MOOCs in the Global Context

MOOCs in the Global Context

Sushil K. Oswal (University of Washington, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1718-4.ch003
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The purpose of this chapter is to present a critique of MOOC hype in the international context. The author scrutinizes the claims advanced by MOOC proponents by asking two questions: 1) What are the assumptions about literacy and learning that inform MOOC discourse about mass education of U.S. and foreign citizens? and 2) What could be some unstated political, cultural, and economic purposes behind these MOOC ventures? In order to provide a contextualized and substantiated critique of the exaggerated claims about the innovative nature of MOOC pedagogy and their extended reach to the poor citizens of developing countries, the author presents an analysis of two writing courses offered as MOOCs by Georgia Tech and Ohio State University, both sponsored by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Finally, the author also discusses the implications of this MOOC hype in the international context to the United States.
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Moocs In The Global Context

This chapter questions the overall premise that the introduction of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) as a solution to America’s broken university system under various rubrics—a paradigm-shifting educational reform of the outdated lecture-based classroom, entrance into an age of revolutionary technologies which would make assumedly costly instructors redundant, usherance of student-centered, machine-driven innovative pedagogies, or as a plain fiscal expediency (Adams, 2012; Archer, 2008; Clegg, 2008; Friedman, 2013; Marginson, 2012; Parry, 2012). While all of the preceding claims require some critical scrutiny from multiple angles, in this chapter, I primarily focus on much-touted benefits of MOOCs for global masses and present a detailed critique of this claim both from an international and U.S. perspective. The venture capitalists sponsoring these MOOCs, as well as the universities providing the academic fronts, have continually propagated the far-reaching scope of MOOCs as “open access” global education system (Darrow, 2012). Not only has this value been inflated to appeal to the American masses’ sense of benevolence, these claims also have been employed to inflate general enrollment figures because a majority of these MOOCs have been heavily subscribed to by students from other parts of the world. While these MOOCs have been promoted as a great benefit to the world outside of the United States (see, for example, Schroeder 2012), their Americentric content, lack of local contexts, and their dismal completion rates tell a different story about their educational benefit for international students (Wilson & Gruzd, 2014).

Since the pedagogical and ideological implications of these massive courses remain under examined (Altbach 2013; Barlow 2014), I pose the following two interconnected questions about the nature, characteristics, and relevance of MOOCs in the international context to develop my critique:

  • 1.

    What are the assumptions about literacy and learning that inform MOOC discourse about mass education of U.S. and foreign citizens?

  • 2.

    What could be some unstated political, cultural, and economic purposes behind these MOOC ventures?

Before delving into these two international questions, I will first deal with the MOOC lore prevalent in the American press and flesh out the emerging metanarrative of these courses, using two particular examples from the field of writing. My purpose in dwelling on these examples is to draw attention to the vast gap between the futuristic claims advanced about the revolutionary improvement MOOCs will make in higher education and the relatively unimpressive pedagogical record of MOOCs so far. The commentary threaded throughout this section delineates the cracks in the MOOC pedagogy while showing that many of the characteristics attributed to the innovative MOOC technology and pedagogy existed prior to the introduction of MOOCs in the past decade. The upcoming MOOC analyses are also aimed at exemplifying the type of American MOOC pedagogy being proffered to the global learners outside the United States as the best education available on the American ground. Siemens (2012) points out, and my key points made about the nature of current MOOC pedagogies below also show, that massive open online courses gain vastly different connotations in the American and international contexts when the vendors of MOOC speak in the language of us and them, and the industrialized first world and that developing World, whether or not this exact phraseology is applied.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Connectivism: Often associated with Siemens (2005 ), and based on Ivan Illich’s philosophy, it refers to mental processing at both conceptual and social levels to make connections like a well-constructed spider web or learning network.

MOOC Platform: Platform refers to the learning management system hosting the various tools for teaching a MOOC. EdX and Coursera are two major MOOC platforms at this time.

xMOOC: A content-focused, highly structured and usually canned course for large student populations with pre-recorded video lectures, automated quizzes, and machine exams supplemented with peer assessment activities.

Hegemony: An undue, lasting influence or domination by one group over another through cultural, economic, or political power.

cMOOC: Refers to a connective MOOC which is supposed to enable students to develop learner webs through social and mechanical networking. The MOOC exponents claim that students mutually develop these conceptual and technical skills on their own in cMOOC environment. The educational foundation for cMOOCs comes from Ivan Illich’s philosophy in Deschooling Society (1971) which views institutions as inadequate for distributing universal education and asks for self-directed learning through social webs.

MOOC: An abbreviation for Massive Open Online Course (Also see cMOOC and xMOOC).

Scale and Scaling: In MOOC universe, scale refers to the size of a class effectively teachable by an instructor on a MOOC platform. More often it is confused with the number of students enrolled in a particular MOOC whether or not they find the course effective.

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