Sunday 24 March 2013

E-Learning and Digital Cultures: Week 4 Reflection #edcmooc

At this stage, #edcmooc is over, and I can say that I have finally completed a MOOC. Before I reflect on my own experience of being a student on #edmooc, I want to complete my musings on the resources provided.

Week 4 continued the theme of Being Human, with a collection of videos, some readings on Transhumanism and some less challenging perspectives on Education.

Of the four videos, the two that I connected with most are True Skin (see it on Vimeo) and Avatar Days (watch on YouTube). True Skin reminds me of some of the sci fi videos from week 1, and has a dystopian feel running through it. The idea of being able to upload your mind - memory backup - is fascinating and has clear beneficial aspects, for example, for early alzheimers sufferers. What does it mean for learning though? If you can upload a (brilliant) mind, can you download it, or part of it, multiple times to many people? Maybe we'll all become like our smartphones, downloading learning to our brains like apps.

Less fantastical is the other video, Avatar Days. Maybe it was the Dublin accents, but this really resonated with me. I showed it to my 13 years old son and he sat watching it, mesmerized. He doesn't play World of Warcraft, but he does play other online games where he has an avatar. He understood the video.

It made me think a little more about online identities and the link between a person's real life and how that person is portrayed online. I've blogged previously about my own online identity (Hiding behind my avatar). To quote myself:

In some sense, my twitter persona is an alter-ego of myself. She says things in public that I would never say in a room full of people.

And now, watching Avater Days, I'm beginning to wonder how much of my online persona filters back into Real Life. In the last year, I've been blogging more and using this blog to make sense of my own thoughts and experiences in various topics related to learning technologies. Through comments left on blog posts and via my twitter persona, I've been interacting and developing with an explanding Personal Learning Network (PLN). In turn, this has contributed to my own professional development In Real Life (IRL). For somebody who is naturally an introvert, the extension of myself in the digital world has caused me (the real life me) to grow and develop in ways that would otherwise not have been possible.

Perspectives on Education

So, what does all this mean for a learner online? In my last blog post I reflected on what it might mean to be human as a teacher in an online course. Now I'm wondering what it means to be human as a learner.

David Hopkins recently highlighted a video on his blog called Engaging and Motivating Students, from a series on learning to teach online from the University of New South Wales. Watching this video (embedded below), which is really very good, it made me think about the differences between being a student in a traditional online course, and being a student in a MOOC.

In a traditional online course, the role of the teacher is multifold and teacher presence is very important. The teachers in this video describe how the teacher acts as the guide, is responsible for creating a collaborative learning environment and facilitates "the socialisation of students into online learning". One teacher even says that she is responsible for the students' learning, which I don't agree with. Many online courses include an introductory module intended to help students learn how to learn online.

But, in a MOOC where the teacher can't be present to monitor, encourage, give feedback, facilitate the socialisation of students - how do students learn how to learn online?

In the video, one teacher says that online learning environments are really democratic, and this can be true of many traditional online courses. But I'm not sure that it's true for MOOCs.

The majority of MOOC students, I suspect, already have at least one digital identity - which might be personal, professional, related to specific interests, or some other combination. So, each MOOC student is already coming with some online "baggage", (history, network of contacts, statement of interests etc) which is easily discoverable by other members of the course. If the person has been involved in a MOOC previously, then she already has a digital learning identity.

In a MOOC, the student is wholly responsible for his own learning. The teacher is not present and cannot be there every day. So participation, motivation and engagement is really up to the individual, as part of the wider group (or groups). How do the students learn to learn in this situation? How do they figure out the ground rules for online socialisation, usually established by the teacher? How do they learn about academic norms, standards and integrity? Is it the case that the people who become "successful" online students self-perpetuate the conditions that made them successful, while those who fail are left behind, forgotten?

And, what does it mean to be "successful" in a MOOC? That you get a certificate of achievement? At the recent #unitemooc event in Newcastle, @sheilmcn reported:
E-Learning and Digital Cultures: Week 1 Reflection
E-Learning and Digital Cultures: Week 2 Reflection
Being Human
E-Learning and Digital Cultures: Week 3 Reflection

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