Massive Open Online Courses, aka MOOCs, Transform Higher Education and Science: Scientific American

One of the better of many recent articles covering the popular breed of xMOOCs like Coursera, edX and Udacity, with some superficial discussion of the pedagogies, business models, technologies and motivations behind them.

One of the things that worries me most in this article is the cherry-picking of relevant research to back up claims and models. I recognize the value of appreciative enquiry, but this is not the place for it. Lectures are dismissed with a nod to an article from the 1970s which is actually concerned with short and long term memory models – barely relevant, not reflecting recent findings and far from the best article on the maninfold weaknesses of lecture-based approaches. But it fits with the cherry-picked model of providing short lectures to fit what are presumed to be average attention spans, ignoring the fact that it depends not just on length but on content. I could watch a great talker like Sir Ken Robinson for an hour without boredom but will turn off in an instant if the speaker is not engaging. It’s not just about the technology, it’s about skill and artistry, and the interest of the learner. Other references are similarly thin and also make the classic mistake of generalizing from the particular that is so prevalent in educational research, especially when called upon by those who are not educational researchers. For instance, the fact that peer grading can under some circumstances be closely correlated with teacher grading does not mean that it is always so. It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, and it varies according to the context you are in, the subject you are teaching, the nature of the students, the resources that are available and the pedagogies you are using. 

Address of the bookmark:

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.