As for previous modules (see reflections on H800, H807, H810), I want to write down some final thoughts on H809. I, myself, have appreciated very much other former students’ course reflections, for example this one from Sylvia Mössinger.
Let’s start with the strengths of H809, and fortunately, I found quite a few of them.
- The selection of papers is excellent. There’s a wide range of contexts, methodologies, themes and theoretical frameworks covered. The list seems to be regularly updated. Each paper seems to contain some flaws, and most were vilified in the forum.
- The course introduces a useful range of questions and issues that may arise with educational research. It brings up examples of correlations and causations being conflated, context being omitted, weak theoretical frameworks and dubious ethical practices. In this, it provides an essential part of a MA course and an excellent preparation for a doctorate.
- As in other modules, the composition of the tutor group is paramount. Every group needs a few enthusiasts who can get and keep discussions going, in particular if the tutor takes a backseat position. Luckily, the group was excellent and was of real added value. As mentioned above, some papers were torn apart with everybody weighting in with great arguments. Most students are active in education and some had strong a statistics background.
- The course certainly changed my conception of what constitutes valuable educational research. With a background in positive sciences, I tended to prefer quantitative reesarch, with the randomized control trial as the pinnacle of evidence. The course helped me appreciate other approaches such as Grounded Theory and ethnographic approaches, and dispel some of the arguments of the randomistas.
And, of course, now comes the part with some weaknesses.
- Some collaborative activities were included in the course design, but they just didn’t work. Looking at Salmon’s e-tivity framework, it could be due to insufficient socialisation activities. As I argued earlier, you need to include at least a few tutor-led synchronous sessions to get student-led sessions and collaborative work going. The in-depth discussions of paper would have provided an excellent opportunity to organize such synchronous discussions.
- For a 30 credit and 4-months course the frequency of papers is rather high. With three TMAs and one EMA there was a deadline on average every month. Word counts were somewhat lower (2000 and 4000 words) than in other modules, but that doesn’t necessarily reduce work load.
- Tutors take very much a backseat position in OU modules. Usually, that’s fine, but I believe there still needs to be a presence in the forums, where the occassional nudge, reference and argument can be of tremendous value.
Overall a valuable course, but not yet the perfect one. Next module for me is ‘Education for Development’ (ET821), which is also the last one needed in order to obtain a MAODE degree.
Some welcome antidote to the avalanche of – mainly US-centred – information assuming that MOOCs started with the 2011 AI (Artificial Intelligence) course at Stanford and the subsequent Silicon Valley fuelled start-up frenzy spearheaded by Coursera, edX and Udacity.
The graph below comes from a JISC CETIS publication and helpfully links the xMOOCs to the OER movement and the cMOOC’ers.
The figure below, from an excellent paper in Open Praxis from Sandra Peter and Markus Deimann, links MOOCs to much earlier developments such as the Public Lectures and the 17th century coffee houses. Taking a historical perspective arguably has the advantage of countering the techno-utopian language that surrounds xMOOCs. It also subtly dinstinguishes between MOOCs and the AI-offspring, rightly implying that these courses are no MOOCs (at least not as MOOCs were originally intended (YouTube video).
A historical form can bring a sense of perspective and yield a cautionary tale or two for the future of online education. Peter and Deimann write: ‘ Historical forms of openness caution us against assuming that particular configurations will prevail, or that social aspects should be assumed as desired by default‘.
Such a cautionary tale may well refer to the xMOOCs, which seem to deliberately obscure the meaning of terms such as ‘open’ and ‘MOOCs’. Looking for a viable business model, they intend to capture the emerging OER and MOOC movements before they become threatening, rather than strenghten them. Their arguments reflect those made by Tim Wu in his excellent book ‘The Master Switch’, about which I blogged here, as they warn:
“After a period of open movements many times there have been slight but important shifts from “pure” openness towards “pretended” openness, i.e. some aspects have been modified to offer more control for producers and other stakeholders. For instance, the historic culture of the coffeehouses had been transformed to private clubs and closed, exclusive societies.”