16 Oct 2013

Reimagining High School with MOOCs


MOOCs are the buzz word now for innovation in online teaching for the best universities in the world. Coursera, Udacity, Venture-lab, and Edx are only a few collaborative platforms for elite universities like Penn , Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Michigan, and much much more where they offer free courses for anyone in the world with internet access. I myself have enrolled in two courses in Coursera ( Gamification and Statistics I),and I am currently into my third week of a MOOC course Designing a New learning Environment , a project-oriented offered by Stanford University. I loved these courses, but I was really intrigued by the one I am undertaking now as its approach is socio-constructivist. What we teachers, from different levels and subjects, at our school did was that 9 of us signed up for the course, and we are now working as a team to construct a learning model and defend it by the end of the course. The learning possibilities are endless, but also the benefit for school is invaluable as we create a community of practice that was not possible at our work place ( I will soon post my reflections on the third week of the course). However, the question that was lingering in my mind from the first time I undertook a MOOC course was : Why not have our senior high school students take an instructor-led MOOC course? If so, what are the benefits of their taking courses? and, how are we going to integrate them in the school system?

Benefits for Student Taking a MOOC Course

Well, the way I envision it is that students will benefit in terms of rigor, diversity, and motivation.

Conducted by leading professors in higher education, MOOCs  add rigor to students’ studies. Students will have the chance to learn from and inspired by the leading minds in the world. Students will be exposed to college-level materials, discuss issues with world wide participants, and think critically as they tackle topics and questions raised by more knowledgeable people. They would also be supported by other participants in the online forums if they should need help.

MOOCs are diverse for senior high school students. First, students get to choose a course out of hundreds offered to them via MOOC platforms. They can choose any topic that they are passionate about, be it HTML5 Game Development, Social Psychology, or Modern and Contemporary American Poetry. They make the choice. This gives the students choice and ownership instead of the subjects imposed on them by the school, whether they like them or not. MOOCs are also diverse in terms of difficulty level. MOOCs target beginning, intermediate, or advanced levels. Students can choose the course that they feel are more comfortable with. MOOCs are also diverse in terms of course participants. In a brick and mortar school, students discuss topics and issues with peers of roughly the same learning background. In a MOOC, however, students discuss topics and problems they face during the course with a MASSIVE online community that ranges from high school students to PhDs. This true mixture of abilities and backgrounds diversifies more than problematizes course participation.

As a result of course rigor and diversity, students will most likely be motivated to pursue their learning. This also results  in a more autonomous behavior. They will also be motivated because these courses give them a preview of what courses in higher education would be like, a life they are yearning to experience.

Two Paths to Make MOOCs Work for Students, Their School ….and Their Teachers?)

The way I see it is that students can enroll in a MOOC  and report back to their teachers and school or as course participants with their teachers.

The school can facilitate the former by allowing students choose their own MOOC. This is done after a close guidance by school administrators and teachers on the level and compatibility of each course with students’ abilities, learning backgrounds, and aspirations. This is an important phase as it will affect students’ ability to maintain their studies throughout the course duration and be engaged with it. Second, the school should require that each student report on their weekly activity within the course. A reflective log is the most advisable because it gives the school and teachers a comprehensive understanding on how and to what level students are engaged and are learning from the course. Finally, school should give students some extrinsic incentives, in addition to the already established intrinsic one,  to finish the course.

Another path can be teachers as MOOC participants with their students. Teachers can enroll in the course with their students. The benefits here are also great. Teachers can act as a additional facilitators in the online course guiding students on topics and discussing them with their students. Teachers can allocate classroom time, in addition to online participation, to discuss MOOC assignments, homework, and final test. This is a real shift in the teachers’ roles. Teachers become learner participants by helping students completing the course and being able to learn from them and from the course. Again, the school plays a major role here in facilitating such a shift in traditional education.

Of course, there will be some disadvantages for taking a MOOC for senior high school students, but these can be minimized with the help of the school, the teachers, and parents.

If we look at teaching and learning from a whole new perspective, we are seeing a paradigm shift from old schooling where teachers are knowledge containers ready to fill up (the seemingly) empty heads of students to schooling where everyone is a participant and everyone is accountable, where learning is what matters and not scores.

My goal is to pilot it this year with my students. I hope our school admin will be innovative enough to facilitate it  🙂

I would love to hear you views about this topic. Do you think, given all what we know about MOOCs, that senior high school students would benefit from them? If so, what other suggestions would you make? What points above do you believe I should rethink?

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