By Jim Shimabukuro
I was drawn to some of the articles in this special issue1 and found insights that I feel are worth mentioning. One that stands out is in Schuwer et al.’s article,2 in a summary attributed to Fairclough3: “MOOCs are perhaps best understood as ‘imaginary’… a prefiguring of possible and desired realities rather than a unified and coherent domain around which clear boundaries exist.”
Fairclough’s observation takes us a step closer to unravelling the MOOC conundrum. The expanding list of acronyms for different MOOC constructs should tip us to the fact that MOOCs are reifications, figments of our imagination or, more accurately, a specific set of ideas bundled in different ways. In short, MOOCs don’t exist.
By “don’t exist,” I mean they’re not a separate or unique specie. They’re simply a class in the genus online course. Add openness to a traditional online course, and you end up with a MOOC. By “openness,” I mean removing most of the formal trappings that we associate with college courses: capacity limits, traditional registration and pre-requisite requirements, tuition and fees, semester or quarter time frames, required textbooks, and grades and credits.
In other words, MOOCs are projected variations of standard online courses. As such, they represent the outer limits of what online courses could be. The point is that the issue isn’t MOOCs themselves but the innovative features that they present for possible incorporation in online courses.
In this context, Schuwer et al.’s warning that, “in the long run, a threat to MOOCs may manifest, if they are not well-integrated in broader university strategies and do not establish their own role within the university offerings” is only half correct. That is, for the open features of MOOCs to evolve, they must be integrated into existing online course policies and procedures. However, establishing “their own role within the university offerings” may not only be redundant but a costly failure in terms of the growth of 21st century practices. Continue reading
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