MOOC Yourself: How to go from Technophobe to Tech-savvy

INTRODUCTION:

HTML. Web Analytics. Algorithms. While these words might not conjure up visions of publishing the way the words character, setting, and narrative do, they are becoming equally important as the publishing industry continues to try to find its way in an increasingly digital environment. Unfortunately for most publishers, university English degrees typically don’t include courses in computer programming, and technical skills in many publishing houses are lacking. What’s a technophobe to do?

Sign up for a MOOC.

If you haven’t a clue what a MOOC is, never fear. This paper examines the brief history of MOOCs, discusses what type of MOOC is right for you, and argues that publishers should make technology-based MOOCs a priority for their staff’s professional development.

THE MICRO-HISTORY OF MOOCs, 2008 – 2012:

If you’re not sure what a MOOC is, you’re not alone. Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, exploded onto the educational scene during the last few years, offering free, openly accessible professional courses on a variety of topics to anyone with an Internet connection. Where in a regular university a large class size might cap out at three or four hundred students, thousands to hundreds of thousands of people participate in an average MOOC.

Dave Cormier, Manager of Web Communication and Innovations at the University of Prince Edward Island, and Senior Research Fellow Bryan Alexander of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education coined the term “MOOC” in 2008.[1] In his 2010 YouTube video “What is a MOOC?”, Cormier describes a MOOC as an online course that is open to all, is participatory, and is focused on distributing information and facilitating life-long learning based on the principles of connectivist learning.[2] Connectivist learning refers to the theory that knowledge spreads by connecting various nodes of information and that “connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.”[3] In 2012 Cormier received flak from a user who posted a comment disagreeing with Cormier’s description of a MOOC, asserting rather that MOOCs aren’t always participatory or connective in any way.

What caused the kafuffle? Within four years MOOCs went from Cormier’s model of socially interactive learning reliant on participation from lifelong learners who worked together to increase knowledge on a given subject (though usually one focused on technology), to models developed by companies eager to move MOOCs into higher education. Building on the buzz around MOOCs and the success of projects like the Khan Academy and iTunes U, which feature taped lectures from a variety of universities, companies like Coursera[4], edX[5], and most recently, Udacity[6], sprang up, aligning themselves with a variety of universities around the world.

A common feature of these MOOC companies is their partnerships with top-tier universities. Coursera currently offers courses from thirty-three universities, including such prestigious schools as Brown, Columbia, Duke, Princeton, and Stanford. Though their affiliated universities are mostly from the U.S. they also have partnered with universities in Canada, the U.K., Hong Kong, and Australia. edX is governed by MIT and Harvard and features courses from those universities as well as the University of California – Berkeley. Udacity is the start up from Sebastian Thrun, David Stavans, and Mike Sokolsky, who all have ties to Stanford. These companies tout MOOCs as an answer to overpriced university tuition, and offer courses based on current university curriculum.

Unlike Cormier’s model, these MOOCs rely less on group participation and discovery, and more on learning by being guided through a curriculum set up by a few instructors. George Siemens, one of the creators of the first official MOOC (a course called “Connectivism and Connectivist Knowledge,” hosted by the University of Manitoba), suggests using the terms cMOOC to indicate a connectivist course, and xMOOC to indicate a MOOC hosted as an extension of a university course.[7]

WHAT TYPE OF MOOC IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

While recently there’s been plenty of press focused on whether MOOCs can really replace the university experience and personal contact with professors[8], for professionals who are already in a career and are looking to develop a new skill rather than earn a university degree, MOOCs offer a great solution. Simply knowing what MOOC model is right for you will help you get the most out of your MOOC.

For those in the publishing industry looking to expand their knowledge of technology, the type of MOOC they should look for depends on their proficiency. Publishers with intermediate skills in HTML and a working understanding of website design might benefit more from a cMOOC where they can collaborate with other professionals and build projects together based on their companies’ wants and needs. cMOOCs tend to be fairly demanding and time-consuming and “require a high level of self-direction by the learner.”[9] cMOOCs are also described as “More like an online event. [They] invite open online participation around a topic of interest and a schedule or agenda, facilitated by people with a reputation or expertise in the topic of discussion, relying on successful formations of learning networks to assist people studying the topics.”[10] For a cMOOC participant, some level of passion about either the group project or using the knowledge learned to further their own project agenda is vital to keep active and engaged in the course. An added benefit of a cMOOC is the ability to network and develop professional relationships with other cMOOC students who may have more expertise to offer.

For publishers with minimal experience working with the web, an xMOOC that is more akin to an introductory-level university course will be a more comfortable environment. Rita Kop notes in her paper “The Challenges to Connectivist Learning on Open Online Networks: Learning Experiences during a Massive Open Online Course” that “if confidence levels are low, it is not likely that a person will take up connectivist learning,”[11] likely because they are unsure of what they can contribute to the project. In an xMOOC, students are presented information and are expected to absorb it, discuss it, and (in the case of an HTML class) possibly even reproduce it, but there is less emphasis on producing something new as a result. A New York Times article describes lecture-style xMOOC model voice-overs as being “as nonthreatening as a grade school teacher,”[12] which is important for students who may need to listen to lectures multiple times before understanding the material. These types of students frequently fall into the category of “lurkers,” students who read discussion threads and follow links, but don’t offer additional information in return. Kop notes in her study that while only 40-60 out of 1,616 students actively participated in PLENK (the MOOC she observed), it appeared that the lurkers “did their sharing in a different setting, away from PLENK, for instance in their workplace.” For publishers, the workplace is exactly where they want technological skills to be shared.

Whether you want to lead discussions or lurk, in both cMOOCs and xMOOCs students must be familiar with basic social networking software in order to get the most out of each course. MOOCs frequently rely on Learning Management Systems to organize course content and facilitate interaction between students. Blackboard[13] and Moodle[14] are common LMS. Their features include discussion forums, instant messaging, quizzes and assignment submission, course calendars, and grading. gRSShopper, a personal web environment that uses RSS feeds to combine resource aggregation, a personal dataspace, and personal publishing is frequently used for courses more focused on students curating content and developing the curriculum organically. [15] And, on top of the LMS that come with the course, many students turn to Twitter and Facebook to further organize local meet-ups or post related content. Without at least some engagement in social networks, the full impact of the course won’t be achieved.

MOOC YOURSELF TO THE TOP:

In a business like publishing where every expense has to appear somewhere on a P&L, it’s hard to argue with professional development that comes without a price tag. Especially for small publishers that can’t afford to hire consultants to help them adjust to the demands of all things digital, MOOCs could be the answer. In a 2011 survey conducted by Publishing Trends, when respondents were asked what they would like to learn (or improve) to prepare themselves for future job advancement/security, the respondents listed online marketing, website or app development, and social networking as their top three skills needed.[16] Since MOOCs tend to shy away from subjective humanities courses and instead draw topics from objective courses such as computer science, technology, and mathematics, there are a plethora of courses to choose from that teach the skills needed for effective digital publishing and managing companies’ online presence.

Coursera makes evaluating suitable MOOCs easy by listing both the suggested pre-requisite knowledge that is needed for each course as well as the expected time commitment (they call it “workload”) each week. Some of their current digital publishing offerings include “Creative Programming for Digital Media & Apps” and “E-learning and Digital Cultures.” For those who want an in depth understanding of just how their books get to the top of Amazon’s search results, Coursera offers “Algorithms, Part I”. Companies wondering why they only have twelve “likes” on Facebook will benefit from courses like “Social Network Analysis” and “Networks: Friends, Money, & Bytes”. edX offers multiple courses on introductory computer science for those who need to know the basics. Udacity offers “Web Development”, a course that teaches how to build your own blog. For more advanced techies, Udacity offers an HTML5 game development course which likely has some crossover applications to interactive e-books.

CONCLUSION:

Publishers know they need to turn into techies, and fast. MOOCs offer a risk-free and relatively quick way to gain new skills. Even if you don’t feel like an expert after finishing a MOOC and end up having to hire a consultant anyway, having had exposure to new terms and theories will make communicating with that consultant easier and make training sessions more productive. Now, go MOOC yourself.

 

REFERENCES

[1] Wikipedia. Massive Open Online Courses. Accessed 31 January 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_open_online_course

[2] Cormier, Dave. “What is a MOOC?” 8 December 2010. Accessed 31 January 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eW3gMGqcZQc

[3] Siemens, George. “Connectivism: a Learning Theory for the Digital Age.” 12 December 2004. Accessed 31 January 2013, http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

[4] Coursera. Accessed 1 February 2013, https://www.coursera.org

[5] edX. Accessed 1 February 2013, https://www.edx.org

[6] Udacity. Accessed 1 February 2013, https://www.udacity.com

[7] Siemens, George. “MOOCs are really a platform.” 25 July 2012. Accessed 1 February 2013, http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2012/07/25/moocs-are-really-a-platform/

[8] Edmundson, Mark. “The Trouble With Online Education.” The New York Times. 19 July 2012. Accessed 1 February 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/20/opinion/the-trouble-with-online-education.html

[9] Fournier, Helene; Kop, Rita; Mak, John Sui Fai. “A Pedagogy of Abundance or a Pedagogy to Support Human Beings? Participant support on Massive Open Online Courses.” The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. November 2011. Accessed 31 January 2013, http://nparc.cisti-icist.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/npsi/ctrl?action=rtdoc&an=19040607

[10] Fournier, Helene; Kop, Rita; Mak, John Sui Fai. “A Pedagogy of Abundance or a Pedagogy to Support Human Beings? Participant support on Massive Open Online Courses.” The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. November 2011. Accessed 31 January 2013, http://nparc.cisti-icist.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/npsi/ctrl?action=rtdoc&an=19040607

[11] Kop, Rita. “The Challenges to Connectivist Learning on Open Online Networks: Learning Experiences during a Massive Open Online Course.” The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. March 2011. Accessed 1 February 2013, http://nparc.cisti-icist.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/npsi/ctrl?action=rtdoc&an=18150443

[12] Pappano, Laura. “The Year of the MOOC.” The New York Times. 2 November 2012. Accessed 1 February 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/massive-open-online-courses-are-multiplying-at-a-rapid-pace.html?pagewanted=all&_r=3&

[13] Blackboard. Accessed 2 February 2013, http://www.blackboard.com

[14] Moodle. Accessed 2 February 2013, https://moodle.org

[15] gRSShopper. Accessed 1 February 2013, http://grsshopper.downes.ca/about.htm

[16] “The Skills Publishers Need: A Self-Evaluation.” Publishing Trends. 2 February 2011. Accessed 3 February 2013, http://www.publishingtrends.com/2011/02/the-skills-publishers-need-a-self-evaluation/

2 comments:

  1. I absolutely agree with you KC that technology is becoming increasingly important to the publishing industry. I think outside of MOOCs too, that schools should start offering options to study some of these courses within a given degree path as part of the degree. While there’s no arguing that additional training is important—the current education system is so narrowly structured, and I just don’t think the current specialized education model is as applicable to a world that’s so quickly opening up, both globally and technologically.

    To be entirely honest, I’d not heard of ‘MOOCs’ until very recently (when I came across iTunesU), but I do agree with the concept as a way to open up accessibility to education—I just think it’s interesting that it’s not something more people are aware of. There seems to be a lot of educational resources, but with most of them being offered either freely or low-cost, the difficulty becomes trying to market those programs well to the people who could benefit the most from lower-cost educational options. A lot of people are still stuck in this old linear mental picture of what education looks like and think you have to get some sort of professional degree on-site at an institution in order to get ahead, when, really, it’s all about the specific skills you cultivate within that process, or outside of it in learning and development opportunities such as MOOCs.

    Some other resources I stumbled onto, specifically for learning about different web coding languages are:

    http://w3schools.com and http://www.w3.org

    And these are just a couple of other examples how educational content is becoming more readily available online. So whether someone is coming across it via searching the web, or MOOCing, the importance is that this content is created to pass along knowledge, but also that it’s highly discoverable and better marketed to draw people into it. I think the concept of cMoocs is interesting and how learning and developing in companies can be a more collaborative process. It will be interesting to see how MOOCs develop into the future, since they are still a relatively new concept.

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