Course comparison: f2f vs #etmooc
I read a friend’s blog today in which she offered her concerns about MOOCs, and posed some pointed questions about the capacity of a massive course to be responsive to learners. I have only had experience with cMOOCs, and I’m an unabashed supporter and fan, so I want to respond. One of the reasons I have such optimism about MOOCs comes from the comparison I regularly make between my experience in brick and mortar higher ed education classes and the learning opportunities in cMOOCs.
Since I’m currently enrolled in the Educational Technology MOOC, or #etmooc, and I’m also enrolled in a graduate class at a local university, entitled Literacy Professional Development, I thought I’d do a little three point comparison. After all, I would never argue that MOOCs are perfect learning opportunities, but I would argue that learning experiences in a MOOC are often richer than those available through traditional modes at the local university. Generally speaking, the MOOC provides a more responsive dynamic learning opportunity than the course I pay tuition for. Here’s the comparison-
Access to quality content
In my graduate course, I’m required to read the fourth edition of a text that offers a general overview of approaches to instructional coaching and a history of literacy coaching. Since I’ve worked as a literacy coach and in my current role I facilitate the professional learning of a team of instructional coaches, I have great interest in reading about the topic of coaching. However, the cost of the book I’m required to read far exceeds the cost of any of the six books I’ve purchased and read for my own professional learning about coaching and is not nearly as supportive because of its general treatment of the topic. Each week, I read what is required before completing and handing in a completed graphic organizer, responding to my professor’s reflection questions. This text and the corresponding weekly assignment is just one example of the rigid, questionable and expensive content my face to face course provides.
By comparison, etmooc also holds great interest for me, since I work in the educational technology department of a large, urban school district. Unlike the course I pay tuition for, this course offers a variety of high quality resources all for free. In the last week, I attended a web session hosted by Howard Rheingold from Stanford University, where he discussed attention literacy and crap detection. Incidentally, despite the massiveness of the course and the crowded web session, he took my question about backchannels and spoke for a couple of minutes on the topic. I also heard from Doug Belshaw from Mozilla, who shared his work on digital literacy and referenced Mozilla’s Web Literacy white paper. He also invited participants in #etmooc to join in Mozilla’s effort to establish a web literacy standard, posting the link to a follow-up online meeting where we could meet to participate. The daily reading in the MOOC is aggregated on the blog hub, where university instructors and learners of all stripes post as co-learners inviting and responding to comments about their own thinking.
My face to face course this week requires that I answer two discussion prompts posted by the instructor before responding to the answers of two of my classmates. I’m responding this week to three different readings about the history of reading research and policy in America. When I read the responses of my classmates I see a range of background knowledge on reading research but no range in interest in the topic (everyone is writing the minimum requirement of posts and all posts are of roughly the same length). At the time of this writing, the post I wrote a few hours ago has received no comments.
As for the reading notes I turn in each week, on the only paper returned to me so far my instructor put a + sign at the top of the page indicating that I would get participation credit for the submission. She also circled one of the claims I made on my paper and wrote:
In the massive #etmooc, my posts to the community on Google + receive instant comments. My colearners write extensively and creatively in response to ideas that captivate them in the MOOC. I participated in a threaded discussion weeks ago with 3 teachers, a professor from Northwestern and one of the organizers of the MOOC. My blog has received 15 comments on the blog itself and many more in Google +. Each vlog post I create receives comment from Benjamin Wilkoff, a participant who invited me to begin vlogging with him after he watched my video intro to the course (no masterpiece, that). I also heard from Alec Couros, who congratulated me on my response to Rheingold’s presentation, writing:
Thanks very much for this, Joe. This is well articulated and fits really well with how I see the role of many learners in #etmooc. We’ve seen the community allow for, create, and share far more knowledge, tools, and information than anyone can possibly take in. Attention is key.
And thanks for the vlog format – I am hoping to see others take these on as well. I always feel closer to people when I see and hear them speak.
Couros is the lead facilitator of this course which, at the time of this writing, had 2303 blog posts submitted to the blog hub, the same place where I turned in my humble vlog.
In my Literacy Professional Development course, I chose a partner with whom I will exchange philosophy papers. She’ll read my 15 page draft tonight and I hers. We’ll email each other comments and copy the professor so she can verify that everyone is following through on this commitment. I have another partner in the course who is my “coaching partner.” On several occasions, we’ll watch five minute clips of one another’s instruction in order to provide feedback. This will allow us practice with the coaching strategies we encounter in the assigned reading. We are often grouped by the grade levels we teach for short discussions, the longest of which so far has been about 10 minutes.
In #etmooc, I have been invited by Couros to participate in a crowd-sourced lip dub, something that intrigued me, though I didn’t follow through. In Rheingold’s session, he offered up the mic on the webinar and implored everyone in the session to jump in saying, “Go ahead. It takes a little courage but I know you have questions.” More important, I mentioned above that I was invited to participate in Benjamin Wilkoff’s vlog channel. He’s also invited me to participate in a weekly vlogging experiment patterned after the Fellowship of the Ning. Though neither of us is required to work together, we regularly provide feedback to one another’s videos, sometimes responding with video.
While this comparison could go on and on, I think it illustrates how a self-directed learner might have a superior learning experience in the MOOC, while a face-to-face course, bound by tradition, can discourage self-direction, exploration and creativity.