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MOOC. Massive Open Online Course. Here is the Wiki description of a MOOC for you, along with a YouTube video. As the short clip shows you, learning is a-changing. If you wanted to know something in the past you could ask someone, buy a book, figure it out for yourself. Or you could call a school to see whether it offered an appropriate course. You would access the content in traditional ways. But now we have MOOCs. With MOOCs you do something similar. You ask someone, you read a book and you figure it out. Except that most (or all) of the course is presented digitally. It is usually free to participate, unless you need to pay for the accreditation. But either way, you can engage.
Jules and I have just completed our first MOOC. Jules invited me to join her in participating in EdX’s ‘Leaders of Learning’ course, taught by Professor Richard Elmore. It was offered during a scheduled time period of six weeks (not all are) and she was meeting up with local colleagues to discuss ideas and reflect on them as the MOOC was unfolding.
The edX course is MOOC offered by HarvardX and I immediately thought ‘I am not clever enough for this’. August is normally a quiet time for me (school holidays) and Jules was enthusiastic, so I thought it was worth a go. Obviously, in terms of my time management, we have NOW been asked to write lots of articles to promote TechnoTeaching (yay!) so it has been more challenging to find time to do the course work. But, I was determined, signed up, and waited to see what would happen.
They suggest that you do the ‘Demo’ to get a feel of it - and to also help me with another online ‘eLearning Module’ that I am writing for a charity. I liked the use of video (I still see this as the future once people get over seeing themselves on a screen), and the range of online materials––well sourced and only a click away. I liked that there were no ‘wrong’ answers, as long as you understood and interpreted the material. So far not so bad.
Once the start date came around (8th July) I logged on. The content was presented in a number of ways. Mainly by Professor Elmore. Jules told me he was pretty radical - so I thought it would be fun. He introduces each module with short webcasts. His approach is supportive and questioning. We were also expected to view ‘Voices from the Field,’ videos that feature educators who also chimed in with their opinions, advice, and glimpses of their schools in action. I also appreciated the built-in checks to test your understanding.
I am thrilled to say that I have completed it EARLY - and passed! - and am completely inspired by the experience. Here’s why:
I really think that online learning can now equal face-to-face learning in a lot of ways.
The content was excellent and timely.
I LEARNT a lot.
How does online learning now compare with face-to-face?
Firstly, I am not saying we should bin all of the schools and just plug in. I am saying that learning online can now pose a serious challenge to traditional schooling. Why?
The MOOC (and I will use this as an example) is made with a REAL understanding of the jaw-dropping amount of content the Internet holds. A MOOC is a real ‘course’ as we know it - scaffolded, thought-provoking and accredited. You take it online, but it is so more than just being a passive consumer of information. The MOOC helps you to engage as a student, with lots of structure to help you find your way.
As a participant you are asked to engage - to learn - and make connections through reflection and dialogue. Your connections can be with the course, but (arguably) the more important connections you make may be the ones on social media, learning circles and face2face webcam meetings.
So how was it set out? The webcasts were the ‘lecture’ style of teaching - the talking heads spoke and we listened. However the use of online ‘Discussion Groups,’ facilitated by teaching assistants, and the additional dialogue on FaceBook and Twitter really took this out of the classroom. Social media allowed me to create new connections with like-minded educators all over the world.
The content was developed and led by experts. If we consider schools, this is not always the case. We are often taught by people with expertise, but they are not world leaders. You can get world leaders with a course like this one from HarvardX. Think about it. Is it better to learn in this way, from peers with the same mindset/passion for a subject and a critically renowned leader in the field leading the way, or with someone who knows a just bit more than you? Given these two options, I’ll take the MOOC.
The MOOC also incorporated YouTube videos, web links to papers, school websites and a range of online material designed to stimulate further reflection. In principle, this material can be created by anyone, but the quality I experienced in the MOOC was inspiring. It brought home how important it is to REALLY know what you are looking for online.
In sum, to have connections, quality content and academic leaders who can help you to articulate your vision of learning for the future is something I would never have learnt in a school or in-house training session. Fact.
The Future of Learning?
This particular MOOC focused on learning. According the course description, “the six-week course will help students to identify and develop their personal theories of learning, and explore how they fit into the shifting landscape of learning”. Then off to the intro video. The idea that hit me first was that educators do not have enough time to consider philosophical questions about these big ideas. Nor are they encouraged to consider the types of educational organisations that might be needed for future generations.
To get at these questions, Professor Elmore asked us to think about the types of learning organisations that already exist, and to then consider our preferences. (Here is a great article to illustrate this type of thinking.) We then applied Professor Elmore’s framework to existing organisations, including the Victorian School vision (Australia rather than monarch). Once we had completed this thought process, we moved on to what styles of leadership we prefer and how we can explore our attitudes more deeply. We looked at how learning could be supported and directed—in contrast to a top-down mode of learning.
Next, we were presented with YouTube videos to look at how space affects learning with Socratic Seminars and the Harkness Table.
The next module took me by surprise - but was right up my street. It encouraged us to think deeply about the physical design of learning. We were introduced to educational architects for the future Fielding Nair International and also looked at one of their designs, PK Yonge Developmental Research School. But it was videos like ‘Not Old School’ and ‘School 2.0’ on YouTube that really illustrated what is happening in the States. Have a look.
We were invited to - as a final piece - to create a presentation of what we would want for a learning space if we were to lead it. I created mine in Popplet (try it!). My design mirrored the environment I have experienced working in a new school. It also illustrates what I think we need to do about digital online courses in the future. As an education and design geek, I found that I REALLY love thinking about future design in schools, especially when it comes to digital content. I think the two go hand in hand. I discovered that given my background in designing new school environments, as well as this MOOC, have shown me that this is an area I want to learn more about. To have the chance to do some blue-sky thinking, guided by such talent, was fantastic.
I hope this gives you a taste of the content and range that we were party to. There is an ‘Unhangout’ tomorrow which sadly I won’t be able to attend in live time but will see what happens on social media… It goes on…
So. What next indeed? The MOOC has triggered my interest on just want you can do online now. Open University is a concept we are all used to in the UK, but gone are the late night BBC 2 shows. Now the BBC relies on eLearning to support the materials and you learn in a ‘distanced’ fashion. What interests me is the future of ‘distanced’ or remote learning. I’m also curious about what else is online. I searched around and found The MOOC List. Here you can search a university like HarvardX or a country like the UK and find the courses that were on offer. Great!
For me distance learning really challenges where education is at the moment. After doing this course, I believe the possibilities with online courses are huge. Yes, for students but also for adults - for those with a love of learning or those who are changing careers (as we now do 3 to 5 times in our lifetime). I do think this type of online learning challenges the idea of ‘schools’ - the industrial designed cellblocks that met ratio of student numbers rather than learning styles; buildings built to ‘house’ large numbers of students rather than designed to maximise learning. It challenges how we value our children and their learning - sitting on cheap seats for 6 hours a day, rather than allowing them to learn as we do—any time of day or night. It challenges our beliefs about who the experts are in learning and how schools might move forward in the digital age. It challenges all of us as educators. And it challenges the way things work now with politicians and business folks leading educational reform rather than educators.
I have lots of other thoughts about how we might do a better job of helping learners access information and content. For example, what learning/content needs to be directed and what needs to be facilitated? But for now I am keen to see who is out there. Who has taken an online course and how do you feel about it to start with….? What do you think? Would you try one?
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This is where Jules and Nic will post articles, links to interesting sites and things that we think our TechnoTeachers will like.