Small changes to ending made 5/1/2013.
Mark Guzdial's excellent Computing Education blog has an interesting, growing and already long discussion thread about MOOCs (of the "x" rather than "c" variety) and what they do or do not do, and about the extent to which they can substitute for or embody (good) teaching - prompted by Mark's own forceful MOOCs are a fundamental misperception of how teaching works.
The key question for me is whether it is or will be possible to build MOOCs to influence "what the student does to learn" as or more productively overall than in a well run, reasonably but not lavishly resourced face-to-face course.
These are early days. My instinct and experience tells me that it is premature to assert now that it is not or (more importantly) will not be possible. The challenge, surely, is to put a effort into:
- seeking to make it work;
- scientifically assessing impact;
- understanding the affordances of subject, level, learner-characteristics, and so on.
This excerpt from Blake Morrison's fictional memoir The Justification of Johann Gutenberg (taken from this review: I've not read the book) struck me as apt:
"The press would not stand firm or bed down flat. The type kept breaking off. The hand-mould would not fit right. The characters we made were blurred or twisted, and impossible to align. The ink ran like a stream or stuck like mud. The paper creased and tore."
From a MOOC learner's point of view things are already nothing like this bad. In fact, for many MOOC learners, things are already pretty good.