Monthly Archives: March 2012

In MOOCs, What is a Teacher?

What is a Teacher?  How does learning occur?  How is learning confirmed?

Certainly, an individual can learn independently from a variety of sources. In the case of formal learning experiences with defined objectives and expectations of learning assessment, however, a person – specifically a content expert – serving in the role of teacher is critical, no? This is because the teacher acts as a link between the foundation for the learner and the learning. They organize the content and devise activities for learning that align with the assessments. They watch for stragglers and pull them back into the group. We might get there without them, but it would certainly be a long and arduous process (if we did). It would be like planning a trip without a map. In less formal experiences, I think the role of teacher can be occupied by a variety of resources; but in that broader context, the learning can afford to loosen in structure.

So, what is and what is not a teacher in a MOOC or  massive open online course? We have been hearing a lot about MOOCs lately, but they seem to vary in their design and I am not sure that every MOOC follows a connectivist approach. I am familiar with the similar learning processes from #eduMOOC2011, #Change11, and #CMC11, for instance, but I am not sure how the Udacity or MITx courses – which seem to resemble a more formal learning experience – compare.

Those in which I have participated are similar in that there is a basic schedule of weekly topics with supplemental resources provided. Generally, live presentations/discussions are held weekly and recorded for later viewing. Participant discussion takes place in groups, in blog posts, on facebook pages, and more. In these MOOCs, learning is a result of the organization of the design – from interaction with the resources provided; from interaction with the presenter(s); from personal reflection on blogs and in other discussions; and from interaction with other participants. The resources are organized, but the level of participation – and of learning – is solely determined by each learner. To me, the teachers in this design are the organizers, the presenters, the authors of the content, and the participants. In this case, I am more likely to ask what is not a teacher…

In a MOOC, would we be better off asking what IS NOT a teacher?

Learning – Is it Really about Who is in Control?

This week, it seems like no matter what I read, I kept facing the word control as it relates to learning – teachers in control vs. learners in control. This makes it sound like learning is a game of tug of war. So, who is gaining ground and who is going to end up in the mud? Frankly, neither position sounds like an advantage to me…

To be honest, just thinking about linking those two words – control and learning – ties my stomach up in knots. Is that really what learning is about – who is in control? 

I remember many teachers from back in the day who would have liked to “control” my learning. They tried. I am and I was a bit of a rebel, though, I guess – or maybe I was just difficult. People liked to say that I was bored in the classroom because I wasn’t challenged. Well, they were wrong. I was bored in the classroom because it was boring. Period. End of story.

Fast forward to May 2007, my first college class after a twenty year hiatus. It was speech communications with Mr. Mosley and, right off the bat, he asked us why we were there. I raised my hand and why wouldn’t I? The question wasn’t that tough. We were there because we were expected to be there. Wrong, he said. You have a choice. If you don’t want to be here, there is an alternative.

But, even back in the fourth grade, I knew that I had a choice and that I made the decision, and if I failed, I suffered the consequences.

So, my question is this-

Is there such a thing as control when it comes to learning?

If so, what – exactly – are we trying to control? Are we trying to control the learner and their behavior in the environment? Are we trying to control the content so that a specific message – and only that message – is conveyed and retained by the learner? Are we trying to control the learning process? Do we see learning as a map with a single line between destinations? De we see learners as little identical boxes that are to be stuffed full of uniform information?

Personally, I see learning as more of a relationship of complex interactions – a web, of sorts – but not one that has to exist online or solely online. I think that we can still apply the nodes definition from connectivism, but the web would be much more limited when offline. From my perspective, the role of the teacher – as someone or something with new information – can be occupied by multiple (and even simultaneous) players. If anything, control here is shared, but maybe it doesn’t even exist.

Does control need to exist for the sake of learning?

Connectivism and Developing a Personal Learning Philosophy

I chose to study Web 2.0 tools and applications because I see interaction as the primary component of teaching and learning in the online environment – interaction with the material, interaction with the instructor/facilitator, and interaction among peers – and I believe that Web 2.0 tools facilitate and support that interaction as the methods for connecting.

Interaction is key to learning online.

From the perspective of connectivism, this interaction occurs in the web of a personal learning network which is not limited by the structure of organized learning. A personal learning network is our unique set of connections to people, to resources, to repositories of information. When a problem requires solving, our personal learning network of trusted colleagues and authenticated resources is where we turn. This is how we sort through the chaos and where we contribute our own unique perspectives.

As much as I appreciate the idea of connectivism, as a learning theory it assumes certain capabilities that are not actually ubiquitous. Connectivism can only apply to those who have the ability to connect and not every human on the planet has the hardware device and Internet connection available to participate.

OK, I am going to open myself up a bit here. I believe that learning – in the broadest sense – is synonymous with living.

Learning is key to life.

Learning is not a set of physiological processes or a collection of biological entities as life may be defined, but learning is what we think and believe and how we engage with the world around us. Interaction is what is happening when a person learns and our interpretation of that interaction becomes our evolving knowledge.

So, if interaction is key to learning – particularly learning online – and learning is key to life, then how do we reconcile the missing voices??