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Anna Greathead

MOOCs - a 2012 perspective!

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Our first activity in H819 was to read and comment on this article from 2012.

2012 wasn't that long ago but this article reads just like the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony - hopeful, idealistic, inclusive and, with the benefit of hindsight, shown to be a little bit naive.

I have yet to see the 'it' which the traditional model of face to face (or, at a push, paid for online) courses provide which cannot be replicated by MOOCs or their equivalent articulated; but 'it' clearly is a thing! The lecturer defensively says 'you can't put what we do online' without really explaining why, the former student nostalgically reminisces about learning to use a washing machine and joining a society and, whilst acknowledging this can be done for free, clearly doesn't want those rites of passage to end.

Again and again in MAODE I have had to contend with the fact that to many educators, teachers and practitioners - learning is a scared and beautiful aim and need not lead to any aim other than learning. Learners may, sometimes, agree - indeed some of those quoted in the article are on these MOOCs for the love of the subject. However - for many learners their education is very much a means to an end - and not just the end of knowing stuff, acquiring skills and understanding concepts - the end they're after is the certificate. There are even learners who will, if possible, circumnavigate the learning if they can still get the certificate!

I think the primary M and the O of the MOOC present separate problems. Whilst the article is at pains to stress how interactive and 'community based' the MOOC she went on the idea of a mass - hundreds of thousands of students -  on one course must mean a dilution of group identity and opportunities for group cohesion - and therefore those avenues of learning (significant) are much narrower. The O - open - is a laudable aim. But the pragmatist will ask 'but who is paying?' and 'how can something free have value?'. Even if people are willing to give up their time and skills for free (and they may not wish to do this in the long term) there are costs associated with any kind of endeavour like this which must be met by someone.

OCs (without the MO!) may well lead to a significant contraction of universities as we have known them. The online model can replicate many aspects of traditional university learning and the technological capabilities afforded by the internet can actually improve on some others. Costs can be lower and reach much further. Both good outcomes.

However - many universities measure their history in centuries and they have survived through various social, political and economic upheaval. I wouldn't bet against them!

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Anna Greathead

The day when everyone wanted to know about eLearning

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A week ago we 'joked' on our WhatsApp group "What a time to be a practitioner in online and distance education!!!" except for now we know it's not a joke.

Covid19 is literally ravaging the globe and the new 'normal' for UK learners of all ages is about to undergo a tectonic shift - schools, colleges and universities will lock their literal doors and try to activate their virtual environments as quickly as possible.

The infrastructure for this is very mixed. Most universities will have reasonable sophisticated systems in place and most schools will have the facility to set work and send messages over the internet. What is different now is that teachers and educators who have (often effectively) used the internet to augment their practice are now having to use it as their sole tool. Most teachers will be able to set maths quizzes and direct students to good YouTube channels but few will have the time or support to review and revise their pedagogy in line with the new situation.

There is a lot of good will about. My Facebook feed is full of teachers all sharing this cut and paste message:

"Over the next few weeks if you are home-schooling / remotely / digitally educating your kids and you need assistance with understanding something that has been assigned for your child please reach out.

I'm a [subject] specialist.

I'd be happy to answer questions / support where I can."

Social media is also full of links to well known online resource banks such as Khan Academy, BBC Bitesize, OpenLearn and Seneca to name a few. Schools are sending out lists of links - perhaps acknowledging that whilst they build their own infrastructure they want their learners to engage with more general materials. Twinkl usually charge for access to their resources but are offering free subscriptions - becoming temporarily a provider of OERs!

It's all really interesting (once you distance yourself from the very real human suffering) and this crisis could well usher in a new era in which online and distance learning is better understood, studied, resourced and recognised.

On a personal note - I have a daughter home from university. She has just missed a few weeks worth of lectures and tutorials due to the university strikes. She is now at home for the 'foreseeable future' (though she's adamant that she'll return to university in April even if it is closed!). I expect her end of year exams will be cancelled - not a huge problem for a first year. She's engaged well and done well in her first two terms so I see no issue with her progressing to the second year.

I have a son in year 12. He missed two weeks of school around half term as their building was damaged by Storm Ciara. Year 12 (1st year A levels) seems the easiest group to send home! (It makes sense - they're old enough to not need parental supervision.) He has been sent a whole load of work but also a whole load of generic links to the websites I list above. He finds the idea of being taught by webinar quite entertaining. Thankfully he has a laptop, space to work and more intrinsic motivation than many his age.

I have a daughter in year 9. She is at school for two more days. We don't yet know what will be in place for her and I may well have to supervise more than I'd like to. Until yesterday she didn't even know her VLE login details. I'm banking on a (probably erroneous) assumption that year 9 isn't *that* important.

I also have a son who lives and works as a teacher in China. He's the safest of us all right now!

I have friends with children who have had their GCSE and A level exams cancelled. It's really hard for those who are well prepared and read, and those for whom poor mock results / predicted grades were a motivation to work harder.

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