Reporting on part of day 1 at the American Political Science Association’s Teaching and Learning Conference (TLC) — the Friday morning short course on MOOCs, for which I acted as the master of ceremonies. I would like to thank everyone who attended for making the event so interesting and productive.
Two people discussed their personal experiences creating MOOCs:
- Jacqueline DeVore of the University of Maryland’s START Center has a MOOC currently running — Understanding Terrorism and the Terrorist Threat — via Coursera.
- David Caputo of Pace University has a MOOC that begins on March 4 — Congressional Elections 2014 — via Blackboard’s Coursesites.
One of the most enlightening aspects of the short course for me was a greater awareness of the variety of uses to which MOOCs can be put. While it can be argued that MOOCs are not yet a substitute for in-class learning (which does not necessarily equate to “on-campus” instruction), they already represent an important opportunity to engage the public in a variety of ways. MOOCs can serve as an objective introduction to controversial topics, make people more intelligent consumers of news and infotainment, and help create a more effectively engaged citizenry. They allow us to examine how we might approach citizenship and democracy differently than we do currently.
MOOCs also are a global learning environment and thus can function as a training ground for how to better internationalize colleges and universities. Several people made the point that it is impossible to predict who or what type of person will enroll in a MOOC — the participants are always a more diverse group than imagined. Content, delivery, and assessment should take this into account — what are people looking for and what design is most likely to provide it to them? You can bring a person to knowledge but can’t force him or her to learn it; however, there are ways to make learning more likely.
One interesting application of MOOCs is using them to help students learn how to learn, a skill that’s critical whether they are educating themselves on a physical campus or online. MOOCs thus have the potential of turning what most university faculty regard as an insurmountable obstacle into an opportunity — in a MOOC people can begin to explore a subject that interests them and in the process start acquiring knowledge and skills that they can build on elsewhere.
MOOCs are still in their infancy as an industry, and they will almost certainly evolve in unexpected ways. Already it is possible for people interested in learning a particular body of knowledge or skills to design their own MOOC without the intermediaries of a commercial provider or a university. All that’s needed is for people to identify what they want to learn and do and find a way to communicate that information to each other.