I find a lot of things about MOOCs confusing. But when I was responding to Lenandlar Singh’s blog post in which he asked the following three questions (paraphrased), I was more confused than ever before: 1. How long should videos in MOOCs be? 2. How well are discussions happening in MOOC discussion forums? and 3. How long should MOOCs ideally be?
The questions are very clear (so they’re not what confused me). I was confused by the fact that I couldn’t define the term MOOC. At first, I thought that since Len seems to be thinking about the xMOOCs—-which have video lectures and discussion forums and course duration–I tried to answer the questions with that type of MOOCs in mind. But as I wrote a short response in the comments section, I realized that I haven’t really taken, actively participated, or fully completed any such course so far. But I have observed, tasted, audited, and skipped and dipped into many courses, even xMOOCs.
Maybe I shouldn’t say I have “taken” any MOOCs so far, but by the same measure, maybe most people who the big data counts as participants/students haven’t “taken” them either! There are a lot of studies about participation and engagement of those who take xMOOCs. Indeed, instructors of the large Coursera-type MOOCs often tell participants that it’s okay to observe, taste, or participate more fully; to start early or late; to continue beyond the end of course; etc. So, maybe my participation counts. Maybe I am one of the more “active” participants in certain measures. I may not follow the instructor’s instructions, complete all or even many of the assignments, and I may only read/lurk the discussions and skip videos that don’t seem interesting to me. I learn in bits and pieces, and, more importantly, I learn from conversations with participants in ways that don’t follow the structured topics/processes provided by the teacher. Since learning (not credit) is what I want, I’m never motivated to fully “participate” in any MOOC, forget about “completing” them.
Have I “taken” any MOOC yet or not? In the “big data” analysis, am I counted as a participant? Do I count?
If we consider that instructors of many xMOOCs encourage people to join in any way they want, work as much as they like, etc, then I have “taken” quite a few MOOCs. I have learned a lot from them, I have observed the teaching and learning in them, and I have got to know a lot of people (even in xMOOCs). But to the extent that xMOOCs are teacher-centered, that they are called “open” and they remain confused and confusing appropriations of traditional and emerging pedagogies (the best of which they’re still running over), I have a hard time with the very act of defining not only whether I’m taking MOOCs but also what MOOCs are in the first place.
Let us break it down. The term “massive” part of them can be described by the number of students/participants (say 100). But if the “open” only means “open for anyone to enroll” then the whole thing is more full of lies than a life of its own. The first O of MOOC was originally defined as “open for the community” and not “open for ‘anyone’ to consider joining and, if we can figure out how to make you do so, pay” — and educators continue to emphasize the original meaning of “open” in MOOCs. So, the “massive” aspect of MOOCs cannibalizes the idea of “course,” which remains a poor appropriation of traditional, teacher-centered, having a timeline and learning materials and objectives to be pursued by all. And the idea of “open” (nor really, wink-wink) aspect of MOOCs existentially undermine the idea of openness in the first place in a similar way.
So, every time I start having a conversation about my experiences of “taking” MOOCs, I start asking myself, “Have I really ‘taken’ any MOOC at all?” I watch videos, but scrub through them when I know what the lecturer is talking about, or if I find it boring or somehow not worth the time; I would blame myself for being a poor learner, but I also know that I am being counted in! And it feels like being at a party where I was not invited but I also know that it is an open party and everyone who stops by is a “guest.”
In most of the teacher-centered massive online courses, I have participated in a few discussion forums, but they have never appealed to me. I go there, read and respond a little, then quickly lose interest because I realize that I am not following the instructor’s instructions. The few conversations that I participate in probably count very well in the big data analysis (like I easily write a thousand words in response to a simple question, lol), but I know that I am too old, lazy, or lacking in discipline to follow the instructor’s instructions, to meet the course’s objectives in any significant way. I hack, I appropriate, and I take things apart in random ways.
If I find something interesting, especially if I get to know interesting people, I stay longer and engage better. This is why I participate quite actively in cMOOCs and other variations. But in Coursera-style xMOOCs, my typical moocing behavior is to observe a course early in the semester (like watching all the videos posted), going back in a few weeks and then observing again (scrubbing through videos to see what seems interesting), and visiting one more time at the end to see what conversations and lectures were interesting/useful. That may be unique, or it may be more or less representative of participants who “take” MOOCs for informal learning and networking. If this kind of “student” behavior is highly common, xMOOCs will either have a short life, a false life, or a chameleon-like changing life and call themselves MOOC while changing beyond recognition, taking confusingly many forms, and allowing those who pretend to be interested in advancing the cause of education in the world–as well as providing fertile grounds for the evolution of new pedagogies for real educators.
All that said, what is a MOOC? Or what are MOOCs? Can we define any of the terms in the acronym in any logical sense anymore? If not, is MOOC just a metaphor, a placeholder, a proxy for all kinds of things? Should we care?