Can We Really Trust Nathan Heller’s MOOCs?
“An avalanche is coming. The one certainty for anyone in the path of an avalanche is that standing still is not an option.”
As much as I would like to agree with all that is said in a wonderful publication called “An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead”, I can not help but think beyond the calamity and into the aftermath. For an avalanche only lasts a few seconds. And if we were to assume this particular one lasted for years, how long really could it go on; plain white and terrible!
I will begin with an outright statement that “the current design and model of MOOCs is not a sustainable one” and if we do not come up with a better and more evolved model, this might be the most epic fail of the decade. All that the glamorous Ivy League Spinoffs are doing is great in numbers and statistics, but when I look at the big picture, somehow it seems disappointingly, but not shockingly, bleak.
The New Yorker’s Nathan Heller’s take on the educational revolution is rather amusing, with his vivid style of writing and description. One is truly mesmerised but is left wondering whether to hate or love the MOOCs. He paints a coarse picture of a MOOC being:
“[..] “open” because, in theory, anybody with an Internet connection can sign up. “Online” refers not just to the delivery mode but to the style of communication: much, if not all, of it is on the Web. And “course,” of course, means that assessment is involved—assignments, tests, an ultimate credential. When you take MOOCs, you’re expected to keep pace. Your work gets regular evaluation. In the end, you’ll pass or fail or, like the vast majority of enrollees, just stop showing up.”
We are living in a world that is constantly changing. Industry-style education gave way to collaborative and interactive learning. Standardized tests would soon be replaced by a non-intrusive and personalised version of testing. Amidst all the inevitable change, how could we stick to a system that is invariably constant and only employs technology as a medium of broadcasting.
Imagine philosophy lectures by some MIT or Stanford or Princeton professor being recorded once (owing to the odious rote endeavour the professors don’t wish to undertake).They are made into an online course and taken by up thousands. They are licensed to community colleges and are taught as a part of their course, thus also generating fair amount of returns. Assuming that “effective teaching transcends all barriers of time and place”, these recorded lectures should hold good for eternity. 10 years hence, we are looking at a model that was once revolutionary but now is another digital version of the same thing we were fighting for, i.e., freedom of thought.
The best kind of MOOCs (if they could still be called that) would not be self-paced but teacher-led. The importance of a central figure can’t be undermined even when we are talking about minimally invasive education. If we were to delve deeper into human psychology, we would relate to the fact that a source of motivation, in the form of a teacher, has always inspired and worked wonders. And ‘teaching teaches the teacher’ too.
I always imagine myself standing before a class, teaching english literature perhaps and talking to my students. And while I am explaining to them what a certain verse in a John Keats poem means, one of them disapprovingly shakes his head because he has a different perspective to look at that same verse. We argue for a long time and all of a sudden, an altogether new idea dawns upon me and I share it with the class. I can imagine trains of thoughts cooing and chugging out of every bright mind in the classroom and prancing about like joyous ponies.
What we need is a Green MOOC, one that is sustainable and complete in itself. One that blends and flips, and never lets the learners lose track of things. One that assesses and appreciates not just comprehension but the individuality of the learner. One that might or might not cost a sum but assures of it’s authenticity and veracity. One that is concerned whether or not a learner turned up for the class. One that takes constant feedback and strives to improve upon it.
It is achievable and far from utopian. And there are numerous examples.
The CopyrightX is an online course by William W. Fisher III, a professor at Harvard Law School. Nathan Heller, of the New Yorker says:
“Unlike most MOOCs, CopyrightX runs simultaneously with the version of the course that Fisher teaches at the law school. This lets him link the two communities. Students in his law-school course, and alumni of it, volunteered to serve as “teaching assistants” for the online students. He divided the five hundred online students among these volunteers.
The basic idea here is that an expert in the field speaks to the masses, who absorb his or her wisdom. The second feature is that, to the extent that learning requires some degree of interactivity, that interactivity is channelled into formats that require automated or right-and-wrong answers.
The course tries to deliver on all promises of online education: it proliferates useful knowledge beyond Harvard, it lets students learn by teaching, and it enriches the classroom environment by giving more time to discussion of hard problems. It also is not massive, open, or entirely online. “This is an old idea—it’s basically the way seminars have been run for centuries,” Fisher said. “But it remains a good one.””
The Certificate Course on Business Management (CCBM) by Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, is based on hybrid model of teaching and is immensely popular. It is conducted in three phases; the second and the most elaborate phase being conducted online via WizIQ Virtual Classroom. It focuses on the use of technology for reaching out to masses, without compromising on the interactivity quotient. I remember writing about this course in my previous post:
“If you observe closely, the classic debate over traditional vs. virtual classroom comes down to only one thing and that is the ‘interactivity quotient’. Engineering or management institutes like IIT are slowly but surely facilitating the student-teacher interactions with the use of novel online tools.
The idea of student interaction not only with the teacher but also with fellow mates is what makes a class. And imagine if a platform were to deliver an analogous feature in the virtual classroom!
If you were to chance upon such a room where the teacher is but a small portion of the whiteboard screen, teaching the principles of Creative Problem Solving(CPS) perhaps, and the students sit mesmerized and interested, take part in group activities and wish to come back to the class everyday, you would know instantly of the presence of the WizIQ Virtual Classroom. And you would wonder in awe!”
Another interesting development in near future is the the Moodle MOOC on WizIQ which starts on June 1. On the helm, and navigating the initiative, is Dr. Nellie Deutsch, a Moodle expert and a passionate online teacher. She says:
“Teaching with Moodle is a 4-week course for teachers who wish to teach online using Moodle and other web technologies such as WizIQ and Google Drive. The course is in the spirit of open education and is completely free. Unlike the traditional MOOCs that place stress on content and course delivery, Moodle MOOC will focus on active learning, reflection, sharing, and collaboration. The aim of the course is for the participants to learn through meaningful connections and social interactions.”
Learning is a social act. It can’t be isolated and it is certainly not independent. Learning is collaborative, interactive and huge loads of fun!