I remember when I first heard the term MOOC and I thought, “What kind of fancy acronym is that?” I also was pondering what was so special about a “Massive Open Online Course” that hadn’t already been happening. However, I realized that I often think something is already possible and occurring when really it just hasn’t jumped to it’s full capabilities as of yet. In this case, the “massive” and “open” aspect just hadn’t kicked in like it has now. Once I was on the same page as the rest of the masses, I found myself completely mesmerized and yearning to learn more about these courses. Not only did I enroll in a course from Coursera and watch the TED talk with Coursera’s Co-CEO and Co-Founder, Daphne Koller, but I applied for a job at Coursera. That’s right, I applied and got an email back in fact to engage in a written assignment as part of one of the first “hoops” to jump through in their decision process. Unfortunately, I didn’t get chosen after that but I must say that I think I certainly got more out of the assignment than they did from me. Not only did I engage in a look at assessments and peer feedback, but I was able to reflect on my own knowledge of assessment and how I foresee myself using this in a school library. (Evidence-based practice!) As for the course I enrolled in, unfortunately within the first week we crashed Google’s servers when they wanted us to sign up for groups in a Google Drive spreadsheet and the videos were as if they were conducting an experiment on the participants as to how long they could handle the course. A talking head in a video and self-directed team discussions doesn’t add a lot of value to a class on online learning. In any case, I’m planning to enroll in another MOOC in the future to give it a try but I’m more interested in how this affects K-16 education.
So what do MOOCs mean for K-16 education? Obviously, higher education has been directly affected as students enroll all over the world to avoid spending extraordinary costs on attending colleges and universities. However, nothing truly replaces the experience you have in attending a college or university as you become part of a community that can’t be completely replicated online, especially with so many students. With K-12 education, it’s a bit different. The first time I heard about Coursera was from a middle school student and her mom on a morning show talking about how they took a course together. What I loved about this was that the student was able to learn more about a topic she wasn’t necessarily getting enough of in school and it was an opportunity for her and her mother to learn together. Additionally, what was beneficial was that this student was enhancing her education and would likely share what she learned with her peers at school. MOOCs enhance our K-12 education. This doesn’t mean that MOOCs need to take the place of K-12 education. Some schools are piloting Khan Academy in the classroom and flipping their classrooms when it fits their school community’s needs or classrooms. These approaches do not work for everyone and I believe that a serious needs assessment must be conducted before stakeholders can make a decision to use MOOCs in the classroom or to flip their classrooms (See http://www.knewton.com/flipped-classroom/ for more on the flipped classroom approach.) As a school librarian, I think it’s important for us to support the needs of our community and thus support these approaches with experimenting of our own. After watching a tutorial created by Ph.D. candidate Katie DeVries Hassman, I think MOOCs and open learning management systems certainly have a place in the library for professional development. Teachers and administrators often have little time during the school day, so engaging in self-paced, freely-accessible learning modules for professional development with discussions may be a wonderful way to build your school community to support your students. Furthermore, I think MOOCs offer an opportunity to connect with professionals at other schools in your district, school library system, etc. to not only expand your personal learning network but expand your opportunities for collaboration and sharing of resources. This is a prime opportunity to connect with other local librarians and to obtain support from your school community.
I see a lot of opportunities for MOOCs but ultimately there needs to be more research done and I think more school librarians need to take risks in developing these for K-12 education to support their local community if needed. I’m hoping that at my future school I’ll be able to take advantage of the opportunities open education projects like P2PU offer to create a set of online learning modules for my faculty and administration with monthly or regularly scheduled sessions to support this online learning. Furthermore, I hope I can take advantage of the opportunities MOOCs may provide to students. What if you had a library club engage in a MOOC from Udacity, Coursera, or edX together? Think about the discussions you could have and the new opportunities for learning this could present.