as in the creativity course.

    Also, actually taking courses as a regular student (no copping proffie attitude) is the only way to see how they really work. It does get much doing the other kind of mooc at the same time. Carol Yeager is working on one about creativity and lifelong learning, one of my interest areas.

  2. Hello there, Vanessa! Good to hear from you (and remarkable how we seem to be on the same page for so many things). I agree with what you are saying here and wanted to respond to a few points in particular.

    “Venture Lab’s DNLE was a disappointment and with implications that I found disturbing. I’m not interested in being a Beta rat or crowdsourcer for Stanford… not does the siren VC call do a thing for me. Wannabe venture capitalists competing for points developing “learning environments” is just a bit creepy too, although not as much as in the creativity course.”

    I find that I don’t mind an injection of private enterprise into higher education (in and of itself) but I think the capital is creating false economies that will generate more damage than positive effect. I see this quite often in foundations funding start-ups/initiatives in developing nations (a lot in my previous positions). Great while the money lasts but the money itself, especially as it comes from outside the community, deters localized solutions. I think we are seeing the same here with edtech. Tons clamoring over a marketplace that doesn’t exist or doesn’t exist on a scale enough to satisfy the capital. That is unless the whole thing (education) teeters towards private enterprise, which I hope doesn’t happen. So I do agree that the Stanford ones have that feel of venture/entrepreneurial activity (which I don’t think they are shying away from) and more power to them for that experiment. I am glad to see multiple approaches to this new field. Ultimately I think we may find that scale (in terms of numbers of students) is not the issue or the driving force behind this new type of learning, but rather efficacy. Groups assembling and disassembling (in whatever scale they can muster or need) with little or no resistance/barriers to participation. That is what excites me about this whole process. Come together, learn, move on, expand.

    “It too am enjoying the smorgasbord and enrolled in a few more lit courses that I sort of followed for a while but drifted off from. I saved readings and might catch one the next time out but think I am more interested in courses outside my discipline. Starting connectivist means guilt free participation at whatever level you choose ~ not doing all the assignments, just following or falling away. Other students fret over that: I just quote Stephen to them.”

    I agree with guilt free participation; it takes awhile to get there, but it is a positive trait for an open learner. There are a myriad ways to learn and not all learning demands extended engagement. Lave & Wenger (who developed the Community of Practice business) refer to this as “legitimate peripheral participation” and I think lurking/dabbling falls into that. Learning on the peripheries of community activity has its own vitality. Certainly says a lot about the literacies of the learner as well, knowing what they want and how they can get it, all while balancing other responsibilities.

    As always, a real pleasure, Vanessa! Hope the holidays are treating you well!

    • I don’t mind the injection of private capital either: more matter of the particular model does not suit me or my particular interests. I wouldn’t want to see it crowd out individual efforts either, plus proprietary interests require it to operate too much on an information silo model. Education already has too much of that in the Ivory Silo™ …. and because of these reservations, I am just as likely to stick around to study them. 

      I’m all for more of everything. DNLE did come up with a lot of interesting projects too, ones that deserve following through on the local level and being adapted to other locales. Apropos your observation on ventures crowding out the local, scalability is a major factor in assessing projects. I flat posted that I didn’t care as much about that as a project meeting local needs. So I’ll continue to take what I want and need, leave the rest. 

      I have also noticed a tendency to the cult of personality and brand loyalties… but suspect these too are part of natural growing pains. 

      Carol’s is supposed to focus on learning how to learn and become an independent learner (a gap I’ve noticed at many levels from basic ed to grad school), and that does interest me. So does the Santa Fe Institute MOOC (new entry in the field!) ~ complex systems, interdisciplinary, http://www.santafe.edu/news/item/announce-mooc/

      Not even January yet, and I’m already booking up. So much for stepping back… and I always do EVO Multiliteracies too… that was my gateway drug.

      ________________________________

      • I like your comment re: the gateway drug of open learning. We all had one and it is fun to hear what others think. Great comments all around and I agree. I am not that interested in maintaining silos or towers or enclaves or even bizarre brand loyalties but if that is the only game in town, then I will study them. I hate to use the term disruptive (so overused) but I am interested in disruption that allows for reorganization around more logical/pragmatic lines. A coure shift, so to speak.

        “I have also noticed a tendency to the cult of personality and brand loyalties… but suspect these too are part of natural growing pains. ”

        Amen to that. Lots of inflated rhetoric, self-promotion, brand loyalties emerging from all of this. I think this is the lot of a new, experimental space. You can imprint some future on it just by speaking the loudest. This grows tiresome, but I see it as growing pains, as you said. Here is hoping that these growing pains don’t stunt momentum towards experimentation and discovery. We are due for a rather large backlash against MOOCs any moment and disillusionment sets in. I think they attracted, undeservedly, great amounts of hype, but that is to be expected.

        Either way, great chatting with you Vanessa! Happy New Year!

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