This blog started as a comment to Felicia M. Sullivan’s comments to my blog, “Coursera and the Homogenization of Knowledge”, but it became long enough to merit being posted as a separate blog.
I took the liberty here to copy and address each question separately.
“I wonder if a MOOC might be a supplement for the undergraduate student to course learning they are doing elsewhere.”
Yes, MOOCs can definitely be a supplement to undergraduate courses and used in the so-called “flipped classroom” model, in which students watch videos at home and then engage in discussions in the classroom. The problem here is: are videos really an effective method of teaching and learning? I used to love videos, but now I prefer reading – it so much faster and less reductionist to read a text than watch somebody talk. This is of course a personal opinion and I cannot say that it applies to other people. The other problem is that we will face the same issues that we have now with making students read the assigned material. Yes, the videos are out there, but will the students watch them?
As for being a teacher in a flipped classroom, I think that it takes away some of her authority, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and some of her autonomy and fun, which may not be an exciting prospect for the teacher. In this situation, it seems that knowledge flows from the experts and the teacher is reduced to the role of a facilitator.
Perhaps, this model works. I do not have an experience with it; however, I believe it would be less satisfying for the instructor to relinquish her authority over the content to another, and this method would definitely lead to more homogenization of knowledge (thousands of students watching and reading the same content). I know that critics would say that we need to focus on students’ learning not on teacher’s satisfaction, to which I would reply- but who would want to become a teacher if her job is not intellectually stimulating?!
Why do we also think that a famous professor from an elite university would do a better job at presenting material than a regular instructor? The professor earned her name based on her research, not necessarily on her teaching skills, and I know many professors who are great researchers and intellectuals but not good at teaching. Why don’t we just put cameras in all our classrooms and create our own local video stars? Ah, yes, state universities and community colleges do not have the resources to do that, but Coursera and others have them, and putting their content in our classrooms comes at a price. My point here is not to confuse “marketing” content and “cost-saving” with effective teaching. They are not necessarily interchangeable.
“I also wonder how you build the kind of independent learning skills referenced by Amy Bruvall in this blog post.”
I ask a similar question: how will we create the next generation of thinkers and great professors if there won’t be appreciation for their work and if they would be asked to work as moderators, relying on knowledge distributed top-down from prestigious universities? Why would anyone want to get a PhD if the only work that waits her is the work of a tutor and facilitator (with the few exceptions of those lucky ones to get a job at a research university)? I do not want to diminish the work of a tutor here, which perhaps is more important for learners than the work of a teacher, but my point is that one does not need to have a PhD to become a tutor. I rebel against the idea of making teachers redundant and against subjecting them to the mechanization of labor, which has already happened in manufacturing and the service industry.
“Also, I wonder what makes you think that the humanities don’t conform well to MOOCs. I would have thought the topic of the recent class would have been difficult, but am seeing that discussions are happening and new insights are being gained.”
I think that one of the most important factors for students’ success in humanities is constant and individualized feedback from the teacher since they rely heavily on reading and writing. Yes, the Coursera forums allow for engaging discussions, but they do not provide the necessary feedback for a student to make an individual progress. It is possible now to automate quizzes and feedback for computer science problems, but we still do not have the technology to grade essays and provide meaningful feedback to students’s writing and thinking. I have not tried the peer review system that some Coursera classes use, but I would be cautious to rely too much on feedback from random people.
The level of discussions also depends on the level of preparedness of the students involved in the discussion. In the “e-learning and digital cultures” course, we have many educators with background in teaching, learning, and technology use; in a regular college class, students will not come with this kind of background, hence, the level of discussions will be different, and, of course, we have to deal with the challenge of making them read a highly-theoretical material with jargon and references to previous studies and theories that they would not understand unless they have a teacher who patiently explains the material and provides the necessary context.