Can MOOCs make learning scale?

Robert Cosgrave, Tertiary 21, Sept 01, 2010
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Robert Cosgrave questions whether the MOOC course model can succeed. "A core part of the concept of a MOOC is peer to peer learning, through dialogue. But it's a dialogue between 2000 people who all know a little bit about the topic, with the course leaders piping in from time to time. It's as likely to confuse as enlighten." But this objection misses the same point every time someone states it - it assumes that the only clarity that can come in a course comes from course instructors. Which is (frankly) rubbish. Ever spend any time in a science or mathematics course lab? You know who is doing the teaching? Not the professor, who is nowhere to be found, or even the tutor, who when you can get to him or her is uncertain and inarticulate. No, the people doing the teaching in science and math labs are students, of each other. That's why they work in groups. That's why they get together. The MOOC simply draws upon the tactics any science or engineering student has had to adapt (trust me, I've been there; no mere humanities student me!) in order to survive.

Just once, I would like to hear some objection to the model that does not presuppose that the only teaching or clarity can come from the professor. Not only does such an objection fail to take into account the actual dynamics of the MOOC model, it fails to recognize what actually takes place and is empirically observable on any university campus. Goodness, if students had to depend on their professors to set the context, know the relevant facts, or structure and provide the course pedagogy, they'd be in terrible trouble. Let's stop working in theory here - go look at how students actually study, and get back to us with a story telling us why the MOOC won't work.
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