Week 4 English 516

Manifesto for Teaching Online:

While these quotes are fairly self-explanatory, I found something to say about a few of them…

“By redefining connection we find we can make eye contact online.”

I find this to be a rather outlandish claim. Metaphorical or not, the idea that direct contact with a room full of people can be duplicated in an online setting is fairly ridiculous. The only way I could see that working, would be if there were some way to do group video chat (which I’m sure there is…but then you might as well meet face to face as you are asking everyone to coordinate their lives in a very similar fashion to a face to face class…thus defeating one of the benefits of a class being fully online). That aside, I find that there’s a fair bit of misunderstanding that goes on in online discussions, due to all the physical cues we normally use to interpret meaning….not being there. Certainly, there are some ways to overcome this, and it’s less of an issue in an academic setting in some ways…but…yeah. I don’t think we can ‘redefine’ connection. Our brains have not evolved in thousands of years, and we aren’t about to change our deeply rooted perceptions of what the nature of connection is. Some will probably argue we already have, but deep down nobody is satisfied with a instant message when what they wanted was a hug and a coffee with a friend.

Every course design is philosophy and belief in action.”

I like this statement. It reminds me of a Freire piece we are reading in another class (The Adult Literacy Process as Cultural Action for Freedom and Education), in which he discusses pedagogy and states about treating literacy as a technical skill: “[s]uch a naive approach would be incapable of perceiving that technique itself as an instrument of men in their orientation in the world is not neutral” (617).

In other words, what I get when I combine these quotes is the notion that each teacher brings a set of assumptions about how to teach ‘correctly’ with them to the classroom, and therefore the design of the class shows what the teacher believes, and what philosophy they either think will work, or has worked for them in the past.

“New forms of writing make assessors work harder: they remind us that assessment is an act of interpretation.”

“Course processes are held in a tension between randomness and intentionality.”

Taken together, these quotes bring up what I see as one of the main obstacles for online courses (and probably all courses, to be fair), that of how to grade responsibly. I would imagine this is especially stressful when trying out new pedagogies, despite the balance provided from the experience of trying something new. Assessment has always been interpretation, but it is a fairly recent phenomena for the class to be an interpretation as well. Technology sort of demands it, though, and I think teachers are flexible about it and getting along okay. You can’t ignore it.

MOOC pedagogy: the challenges of developing for Coursera

As many great points as this article makes, I can’t help but think about more positive things than negative when it comes to learning online. Don’t get me wrong, I’m skeptical of it for a lot of disciplines and for many reasons. That said, what struck me is the amazing opportunity these courses provide not only for self-direction, but for the possibility of hearing from students about the experience and being able to use feedback from people actually taking the course to be able to make the courses better. Student voices are largely ignored on a number of subjects, online learning is a great opportunity to make up a bit for that deficit. Even surveys are faster and less irritating online, making them likely to be useful as a measurement instrument.
Certainly there are vastly more opportunities for engaging with other professionals in a field when courses and discussions are open to the web. v The richness of the discussion can be aided by having more voices participating, though I do see both “sides” of the economics in this issue. It does bring in students, who will contribute to the school eventually. It also could make current students somewhat resentful…though I can imagine this would be more likely when they have to pay for a class that is free to anyone not attending the university.

The question of how to assess the involvement of thousands of students seems like a huge one, that will have a simple solution before long.

It seems at present that sustained and personal engagement on the part of tutors with course participants is impossible in such a context, and Coursera themselves recommend an approach that borders on course automation.”

It’s interesting to contemplate this idea of ‘automation’. What exactly does that entail? As evinced in multiple articles, one size does not fit all in the world of education.
Overall, I think increasing access to higher education is a great idea for a number of reasons. The main one being I would like to see (in the U.S.-they do it elsewhere already) a trend towards completely public funding of education from preschool to Ph.D. I think this is just the sort of catalyst a move like that requires. Whether or not MOOCs will be a catalyst for that sort of change…remains to be seen. Another point in its favor is that the opportunities for valuable discourse increase by an astronomical amount. Further, it’s a great way for universities to advertise their services (as noted in the article). Lastly, I should note that the issues surrounding the differences in interactions between students and teachers in the two environments have a number of possible solutions that can mostly be resolved. I mean, if you are able to access the technology necessary to take courses online, you can also probably access a service like Skype or Google Chat (with video function). This could take the edge off what would otherwise be a rather impersonal experience.

All About MOOCs

by Rosanna Tamburri

This article really seems to sum up the teachers’ reactions to the use of online courses, and some of the general pros and cons. And overall, I think that reaction is pretty positive and fits in with what we think of academic philosophy being. I don’t know about you, but most teachers I know don’t teach for the paycheck. I feel sorry for them if they do. Teachers want to teach engaged students. They want to both satisfy curiosity and engage people in being active members of both their disciplines and their communities. It would seem that the type of students you would get, after you get rid of the extraneous 90% or so that drop, would mostly fit that criteria. They are taking the class because they want to learn the subject. Presumably, this will lead to more discussion centered around what classes students actually want to take, or will be useful to them in their careers.

So far, it has yet to be determined how the MOOCs can translate into credit, or even what obtaining the certificate really entails. As noted, it’s not an event in a business model…yet. I think that’s a good thing. Making education a business that is providing a service to individuals is not really in the interests of anyone…outside those making a profit in the enterprise. Education is to the benefit of the entire country, and serves not only those receiving it, but everyone in connection with them. Ignorance is a blight that only education can erase. I don’t mean to wax philosophical, but I see this as a possible opportunity for a political conversation about the way we treat education, higher and otherwise, in this country. It’s long overdue. I don’t see why this can’t be an experience much like Wikipedia. It goes back to the idea of the commons; if we don’t share information and the tools for acquiring knowledge, we are doomed.


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