Sunday, October 19, 2014

How Well Do MOOC's Teach?

The short answer is - they don't! Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Udacity, was upset and puzzled to find that only 4% of students who paid to take a course actually completed it. The first time I heard this, I immediately knew why. It's the same reason why the publishing industry in the US can sell 60 million cookbooks a year but people still find it difficult to cook at home on a regular basis. Instructional materials, whether books or MOOC's, do not teach themselves; it's the students working from these instructional materials who are teaching themselves. Because it can be difficult to teach yourself something, students rely on teachers as well as instructional materials. Teachers teach.

I was thus immediately drawn to a blog post entitled "MOOCs are a fundamental misperception of how teaching works" (link here), by Mark Guzdial (January 4, 2013). He makes three points:
  • The main activity of a higher-education teacher is not to lecture.
  • A teacher is an expert at teaching the topic, and the teaching is dependent on the domain.
  • The job of the teacher is to educate, not filter, and that includes motivating students.

Guzdial spells out clearly why a MOOC does not accomplish these three points, and thus is not teaching as properly understood.

Guzdial's argument, by the way, is not an argument against MOOC's, it's an argument against thinking that MOOC's can replace teachers. Instructional materials are vital to learning, but they do not, in themselves, teach. Without a teacher, a student is left to teach himself - a risky enterprise.

Social Media-phobe

I'm not a big social media guy. I don't see the Internet as a place for hanging out or socializing, activities I prefer to do with actual people in real time. But I'm beginning to appreciate how these social tools, the so-called Web 2.0, are capable of so much more than online partying.

I have an assignment to create a Networked Learning Space, and I have been thinking of how to set it up. There needs to be a hub of some sort at the core of this NLS, but which social tool would be best for my purposes? I have been checking out various LMS apps (Canvas, Edmodo) and existing network spaces (edWeb, Google+), but the answer has been in front of me all the time.

I don't have a Facebook account (I know, I know, it's a long story . . .), but my band does. The account is maintained by our musical director, and of course I visit it all the time, and send him things to post. It dawned on me that the band page is not like a regular Facebook page, so I did a bit of research and discovered that Facebook pages are quite different from Facebook profiles. I'll need a FB profile to create a page, but I can ignore that if I want and use the FB page for my NLS. Cool! Plus I'll be able to be another editor of my band's page, so I can help out.

Here's the link to my band's page - the Marching Milkman Band!

Satellite Blogging

Probably the most amazing Twitter account I have ever seen is the account of an inanimate object - a space satellite, to be specific. This satellite (and its companion satellite) tweets its exploits on a daily basis. The satellite belongs to the European Space Agency (ESA), which itself has quite a sophisticated web presence (their blog is here), and it has been in space for a decade.
The Rosetta spacecraft was designed to intercept a comet. It has spent almost all of the decade traveling out to the comet and lining itself up to join the comet in its journey toward the Sun. As I write it is in orbit around the comet and preparing to launch a small lander that will hopefully not bounce off the comet or crash into it, but instead spear itself into the surface and begin doing its science.

It's a very cute Twitter account, written as if the spacecraft itself was writing the tweets, and linking to a host of online resources - Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, websites, and webcasts. I've been an astronomy buff since I was 10 years old, so when Rosetta caught up with the comet finally this summer, I was quite excited. I'm always looking for a way to add astronomy to my physics classes.

Whenever I have a free 5 minutes or so in class, I put the Twitter feed up on the Smartboard so we can all have a look. The students feel my enthusiasm, and get pretty caught up in the excitement. They also think it's cool that I'm using Twitter and YouTube in the class. I've been doing this since the first week of school.