03 February 2014

Meta-MOOC: The Future of Higher Education

In my on-going efforts to stay (sort of) current about many things digital, I've signed up for a few MOOCs with the idea that I should experience one before formulating a solid opinion about the trend.

I've never finished one.  In fact, I've never so much as started the readings and assignments for one.

But recently I heard (on Twitter, I think) that Cathy Davidson was offering a MOOC on the future of higher education, a MOOC that would be about MOOCs, about the possibilities of what she calls "massively collaborative on-line education."  I assigned chapters of Davidson's book, Now You See It, in a seminar last semester called "What Is A Book?" and I thought actually learning from her would be a very interesting experience.

I signed up, assuming it would be the same old story: nice idea, no follow-through.  However, I logged in the other day and started poking around the course, and the ideas were intriguing, and the introduction posts from other students were interesting, so I logged in again another day and wrote a post introducing myself and opened up some of the assigned readings, and they sat open in the browser all day, and eventually I shut everything down unread.

Then I got some follow-up emails to my Introductions post, and so I logged in to the course again, and started actually skimming the assigned readings.  I clicked on the link for the videos, but I really do not have any patience for watching videos (with all due respect to The Mate, a filmmaker!).  There was also a link to "cue cards," so instead of watching the videos, I skimmed those, apparently drafts of the lectures given in the videos.

There are weekly quizzes so I opened one up to see how I could do and scored 12 and change out of 15, without paying a whole lot of attention, and then a window popped up in the middle of my screen informing me I had "done excellent" on the quiz and inviting me to "join the signature track."

For a mere $49, assuming I can score above 75 percent on all the quizzes and do some reasonable fraction of the assignments, I'll get some kind of certificate of completion for the course: "Official. Verifiable. Shareable."

I closed the window. 

There's a bar across the top of the screen that says, "Earn a Verified Certificate for this course!" A note below that tells me I still have six days and 21 hours to change my mind.

One of the assignments for the first week is to log in to the course wiki and read, and possibly edit, the "Community Constitution," which sets out principles for on-line, collaborative learning.  A model for such a constitution is provided in the "Mozilla Manifesto," also known as A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age.  That document includes a paragraph headed, "The Right to financial transparency."

The FutureEd course does not include mention of financial transparency in its community constitution.  It does provide the following principles:
  • Free and open source modes of learning promote the availability of knowledge as a public resource while open exchange of ideas gives knowledge value.
  • Transparent, community-based processes promote participation, accountability, and trust.
Huh.  I'm not finding the efforts to get me to pay for a certificate to be particularly transparent.

I took the quiz a second time (you get ten tries) and scored 15.00 out of 15.00.  The questions were multiple-choice, and most of the answers were in effect "all of the above," and I couldn't tell you what any of the questions, or the answers, were.

So have I learned anything yet? 

I'm finding the course contents intriguing, and the premise that we have an opportunity to do something paradigm-busting with the internet, rather than just using it to reproduce existing modes of knowledge transference while allowing it to change the ways we think without paying much attention to what those changes might be, an important one.

As with all the other MOOCs I've signed up for, I'm not seriously committed to completing this one, because all the responsibilities of a full-time job and a full-time life come first.  But as of right now, I'm curious about what week two will bring.  Updates to follow, probably.