Cultural contexts of learning and MOOCs: open questions

As  my phenomenological narration about this experience shows me, designing effective massive online course has to do with many variables, that the “cocktail” for every learner could end in a very different situation with regard to the descriptions of MOOC effectiveness done by their promoters. I’m not saying those principles cannot be realized, and I’m not skeptical (indeed, I’m a revolutions’ believer!) What I’m saying is that there are many assumptions that the time and the research on the real impact of implementation will tell us how near are them from the multifaceted subjective realities.
Let me emphasize some of the concepts introduced in this first video about MOOCs taken from #CFHE12

What is a MOOC?

Have you seen it? Ok.
I have here the idea of an interconnected, independent learner, prompt to exchange ideas with peers and to contribute as “peer-tutor”. A learner that hate to be directed to the learning goals and outcomes, and doesn’t care about certifications.
I say that this learner is surely a high skilled worker or graduated in search for new challenges for the already existing professional network. I sould affirm that this could be also the local learner, engaged in local networks, intuitively adopting the social networks like facebook to organize an event, or a cultural activity.
But I don’t believe that the time has come yet  for the typical university student, who’s searching for credentials and fast ways to reach them.
In my recent observation of two online courses, I found many students are worried about learning, as soon as possible, the path that conduct them to the knowledge that is “requested at the examination”. And they feel the innovative pedagogies as disturbing from the genuine goals. This happened in Italy, higher education institution of both northern and southern parts of Italy, notably known as very diverse from a socio-economical point of view.
If it’s true that there are driving forces changing Higher ed (The Changing Landscape of Higher Education, David Staley and Dennis Trinkle) but as one of my course colleagues said (I cannot quote her because she was in the closed part of the course, traditional online forum), students are not always drivers of change, and push for very traditional ways that will co-exist -and continue to shape the University offer of courses since there are economical interests-.
There’s another important issue, that sometimes could be neglected by enthusiastic anglosaxon, northern/westerners part of the world
It is the cultural tendency of many south-east part of the world to be attached to traditions and hierachies.
It will take some generations for youngsters to become really independent, for authority and control is the only way they know of behaving.  I have seen this, again, in courses I organized with mediterranean/eastern Europe participants, and in Latinamerican networks.  Even if they are ready to repeat concepts and to buy the utopy Siemens is talking about in his interview with Howard Rheingold (see below), they are not equally prepared to “tollerate” the stress of independency. I’m probably one of those. But in my experience, learners tended to complain and become annoyed with the lack of “clear instructions” and simple things to do…and marks! (I’m talking about adults).

George Siemens on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

The other side of the coin is that, as Siemens say in his chat with HR, the impact of these global networks could be amazing. I can see here a risky part, with the opportunity.
From the point of view of the opportunity, I was amazed, few month ago, to see the impact of one of the courses on connectivism in a Latinamerican group. The concept had been not only perfectly assimilated, but the practices and ideas emerged from the implementation, had given room for new debate and real pedagogical innovations in places where, before Internet, these could have arrived years later.
From the point of view of the risks, I ask to my self which is the profile of these global communities learners. English shouldn’t be easily assimilated as the global language, for there are millions of people that don’t speak English and if they are able of reading it, they are not equally able of express themselves. Again, I’m one of those cases. I will never say in English what I’m able of communicating in Spanish or Italian.  And the risk is to have a large group of people that probably was educated in Colleges or post-graduate activities in anglosaxon cultures, that have achieved the anglosaxon habitudes of debate and autonomy in learning. They could be, if they are critical thinkers enough, translating and adapting MOOCs knowledge to the local level. But if don’t, they could just be repeating and transferring socio-cultural power to communities that would need some grades of freedom to express the own ideas, into their own local languages.
I’m participating on a debate these days, beyond the CFHE12, both in Italy (SIe-L) and in a Latinamerican network RITUAL.
In both networks the concern is exactly the same: will MOOCs change the way we understand higher ed in our contexts of practice? There are yet some nuances: in the case of the Latinamerican group some of the important concerns are:
Will this type of massive education open real possibilities for those excluded?
Will we have still the need of our latinamerican teachers, that usually do not teach original concepts come from their own research work, but repeat mainstreaming thinkers’ ideas?
Particularly, this group feels that the importance of the Spanish speaking community, that disserves something originally organized in the own language.
For the Italian group, the concern is:
Will this type of course help to introduce the e-learning into our too traditiomal universities, pushing our old academics to innovate in something?
The question is: are we really prepared to be seen by the world?
This make me reflect about the future of Higher Ed.
We cannot think about only one end: as the hyperconnected, hypertextual reality Internet is pushing us into, we should think about Higher education as a part of Lifelong learning and as a flexible experience.
To this regard, I completely agree with Siemens, when expressing his reliance on a future where learners will direct the own experience and different institutions could  award credits.
What it is inadmissible is that Universities use the face of “tradition” to sell doubtly quality courses.
If a traveller from the XIX century would reach us, he would probably recognize most of the University classrooms, said somebody to me some days ago, regarding the academics teaching.
I see Universities as space for research and teaching about that genuine research.
I see, as the rebel adjunct blogger of  How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps: that humanities should have an important place into the social fabric and only independent universities could promote independent thinkers. And that the sciences cannot be taught without an adequate epistemological and historic reflexion.
And I see that the massive/inclusive will have to be balanced with the minimal, restricted, dialogic, exclusive (not in the sense that somebody could enter and somebody not, but in the sense of extremely contextualized). The public and the private should be scrutinized very carefully after a certain period. And, basing on my own experience, I would keep universities public and freely accessible, with a reasonable extent of responsibility for the students for their own career.
Coming back to MOOCs, I can only say that they will be a part of the landscape, not the whole picture.

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