Questions you are asking, questions I am asking – MOOC Research Initiative 2013

MOOC experts are addressing many of the following questions and ideas that have come to my mind as a result of attending the MOOC Research Initiative Conference on Thursday in Arlington, Texas (located between Dallas and Fort Worth in Northeast Texas), following the twitter feed #mri13 on Friday (I was sleeted in in Fort Worth), and reading some of the links provided on the twitter feed.

These questions can, I believe, pertain to face-to-face learning/teaching as well as to asynchronous learning, online learning, formal/informal learning, etc. They are not in any kind of order.

In what ways should we guide students, while not stifling them? Or should we even guide them? Should we/how do we treat students as co-conversationalists in the discourses of our disciplines and cross-disciplinary concerns and facilitate their asking of deep questions?

What is it that students are learning? What values, ethics, knowledge, understanding(s) are they having as a result of their learning? What values, ethics, etc. are embedded in the ways in which students learn? What actions are learners taking as a result of their learning? What place does the purely theoretical have, if any, in this? How do we define relevance? Is learning relevant only for commerce and industry? How is learning relevant to policy, international negotiation, war, peace, poverty, sustainability, people’s health and vitality, people’s sense of community in general, “quality of life for all,” tolerance and activism for justice for plants, animals, humans, and the planet?

Questions and comments that came to mind as a result of reading Martin Weller’s “The Battle for Open – a perspective.”

This is super: “Research: Instead of academics publishing in proprietary journals access to which is then purchased by libraries or on article basis by individuals, open access makes publications freely accessible to all.”

“Other practices form what is termed open scholarship and include sharing individual resources such as presentations, podcasts and bibliographies, social media engagement through blogs, twitter and other routes, and generally more open practices, such as pre-publishing book chapters, open reviews and open research methods. The latter can include the use of approaches such as crowdsourcing and social media analysis which rely on openness to succeed. Open scholarship is also providing new avenues for public engagement as academics create online identities that previously would have necessitated a broadcast intermediary to establish.” This is excellent. So how will publications be judged to be quality publications in their field? Will there be peer review? If so, how is this done? Certainly, once someone has a name his/her work will be judged as quality (which could also be dangerous – blind faith in all the ideas of a scholar/researcher). How will credibility be defined? How does one judge the quality or validity of what a scholar says?

(“The Finch report has been criticised for seeking to protect the interests of commercial publishers, while not encouraging alternative methods such as Green or Platinum open access (Harnad 2012). In addition the pay-to-publish model has seen the rise of a number of dubious open access journals, which seek to use openwashing as a means to make profit while ignoring the quality of articles. Bohannon (2013) reports on a fake article that was accepted by 157 open access journals. This would indicate that the pay-to-publish model creates a different stress on the filter to publish.”) Also excellent: “One aspect of open scholarship is that of open data, making the data from research projects publicly available (where it is not sensitive).”

Other questions: What about helping students navigate the web, determine bias by producers of web content, do “close reading” of “text” (I use ‘text’ in the linguistic sense to mean video, audio, print, visual, graphic, etc. materials) on the web or off, in order to be able to “read between the lines?” Also, how can we help students understand that an interpretation of a “text” can be different from the use to which one as a reader puts it, i.e. one can take “text” that one finds fallacious in some way and remix it satirically, for example?

What about reflective learning? The need for contemplation as well as interaction? Do some people need reflection in order to learn deeply? Do some need interaction? Or do most people need both? (It seems that both might be important.) How can new ways of facilitating learning (aka “teaching”) accommodate the need for deep thinking as well as the need for interaction which sparks ideas and deep thinking, too? (Cf. David Levy’s “No Time to Think: the American University and Its (Anti-)Contemplative Roots.”)

What is it that is happening? We know learning is not simply taking knowledge from one person or source and depositing it into the heads of learners. Learners bring their desires, biases, hopes, motivations of various kinds to the enterprise, and learning is not just about gaining knowledge. Rather, it is about deeper interaction with ideas and knowledge, deeper understanding(s) of the connections between action, ideas, skills, knowledge, people. And what if learners don’t really care about that until something or someone or something facilitates an aha moment for them? Or they need it to get a raise?

Who will own the knowledge? (Cf. “MOOCs as Neocolonialism: Who Controls Knowledge.”) Will it be western knowledge, western ways of thinking, western meanings of words, phrases, and discourse(s), and western values implicit in those meanings superimposed on the whole world just as English has been described? (I know I’m lumping a lot of people into the term ‘western,’ and there are many “westerns” or “sub-western sets” of ways of thinking, discourse(s), meanings, etc.; however, there are similarities among them that differentiate them from non-western ways of being.

How are we going to empower learners, or as my colleague Maria Martinez-Cosio asks, how can we tap into “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?” We want that. Does industry/commerce? That calls to mind this question: How do we address very real situations in which learners still “leave their minds at the door” of the classroom (or the MOOC), because educators fear the “fallacies of mind” of the learner? Or because learners have a static idea of learning? Or because educators fear that the learner will take the ideas to different places from what they had envisioned? Or because of something else? Will Jim Groom’s way completely address that? Will Stephen Downes’ and George Siemens’ and all the rest of the MOOC experts who want to give everyone a chance for a better life on this planet completely address that?

Where do the ideas of service learning and civic engagement fit into all of this?

Traditional Scholarship

Engaged Scholarship

Breaks new ground in discipline

Breaks new ground in discipline and has direct application to broader public issues

Answers significant questions in the discipline

Answers significant questions in the discipline which have relevance to public or community issues

Is reviewed and validated by qualified peers in the discipline

Is reviewed and validated by qualified peers in the discipline and practically applicable

Is theoretically grounded

Is theoretically grounded and practically applicable

Advances disciplinary knowledge

Advances disciplinary knowledge and public knowledge

Adapted by Kevin Kecskes from Furco, 2006 (Eddie Furco?)

 From talk at UT Arlington, by Kevin Kecskes and Nadinne Cruz, 11/20/2013


How about Larry Daloz’ ideas regarding transformative learning and social responsibility?

I have a couple more questions: I’ve been reading the winter issue of Scientific American, an issue devoted to creativity. A short article discusses research on motivation, stating that autonomy, seeing value in what one does, and feeling competent in doing it are keys to creativity – and to motivation. I can see that MOOCs can address some of this. Also in that issue, journalists summarize some ideas regarding the need for play in creativity. How do we address these issues?

Additional topics of interest which relate to the above: The Interconnectedness of the Liberal Arts, the Sciences, and the Practical Spheres / Professional Schools/Colleges in Higher Education, The Relationship between Learning and “Virtue,” What Do Happiness and Confidence Have to Do with Learning? The Relationships between/among Compassion, Passion, Enthusiasm, Mutual Respect, Mutual Admiration, Honesty, Integrity, “Flow,” Being Unblocked, Confidence, Freedom, Creativity, Thinking, Exploration – and Learning; What Do Dreams, Wishes, and Excitement Have to Do with Learning, and Can the Academy Change to Meet the Need? (Evidently, again according to the summaries of research that I read in Scientific American, the dream state is involved in creative moments – would like to read more on this.)

P.S. Just a curious, simple question about textbooks: if textbooks are free online, then what will happen to textbook publishers? Certainly, free textbooks would be great for students, since they cost so much today. “OpenStax aims to provide free online and low cost print textbooks to 10 million students, and currently has over 200 colleges signed up with projected savings to students of 90 million USD over the next 5 years.”


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