What is a MOOC? The Canadian Connection. 4

This CBC Sunday Edition Universities in the Digital Age explores MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – and their impact on higher education. (Thanks to @Bentram for mentioning this on Twitter)

The first time I heard the term MOOC was when George Siemens and Stephen Downes facilitated their first MOOC in 2008. A few years before that George and I were in the same cohort at Royal Roads University in a Masters program that focused on learning and technology. We both left the program, for different reasons, but I was able to follow George (not as in stalk him, follow him via social media) and through him began following Stephen Downes and eventually Dave Cormier and of course Alec Couros.  So when George and Stephen introduced their first MOOC  - Connectivism and Connected Knowledge – I was one of the first in line. Like many MOOC participants, I did not technically finish but did find great value in the course and the process. I was, and still am, fascinated by the idea self organizing and rhizomatic processes of learning and teaching. And really, who doesn’t like “free”.

Here’s a bit of context around why these four Canadian educators are important, why you should know about them and what they bring to the education table.

George Siemens wrote one of the first (that I’m aware of) open source books in a wiki format. The book, Knowing Knowledge is available online although I can no longer find working links to the wiki. Anyway, in the book George introduces the idea of Connectivism as a learning theory for the digital age. The original essay that this was founded is still on George’s site and well worth the read. In the conclusion he says,

The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. (Siemens, 2005)

In other words George grokked the complexity approach to managing education and learning long before the rest of us. He recognized that we needed to move towards ways to help people learn in complex adaptive systems.

Stephen Downes is the Senior Researcher for the National Research Council of Canada, has a background in philosophy and now specializes in the fields of online learning, new media, pedagogy and philosophy. Stephen, like George, was and is an early adopter and driving force in online learning technology and theory. Stephen writes prolifically on Stephen’s Web “a digital research laboratory for innovation in the use of online media in education” and on OLDaily – short for Online Learning Daily. If I could crawl into someones mind for just one day, it would be Stephen’s. I think he’s a Canadian treasure but of course being Canadian we aren’t really into the whole pedestal thing. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing but it does make it bit more difficult to give credit where it’s due.

Alec Couros is a a professor of educational technology and media at the Faculty of EducationUniversity of Regina who has also been driving the conversation about open and networked  learning for almost a decade. Alec is about to faciliate an EdTech focused MOOC (January 2013) so if you haven’t participated in one then this may be a great opportunity. Alec is possibly the best share-er ever with about 80,000 tweets according to Twitter.. and I think they are wrong, I’m sure it’s a larger number.

Dave Cormier authored a brilliant paper called Rhizomatic Education – Community as Curriculum that was published in Innovate – Journal of Online Education back in 2008. I had the pleasure of participating in a Ustream facilitated by Dave the following year. It was called Community as Curriculum – You can’t collaborate alone. I can’t find that session any longer but this video is perhaps a better explanation of Dave’s work and his passion for figuring out “Why, as a culture, do we teach? Rhizomatic learning posits that the goal of teaching should be to help students learn MORE than we know.” Dave also co-manages EdTechTalk and shares his learning regularly on his YouTube channel. Dave has perhaps the most listenable voice in Canadian education. Below is Dave’s response to – What is a MOOC?

The CBC radio show does a good job of presenting the history of MOOCs and asks some really great questions about how this style of teaching and learning in changing the possibilities of education. There is a section of the show that focuses on Khan Academy which is one of the sites, maybe even THE site, that has pushed the idea of the flipped classroom to the forefront of the K-12 education system discussions. In addition there are some short clips of George and interviews with other folks who are trying to figure out how to make MOOCs work in the assessment realm and of course how to make them $pay$ off.

So, what does this have to do with K-12? Everything. Or at least a lot. If this is the wave or a wave of the future of learning and teaching then this is something that we need to pay attention to. If the job of parents, K-12 educators and the public school system is to prepare students for the environments they will be expected to work and learn in, then we ought to pay very close attention.

What do you think about this? Have you participated in a MOOC? How could this change the way you teach or learn?

If you’re curious about how to design your own MOOC check out the slideshare below courtesy of George Siemens.

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4 thoughts on “What is a MOOC? The Canadian Connection.

  • Reply

    I find the MOOC concept very interesting. The biggest question for me is around motivation or, more specifically, the motivation to complete the course. You mentioned in your post that you didn’t finish your MOOC and what I have heard recently is that the vast majority of people don’t finish MOOCs, so then what is the purpose? Is it to simply inspire learning? Is it to engage in large scale processes or to create information?

    I don’t know!

    • Reply
      Jamie Billingham Post author

      Yes, I didn’t finish that particular one but have finished others:-) I also didn’t complete the one I took in the fall about Model Thinking. It was taught by Scott E. Page (I am a huge fan of his work) and I couldn’t finish it because my math skills just aren’t there. Despite not finishing I learned a tremendous amount. Even learned a bit of math lol

      I did however recently completely the New Business Models course on Coursera – some say Coursera is not a “true” MOOC, I disagree from a functional perspective anyways. I am now registered for two more, one through Coursera and one through P2PU

      For me the purpose is to learn. For the course creators I suspect the purpose is to share what they know and make learning a bit more accessible.

      Try one, you might like it :-)

  • Reply
    Astrid Gervaid

    Yesterday on CBC radio 1 a Mooc free on-line course was mentioned called the Science of Food. I would like to proceed and am unsure how. I have been looking at different sites with no luck on how to register. Can you help me with this.
    Astrid Gervais

    • Reply
      Jamie Billingham Post author

      Hi Astrid,

      My best guest is that it’s McGill’s MOOC – “McGill is partnering with the not-for-profit edX consortium founded by Harvard University and MIT and its first foray into the world of MOOCs will feature one of its most popular courses: Food For Thought (CHEM181x) from the World of Chemistry courses given by chemistry professors David Harpp, Ariel Fenster and Joe Schwarcz, who is also a Gazette columnist.” more…

      Here is the link to the course itself