Tuesday 10 September 2013

Can the #MOOC format respond to the educational challenges #altc2013?

This is the first day of Alt-C2013 which takes place in Nottingham this year. I am glad to be part of the preparation group of the panel discussing Technology Enhanced Learning in times of crisis. There are multiple people present and the ideas discussed during this debate came (in part) out of the Alpine Rendez-Vous that took place at the beginning of this year.

If you want to you can join us at 11.45 on Tuesday 10 September 2013 in session 342, right after the keynotes. For a full time schedule, look here.

My input will be around MOOC and how or if they can be an answer to moments of crisis. But looking for your ideas on the subject, so please share. For those wanting to download the opinion paper I have added below, you can download it here at academia.edu. The references mentioned below are also all gathered in the academia link. I wrote this piece months ago, and I put it in my drawer of "when-I-have-time", but I feel it does have something going for it.

ProblemIn the educational reality of the second decennium of the 21st century education is molded by a variety of new factors. The learning and teaching processes of today are impacted by the use of social media, new mobile technologies and pedagogical formats. Due to these new technologies and emerging formats, education is forced into a process of transformation. In addition to these new strains on education, the old challenges with regard to excluded, vulnerable learner groups keep on existing, in fact they are in some cases becoming more urgent.

As such many tensions accompany this educational transformation, and especially when looking at the more vulnerable learner groups. As the global economic crisis stays omnipresent, more and more vulnerable learner groups get isolated and an educational solution befitting the latest Technology Enhanced Learning opportunity must be sought.

Theory focusing on some of the contemporary tensions in contemporary education
Local versus global: termed by Wellman (2002) as glocalization in relation to the overlapping spheres of society, technology , and the World Wide Web. This glocalization of education can simultaneously serve to perpetuate the status quo of existing power relations form one region to the next, as mentioned by Willems and Bossu (2012, p. 186).

Digital and Social exclusion(s): one area of social exclusion in the technological era relates to the digital divide. However, this term gathers many factors. There are “multiple divides which relate to a variety of factors such as: age; gender; ‘ethnic clustering’; uncertainty of financial conditions; work insecurity; and social insecurity” (Mancinelli, 2007, p. 7). Looking at this wide array of factors, Willems and Bossu (2012) suggested that the focus to address these educational challenges should be “on social inclusion rather than simply on the digital divide” (p. 188).

Increasing diversity of the learner group: Non-participation in adult and lifelong learning is deeply entrenched in ‘trajectories’ based on class, gender, generation, ethnicity and geography, which are established at an early age (Tuckett & Aldridge, 2009).
Formal – informal: university/higher ed. driven versus grassroots courses. Research showed that there is a greater uptake of informal kinds of online learning opportunities, and the more informal the nature of the online learning activity, the more factors, beyond involuntary exclusion, that become important (Eynon & Helsper, 2011). Additionally Eynon & Helsper mentioned that informal learning is the area in which there are the largest proportion of unexpectedly included learners [when examining digital in/exclusion]. A MOOC has informality embedded in its format. However, in the policy paper of UNESCO regretfully only new types of more formal xMOOCs are mentioned (Coursera, Udacity and edX). These examples are all more mass university driven. By focusing only on the major university driven MOOCs there is a predominant teaching/learning format (cognitive/behaviorist) connected to those platforms and a dominant Western driven pedagogy behind it. The content offered in the university driven courses is also more high-brow: nothing on vocational level, or getting to grips with the crisis etcetera. The courses are clearly aimed at educated people, as such less relevant for global learners at risk.

North – South, postcolonial tensions. Education in society always reflects the values of the dominant political ideology which in the West is that of neoliberalism (Apple, 2006). This ideology of free market economics, constant consumerism and individualism is inevitably reproduced in schools. Viruru (2005) adds that dominant ideologies of how children and youth grow and develop have become another of colonialism’s truths that permit no questioning, for the dominant educational model is seen as ‘the right one’. This post-colonial tensions are also increased by some xMOOC courses that are currently promoted as providers of “education for all”, but in fact are a new form of the post-colonial push of the North/West, as suggested by

Individual learning versus networked learning: Downes (2007) stated that “knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.” As such, a successful, connected/networked pedagogy would “seek to describe the practices that lead to such networks, both in the individual and in society.”

Closed versus Open Educational Resources (OER): OER can, and do include full courses, textbooks, streaming videos, exams, software, and any other materials or techniques supporting learning (OER Foundation, 2011, p. 1). But what is shared builds upon the content and ideas of its makers. And what people think others need, is not always that content which is really needed.

Technology and infrastructure: McGill (2010) noticed that in order to make all the OERs or any educational materials and courses fully open and accessible materials will be accessible on alternative technologies [including] mobile [technologies]. Willems and Bossu (2012) added that “the development of OER for mobile learning applications may be a more appropriate strategy to make OER widely available to students in developing regions (p. 193).

Digital identity: Identity negotiation and its relationship to societal power and status relations is also clearly implicated in the phenomenon of “stereotype threat” for which there is extensive experimental documentation (OECD, 2010, pp. 87-88). This research is summarized by Schofield and Bangs (2006) as follows: “stereotype threat, the threat of being judged and found wanting based on negative stereotypes related to one’s social category membership, can seriously undercut the achievement of immigrant and minority students” (p. 93). Additionally, the risk of providing content for the masses, is that identities get lost and that only the societal, predominant identity is represented in both the texts, as in the visual material of the course content. This has a profound effect on learning, as identification is connected to motivation and learning.

Global communication needs versus language barriers: the Council of Europe has consistently promoted the value of plurilingualism for all students (including migrant and vulnerable students) (Little, 2010). However most international courses are English spoken/written.

What can we do?Get together and build an answer that at least addresses some of the above issues.
MOOCs are – in its original, distributed form – informal, including a wider learner audience than traditional education (e.g. no degrees needed to participate in the course). Some of the MOOCs are mobile accessible (e.g. MobiMOOC) addressing infrastructural tensions. MOOCs are aimed at networked learning. Content results created in MOOCs are in many occasions OERs and the courses reside in the open.

Additionally, there is one human factor that is now more than ever possible across borders, beliefs, cultures and time, that is dialogue. Communication, or dialogue, and living through experiences in a collaborative way is also central to a MOOC. As a MOOC is a gathering of people with generally no prior connection, it has a unique social advantage that relates to a more open and connected way of thinking (de Waard, I., Gallagher, M. S., Hogue, R., Ă–zdamar Keskin, N., Koutropolous, A., Rodriguez, O.C., Abajian, S.C., 2011). This also coincides with what Downes (2007) wrote on that the learning activities we undertake when we conduct practices in order to learn are more like growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways. “To stay viable, open systems maintain a state of non-equilibrium… they participate in an open exchange with their world, using what is there for their own growth … that disequilibrium is the necessary condition for a system’s growth” (Wheatley, 1999, p. 78-79). This constant flux, with attention to context and personal experiences/backgrounds can be an inherent part of a MOOC, but that is only possible if we consciously embed these options in any MOOCs that are build. In order to ensure this type of tailored MOOC it is my understanding that all should be involved in building MOOCs, their design, content, approaches, pedagogies, awards/badges/certification.

It is the author’s believe that the Massive Open Online Course format or MOOC has the potential to address many of the above mentioned issues if the format is tweaked to do so. MOOCs have only emerged during the last 5 years, the format is now mature enough to be optimized for the challenges that we all – as global learners/teachers/researchers – are facing during these times of financial and educational crisis. It is also the time to provide alternatives to the more power duplicating MOOC that are sometimes rolled out.

The expertise of the moderators of this workshop is multi-faceted with the goal of being able to embed multiple optimizing factors into the adapted MOOC design to come out of the workshop. To address a multitude of factors, it is important to collaboratively design solutions based upon interdisciplinary expertise with a common goal.
We, as researchers, can use these times of global crisis to rethink education and create new models that have at least a spark of hope in them – to reach a more sustainable, localized and empowering model for education. We should bring together a core of researchers and engaged educational minds that can result in an optimized online course format that also fits the socio-economic challenges affecting the vulnerable groups in our global society as a whole. 

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