Virtual School Meanderings

July 8, 2013

K-12 Online Learning And MOOCs

what-is-a-moocLast week I posted an entry entitled Article Notice – High School Open On-line Courses (HOOC): A Case Study From Italy.  In this instance, the researchers studied an instance where high school students were given the opportunity to receive instruction in physics and mathematics in the traditional classroom or to “watch on-line, at their own place and own pace, the same lessons” as a part of this HOOC.  The researchers examined the HOOC usage by students and their perceptions of this form of learning.

Now I have stated on a number of occasions that I don’t believe that massive open online courses (MOOCs) will have that much of an impact on education in the end, and will have even less of an impact on K-12 education.  In the adult world, I think that MOOCs can be a useful tool for personal or professional development (in much the same way that Cormier, Wiley, Downes, and Siemens ran and envisioned).  But as a formal method of education (in much the same way that Udacity, Coursera, and edX run and envision), it will be a fly by the night kind of thing that may open up education to some, but for most it will just be something that they did back in the early 2010s.

One of the main reasons I hold this opinion is because of the nature of MOOCs.  They are great if I am interested in learning more about something in a more systematic way than simply going on some random Google search.  They are great if I am interested in learning more about something and I want to create or join a community of other people who share that interest.  They are great at providing me a logic structure in order for me to learn about something I am interested in learning more about.  However, as a method of formal education there is little to no support provided to learners (beyond what they seek out themselves).  There is little institutional affiliation or connection for learners.  Simply put, there is little reason for students to complete the MOOC beyond sheer interest and determination, and a lot of personal self-directed, self-responsibility skills.

It is that last fact that I think limits the ability of MOOCs in the K-12 environment.  Environments that require largely independent forms of learning tend to allow only a selective group of K-12 students to be successful.  This is actually one of the reasons why K-12 online learning have faced so many growing pains over the past two decades.  If you require students to be, in the words of Haughey and Murihead (1999), highly motivated, self-directed, self-disciplined, independent learner who could read and write well, and who also had a strong interest in or ability with technology than you are creating a structure that is simply inaccessible for the vast majority of students in the K-12 environment.

However, there are some exceptions to how MOOCs could be used in the K-12 environment.  If the basis is that students need to be interested enough in the topic to be willing to persist in this largely independent environment, than MOOCs that are offered in more of a co-curricular or extra-curricular kind of fashion might be more sustainable.  In much the same way that K-12 arm-chair athletes can participate in lunch-time or afterschool soccer, while other students decide to participate in the chess club; students who have an interest in a particular topic could participate in a thematically-focused MOOC.  I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know as much about the high school MOOCs that Verena Roberts has been responsible for (e.g., Case of the Digital Footprint, Beyond Facebook, and StudentHackEd), but simply based on the titles I doubt that these MOOCs are a part of a state-approved or provincially-approved curriculum.  I suspect that these MOOCs were the kind of thematic topics that were available to high school students, not as a part of a formal course for credit, but for students that had a specific interest in the topic.

Another possible exception is to think beyond the “massive” and “online” aspects of massive open online course.  Last week, one of my Facebook friends posted a link to AmplifyMOOC.  This is an up-coming two-semester MOOC for an Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science course.  Beyond the fact that the course is an AP course in an area that is quite specialized (i.e., likely to attract those students who are “highly motivated, self-directed, self-disciplined, independent learner who could read and write well, and who also had a strong interest in or ability with technology”), AmplifyMOOC has also introduced a feature that is designed to provide an additional level of support that K-12 students in this environment would likely need… MOOC-Local.  Essentially, MOOC-Local is described as when:

schools sign up for MOOC Local, they should designate a coach. These school-based learning coaches can monitor student’ progress, performance and participation. Amplify will train and support coaches appointed by the school, and also create a community for local coaches to discuss and share ideas and best practices. Amplify will also provide additional instructional materials beyond what’s available in the MOOC.

Basically, Amplify will help prepare and support someone to perform the “virtual school facilitator” role for students enrolled in the MOOC.  And K-12 online learning research has shown that the presence of an active and supportive facilitator can have significant impact on the success of students in the K-12 online learning environment.

So under these kinds of exceptional circumstances (e.g., co-curricular/extra-curricular or locally supported, selective courses) MOOCs can have a place in K-12 education.  Interesting, there is a K-12 MOOC portal that currently contains no listing of courses.

If you are interested in this topic, might I recommend these two resources:

13 Comments »

  1. Michael, the exceptional cases you mentioned are what I was thinking of when you said MOOCs were unlikely to have much impact in K-12 because of their “nature.” We arrive at the same conclusion, I think. I would just say that those exceptional cases show that the limited use of MOOCs currently isn’t necessarily representative of the nature of MOOCs. They have a potential beyond how they are commonly structured now, a potential that possibly (though not at easily) could be useful in K-12 education.

    We’ve profiled a couple of uses at MOOC News and Reviews, though both of them are limited to grade 12. MOOCs are proving themselves useful when it comes to high school completion, admissions and AP exam prep and college readiness. (In my judgement, college readiness is the low-hanging fruit for MOOCs.) Beyond that, as you say, there are no examples yet of MOOCs in K-12, but things are moving so quickly, that I wouldn’t declare the question settled.

    Robert McGuire
    Editor, MOOC News and Reviews

    Comment by MOOC News & Reviews (@MOOCNewsReviews) — July 8, 2013 @ 1:17 pm | Reply

    • I didn’t say that weren’t examples. Just that there weren’t examples like we have seen in higher education the likes of Udacity, Coursera, and edX. The AmplifyMOOC initiative this Fall may be the first MOOC of that nature. There have been several MOOCs along the lines of the original vision of Cormier, Wiley, Downes, and Siemens – most that I am aware of have been lead by Verena Roberts (plus the EURODL article).

      The problem is that the groups you describe will largely have success in the K-12 system (e.g., admissions and AP exam prep and college readiness) regardless of system. So MOOCs offer little advantage or value. However, as currently operated MOOCs will not prove to be “useful when it comes to high school completion.” These students requires supports in order to be successful that MOOCs – both the way Cormier, Wiley, Downes, and Siemens envisioned them and the way Udacity, Coursera, and edX run them – simply do not provide.

      Do we really need something else that addresses primarily the students that have social, economic or political capital? I mean the whole educational reform movement in the United states is focused on those kids as it is! Shouldn’t we focus our efforts on something that might have a difference on students that aren’t able to help themselves and don’t have any of these reform proponents fighting on their behalf?

      Comment by mkbnl — July 8, 2013 @ 1:27 pm | Reply

  2. […] days ago I posted an entry on K-12 Online Learning And MOOCs, and today I wanted to follow-up on that with an entry that looked at efforts on the massive open […]

    Pingback by More K-12 Online Learning And MOOCs | Virtual School Meanderings — July 9, 2013 @ 11:28 am | Reply

  3. Better late than never – but wanted to say thanks for the great examples and the shout out! I agree- the HS MOOCs to this point to this point have only been successful based on extra-curricular passion based open online projects. The only MOOC based on possible HS credit is #BEFA12. #Beyond Facebook was created based on two badges – the first competency open badge was based on cMOOC like inquiry networked learning (In online groups with people you have never met, create a blog and send it out to the world). Badge 2 was based on Career and Technology Studies (Alberta Curriculum Outcomes). Students only chose to complete badge #1. They didn’t care about the credit and outcomes based part of Badge #2 and preferred learning for the sake of learning – go figure :)

    Comment by macoldpuppy — July 17, 2013 @ 3:24 pm | Reply

    • Verena, I suspect this was because they did this as an extra-curricular or co-curricular thing (if not formally, at least with that mindset). Students aren’t accustomed to getting credit for extra-curricular or co-curricular activities. Now some of that, particularly with those more academically capable students, may be a training or preparing issue (i.e., they simply didn’t know what to expect the first time out).

      Comment by mkbnl — July 17, 2013 @ 5:56 pm | Reply

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