Undoubtedly there are big changes in education going on many of which catalysed by Open Education. It seems that the current hype around MOOCs reflects a big disappointment with many of the traditional teaching and learning practices. Social software and social networks offer ubiquitous access to other learners and thus open up the gates of the classroom. The walls are being torn down and students will expect a much greater amount of freedom. This is certainly a big chance to rethink many of the old-fashioned myths of teaching. Myths that have been tackled a long time ago, for instance by Wedemeyer in his famous book “Learning at the Back Door”. Now we have claims to “flip the classroom”, i.e., to alter the relationships between lectures and discussions, enabled by ICT.
We offer courses from the top universities, for free.
Learn from world-class professors, watch high quality lectures, achieve mastery via interactive exercises, and collaborate with a global community of students.
This is a big challenge not only for traditional teaching but for Higher Education in general. What if more of such initiatives emerge sponsored maybe by giant such as Google or Amazon? How can this fit to the classical ideal of University?
It is not yet clear what kind of impact MOOCs will have on Higher Education. Discussions have started which can be accessed here or in this New York Times article. In the following I would like to provide some tentative predications:
MOOCs might be established as add-ons to traditional courses. Universities can offer their basic introductory courses based on a general curriculum to ensure that students will acquire core knowledge, skills and competencies. In a separate (maybe optional) open courses local students engage with an international audience to discuss the topics from the basic courses and to develop new ideas. Consequently there is no fixed curriculum but more inputs from experts or study groups which will last a certain period of time (e.g. six weeks). The clear cut between traditional and open course can account for problems like lurking or motivation. The results from this open course can feed back to the basic course to improve the overall quality.
One of the things I am struggling with most with the MOOC concept is its neglect of “serious learning”. What I mean with that can be illustrated with the following example taken from the introduction to the MOOC #change11:
You are NOT expected to read and watch everything. Even we, the facilitators, cannot do that. Instead, what you should do is PICK AND CHOOSE content that looks interesting to you and is appropriate for you. If it looks too complicated, don’t read it. If it looks boring, move on to the next item (http://change.mooc.ca/how.htm).
For me this has more in common with TV-channel switching than with serious learning, which is aimed at a deep understanding. So I think it is important to facilitate deep learning, motivating the student to be persistent in the face of complicated or boring content. This might call for a re-appreciation of a “good teacher”. Somebody who can stimulate by his/her wisdom.
The social software and social network applications that are widely used in a MOOC might be further streamlined to to “Special Usage Groups”. As has been mine and surely the experience of many others, social software tools are subjected to individual preference. To unfold the educational potentials of these applications we need expert users that can provide scenarios for specific purposes. Since the speed of the development of new tools is increasing, this can ensure that more people actually benefit from them.