Musings on MOOCs

Until reading Steven Krause’s piece in the CCC “Symposium on Massive Open Online Courses,” I had little idea of what a MOOC entailed for both students and teachers. I had, however, read many editorial pieces for the Chronicle of Higher Education bemoaning MOOCs and their less-than-ideal influence on higher education. Some of Krause’s observations regarding his “Listening to World Music” MOOC resonated with me, and especially since our last 7280 class meeting focused discussion on online teaching.

First, the experience of “interacting” with thousands of strangers in an LMS sounds simply horrific (I’m now familiar with Schoology, Canvas, and Blackboard). Krause describes the heaps of discussion posts as “white noise,” and what else could they be? (690). It is impossible to read and interact with all those posts without devoting hours and hours of time. Furthermore, whose idea was it to enact student grading without any sort of training? At the very least, the teacher could have uploaded example-graded responses with justification. As a composition student, I also know that the term “style” is a heavily subjective element that is difficult to define—why have the “style” category on a rubric without any sort of justification as to how style will be assessed?

What impressed me about students in the course was their attention to some common themes I encounter in my coursework; when asked to grade others’ writing, “there was also some interesting conversation about the difficulties of evaluating the responses written by non-native English students, about plagiarism (of course!), and about the quality of peer responses” (692). I have spent entire courses learning about these concepts, yet students of all calibers in a MOOC were expected to deal with them without any training. I was horrified!

Last—what does one do with a certificate from a MOOC? What weight does this carry when compared to audited in-person or even distance learning courses? For example, with a certificate from this “World Music” MOOC, would I be able to skip a general education course at any university?

While Krause’s experience was certainly subpar, I’m glad to see that he hedges his statements in his conclusion, because MOOCs are still “in the experimental stages and are still trying to discover and invent effective pedagogies” (694). I argue in my scholarly work that the academy must not dismiss social networking without assessing its strengths and potential for the classroom, so I believe we must do the same with MOOCs (which are even newer than social networking). I can’t say that I’m on the MOOC bandwagon, but I’ll be interested to read about more experiences with them, especially the rhetoric/composition MOOCs in development at Duke, Georgia Tech, and Ohio State.

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