Monday, December 16, 2013

MOOCs How ‘open’ are they? (7 dimensions)

A MOOC is open in several senses of the word but by far the most important is the idea that they are OPEN IN SPIRIT, not open in any technical sense but open in a moral sense. This means a genuine attempt to open up education to all through open access, low cost, online delivery. Access to powerful, and free at the point of access, educational tools and resources is available through Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and a myriad of other online resources. The Open Educational Resources movement also provided the ground from which MOOCs could sprout. More specifically, the Khan Academy came along with more structured video-based learning experiences. All of this was, from the learner’s point of view, open in the sense of being accessible and free.
7 dimensions of openness
But openness has several other dimensions relevant to MOOCs: 
1. Open access
2. Open structure
3. Open educational resources
4. Open collaboration
5. Open accreditation
6. Open source code
7. Open data

1. Open access - cost really matters
The original intention was open in the sense of access i.e. anyone could simply sign up without prior qualifications. This signaled a moral agenda about opening up education for all, freeing it from scarcity and high cost, towards a model of abundance and no cost. Cost is a big issue. There’s no such thing as a free munch (m for MOOC) but education wants to be free and this is a vital condition for universal, global access. The cost is being reduced to cents/pence per learners that is a great achievement.
2. Open structure - don't copy synchronous, semester model
Many, not all, MOOCs are still tethered to the HE 6/8/10 week semester with a start date, end date, timetable and timed weekly releases of content. As the market progresses and we see that the '18 year old undergraduate' is not the audience but busy people with jobs and so on - lifelong learners. The courses are getting more asynchronous, available anytime and shorter. Coursera is still restrictive, delivered at set times, Udacity less so and EdX does have archived courses. This is good for access. Another access issue is functionality on devices, some platforms are excellent, some appalling.
3. Open educational resources
The degree to which you can reuse, repurpose MOOCs and MOOC content is interesting. Many of the video resources on some platforms are on YouTube, similarly with other media shared-resources. Coursera is the least open with no open licensed content available. Udacity uses YouTube to host its videos and allows reuse under Creative Commons. EdX is more explicit stating that they hope to do much more in terms of open content.
4. Open collaboration
Almost all MOOCs offer forums of one description or another but this is still quite weak. What learners have been doing is spilling out into social media and physical meetups. Interestingly the data from the six Edinburgh Coursera MOOCs showed relatively low forum use (15%) but there can be no doubt that this is a dimension in openness. One could, and some do, argue that learner created content is another dimension of openness but let’s tuck it in here for the moment.
5. Open accreditation
MOOCs assess and therefore accredit on a number of levels from statements of completion (fine for most), certificates of distinction, through to online and offline proctored exams. It is important not to be too hung up on closure through certification and accreditation, as the majority of lifelong learners appear not to want even certification. Nevertheless, openness of accreditation would be desirable, perhaps through OpenBadges and freeing others to accredit.
6. Open source code
EdX have become a major player in MOOCland by making the code open source. This encourages participation, lowers costs and stimulates innovation. Openness in this sense may give them market advantage, especially as it’s in line with the spirit of openness I mentioned earlier. LINK
7. Open data
The University of Edinburgh (LINK) have published data from their six MOOC experiment and the Gates Foundation (LINK) are funding research into MOC data. But the degree to which data is harvested and disseminated is quite sparse. This is not an ‘open data’ environment (yet). Questions still need to be asked about who owns what data and what happens to that data after it is collected. At the moment we have lots of bare number stats about registration, who did what, when people stopped (a category mistake called drop-out) and so on, but as many platforms are not gathering meaningful data about the learners, even age, background and so on, entrance and exit surveys are still being done. Some interesting research is starting around harvesting qualitative data from social media such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook from MOOC users. How open is MOOC data – not very.
Let’s push at the door to see how open MOOCs can be. While it is important to be realistic on costs, ownership and data protection, we need to see how far we can take open access, structure, resources, collaboration, accreditation, code and data. Note that complete openness is not always a virtue. It is largely a matter of degree. The schema above could be used to score MOOCs on ‘openness’ but it is more important to move forward and accept that the MOOC landscape will have many players with many different models. To repeat what was said at the start, it is important to hold true to the spirit of openness, while allowing different models to flourish. To achieve this we must rise above the simple public v private, dropout v dropin, xMOOC v cMOOC dualisms. Let’s not skewer ourselves on the horns of false dilemmas just as the show is getting on the road.

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Blogger Al Filreis said...

In the massive open online course I have taught the past 2 years, participants are urged to participate in: discussion forums, weekly live webcasts, f2f meetups, virtual study groups, twitter feeds, a robust Facebook group and almost-synchronous office hours I and the TAs offer every week. I very much like the way the discussion spills out in all directions. It keeps the course dynamic. - Al Filreis

11:42 PM  

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