I started writing this post back in October- after experiencing my first MOOC. They have been discussed all over the place now- from the NYT to the Chronicle of Higher Education and everything in-between. By the way, those links are only examples: search and you will find. Lots. About. MOOCs.
As I started reading about the topic, a distant memory came back to me: my first visit to Sweden in the late 80s. Wide-eyed and young in my first visit to a Western country, I tried to absorb as much as I could of all the new and exciting things around me. At one of the collaborator’s home, his son (in his early 20s or younger) showed us, Third world visitors, two novelties: a small Macintosh computer where he was playing some rudimentary game, and a vertical LP player. Of those two objects, one moved forward and the other never made it. Looking back to that memory, I recall how I was much more interested in the playfulness of the first than the supposed exquisiteness of the other. Which is surprising as at that time I was much more into music and stereos than computers (personal computers did not arrive to Cuba until some years later).
Somehow this reminds me of the current MOOC madness. And no, I don’t think they are an example of a vertical LP player- I actually think MOOCs are here to stay.
If you have not heard or read about Massive Open Online Courses, well probably your best bet is to google it up. It is not my intention here to do a review of the current MOOC situation…but to comment on some of the controversies and disputes around it.
I have a good opinion about MOOCs because my first was exceptionally good. My opinion “exceptionally goo” is based in my view as an online instructor. I spend a lot of time trying to make my online courses easy to navigate, clear, fair, not too hard but not too easy, connected to real time, responsive, novel…you name it. So taking an online course that was all that and more- the professionally made and perfectly chunked lectures with doodles and little questions interrupting the text to keep our attention; the quizzes that one could not answer by word-searching or googling, the assignments that addressed real life applications with crispy grading rubrics.
Okay, n=1 is not a basis for a scientific opinion. But the truth is, I gained valuable knowledge…for free, in a rather efficient way. Not only that- the course was surrounded by a variety of forums, from a Facebook group to a LinkedIn group, connections occurring in real time between people located in different continents. If I wanted, I could have joined a bunch of meetups close to my geographical locations. It was an energizing experience.
Let’s step back for a second. A lot of people in that course were from developing countries. As somebody coming from a developing country, I know about the power of knowledge. Those online students were empowered, and their energy shone through their postings.
Going back to my original analogy of the vertical turntable versus the primitive videogame on the Mac- did I know? Could I feel the difference in destinies? I did not, I could not. But the game on the Mac, silly as it seemed, it was fun to watch. The vertical turntable was, in a way, boring. Exquisite, refined, but boring.
MOOCs are fun.