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A MOOC Delusion: Why Visions to Educate the World Are Absurd

12/16/13 A MOOC Delusion: Why Visions to Educa te the W orld Are Absurd – WorldWise - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Educa tion
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July 15, 2013 by Guest Writer
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Globe-trotting thinkers.
A MOOC Delusion: Why Visions to Educate the
World Are Absurd
The following is a guest post by Ghanas h yam S harma, an assistant professor in writing and
rhetoric at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
The Chronicle
recently reported, (
MOOC/137905/#id=overview) perhaps the most prominent motivation among professors at
prestigious universities for teaching massively open online courses, or MOOCs, is “altruism—
a desire to increase access to higher education worldwide.”
In itself, the desire to increase access to quality education for millions across the world is a
laudable one. After seven years of being within American academe, first as a graduate student
and now as an instructor, I share that desire. I wish to make my teaching available for
12/16/13 A MOOC Delusion: Why Visions to Educa te the W orld Are Absurd – WorldWise - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Educa tion
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students around the world who aspire to learn from knowledgeable educators regardless of
national borders.
But I don’t share the delusion that seems to be the basis for the excitement over MOOCs
among my colleagues here in the United States. There is a dire need for some healthy
skepticism among educators about the idea that MOOCs are a wonderful means to go global
in order to do good. For our desire to educate the whole world from the convenience of our
laptops to be translated into any meaningful effect, we need more research about how
students learn in massive open online platforms, and a better understanding of how students
from different academic, cultural, social, and national backgrounds fare in such spaces.
Let me explain why I used such a strong word as “delusion” with the help of a brief personal
story. When I joined the graduate program in English at the University of Louisville, I had
been a teacher of English for more than a decade in Nepal. I had taught English language,
literature, linguistics, literary criticism, critical theory, and intellectual history of the West
starting from elementary school all the way up to the university. That extensive teaching
experience gave me confidence both in the subject matter and in my teaching skills. Even
though my speech and writing had a slight South Asian “accent,” I did not consider language
proficiency a challenge.
However, all that confidence disappeared when I thought about entering the classroom and
facing a roomful of bright students in a strikingly different academic system. I started having
nightmares of American students asking me questions involving academic terms or concepts
that I did not know. Luckily, because the university had a program for training teaching
assistants, I had some time to prepare and overcome some of the anxiety. During the first
year, I also went to a mini-library in a basement where there were copies of college-writing
textbooks from various publishers. There, I started working on a secret project. I began by
reading books that contained the most basic ideas and exercises about academic writing and
worked my way up. It took me several months (and using a variety of other types of
resources) before I gained some confidence in my knowledge of the terms and concepts,
activities and assignments, assumptions, and values that characterized the discipline of
writing studies, as well as those of higher education in general in the United States.
Academic disciplines and teaching/learning environments (or, put simply, courses) are
almost always highly specialized and situated in local academic systems and cultures. That is
why I had to start with the materials for Writing 101 down in the basement. It took several
years of training for me to gain the ability and confidence to teach the type of more advanced
courses that I had already taught in a different country and academic system. In fact, even in
the case of the more context- and culture-neutral subjects like the natural sciences, the local
begins to trump the universal very quickly in terms of language used, references made,
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applications shown, and so on. As Bakary Diallo, a professor from the African Virtual
University, reportedly remarked (
universities-abroad-say-they-already-deliver-massive-courses/44331) at a recent meeting
among international educators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, students in
other parts of the world have their “own realities,” their “own context and culture.” It would
be absurd to ignore how significantly those realities shape students’ participation in our
virtual classrooms.
So, notwithstanding the inherent goodness of altruism, it is sad to see how educators who
see MOOCs as a means of educating students across the world also seem to lack the
willingness to consider seriously what happens when thousands of students constituting a
vast spectrum of proficiency levels and academic backgrounds try to catch up with one’s
attempt to educate the world primarily through video-recorded lectures. This problem is
evident in the design and delivery of any MOOC in almost any discipline at this time.
As companies advertising their products, providers of MOOC platforms make grandiose
claims and present themselves as visionary leaders of a new mode of higher education. As
Coursera says in its “Our Vision” section, ( these leaders,
“envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education that has so far been
available to a select few.” Even more puzzling is the fact that when it comes to the “global”
side of the argument, even serious educators seem to easily buy into the hype, perhaps
because they are inspired (I almost said “blinded”) by altruism. That is, on general issues of
teaching and learning—including curricular design and delivery, student participation and
retention, and peer review and assessment—the academic conversation about MOOCs is
now extremely rich, critical, and increasingly productive. But the excitement about the
unprecedented access that people around the world now have to education from places like
Harvard and MIT overshadows what should have been a topic of serious conversation: the
intellectual barrier in spite of technological access. The elephant in the room is still invisible.
There has been some conversation about this in venues like
The Chronicle.
One recent
blog post (
mcdonaldization-of-higher-education/30536) discussed the “McDonaldization of Higher
Education” and an article on InsideHigherEd
world-want-them) summarized a few principled objections by researchers of international
education. But among academics, there seems to be as yet nothing but the consideration of
students around the world as statistical figures. As cited in the latter article, scholars of
international education have always warned against “a one-way transfer of educational
materials from the rich north to the poor south will amount to a wave of ‘intellectual neo-
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colonialism.’” But, again, because the MOOC movement is dominated by providers eyeing
the world “market” for education, whatever they proclaim to be their motive, their attempts
to make MOOCs “accessible” to international learners goes to show that they are either
ignorant or unwilling to acknowledge geopolitical dynamics that shape learning experience
on a global scale.
Just to be clear, I am not trying to argue that MOOCs can never benefit transnational
participants. I believe that it is possible to tackle the problems—if they are first
acknowledged and taken seriously. For instance, one way to enhance the experience of the
nonlocal majority of MOOC students would be to encourage them to start by taking courses
on the fundamentals, including terms, concepts, cultures, practices, and worldviews
underlying the broader education system in which they want to participate. Serious MOOC
instructors can draw on existing research, best practices, and resources
moocs.html) on how to teach cross-culturally. But the design of the platforms must
accommodate the design and delivery of courses on the basis of better understanding of
cross-cultural learning. While some MOOC instructors seem to be aware of the issue, there is
no indication that MOOC providers are interested in thinking beyond how to attract more
students worldwide.
In fact, MOOC providers admit that they are interested in “international expansion” rather
than in making “learning” accessible for international participants. As
The New York Times
another-43-million/)reported recently, Coursera “plans to invest in international expansion,
through localization, translation and distribution partnerships, and techniques for blended
learning.” No matter how much hype is generated or money is invested in accessing learners
worldwide, the “massive” component and the lack of student-teacher interaction will
continue to plague this mode of online education for non-American learners.
At this time, the challenge to educators who want to focus on serious challenges seriously is
that designers of the platforms seem unwilling to go beyond “efficient” but disingenuous
solutions such as literal translation of course materials, analysis of “big data” for
understanding students’ experience, and machine and/or outsourced grading. And yet, to
the extent that it is possible, it is for professors to design and deliver courses by paying much
more attention to learners from different backgrounds than they are now.
Let me conclude by asking any serious educator to consider this for a moment: If you were to
land today in a small town in India, Argentina, or South Dakota and have to start teaching
one of your courses tomorrow morning, how well do you think you would do?
... Geri bildirime (yorum değil, dersin değişebilmesi için geribildirim) kapalı olan KÇAD'lar, aslında, öğretmen merkezli monologlardan öteye geçmiyor. Sharma (2013), bu nedenle, KÇAD veren kurumlara, öğrencilerin öğrenme süreçleriyle ilgili daha çok araştırma yapmalarını ve öğrencilerin kültürel, akademik, sosyal, ulusal vb. altyapılarını dikkate almalarını öneriyor. ...
... altyapılarını dikkate almalarını öneriyor. Sınıfta, çevrimdışı olarak çalışan öğrencilerin, video ile çalışan öğrencilerden daha başarılı olduğu biçimindeki bulgu (Kolowich, 2013c), Sharma (2013)'ün önerisini destekliyor. Bu öneri, aslında, iletişim kuramları içinde, Kullanımlar ve Doyumlar Kuramı'na karşılık geliyor. ...
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Contrary to other approaches, uses and gratifications theory which was developed before the advent of the new media provides a highly useful frame for social media studies by focusing on user’s use types and forms on the one hand and gratifications expected and really obtained on the other, rather than focusing on the properties of the media and/or the text. While social media use is getting more common, the number of social media studies increases in quantity and significance. In these new research studies, uses and gratifications theory becomes one of the most common approaches to be used. This theory (according to some of the researchers, it is an ‘approach’ rather than a theory) is considered to be inclusive as it allows us to investigate various sections of the user population contrary to the framers that focus on media characteristics. Among these users, students and educators that could be considered to be the pioneers of social media deserve to be researched separately. In this study, for methodological reasons, only educational uses (not all) of social media by this section is considered. However while this is the case, it is specifically emphasized that no social media has a single use purpose. Social media distinguishes itself from others by its interactive property. The technologies considered to be ‘Web 2.0’ or ‘social media technologies’ by various researchers are the following: Social bookmarking, Wikis, collective document creation, blogs, microblogs, presentation tools, image production and editing, audio shares, video editing and sharing, screenshots, mind mapping, digital narratives etc. Their interactive levels and the needs met by them with regard to these levels and gratifications provided are quite different. Thus, in this study, these technologies are classified in terms of their properties, and a number of recommendations are provided for educators on the basis of this classification.
... MOOCs exploded into public consciousness in 2012 (Billsberry, 2013) and have come to dominate much of the recent discourse on online learning. Industry leaders such as Koller (2012) and Agarwal (2014) have highlighted the potential for learners in the global South to benefit from MOOCs offered by prestigious universities in the North, but critics have dismissed these claims as being variously exaggerated (Daniel, 2012), impractical , absurd (Sharma, 2013), and neocolonial (Altbach, 2014). MOOCs have quickly evolved into a number of forms with various taxonomies proposed. ...
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p class="3">This paper examines the problems and potential of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Open Education Resources (OER) in the global South. Employing a systematic review of the research into the use of open online learning technologies in Southern contexts, we identify five interrelated themes emerging from the literature: 1) access to the Internet; 2) participant literacies; 3) online pedagogies; 4) the context of content; and 5) the flow of knowledge between North and South. The significance of Southern voice and participation is addressed in the final section, which concludes that on balance, the literature offers a qualified endorsement of the potential and actualities of MOOCs and OER in the global South. The ongoing tendency for the research literature to pay little heed to the agency of the social actors with the most to gain from these innovations is noted, opening up space for further research into the lived experience of online learners in the global South.</p
... In a discussion on teaching in a diverse cultural context, the author provocatively asks: ''If you were to land today in a small town in India, Argentina, or South Dakota and have to start teaching one of your courses tomorrow morning, how well do you think you would do?'' (Sharma 2013). ...
Spurred on by rapid advances of technology, massive open online courses (MOOCs) have proliferated over the past decade. They pride themselves on making (higher) education available to more people at reduced (or no) cost compared to traditional university schemes and on being inclusive in terms of admitting vast numbers of students from all over the world. However, MOOCs tend to be tacitly based on the course designers’ lifeworlds, which results in the sidelining of participants whose lifeworlds are different. The authors of this article highlight culture as an important but often overlooked aspect in the research on, and the design and running of MOOCs. They begin with a review of the role of culture in MOOCs research and find that it has been somewhat ignored. Next, they present a methodological framework – the culture contrast method – with which to approach the decisive role culture plays in MOOCs. Third, coming from differing cultural backgrounds, they apply the culture contrast method in a case study, contrasting experiences, interpretations and perceptions of a particular MOOC. Their varying perceptions of how, when and why they experienced a presence of authority emerge as a consistent theme in their data. Through the analysis of their data, they distinguish between the MOOC as an assemblage, consisting of the online interface, the design and hardware they inhabit as course participants, and their respective lifeworlds as their local and situated different cultures. They argue that during the run of the course, lifeworld and assemblage collide and enact a cultural authority. This authority sets the benchmark for what is deemed proper practice within a particular MOOC and it gives preferential treatment to some participants rather than others, thus actually undermining the professed inclusiveness of the MOOC format.
... The issue of whether and to what extent the Special Issue on MOOCs Stathopoulou /JOGLTEP, 2014 2(3), 207 -235 internationalized educational content included in a MOOC can ultimately cater for the needs of students of very different contexts around the globe has, of course, been much discussed. Sharma (2013), for instance, expresses his doubts in relation to the effectiveness of MOOCs which, according to him, are highly internationalized without taking into account the context-specific characteristics of particular audiences. Taking this critique into consideration, the course has been constructed by a Greek teacher for Greek students of a Greek university. ...
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This paper reflects upon the content, the structure and the design principles of an e-course offered for the first time to undergraduates undergoing their initial teacher training programme at the Faculty of English Language and Literature, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. Given that e-learning and e-training are considered to be a-theoretical, attempts have been made to develop a discipline-specific course within a theoretical frame which draws upon foreign language didactics and teacher training. Moving away from the technological focus which has dominated e-leaning discussions, the paper discusses the underlying principles and the characteristics of an e-course which deals with an innovative area of foreign language didactics, i.e., translanguaging and interlinguistic mediation. This e-course has been built using two virtual learning environments which provide learners opportunities for interaction both between the instructor and the students, and among the students themselves. Context Concerned with tertiary education and specifically pre-service language teacher education, this paper discusses the basic principles, the rationale and the procedure followed by the lecturer for the design of an e-course for undergraduate students of the Faculty of English Language and Literature at the University of Athens within the framework of their initial teacher training. 2
... Key players in this market such as Coursera, Futurelearn, edX and Udacity have positioned themselves as serving a social good, offering higher education to an audience where access is limited (Agarwal, 2013). However, there is criticism that MOOCS have not been able to significantly improve the opportunities for socially disadvantaged communities in the developed countries (Bear, 2013;Sharma, 2013). Although, a surprising benefit of MOOCS has been identified by Longstaff (2017) who discovered that existing students, in HE, used MOOCS as it encouraged this group of students to try new things without the fear of failure. ...
Over the last decade the adoption of a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), at University, has become an accepted norm of support for student learning. However, despite the major investment in VLE’s there is a major disparity between what universities are offering, on their online platforms, and how this material and activities are being utilised by students. This research provides empirical evidence of the passive use, both by tutors and students, of the VLE. The literature provides evidence of the inertia that still exists, within Higher Education (HE), among tutors, to fully embrace the spectrum of VLE engagement tools. The lack of transition, among many tutors, to utilise the VLE as a pedagogical engagement tool continues to impact the expectations of fee paying students in the UK, who no longer expect that a Socratic dialogue will suffice to catalyse their intellectual curiosity. Today’s generation of students have been exposed to a plethora of technologies that facilitates the acquisition of instant information and often through a multitude of sensory (visual, audio) formats. Furthermore, with the growth of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) that are freely available to students the expectations, of HE students, from universities is becoming more demanding. In light of this competitive virtual learning landscape the authors propose a learning framework. To enable universities to create a unique and effective learning experience, for their students, through prudent investment in VLE tools and a complimentary learning environments. Resulting in deeper learning and informed students prepared for seminars.
... Many people, however, remain skeptical of MOOCs (Carr, 2012;Delbanco, 2013;Mazoue, 2013;Sharma, 2013). Among other things, they question whether meaningful and effective educational experiences are even possible in large enrollment courses (see Glass & Smith, 1979;Lederman & Barwick, 2007;Mulryan-Kyne, 2010), let alone completely online courses with massive enrollments (see Leddy, 2013;Mazoue, 2013;Rees, 2013). ...
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The concept of the massive, open, online course (MOOC) is not new, but high-profile initiatives have moved them into the forefront of higher education news over the past few years. Members of institutions of higher education have mixed feelings about MOOCs, ranging from those who want to offer college credit for the successful completion of MOOCs to those who fear MOOCs are the end of the university as we know it. We set forth to investigate the quality of MOOCs by using the Quality Matters quality control framework. In this paper, we present the results of our inquiry, with a specific focus on the implications the results have on day-today practice of designing online courses.
... The logic of MOOCs' massiveness is premised on a principle of scale (the Internet goes anywhere) rather than of space or locality. Inevitably, critics have asked whether a class produced in the United States, for example, can effectively teach students cross-culturally (see Sharma 2013). This apparent divide between a geographical world of spatial and cultural variation and a MOOC-world of scalar indifference is part of the current logic of the global in higher education-and the conundrum of the global university. ...
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The suddenness with which Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, sprang upon us left many within the academy grasping for interpretations. Early proponents touted them as revolutionary tools that could enhance on-campus learning while also making high-quality education accessible to a vast global population, reforming a malfunctioning university system, and producing new kinds of data on how people learn. Critics countered that behind this latest techno-utopian fad lurked an all-too-familiar conservative agenda to downsize the university; the global ambitions of a few elite, resource-rich schools; Silicon Valley corporate interests; and the disciplinary priorities of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (the STEM fields). With some critical distance, the eight scholars in this Vital Topics Forum draw upon their experiences as anthropologists involved in MOOCs and anthropologists doing studies of MOOCs to propel us beyond such facile responses. Doing what anthropologists do best, they employ contextually rich analysis to upend received wisdom about what MOOCs mean, provide processual accounts of how they are made, and offer first-hand observations of how students are using them on the ground.
Conference Paper
The concept of the massive, open, online course (MOOC) is not new, but recent high-profile initiatives have moved them into the forefront of higher education news. The value of MOOCs, however, is yet to be seen. The purpose of this presentation is to report the results of a qualitative study conducted to investigate the design of MOOCs. Analyses of course documents were performed to evaluate the quality of these courses.
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Massive Online Courses have highlighted a key point which was already present in virtual education whatever their nature: the benefits of technological media or of connectivity among students is not enough for quality learning to take place. Sometimes, it is not enough even for simple learning related to the objectives, or for an educational experience to take place among students. At other times, we have talked about the need for learning interaction. In this paper, we will discuss the effective communication among students in different cultural, communication and life situations. There seems to be a misunderstood voluntarism and altruism whereby MOOCs and online courses, just by setting them up, will make the integration of students and teachers possible in some situations and with some communication problems that were already complex even in cases of simple classroom teaching with students who shared the same community and a common live and communication key. Paradoxically, educators and education professionals see MOOCs as a means of educating students around the world. They are unwilling to seriously consider what happens when thousands of students with a wide range of competence levels, learning situations, cultural and academic backgrounds are all trying to learn, whatever part of the world they happen to be, through videotaped lectures. This is a key problem in MOOCs, as well as in a greater or lesser extent in virtual education. It currently takes place in the design and development of any online course, in any discipline. Yet, little is known of these events by organizers and teachers. The idea in this issue of RED is to open the discussion and propose an element that, integrated with others such as an adequate instructional design, can contribute to its debate and to a possible solution. It is a new Interculturalism. We think it will be solved as long as a new teaching culture develops, as well as a new general education culture on the basis of a progressive development of students’ intercultural competence, critical thinking, awareness and self-regulation practices. In this issue, we have a call to fulfil this purpose. The response has been irregular. But this fact does not diminish the validity of the attempt. The question remains open. Besides, we have received a number of works that even if they do not directly address this issue, they are valuable approaches to the reality of Interculturalism in education in our environment.
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Resumen.-Los Cursos Masivos Online han puesto de relieve un punto que es clave y ya estaba presente en la educación virtual fuese cual fuese su naturaleza: No basta la bondad de los medios tecnológicos ni que los alumnos estén conectados para que se produzca un aprendizaje de calidad, ni a veces un simple aprendizaje relacionado con los objetivos propuestos, ni tan siquiera para que se produzca una experiencia educativa entre los estudiantes. En otras ocasiones (Zapata-Ros, 2013a) hemos hablado de la necesidad de una interacción orientada al aprendizaje. En este trabajo vamos a hablar de la comunicación efectiva de los alumnos en situaciones culturales, comunicacionales y vitales distintas. Existe un voluntarismo y un altruismo mal entendido según el cual los MOOCs y los cursos virtuales, con solo ponerlos en marcha, van a hacer posible la integración de estudiantes y profesores en unas situaciones y con unos problemas de comunicación que ya eran complejos aún en casos sencillos de la enseñanza presencial con alumnos que compartían una misma comunidad y unas mismas claves comunicacionales y vitales. Se da la paradoja de que educadores y profesionales de la educación ven los MOOCs como un medio de educar a los estudiantes en todo el mundo y no tiene la voluntad de considerar seriamente lo que pasa cuando miles de estudiantes con un amplio espectro de niveles de competencia, situaciones de aprendizaje, bagajes culturales y antecedentes académicos tratan de aprender todos, cualquiera que sea la parte del mundo donde estén, mediante conferencias grabadas en vídeo. Éste que es un problema clave en los MOOCs, en mayor o menor medida lo es igualmente en la educación virtual. Se produce en el diseño y en el desarrollo de cualquier curso online en cualquier disciplina en este momento. Y sin embargo hay un gran desconocimiento de estos hechos por parte de los organizadores y de los docentes. La idea de este monográfico de RED es poner sobre la mesa este problema de tal forma que se generen elementos que, integrados con otros como pueden ser diseños instruccionales adecuados, pueda contribuir a su debate y a una posible vía de solución: ha sido irregular. Pero ello no le quita validez al intento, queda la cuestión abierta y por otra parte hemos recibido una serie de trabajos que sin abordar directamente este tema constituyen valiosas aproximaciones a la realidad de la interculturalidad en la educación en nuestro entorno. Palabras clave.-Interculturalidad, nuevo paradigma educativo, educación transfronteriza
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