I now know that a MOOC is a “Massive Open Online Course”, and after reading a few articles on the subject I began to think about the possibilities for contactless course delivery. For nearly a year now, I have been discussing with colleagues the benefits (or otherwise) of online or distance Education. As the recipient of an online post graduate degree in Marketing, I speak with first hand knowledge of what it is like to receive tuition in this manner.
Personally, I am able to work on my studies at a time that suits me and my family (two children under six), there is sufficient input from the host university and I can engage in stimulating debate with fellow students via forums that are initiated and moderated by the relevant module tutors.
But is this enough? Especially at undergraduate level where as educators we have a pastoral duty to develop and expand the learning styles of our students. Also, they generally come to us straight from the family home so they have to cope with being independent as well as what is arguably a tougher academic regime that relies on them developing their own work ethic which balances more personal freedom with the need to “up the ante” as far as studies are concerned.
We also need to consider the pedagogical value of relationships, both between student and lecturer and students and their peers. It is surely much harder for an educator to inspire students over the internet. Rapid exchanges of information are harder too! A question, instead of being answered immediately during a seminar needs to be thought about, composed into an email or forum post, the lecturer must then read it, compose a reply and of course decide whether it is important enough to be shared amongst the whole cohort. If it does need to be shared, what is the best medium for sharing? There is arguably not much room for spontaneity.
The pragmatist in me says that, whilst online or distance education has its place in society, that place must be considered carefully and its merits carefully considered on a module by module basis. I’ll let you decide where you think it fits.