(2011-07-05) Downes Wiley Mooc Debate

Stephen Downes and David Wiley seem to be arguing about the importance of the MOOC.

Jun21: As The Chronicle reported last year, a growing number of educators are giving that idea a try by offering free “massive open online courses,” or MOOC’s, to anyone who wants to learn. Today, that experimental idea gained some more traction in mainstream higher education. The University of Illinois at Springfield announced a new not-for-credit MOOC devoted to examining the state of online education and where e-learning is heading... In a blog post Monday, Mr. George Siemens welcomed the growing interest from traditional universities. And he countered the more skeptical take offered by another open-education leader, David Wiley, who wrote recently that “MOOCs and their like are not the answer to higher-education’s problems.” “I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that we are at a similar point to open online learning that we experienced with the growth of the LMS (learning-management system) in the late 90s,” Mr. Siemens wrote. “While some have argued that MOOCs are limited in their appeal—mainly for professional development and highly prepared individuals—I believe MOOCs will continue to be easier to develop and deliver as the growing number of institutions develop pedagogies (network learning, Connectivism, participatory pedagogy) and new technologies to run the events.”

  • Wiley's post, as a tangent to a discussion about "relevance" of the University model (Disruption), and Open Education's role, said While there’s not much that educational research can say definitively, one thing we can say is that underprepared students almost always fail in open-ended, mostly unstructured, essentially discovery-based environments. So while MOOCs continue to be excellent options for PhDs, graduate students, professionals, and other highly prepared, highly motivated people, don’t expect to see them displacing your local community or technical college (Community College) any time soon.

Jun22: Wiley followed up with: This conjecture can, of course, be disproven empirically – someone simply would need to run a “remedial math MOOC” or “remedial writing MOOC” (Basic School Skills) and show that a large proportion of participants who had historically struggled in math or writing succeeded. Of course, that would require measuring learning (Standardized Test), which is somewhat out-of-spirit with the MOOC movement...

  • Keith Hamon commented: All classes favor sufficiently prepared learners... As for independent learning, the biggest obstacle that I see is the expectations of those who already know how to learn and who, therefore, have to unlearn before they can manage a MOOC... In the end, though, my biggest issue with Wiley’s thoughts about MOOCs is the hint of essentialist epistemology that I sense in his argument. For me, Wiley is working out of the assumption that knowledge is a collection of nuggets that a teacher can transfer from herself to her students.

    • Related: MIT study suggests that traditional push-instruction is inherently less-effective than exploratory-pull process.

Jun22: George Siemens responds: I personally don’t avoid structure and I don’t avoid assessment or grading. I’ve graded students in all three of the CCK offerings. For our upcoming MOOC, several universities are considering offering credit for the course (Georgia Tech and Athabasca U). Both will be building assignment criteria around the course to ensure credibility. Of the complaints David offers, this one surprised me a bit. From what I’ve seen of his presentations, he has been advocating for some level of disaggretation in education. MOOCs follow that trajectory: teaching is open, marking/grading/accreditation happens at an individual institutional levels. Teaching and assessment do not necessarily need to be connected. Learn globally, accredit locally... David states, “MOOCs are not a solution to the problem of large and growing demand for higher education for people who are less well prepared”. What would count as a suitable solution to a complex problem such as this? No doubt, it won’t be a single solution.

Jul02: George Siemens linkblogs this series of discussions and focuses a bit on the epistemology (Knowledge Transfer) and Complex System bits. We need evidence. We need research. Philosophically, the conversation is fun and could go on for years. I’d like to take an empirical approach to expand the possible mode of answering the questions raised in the Wiley/Downes/Cormier/Siemens debate. I Commented: I think the biggest step of progress will be running a MOOC about a topic other than education and technology. You don't have to leap to remedial-math. How about a history-SurveyCourse? I suspect you'd like to be "more prepared" in terms of having more mature technology in place. But it's been 3 years since the first MOOC, you have to get out of the meta-ghetto. Or it's just Wanking.

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