“What a great MOOC!
Having just searched for Android apps to support Coursera courses (for use in #FutureEd), I can understand the usefulness of a rating system for software. Most of us academics are also used to some form of teaching and course evaluations that are required by our institution to ensure that we are doing a satisfactory job (at least from the students' perspective). The results of these evaluations are often reduced to a single number, to enable the administrative system to deal with it — and with us. This is not unlike the numerical grade that is recorded as a result of the 'A', 'B', or 'C' that students are awarded, as a crude way of quantifying their performance on an assignment or course. Academic staff and students both quickly learn how to game the system.
It would be difficult to reduce an individual's experience in a MOOC to a single, quantifiable indicator or score. Unlike a traditional course, most MOOCs, like #FutuireEd, cater to all sorts of different people who participate in a course (or part of a course) for their own very different reasons. Judging from the Twitter stream (and from discussions with a few others on my campus who are doing #FutureEd), many are not completing the assignments and are picking and choosing what resources to read and what forums, if any, to participate in. There hasn’t been much research published yet that deals with MOOCs from the students’ perspective. A few researchers, like Jenny Mackness, are investigating how students navigate in, and make sense of, a MOOC. George Siemen’s is leading a team at Athabasca that is engaged in a meta research project, investigating who is researching MOOCs, what they are focussing on, their discipline, methodology, etc.
It is understandable that highered institutions, employers, students, parents and others want to know know that a course has been “Quality Assured”. And they have good reason to want to know how well their work stands up in comparison with others. But we need to be wary of thinking about learning as an activity centred around a course that can be appraised, valued, judged, and exchanged (either for financial or social capital). I am reminded of a quote by Stephen Downes (who, with George Siemens and Dave Cormier, offered the first “MOOC” in 2008, an ongoing discussion of Connectivism and Connective Knowledge):
“The product of learning is not knowledge; the product of learning is a transformed learner”.
Personal transformation is a very hard thing to measure, value and rate. Yet it seems to be a strong personal motivator for many individuals who take free online courses.
Many people who participate in MOOCs are also likely to read the newspaper and listen to public radio (although I have no research to back that up). One major attraction of synchronous, social MOOCs is the opportunity to engage with others around shared interests and develop a sense of community. Educational resources, and courses, offer fuel for the fire. But it’s not the wood, and it’s not the fire that enables personal transformation — it’s the choir; the out-of-body experience one gets when you feel you are taking part in creating and appreciating something beautiful with others. Such an experience is its own reward.
We rate hotels, music, live performances, movies, etc., so that others are able to make an informed decision about how to best invest their time and money. Rating and reviewing MOOCs seems like a sensible thing to do for similar reasons, and it would not be surprising to see such a practice develop. However, unlike a hotel or restaurant franchise, a living, changing, organic learning experience cannot be packaged, replicated, and sold to consumers who are looking for a satisfying (and predictable) product or service. It can't offer the same experience to the same person twice, and one person's experience may not be a good indicator of the experience another person will have. A transformational learning experience is like a good pot luck dinner party — you might have had the time of your life, but it can never be repeated. Every conversation is different, and your experience depends in large measure on what you bring to the party.