Saturday, May 2, 2015

MOOC: “End of Reform”, or Beginning of Possibility?

For this very last post of this semester, I’m trying to make a juxtaposition between Aaron Bady’s “The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform” and Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel’s “If Freire Made a MOOC”, not only because both of them apparently comment on the MOOC phenomenon, but I also see part of Bady’s revelation of the dark side of MOOC serves as the footnotes for Morris and Stommel’s. Although I do have already known this form of online open courses for a long time and took one to help me prepare for my Japanese proficiency test, it was not long ago that I came across this acronym “MOOC”. Despite that we have been talking about visualization for almost the whole semester, the emergence of MOOC requires a new definition of visualization: not only knowledge is presented by digital technologies, but even teachers who are teaching the knowledge are framed into the small screen either. How should we view this MOOCification of education? What are we, as teachers, supposed to do in its heyday? I think Bady’s and Morris and Stommel’s articles shed light upon these questions.

In “The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform”, Bady expresses a strongly negative feeling towards MOOC’s “reshaping the face of higher education”, which is either “disrupting education through innovation” or “simply representing the disruption of education as it is embedded in the market”. Neither of the routes is pleasant, we have to say. Bady is not denying the MOOC as a whole—he recognizes its value as a free educational resource, “a free and useful thing, available to those that want it”. If we merely use these sites—Coursera, Udacity, and edX—to learn something that we are interested in on a surface level, we may find it more convenient and less painstaking than sitting in a class and pay one-hundred-percent attention to the teacher. However, when MOOCs get into higher education and become a replacement for traditional face-to-face college classes for college students to get credits in order to graduate on time, it’s an entirely different picture. Bady’s concerns about the MOOC phenomenon focus on three aspects: the market value of MOOCs, the aggravation of hierarchy within education system, and the blind optimism about learning process and outcomes. First and foremost, MOOC has pushed higher education into the market, but not in a friendly way. It devalues the “chairs” in classrooms while increasing its own market value, which violates the original intention of MOOC as a free public resource. Secondly, instead of decentralizing the classroom, MOOC’s “teacher-as-content” creates a wider gap between students and teachers—students even lose their rights to question and interact with teachers. In addition, the hierarchy within education system is further developed—MOOCs are attached to the label of “Harvard”, “MIT” and other forefront universities, using their “symbolic role in American higher education to define the new cutting edge”, leaving the low prestige university, University of Phoenix, cry over its own innovation. Last but not least, “MOOC boosters” sometimes hold over-expectation for MOOC, while the truth is low completion of the courses; and when it comes under the circumstance of higher education, there turns out to be a lot of cheating. Actually this is what I’m worrying about MOOC, too. We surely need to trust our students for their independent learning ability and self-discipline, but it may not be a safe bet. How can we expect them to learn effectively with a video, when they cannot even devote themselves wholeheartedly in a face-to-face classroom? How do you perceive MOOC’s replacement for the live classroom?

Although Bady concludes his critique by saying that “MOOCs are more like an end of something than a beginning”, Morris and Stommel are milder and more positive towards MOOCs’ popularity. Like Bady, they also notice the drawback of most MOOCs that “reinforces ossified hierarchical relationships in learning environments”. However, they don’t see it as a dead end; instead, they are looking for a possible way out. In light of the Critical Pedagogy advocated by Paulo Freire, Morris and Stommel believe that “make a space for open dialogue, and change can occur”, and propose that “a course is a starting point, a space in which learners can experiment with their agency, discover the complexity of their oppression, and begin to work toward more liberated action”. Therefore, they suggest 6 theses to “reimagine MOOCs”, each of them presented in a “What the Critical Pedagogy advocates—How the most MOOCs are in conflict with it—What we need to do as a remediation” pattern. It does offer some insights about the direction towards which MOOCs should head to. I’m not going to illustrate the theses one by one; instead, let’s dig out how critical pedagogy may influence MOOCs’ future as a whole. The two main arguments Morris and Stommel make are as follows: 1) In order to create collaborative learning environment, teachers must cede authority and students experiment their agency. Traditional teaching establish teachers’ role as “sage on the stage”, and MOOCs, where teachers are inapproachable on screen, further intensify the problem. Critical Pedagogy calls for a more dynamic classroom and content as well, so that what we need to transform MOOCs to that expectation. 2) The notion of “outcome” should be reimagined within the Critical Pedagogy. Grades should “give way to epiphanies”, and correspondingly, standardized assessment should be rethought as “a reflective and recursive process that emerges from within a learning community rather than structuring that community in advance”. That’s something MOOCs should seek to accomplish. Well, I have to admit that although this article is titled “If Freire Made a MOOC”, it’s more like an introduction to Critical Pedagogy, and MOOC is only its additional value, a field where this Critical Pedagogy can apply to as a remediation. While I was reading the theses, my gut reaction was like “Yes, I agree that changes should be made to MOOCs, but how?” I expected more from the authors, because I couldn’t come up with a way of fulfilling this, but they just scratch the surface without going deeply into it. From my viewpoint, MOOC, in the form of pre-recorded videos, can hardly cater to all the students’ needs, and thus is difficult to incorporate the Critical Pedagogy into it. So I wonder if you practicing teachers have any idea about how it may work successfully?

In the last thesis, Morris and Stommel assure that “technology will never replace teachers”, which evokes my thinking about teachers’ role in the MOOC era. With MOOCs swiping across universities like “campus tsunami”, do you see any possibility that they may one day capture high schools, middle schools or even elementary education (or has your school already been using this kind of teaching method)? How will teachers’ role change by then? Will we become the TAs for the teachers who are teaching in the video? Looking forward to your thoughts!

p.s. Sorry for being lengthy! And please excuse me for the grammar mistakes if any :P 

Leadership and Technology

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