Recently, I have been pretty actively engaged in some coursework about blended and online teaching. While I have been teaching in both arenas for few years now, I am always on the lookout for new wrinkles and developments. Plus, I am just a learning junkie.
Were it completely up to me and I didn’t need to chase graduate credits to climb the wage scale for my teaching position, I would almost certainly focus a significant amount of professional development efforts on Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). For the past few years I have been following and continuously fascinated by the work that George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier have been doing. While I have never been able to stay completely focused on one of their MOOCs for the entire run, I have been following along in one way or another since the CCK08. I was quite excited for year’s Change11, yet have been only able to dabble a little here and there, pretty much for the aforementioned credit chase. I am hoping to spend some more time this summer poring over more of the change11 weeks that I was too busy to investigate.
Still, timing was ripe and I was well primed to start following Curtis Bonk‘s attempt at a MOOC, called Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success. I first discovered Bonk a few years ago during one of my forays with the Flat Classroom Project. Since then I have gotten a lot more familiar with his work. He is one clever and comic professor. So his presence and the topic were instantly interesting.
As week 1 wraps, the course has me reflecting on a few things. It has reminded me of just how much I dislike Learning Management Systems (LMSs) in general. Bonk’s course is using Blackboard’s new CourseSites product, which is their new free application. In what is kind of a product debut, this course has already exposed not only its flaws but the flaws of an LMS being used for an experience that includes so many people. Currently this course is at over 3000. These kind of tools are really just built to scale like that. This product is particularly feeble in its ability to handle this kind of load. As in all MOOCs the discussions are enormous and overwhelming. Despite participating pretty strongly, that aspect can be pretty dissatisfying. Clearly others have felt similarly, because the discussion board for week 2, at least check on day 3 only has 30 posts.
All of my previous MOOC experience strengthens the notion that some of the best online learning happens across distributed networks. Even for Bonk’s course some of pretty interesting conversation is already happening outside the course itself, here and here. Even Dr. Bonk, himself, jumped into the fray of the Comments sections for both blogs’ rich exchanges. After all, LMSs are a whole lot more about management and whole lot less about learning, to be sure. Even the idea of blogging within an LMS seems to defeat the whole purpose of the activity. Yet somehow the CourseSites folks have served up that possibility. Truth is, threaded discussions might be the only real value added by an LMS and mainly because they simply act as a single repository. Even Siemens, Downes, and Cormier have gradually angled away from linking to an LMS.
An LMS is by its very nature closed . Also seemingly closed is the content or resources. As much as I like Bonk and his work, I am a little disappointed that essentially all of the resources for the course are written or produced by him. That belies a little of the openness, despite Bonk’s clear open nature. This makes participating a bit like being an outside observer in one of his Indiana University classes, which is certainly worthwhile to me. However, I can see how that limits the appeal and weakens it claim of MOOCness, if there is such a thing.
I am going to stay with it, in part because I am interested in the content. Plus, it weaves nicely with some of the other PD on which I have been working deeply. However, were that not the case, I am not sure I wouldn’t be feeling a little like some others. There definitely seems to be some serious criticism flying around the blogosphere, which I have joined. Still, in spite of any criticisms I am still fascinated and want to continue.