MOOCs as Introductory Courses


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MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) have been in the Higher Education news for quite awhile with people asking if this will be the next “big” thing or the way to lower tuition. Today the Chronicle announced that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is “circulating to colleges and universities a request for proposals for MOOC’s (sic) that focus on the gateway courses that often trip up low-income and underprepared students”.  This makes me wonder about so many things. The digital divide that still exists and impacts this very group of students, the philosophy behind MOOCs, the sustainability of any MOOC, and the fact that only one school is accepting credit from MOOC participation. Why are we rushing to this medium for course delivery? When did more or bigger make it better? I hear the arguments for MOOCs and I am not personally against them (I do not know enough yet to make that sort of judgement) but I do wonder if the academy is the right place for MOOCs. How someone goes about learning has changed. Anyone can quickly access lots of information through Google, Yahoo and any number of search engines but that does not help the person decipher what they have uncovered.  By their very nature, MOOCs are dependent upon other learners, not the instructor, to parse the information coming at them and to share that information with the group. Yes, this can be a very effective learning tool. Yes, I believe learners are responsible for their learning BUT in the traditional classroom the instructor is there to support that learning.  Like other instructors, I have had to help students UNLEARN misinformation which is not an easy process.

I hope the Gates foundation is successful in finding highly qualified individuals (schools) that can create a MOOC that will go beyond what I am imagining will happen. It is important that students in low-income, under-prepared areas be provided with the right tools to help them secure a quality education. This starts by understanding how students learn (brain research) and stopping what we are doing that negatively impacts student learning (like standardize testing). I know we must hold learners and educators accountable but a test or grade is not the only indicator of success. Helping young learners become successful readers and writers indicate later success yet where is the focus on that? A home life that is conducive to learning means food in the pantry, a warm bed, clothes and a parent that is not overworked, underpaid and totally exhausted by the end of the day. Are we focusing on that? Teachers who do not treat every child exactly the same but understands that each child learns differently while supporting every learning style produces girls who love science and boys who are engaged in education. Where is that focus?

These problems are not new to educators but politicians have gotten in the way of education in an attempt to “help” or address the problem. It is happen now in Chicago. Society needs to step up and I truly hope that MOOCs might be able to help but the problems we face are well before MOOCs’ general audience. Higher Education is suffering from decisions made in kindergarten. We need to address those if we ever hope to change America’s standing in the world educational outlook.

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