Takaways from the MOOC Research Conference in Arlington, TX 2013

Actually, some of what I learned came before the conference, when I watched George Siemens discuss connectivism on youtube – the George Siemens who, together with Stephen Downes, created the first MOOC – with the goal of free and open access of education for everyone who can connect to the internet. What I took from that particular video was the following concept:

Instead of having students take a course in the traditional way: student registers, content is defined, student is assessed, student receives credit, don’t predetermine the content. Instead, let the content come out of interaction among students and with the instructor, and out of the interactions of the people with each other and the content they’ve chosen from among all the content there is in the world, they produce products – papers, portfolios, or websites and other things that will be of use to people outside of academia.


Saturday conversation continuations

I had sent this quote by George Siemens to several of my colleagues:
In the years since the development of the thesis of connectivism George Siemens and I have attempted to realize these principles on a practical scale. The result has been the development of the Massive Open Online Course, an effort to create learning communities modeled explicitly on the theses described in these pages. Starting with the first MOOC in 2008 I have drawn on these principles to describe how the course works, how a person should learn in such a course, and what constitutes success in such a course.
These principles are especially important when considering the questions of course content and assessment. The idea that there is some body of content to be acquired or remembered is explicitly rejected; to learn in a connectivist course is to grow and develop, to form a network of connections in one’s own self. The model of learning that is based on instruction and memory, especially insofar as that model depends on a theory of knowledge as hypothesis formation and confirmation, is observably inaccurate and incorrect when applied to learning. Connectivist learning is a process of immersion in an environment, discovery and communication – a process of pattern recognition rather than hypothesis and theory-formation. Learning is not a matter of transferring knowledge from a teacher to a learner, but is rather the product of the learner focusing and repeating creative acts, of practising something that is important and reflecting on this practice.
Stephen Downes’ e-book Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, p. 11 (available online free)

One colleague’s response:
i think that this is a very exciting approach and was thinking about our discussion last night about the goals of MOOCs. It brought up some thoughts for me- including Paulo Freire’s view of the role of education for the masses (as a tool for liberation, self awareness and ultimately as a tool for change). I am also wondering about the ‘advance’ work that needs to occur before connectivism can happen. in my doctoral courses, I found that I was most challenged to find ways to help students break out of the “model of learning that is based on instruction and memory.” Memorization to me is a sort of hypnosis that occurs that deadens our capacity to engage in “discovery and participation,” of learning to challenge from an informed, thoughtful perspective, to connect theories to concepts that apply to our everyday life. It would take students several weeks, and sometimes an entire semester to learn that it was ok to challenge me as the teacher, to learn to do so using the literature, to support their peers as they learned how to engage as active learners. It is exciting when it happens- as I am sure you know–but I am wondering if we need to present these approaches as models that differ from the “learning” processes we’ve been socialized to accept–that there are different ways to connect and learn.

My response to her:
I would like to know more about how you did indeed get students to being able to challenge the content and you.

I applaud all Paulo Freire did and would like for us to know how to build on that.

Yes – these approaches differ from the “learning” processes we’ve been socialized to accept–that there are different ways to connect and learn. One thing George Siemens notes is that, although it is known that a great indicator of learning is how much students already know about a subject, we do not set up our courses to draw on the current knowledge of students. Here’s what George Siemens says about that – and about the first connectivism course he and Stephen Downes did: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5-Wk2cwb68

Again, I reiterate what I learned from another talk by George on youtube that I cannot find: that we have a set content, the student learns it, is tested, gets a grade and credit and how George believes we should begin with interaction (and questions?) and find content out of all the content that exists out there (must know how to sift through it) and produce “products” through that: papers, portfolios, even websites and other products that people of the world will be able to use. Jim Groom at Mary Washington U has supported faculty and students in developing websites that teach the world about cellular bacteria (6,000 described slides by students that medical people use across the world) or about Chinese history (also used by people outside of the university), and so forth. Jim Groom’s ideas: provide students with domains on the web that they own, that don’t go away when the course ends, that they can develop into portfolios for job searches; provide students with the opportunity to do something real and meaningful – like these websites that the world needs/desires.

And the conversation continues.

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