This 2-part blog feature comes from Guest Blogger, Michael J. Badolato, Ed.D., Dean of Academic Technology and was originally featured in NSCC Technology Across the Curriculum's annual publication: Mousetales.
When I first encountered the word “MOOCs” a little over a year ago, I envisioned subterranean creatures lying in wait to conquer our world, or perhaps another multi-user online dungeon game. A recent set of articles (see Laura Pappano's “The Year of the MOOC" and Kevin Carey's “Show Me Your Badge") featured on the cover of the November 2012 New York Times Education Life supplement presented a white rabbit along with the headline “Massive and multiplying, the latest word in online learning: MOOC.” While the latter image may be far less menacing, it is no less compelling given the seemingly sudden appearance and proliferation of MOOCs across the higher education landscape.
On the surface, MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, are exactly what the term implies: an online course that is massive in terms of sheer enrollment, potentially thousands at any given time, and open, in that anyone can attend regardless of academic background, at no cost and with no official registration required.
Upon closer examination of MOOCs, there is something in them that is familiar in a manner not unlike so many ‘next big things’ we have all encountered. Yet, their very scale and accessibility suggests implications for altering the structures and relationships of our educational systems as we have come to define them. It is common experience, if not historical record, that whenever a new technology is first integrated into the educational practice of the day, be it chalkboard or circuit board, some disruption occurs while the innovation gradually settles into the mainstream. Communities of practice, within a single institution or distributed across the field, establish rubrics, standards, and other structures from which to base development and assess quality. The innovation is adopted, brought under control and integrated within an agreed upon framework. Final analysis results in acceptance, rejection or revision and the practice moves onward.
Khan Academy’s stated mission is “… the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.” Proponents of MOOCs, and open content in general, laud this very openness as a decentralized and democratic opportunity for access to what they view as a quality higher education experience. Doubters, for much the same reasons, are concerned about the potential disintermediation from the oversight of higher education institutions and their faculty. Both sides of the debate see the potential for alternative credentials outside of the traditional degree sequence, though each side obviously has a different opinion as to the relative merits of such an outcome.
This ends part 1--stay on the lookout for part 2, where Michael address specifically what's being done at community colleges in Massachusetts.