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

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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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WorldWise
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.
——————————————————————————————
(http://chronicle.com/blogs/worldwise/files/2013/07/Computer-globe.png)As
The Chronicle
recently reported, (http://chronicle.com/article/The-Professors-Behind-the-
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

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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,
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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applications shown, and so on. As Bakary Diallo, a professor from the African Virtual
University, reportedly remarked (http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/virtual-
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, (https://www.coursera.org/about) 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
Chronicle
blog post (http://chronicle.com/blogs/worldwise/moocs-mass-education-and-the-
mcdonaldization-of-higher-education/30536) discussed the “McDonaldization of Higher
Education” and an article on InsideHigherEd
(http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/04/25/moocs-may-eye-world-market-does-
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-
12/16/13 A MOOC Delusion: Why Visions to Educa te the W orld Are Absurd – WorldWise - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Educa tion
chronic le.com/blogs/worldwise/a- mooc-de lusion-why-visions-to-educ ate -the- world-a re -a bsurd/32599 4/21
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
(https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/692787-cultural-barriers-and-american-
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
(http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/10/coursera-an-online-education-company-raises-
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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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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