At present, the developed nation’s education system is facing storm of new process of delivery of education. It is truly a mass education through mega-class. Colleges and professors have rushed to try a new form of online teaching known as MOOCs — short for ‘massive open online courses’. The courses raise questions about the future of teaching, the value of a degree, and the effect technology will have on how colleges operate. Struggling to make sense of it all?
MOOCs are classes that are taught online to large numbers of students, with minimal involvement by professors. Typically, students watch short video lectures and complete assignments that are graded either by machines or by other students. That way, a lone professor can support a class with hundreds of thousands of participants. The idea of online courses is not new. In the fall season of 2008, three professors in the US launched online courses to any one participate; an open-education course taught by David Wiley, then a professor at Utah State University and now at Brigham Young University, Alec Couros, information and communication technology coordinator for the School of Education at the University of Regina, in Saskatchewan, launched a course called “Open, Connected, Social.” 200 students joined the same and more than 2,000 people have signed up to be informal students in an online course on “Connectivism and connective knowledge” taught by Stephen Downes, a senior researcher at the National Research Council of Canada, and George Siemens, associate director of research and development at University of Manitoba’s Learning Technologies Centre. What started as a small experiment is now catching up with education world rapidly across the globe.
MOOCs embody a convergence of technology and culture that is creating new energy around e-learning. On the technology side, the tools enabling web-based instruction are more effective and reach greater scale than ever before. E-learning technologies that are widely used in MOOCs include high-quality indexed video, data capture and analytics and delivery platforms that combine the qualities of social networking sites like Facebook with the content delivery, discussion, and grading functions of the traditional learning management system.
From a cultural perspective, communication, collaboration, and knowledge discovery via the web have become commonplace. Sites like TED, Khan Academy, iTunes, and YouTube, which house rich collections of instructional material, have paved the way for MOOCs. Business models have also now emerged. The platforms that have taken to MOOCs are Stanford spinoff, under title Coursera, focusing on elite institutions and faculty from University of Virginia, Duke University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Illinois, Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley experiment (edX) that offer the best of all three institutions free online, an entity called Udacity that disseminates select MOOCs in partnership with individual professors and Udemy that allows anyone to create and offer a course, whether free or for a fee. However, there is no standard business model for how MOOCs will generate revenue. Venture capital and philanthropy have funded platform providers such as Coursera and edX.
The academicians in several countries have raised serious doubts about the education delivered through MOOCs. It is true that students around the world gain access to previously inaccessible and unimaginable content from some of the world’s renowned universities and professors from MIT, Harvard and Stanford. These students can grow inspired by the possibility of absorbing information through online lectures and platforms. But the question is, are we discounting the central component of effective teaching — the relationship forged between student and teacher? MOOCs make a key assumption that the students enrolling in these courses have a certain degree of motivation and are reasonably adept self-starters as learners. For students who know what they want and when they want it, in terms of online content, MOOCs are a fabulous new option to build and construct personalised learning ecosystems. Unfortunately, for many learners, MOOCs lack the possibility of mentorship and close guidance that comes through the building of a meaningful relationship between student and teacher. The fact will always remain that great teachers inspire through their passion for their subject and their ability to communicate and connect with students in face-to-face interactions and relationships. But many critics of MOOC say learning is a complex social and emotional process that promotes critical thinking and it would be difficult to change the traditional ways of learning through a total technology driven learning process without teachers’ contact or access to mentors. Technologists argue that this is best option for knowledge hungry youth across the globe particularly developing countries.
In India, the MOOC wave has not yet swept the higher education institutions. However, it would soon happen. We have several aspects that are yet not well addressed, the most important being providing of affordable and reliable connectivity and hardware support. Moreover, the Indian pedagogy of learning is still in the process of evolving with use of ICT in education. The larger challenge our teachers and technology people should work out the data of content that excites the youth. We need to look at the MOOC experiment with very open mind without losing Indian perspective.
(The writer is former chairman of UGC, former vice-chancellor of University of Pune and founder director of NAAC)