20 November 2012

On returning to the MOOC...

Sorry! This post arose because I ran out of words on the commenting facility of a discussion of a Massive Open Online Course (aka MOOC) which I left a while ago (see here)

Jonathan Rees has stuck with the MOOC longer than me, and he is now engaged in a discussion with the principal contributor Jeremy Adelman, who has effectively laid down the challenge, "OK, how would you do it better?" Jonathan opened the discussion to all and sundry, and I replied...

[Here is the lead-in] 

The first requirement is to get away from the economic model. The Dearing report on higher education in the UK, in the late '90s (sorry, I'm just responding on the hoof, so referencing takes a back seat) in an appendix, argues that simple lecturing requires 6 person-hours prep. for each hour of "delivery". "Resource-based learning" as it was then known, might require up to 100 person-hours of investment for each hour... And that  was about delivery of content...

So on-line learning should be prepared to spend about 15 times as much per hour as face to face. But the student numbers are a thousand times as great or more!

Whatever recent commentators such as Alex Tabarrok have argued--from an economic rather than educational perspective--the online model is impoverished--and especially if it relies on the "lecture" model.

(And incidentally, I'm sorry to say that the lectures on this MOOC were, at least until I dropped out, very poor. Not only were they poor on-line, they would also have been bad in the lecture theatre [although the sense of a live "performance" would have helped]. The visual accompaniments were frankly amateurish, and there was clearly no investment in professional advice in lecturing for distant delivery. This is not about spoon-feeding, but judicious enhancement. And--brutal bottom line--voice coaching for Jeremy.)

The "Global Dialogues" show something of the way forward.

(for reasons of technical ineptitude on my part, I'm publishing this incomplete stuff now, because it is getting late. I hope to finish it shortly)

(A week later...)

The second is implicit in the very pertinent comment added by Contingent Cassandra to the initial version of this post--it concerns the transparency of the medium. She concludes that:
The minute a lecture lands on a screen, students seem to become critics, and to use as their standard the highest-quality material they've seen. That's a tough standard to meet.
(I'm tempted to quote George Herbert again--but I've done that three times already.) The medium has become a message, if not the message. I suspect that only routine exposure to such a medium will overcome that issue, if indeed anything will.

And that prompts the third consideration, which is that simply porting a method (lecturing), which hasn't had much of a good press since alternatives became available and is far from the gold standard of teaching, suggests a certain lack of nerve on the part of the authors of the course, and, as I argued on 29 September a degree of laziness which sends a message: preparedness to re-configure the course,
...requires conscious and deliberate effort. And if it doesn't happen, it sends a message to the student. You ain't worth it.
More positively, there are ideas out there which could be used, although they would need some root-and-branch re-design. The most obvious are the Khan Academy (I note that the strap-line for their history listing is "The history of the world--eventually!") and RSA Animate. They are short (shorter than the MOOC's 15-minute segments), and use fairly basic animation to keep track of the arguments. Moreover, the preparation is necessarily a team enterprise (even if Khan did start out on his own) --the very act of discussing the integration and juxtaposition of channels of communication forces the team to make the most of the process. And that in its turn may promote the creation of more innovative models...

I'd better stop while I'm being uncharacteristically positive!

(But do follow Jonathan.)

1 comment:

  1. The recorded format also seems to focus viewers (students and colleagues alike) on production values and other details of delivery in a way that the in-person lecture does not. I participated in the early '90s (as an adjunct discussion-leader) in an experiment in structuring a core intro-to-the-humanities class around a series of taped (VCR tape, that is) lectures with pauses for discussion, questions, etc. It turned out to be quite difficult to get the students to stop critiquing the delivery and production values (which were middling, and somewhat variable because there were a number of different lecturers), and focus on the content. I never experienced that phenomenon when leading discussion sections for live lectures (the students noticed when lecturers were really good, but they didn't complain about the so-so ones in the same way). The minute a lecture lands on a screen, students seem to become critics, and to use as their standard the highest-quality material they've seen. That's a tough standard to meet.


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