By Matt Jenner, on 3 December 2012
or how I stopped worrying and started to love the MOOCs.
Education ’12 is like a blasting rocket. Millions invested, calculated risks, people’s futures at stake, target in sight, whole load of discovery on the way and yet it still fires away from the homestead looking a little wobbly and aiming towards the sky with a slow but determined path ahead. Also, it’s likely the funding will be cut any moment. Meanwhile, people powerlessly hope it keeps going onwards. I like rockets, they are both childish and extremely complicated. But why the metaphor? Maybe I should’ve chosen Icarus, flying around and having a good ole’ time – but that story doesn’t end so well.
In the long (and largely unchanged) history of education many huge revolutions have come by and affected teaching and learning. I’m afraid I did not study either politics, the classics, philosophy, economics or enough psychology to truly add multiple dimensions, so I must focus on the engineering; the technological developments across the ages (just for a second) that ignites that rocket.
Throughout historical technological developments pesky free-thinkers will break, rebuild, reuse and sometimes just destroy things – just to see what was possible. Technology can be plentiful, customisable, personal and omnipresent. And this is where we get to MOOCs.
Massive online open courses are the edu-buzzword of 2012. Despite ancient web cookie crumb forensic experts identifying their existence since 2007 no mass media frenzy really tackled the constructivist approaches. Any academic reading the latest in the Journal of Distance Education, or, BBC News will have heard the headlines. ‘All universities offer all courses for free to everyone. Problems = Solved’ etc. Obviously the media are having a good time but this is real news – universities are offering courses for free, to anyone. Sure, the range is limited and some universities have clandestine motives behind this. Some are doing it to be in the club, others for marketing, most just want to experiment and others may be all three, or all over the place.
This is ok – remember that research part of a rounded institution? We can research in education too, and that involves some risk, mixed methodology and unknown outcomes. MOOCs are a phase, no university can afford, given current income streams, to offer all courses for free to everyone. But, they may consider niche, perhaps inaccessible courses to wider audiences, include the general public in open activities, widen participation within non-traditional groups or something totally wild. Surely this is the cool thing about MOOCs – if anything the fact that most academics will have heard of MOOCs in some form is a good thing. Why? Well they challenge a lot of norms about education, and they rely on technology and willing experimenters to function. This is the rocket; technology and fuel waiting to blast. Brilliant.
The world has got to a point where a tablet computer can be bought for $30 and DIY desktop base components as little as $25. If you don’t like how it works, you can learn how to code and build your own thingamabob. Or, if you’re resourceful you’ll find one that’s close, uses Open Source and make it your own. Mix this with education and you’ve got the outline for the rocket, it’s all undefined, hard to describe and largely in some crazy imaginative state. Now you just need fuel.
There are some excellent academics out there; you know the ones I mean. They will lead this eduvolution. Go and find one, they’re the ones where you’ve been in a lecture and they fizzed in your brain during and after. They led that discussion where you dug deeper than ever before. Or that tutorial where your knowledge gap made you feel so far behind from the group. That academic challenged you and now you’re miles ahead.
There are some excellent students out there; you know the ones I mean. There will lead this eduvolution. Go and find one, they’re the ones where you’ve been lecturing and they don’t stop asking questions, making your brain fizzing during and after. They dominated that discussion where you worried you’ll run out of answers. Or that tutorial where they came in looking flummoxed about a topic you’ve never considered and kept your cool while you reassured them they’re doing ok. That student challenged you and now you’re miles ahead.
(As an aside, I also have a strong admiration for support staff but they didn’t quite fit in. Sorry.)
It’s these free-thinkers, the challengers, those difficult people who break all the rules and have no interest of what the rules even were. They will redefine the boundaries of education. Our technological world is driven by this antinomy. To fail is to win, black is white, bees can fly upside down etc. It’s hard to grasp.
When the NYT reports ‘Saying no to College’ this article was automatically generated from excited and fuelled fingers (*ahem*). Being plugged into start-up culture probably helps to understand, but essentially we’re in a world where the lucky few cannot attend school and instead chase their ideas, sometimes finding rewarding reality. In this context, it means building or hacking their way into business. For the sake of this conversation, the business is education.
If you search the internet for MOOCs you’ll find a few providers offering a wide range of courses. If you read about MOOCs you’ll end up finding the growing subculture of people who are trying to redefine education with tech-innovation. It’s gone well beyond help for writing that essay, the internet is brewing cultures of learners who are not tied to institutions, but instead to one another or learning networks. They’ll probably need some academic direction, but if MegaHyperGlobalUniCorp realise how to break this market, I give it 12 months before we see real Online Universities challenging that of traditional institutions. They say employers want to see qualified certification, but if the employers are millionaire college dropouts will they care?
The past 20 years in opening or transforming education are being recorded in the Archive for future generations to say ‘@middleagedperson #remember when Old School was old’s cool?? #haha’. We’re currently experimenting but we’re also laying the foundations of tomorrow’s advanced learning networks.
The year 2012 marks a point where moocs became a word. I don’t think the term will last that long, but the aftershocks might. Already we’re thinking that certain aspects are not quite right, such as massive – why so prescriptive to large sizes? The challenge is to see how they mature and we align ourselves with the priorities.
For E-Learning Environments, one big change is that of the Public E-Learning Portal (PELP) project, which you may start hearing more and more about. Since day 2 of launch (ish) we have had wonderful reasons for ‘opening up Moodle’ to wider audiences. The simple concept is people can’t just register for Moodle access, and if we did allow this (it’s technically really easy) it means all of UCL’s internal e-learning stuff becomes far more open. We don’t want this, it wasn’t setup for that and even if we changed it, there’s a few too many risks. Instead, we’ve got support to develop that ‘open Moodle’. Designed for premium courses in professional development, we feel the scope for it is wider than this – although we’re excited to see UCL opening up to the professional market too – it’s not just money spinning, you know?
The project is slowly entering its pilot phase and we expect it’ll grow in popularity over the coming year, with modest expected numbers using the platform. Over the coming year PELP will be renamed (suggestions welcomed…), expanded, launched and will serve a variety of courses from all UCL schools. It’ll provide a base for opening up courses to the wider community. It could be used as a promotion platform, a space to inspire, facilitate global collaboration, free thinking and new approaches. It’s not UmooCL (geddit?), but it’s not strapped to a rocket a million miles away either.
This was bought to you by the inner ramblings of UCL’s Distance Learning Facilitator who spends too much free time on his day job.