More Student Reactions to the #EDCMOOC

As I mentioned in a response to a comment from Jeremy on my last post, I teaching two sections of the course that I am embedding the EDCMOOC into. I commented on the first section on Monday: students seemed a little fearful of venturing too far into the MOOC, commenting on YouTube, but not doing much else. However, the second section was much more adventurous.

Some students posted to the MOOD Discussion Forums (even starting a new discussion), a few posted to Twitter (no Botty exchanges, though), some to YouTube, and a couple to the Facebook pages that have the EDCMOOC hashtag.

Given their interest in engaging in lots of different ways, we had an interesting discussion about the MOOC and their experience with it.

One student did say that she, too was anxious about posting. Knowing that thousands of people could see what she wrote, she was nervous about what to say. A couple of other students expressed the same feeling. One posted something and was a little shocked to get a response within seconds — very different from the asynchronous online discussions we have been having in class.

But another student pointed out that the anonymity of being online made her feel much freer to respond than she would in a face-to-face class. Others in the class agreed. This seems much closer to the kind of assumption we make about online teaching — that it can be so much more freeing for students, particularly for “digital natives” who spend so much time online. I’m using the quotes purposely, because I know that the “digital native/immigrant” terminology is problematic. I was also careful to say it is an assumption that students will feel freer to express themselves online. I think they’re both complicated.

It was interesting to get students’ general impressions of the MOOC. Many are negative or neutral. A lot of it, I think, has to do with the nature of the EDCMOOC. It’s very unlike the classes they have taken, even the online classes many have taken. Having experienced the first version of EDCMOOC, I knew somewhat what to expect, and I prepared them by discussing the difference between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. I think EDCMOOC is kind of a hybrid MOOC — xMOOC-like in its institutional sponsorship, but cMOOC-like in its insistence that knowledge be generated through interaction among students. So they knew, in some sense, what was expected of them. But I don’t think they were prepared for chaotic way things are playing out, with no assignments before the final assessment, no lectures from the professor stressing the important stuff, no preferred avenue for discussion, with questions to guide what is said. It’s disorienting, to be sure. I have purposely let that disorientation happen, without being too much of a guide myself.

(The whole idea of the role of the onground teacher in a blended/hybrid MOOC is fascinating to me, and something I will explore in a later post.)

I can see how all of this disorientation is playing out. For the first class, the result was intimidation. For the second, it’s a willingness to play along, with various degrees of trepidation. They’ll do this, because it’s required, and they’re making the best of it. But one student said it was “weird.” Another was thrown by the lack of (traditional) teacher presence, since he assumed “teachers are usually the experts in everything.” A few like the fact that they can communicate with people from all over the world, while several miss the face-to-face interaction that would come from a traditional class.

I’m thinking about asking how many of them would drop this MOOC if I wasn’t requiring it. I’m a little hesitant to put that idea in their heads, though. But it would be interesting to know.

All of this makes me think of The New Yorker article, “Will MOOCs Be Flukes?” which Hamish linked to on Twitter a few days ago. The article discusses some of the (well-known) problems that MOOCs have encountered with things like completion rates, and whether or not they matter, given how MOOC students are using them. MOOCs were touted as a way to get college classes to people who might not otherwise go to college, and those end up being the people who are NOT taking MOOCs. (To be fair, I don’t know how many MOOC creators or professors were the ones who touted this potential audience; I think a lot of that hype came from outside commentators.)

My point is, I wonder how much my students fit into the demographic for people who are likely to take and complete a MOOC. Statistics show that MOOC participants are “self-motivated, self-directed, and independent individuals who would push to succeed anywhere,” according to the New Yorker article. Are these my students? Some of them are more self-motivated than others (I have an unusually large percentage of Biology students this semester, all with dreams of medical, dental, or pharmacy school). But certainly not all of them are. On the other hand, the New Yorker article also points out that students taking University of Pennsylvania-sponsored MOOCs tend to be “young, already well educated, from developed countries, and, for the most part, employed,” a demographic that does include many of my students.

I’m not looking for definite answers, and I wouldn’t expect to find them in such a small sample. But I am interested in how MOOCs can be used to supplement (or even replace) the content in onground course, and I wonder how well hybrid MOOCs might work for my own students in the future. Would a more traditionally-formatted xMOOC have been less intimidating? Would my being a more active guide have helped? Will their attitudes change once they are used to the format of EDCMOOC?

I will say I am enjoying the experience (both taking the MOOC mysalf and using it as a hybrid for my class), and I plan to do more of this in the future.

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