03 October 2012

A true(er) history of MOOCs

A moose, not a MOOC.
Care of the USDA Forest Services and Wikimedia Commons
In my new job at La Trobe University, the word "MOOC" has popped into conversations. I've tried not to write anything much about Massive Open Online Courses, as the emergence of the meme and its adoption by large universities and businesses has irritated me just as much as I'm sure it has irritated others.

Many thanks though, to Dave Cormier for acknowledging other people's work leading up to the MOOC meme, 10 minutes and 34 minutes into the audio recording of a discussion with Steve Hargadon on the "The True History of the MOOC" (Massive Open Online Course) with Alec Couros, Stephen Downes, Rita Kop, Inge de Waard, and Carol Yeager. [Audio].

Unfortunately Teemu Leinonen was left off again, though I think his work with Composing Open Online Educational Resources (March 2008) was an important reinforcement of David Wiley's seminal work (linked in the acknowledgements section of Teemu's course) that inspired others who would develop the MOOC.

Before MOOCs flew the coup of the original developers and became the child of the celebrity universities and businesses, there were a number of people working on distributed open online courses. These early developer's work remained small scale, and remained largely unnoticed, and evidently forgettable. When the open courses run by the North Americans attracted massive numbers of people, this was the part that signified a new stage and development. The scale of participation around their open online courses indicated a possible tipping point for open and networked online learning, and suggested a possible business model, given the scale. The distributed approach to structuring open courses was a commonly accepted principle among the early developers of open courses and, as the discussion acknowledges, this distributed use of the Internet was the only practical way for people to support each other when learning in open online courses.

I tried to capture some of this history on the Wikipedia entry for Networked Learning, including copying Dave Cormier's videos to Ogg format and uploading them into the article. I was surprised when a new Wikipedia article had been created specifically for MOOC, firstly because it dropped off some of the history and content I was trying to construct and defend around the Networked Learning article, and secondly because the article had questionable notability at the time (criteria important to Wikipedia administrators). To date, the MOOC article remains poor to Wikipedia standards, with countless unsupported claims. This is not good for the preservation of the principles and values that informed the work of open and networked learning advocates.

Today, the publishing businesses and American universities are scrambling to occupy the MOOC meme, riding a bandwagon of value creating market development. I've ignored it until now. But when my local university is discussing MOOC as a new word and not an older acronym, and local media starts asking Vice Chancellors for their not-so-well-informed opinions, I'm compelled to find a position.

We are indeed at a tipping point it seems, but I'm concerned that the principles are getting tipped out! Principles of connected and constructed learning, open access, free content reuse, international, cross cultural and collaborative engagement, transparent processes and open documentation, peer to peer assessment and acknowledgement of people breaking conceptual ground in the lobbying and development of open and networked practice. I appreciate the efforts of the participants in the discussion hosted by Steve Hargadon, who attempt to express this concern.

So, what am I to do, when drawn into discussions at La Trobe referencing MOOC? Is it an opportunity to create space for the development of open and networked educational practices, or is the shallowness of interest and awareness ultimately a barrier to such an effort? Is the time right, in other words?


Peter Sloep said...

Hi Leigh, scooped your message, with a small comment, on http://www.scoop.it/t/networked-learning-learning-networks/p/2863931407/a-true-er-history-of-moocs-open-and-networked-learning-leigh-blackall

dave cormier said...

Hey Leigh,

The lack of recognition is mostly because i have a shitty memory and hadn't prepared to give a whole history of MOOCs :)

I will say that the MOOCs we did in 2008 weren't 'designed' or 'planned' to be massive so it's tough to directly talk about their antecedents. We certainly have all influenced each other over the years, and the word that I used back then happens to have been taken up, but I don't in any way think that means I 'made up' the idea of being open.

It's not as if we were doing research on the papers each of us released, and then added each atomic success to the larger organic whole. It's messier than that. My biggest influence, and one that is almost never mentioned in the context of MOOCs is Jeff Lebow and his work running weekly 'get together' shows organized by topic and without any set curriculum.

Tons of people learned through those early Edtechtalk shows, and learned in much the same way they can in MOOCs.

All that being said, I will try harder to remember to credit who influenced my work... MOOC or not.

Leigh Blackall said...

Dave, you are better at attribution than most. EdtechTalks were very influential here in Australia, and D'Arcy's Small Peices Loosely Joined (2005) needs linking too.

I think we all need to come together and reclaim this space before the principles and values we generally agree on are corrupted by this rapid uptake of MOOC by American Universities. I think it's fair to try and get Otago Polytechnic in there as the institution exploring formalassessment practices in open courses. So far, they've been totally left off.

Most of the papers I'm reading on MOOCs are liberally drawing from the Wikipedia article, which shoots off in wild directions imo. We'd all do well to get in that space and correct it, so future papers, that are secretly drawing most of their references from it, do better at capturing the history and original principles.

keithlyons.me said...

Hi, Leigh

I am delighted you have started the transformation process at La Trobe. I enjoyed your post and it has sent me off on some other journeys in thinking about SOOCs.

It has been quite a day for links via OLDaily. Stephen linked to you and http://wikiquals.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/building-democratic-learning/

Best wishes


Teemu said...

With the 2007-2008 course on Wikiversity (the one Leigh made a link to) we didn't think or aim it to be "massive". It was, however, open and free for anyone to join and using only open and free resources. Also all the assignments done by the participants were open and free for the entire world of the Web.

These ideas were widely discussed couple of years earlier in the The TALO 2006 (Teach And Learn Online) Future of Learning in a Networked World -event and in the book that followed. Before that people didn't really talk about teaching to be open and free and neither does those who are now organizing the MOOCs in Universities. We are actually taking some steps backwards.

With my 2007-2008 experimental course, over 70 participants joined it. In my campus teaching my classes are 10-20 students, so it was massive for me (something like 6 times larger than my normal courses).

Should the course be listed as part of the history of MOOCs? - I think yes but same time I don't really care. I know that I am in the periphery. I know that history is written by those with more voice. Observing the world from the periphery is also an advantage: you see different things.

- Teemu

Alexander Hayes said...

It's great to see provenance rearing it's head again in this domain of the MOOCs, xMOOCS, SOOCS and every other derivative of that acronym.

Its also great to see my Supervisor have his say.

"..Should the course be listed as part of the history of MOOCs? - I think yes but same time I don't really care."

For me...well, to be honest in an age of spiritual machines, MOOCs for me are yet another incarceration if the main motivation is simply availing funding churn-fodder.

Same same but different is a Vietnamese term that comes to mind.

ps. if you have a chance pop your head into www.veillance.me when you have a chance and see where I think things are heading.