The first steps of innovation are always messy. Think of the cellphone. If you are my age you probably remember the first brick phones: large and heavy as bricks and expensive as gold bars. Fast-forward a couple of decades and you find a mini version of those bricks in every pocket. Who would have thought? Now they can decide political campaigns and organize grass roots movements. And most of us only occasionally use them to make phone calls.
We need to get over the hype that this first wave of MOOCs is generating and also refrain from making apocalyptic predictions about the impact of MOOCs on higher education. (See MOOCs Revolution Hits the Universities?)
Until we work out the kinks and clunkiness of the first MOOCs, we should all pause and ponder how MOOCs can help the education enterprise. (See The Wall Street Journal Feb. 4, 2013 article, Crash Sinks Course on Online Teaching.)
I’m in my fourth week of teaching a Spanish MOOC for the first time. Here are some insights I’ve gleaned from my experience so far:
- The number of students currently enrolled in my course is approximately equivalent to the total number I have taught in the previous 10 years. And they come from every corner of the world. Never in my wildest dreams could I have expected to have such a large and diverse audience in this course. This is good.
- Since all the material is delivered online, the ability to use course analytics will allow me to see how students interact with the course — how they learn. Although I can also do that in a traditional course, the size and format of a MOOC makes the process a lot more accurate and efficient. This is very good.
- Students who participate in MOOCs are not students in the institutional sense of the word. They don’t have the motivation of a grade or a degree, or the sense of urgency that comes from having paid for a course. They come in at any point, use what they want and ignore what they don’t. This makes it very difficult to design and run a course (particularly a language course). We are used to dealing with teaching that results in learning and certification; a MOOC is a form of teaching that only results in learning (at least for now). This is a challenge.
I plan to come back to Open up regularly to give you all updates on how things are proceeding. In the meantime, it would be useful to think about the role of MOOCs and the intersection between teaching and certification.
Here’s an insightful blog post on the topic by Cathy Davidson (Hastac.org): What Can MOOCs Teach Us About Learning?
Fernando Rubio is Co-director of the University of Utah’s Second Language Teaching and Research Center (L2TReC) and Associate Professor of Spanish Linguistics. His research focuses on the acquisition of Spanish as a second language and on the intersection of language learning and technology.