by Fabian Banga

After exploring this idea of the MOOC for several months, participating in several of them and reading everything I could find about this topic, I honestly think that the last C in MOOC should be seriously reconsidered or substituted for something more appropriate. Perhaps MOOE (for Event) would be more meaningful. Furthermore, we should also reconsider the M too, for reasons I will discuss later.
It is difficult to analyze events in which an unknown number of participants read materials offered in a site and sporadically engage in discussions about the activities. Perhaps we can resolve this dilemma if we approach the problem by considering one of these three possibilities:
1.- MOOCs are not courses; they are something else.
2.- MOOCs are courses (in the classic definition) but we are almost certain that they will be very unsuccessful courses. To be more specific, we do not have any idea what the learning outcomes should be. We expect very little retention during the course and we are not going to officially document any participation.
3. We should question the word “course” or at least demand a clarification of what constitutes a course.

If we explore this last point, we know that the word “course” has an Anglo-French etymology “curs” and also Latin “cursus”. Both words are associated with the idea of a direction, a plan, a methodology, three characteristics that are not predominantly associated with all MOOCs. The dictionary offers definitions for the word “course” as: “a number of lectures or other matter dealing with a subject” and continues by adding: “a series of such courses constituting a curriculum <a premed course>” (Merriam Webster dictionary). These definitions do not, in any way, describe a MOOC.

Furthermore, these traditional definitions do not even include elements of inter-communication in the definition of a course, which are fundamental aspects in many areas such as Second Language Acquisition (SLA for short) or seminars in which a Socratic learning approach, based on discussions, is implemented.

To be brutally honest here, even though MOOCs (or some MOOCs) seem to be founded on principles of communication and connectivism, MOOCs can be very disconnected microuniverses. And I am not referring here to the inflated, quasi-academic Prima Donnas, who are completely inaccessible and address themselves to a circle of five other like-minded, so that their million Twitter followers can enjoy their lacanian performances. I am talking about the lack of focus or serious, profound analysis in MOOCS. To exemplify this, my last participation in a MOOC offered me a nice collection of links to read during the weekend and a large collection of emails that I needed to rescue from my gmail spam filter. This was very valuable information; however the experience reminded me of many types of social media interaction. The participants only collect information; they do not jointly dismantle or analyze anything. I should also add that this type of interaction has been occurring since the period in time in which we connected with each other using Talk in Unix or when newsgroups were the only social media available. There is nothing new about this phenomenon, except for its connection with OER, which is not the same simple issue.

In addition, we should also reconsider the “massive” aspect of MOOCs. The conversation and interaction in MOOCs is not exactly massive. I have viewed several webinars offered in different MOOCs and I did not see more than 20 people watching the presentation. Furthermore, in some of them, people were leaving during the presentation. (One could argue that people will see the presentation asynchronically; in that case the Psy phenomenon “Gangnam Style” is close to becoming a MOOC very soon.)

Morever, I was not able to figure out how one could interact in the majority of the MOOCs I have explored. If the MOOCs had conversations in multiplatforms, perhaps I was in the platforms that were quiet. We can also see the lack of anything more than superficial participation if we read the MOOCs RSS. If the population of the MOOC is in the thousands, the resultant blogging is extraordinarily sparse.

Finally we should ask ourselves if MOOCs are, in fact, open. At least if the word “open” is used in the context of OER, Open Source and Open Resources in general. Using the popular definition on the internet for xMOOCs, those MOOCs are definitely not open, though they are, perhaps, free. But the issue of openness, code and data moves us to a space of impossible reconciliation. Even the sometimes subtle association of many more “open” MOOCs with corporate organizations, in my opinion, creates a “discomfort” irreconcilable with the more radical openness philosophy of the OR movement(s). This issue becomes even more complicated if we add to it the topic of profitable interest in the MOOC, which is, directly and indirectly, a question that affects all MOOCs.

Perhaps the hashtag should be #OER or #SocialMedia and not #MOOC, because these types of discussions will move us to important and serious work, like those of Manuel Castells in Network Society, David Bell and Barbara Kennedy in cybercultures and Open Education in general. I am not proposing that we abandon the idea of experimentation with MOOCs. However, I can see the definition of MOOC as a drop in the vast ocean of OER.

and more here in Spanish: MOOC y la contracultura