Comment on Comparing xMOOCs and cMOOCs: philosophy and practice by Tony Bates

October 20, 2014 Tony Bates

Many thanks, again, Jenny, for great comments, both to me and Linda.
With respect to innovation vs best practice, I completely agree. Innovation by definition means doing something different, but here again I think we have to make some distinctions between Coursera/Udacity, edX and cMOOCs, and also understand how effective innovation works.
What I really object to is the hubris of the Coursera people, and from MIT the deliberate avoidance or acknowledgement of previous, relevant research. There is nothing innovative pedagogically about either Coursera or edX. What they are both trying to do though is to prove you can teach thousands of people effectively with one teacher using a transmissive pedagogy. That’s fine as a statement of intent, but good innovators build on previous research, not ignore it, and they wait until they have some evidence to support their claims before rushing to the media. edX people such as Agarwal claimed they had found that immediate feedback helps comprehension, among many other claims, a fact that has been known since Skinner and teaching machines in the 1950s. WebCT, the very first LMS, built multiple-choice CMAs with immediate feedback into its platform from the start in 1995. So with regard to xMOOCs, as was said about Freud, what is true is not new and what is new is not true.
cMOOCs are different. This is a new pedagogical development, or rather a bolder step forward but nevertheless there are still relevant previous practices, such as social constructivism and online collaborative learning, which show up in cMOOCs. Again though from my perspective the claims for cMOOCs to date stretch far beyond the evidence, and the proponents have again failed to take account of relevant previous research, such as how to make collaboration lead to deep learning (Linda Harasim’s work) and how to make online groups collaborate effectively (Brindley and Walti, 2009). These practices may not scale up, but they should be considered and tested or adapted for large scale applications, not just ignored.
But then most MOOC innovators are computer scientists and are either ignorant of or willfully ignore educational research. If educators treated computer scientists the way they treat educators, e.g. ‘AI doesn’t work, because I believe it doesn’t work and/or is too expensive, so we will just ignore it’, they would – rightly – be up in arms at educators.
Having said that, I really do appreciate your comments, Jenny. My argument/anger is not with you but with the arrogance behind the main Ivy League MOOC proponents.
This is an important debate and it’s great that you, Linda and Stephen are open and willing to participate.

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