Before enrolling in the MALAT program I had never heard of the term MOOCs. And until my teammates and I selected a MOOC, from Coursera, as our learning activity, I had never enrolled in one either. It quickly became apparent that MOOCs are indeed massive, which is only matched by the enormity of critical issues that can be explored in the study of this learning environment. During my initial research and analysis phase it emerged that there are many topics that are important to consider. But what resonated most strongly for me was the issue of privacy and security as they relate to our digital presence.
The dilemma, of course: is how do we engage in the richness that the Internet offers while keeping ourselves safe from the dangers that are ever present as well? Otherwise the fear of the potential risks of MOOCs, and other valuable learning resources, may actually inhibit learners from taking advantage of them. The big question for me has become: how do we ‘play’ safely in our global learning environment?
With regard to MOOCS, and Coursera, registration consists of your first and last name and an email address, which appears innocuous enough. As Peterson (2015) notes however, “Inside the course […]the data observed is extensive” (para. 8) which may include a user’s IP address and possibly their geographic location. As a potential outcome, the imagined risks become exponentially much more dangerous. But, is the alternative to avoid the Internet all together? To learn in a bubble? No.
Instead, I believe that as educators, we have an important role to play in helping learners understand what the risks are to better equip them to practice measures to protect their digital identity. Additionally, the protection of learners’ private information should be regulated exactly the same, regardless of the learning environment. In that, only what is necessary data should be collected (Marshall, 2014). Just because the online environment affords us the opportunity to acquire significant amounts of data, it does not mean that we should, much less exploit it (Watters, 2014).
We believe this beginner-level course was an appropriate choice to examine openness and accessibility as its subject is of almost-universal appeal during the Covid-19 pandemic (Anderson, 2020). MOOCs have been trumpeted as a learning medium accessible to all: “The appearance and proliferation of massive open online courses (MOOCs), which are open to any Internet user, in 2011 was supposed to completely erase the boundary of unequal access to acquiring and assimilating knowledge” (Semenova & Rudakova, 2016, p. 229).
Mind Control: Managing Your Mental Health During Covid-19 is offered as a free course. This is laudable, but it must be noted that Coursera does derive a tangible benefit from learners’ registration: they are now Coursera members. This gives Coursera an opportunity to market other courses which are based on their freemium model: enrollment is free but other elements including official acknowledgement of course completion requires payment: “Paid courses provide additional quizzes and projects as well as a shareable Course Certificate upon completion” (Coursera, 2020). This is at odds to the original intention of MOOCs to offer educational offerings to people who are disadvantaged, since “MOOC advocates suggested that MOOCs could include people who were traditionally excluded from higher education” (Lambert, 2019). While over forty million people have taken its classes online, Coursera is far from an idealistic venture: the company has been valued at over one billion dollars (Lunden, 2019).
Joordans’ Mind Control: Managing Your Mental Health During Covid-19 offers an accessible learning experience on a number of fronts:
it is relatively short requiring less than eight hours of effort;
it is broken up into easily digestible parts;
it uses plain language.
The approach of the instructor is affable and disarming, which supports the inclusionary philosophy of MOOCs. However, there are questions to be asked about Mind Control’s delivery medium of online video. People’s access to bandwidth and devices continue to dictate educational opportunities in an increasingly digital age and global economy. Pulling back and looking at the larger digital divide created by socio-economic conditions, there are deeper issues that require policy changes to address historic economic and political disadvantage (Grace, Stratton, & Fonseca, 2019). Critics of MOOCs posit that advances in technology have not made them any more accessible, leaving the digital divide intact, despite promises to democratize education. “In fact, Coursera (2013), a leading producer of MOOCs, confirms this discrepancy reporting high participation in North and Central America and Europe, but no recognizable participation on the continent of Africa, West and Central Asia, and the post-Soviet states” (Mathews & Landorf, 2016, para. 29).
MOOCs are characterized by a content divide in terms of language access, and consequently inherent cultural biases. The course, Mind Control: Managing Your Mental Health During Covid-19 was just this week translated into Spanish, Hungarian, and Serbian (Personal communication, Steve Joordens, April 16, 2020). Such translations are done not professionally, but voluntarily by course participants, which lends itself to questions surrounding the authenticity and quality of the content that reaches non-English speakers: what is potentially lost in translation. A recent study conducted by Grace, Stratton, and Fonseca (2019) examined the creation of MOOCs’ language content, establishing that “English language courses account for over three-quarters of all courses available to users…[While] five languages of instruction, English, Spanish, French, Chinese, and Arabic account for 95 percent of all courses” (p. 2004).
Whereas “MOOC advocates suggested that MOOCs could include people who were traditionally excluded from higher education” (Lambert, 2020, Introduction, para. 2), Lambert identifies gaps in the literature with respect to MOOCs inclusion that deal with lack of research on vulnerable populations (unemployed, refugees), indigenous communities, as well as gender inequalities in MOOC education (Lambert, 2020). Haber (2014) touches on some issues and controversies surrounding MOOCs (such as user demographics, high drop-out rates, credit-earning, demands for MOOCs, security, openness). According to Rohs and Ganz (2015), socio-economic status of learners has a direct impact on their educational practices and skills (including their self-directed capacities for learning) and can further deepen educational gaps.
MOOCs such as Mind Control offer the promise of delivering quality education to the masses: “The shimmery hope is that free courses can bring the best education in the world to the most remote corners of the planet” (Pappano, 2012, p. 2). However, there are real issues which take some of the shine off this bright high-tech star. The digital divide that socio-economic conditions around the world have created, specific to online learning, have deep roots that require national policy changes to adequately address historic economic and political disadvantage (Grace, Stratton, & Fonseca, 2019).
Mathews, S., & Landorf, H. (2016). Developing a framework to evaluate the potential of global learning in MOOCs. New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development,28(4), 3-14. doi:10.1002/nha3.20157
Rohs, M., & Ganz, M. (2015). MOOCs and the claim of education for all: A disillusion by empirical data. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(6), 1–19. doi: 10.19173/irrodl.v16i6.2033
Semenova, T. V., & Rudakova, L. M. (2016). Barriers to taking massive open online courses (MOOCs). Russian Education & Society, 58(3), 228-245.
My teammates Earl, Jeff, Leigh, Marta and I have decided to explore the world of massive open online course(s) (MOOCs). In our case, specifically we are looking at a course that focuses on helping people stay mentally healthy during the quarantine. Given our current global circumstances this is, of course, a very interesting and timely topic. As our team blog will speak in more detail about the course, I will not go into it here, in depth.
From my personal experience, as I do not have first hand knowledge of MOOC courses I was eager to find out more. Already I have learned that there are courses offered for free, while others are available for at various costs. I have also learned that there is the possibility of downloading content and storing it on secure servers, which is an intriguing possibility that may alleviate the privacy concerns inherent in my organization due to the significant amount of personal information we obtain from our members.
As I wrote in my blog post this past November, “… as we move increasingly towards a mobile workforce” (Reid, S. 2019), the trend only four months ago was clear. However, no one could have predicted that that my organization would officially announce the decision to mandate working remotely for over 60 per cent of staff on March 19, 2020. Very quickly, it became apparent that the need for online learning resources had increased exponentially. However, the risks of cyber security were still pertinent, perhaps now more than ever. And so, once again, I faced the dilemma of availability of open learning versus security, but now, with an added sense of urgency which, may in fact, fuel and add traction to gain quicker acceptance of open learning at my organization. As Meister (2015) notes with regard to the findings from Leveraging MOOCs and Open Learning Assets In The Workplace survey, which “…found that 44% of our sample were interested in both creating their own Corporate MOOCs as well as planning a strategy for curation of open learning assets.” Therefore, it would appear the appetite was there and has likely increased due to the challenges that face educators as a result of the coronavirus quarantine.
In light of that, and my conversation with our course professor, I am keenly interested in researching the possibility of utilizing MOOCs to create a community of practice at my organization as a foundational piece to meet the emergent, and future learning needs of staff. This possibility is supported as Bates quotes Smith (2003) “…communities of practice affect performance..[This] is important in part because of their potential to overcome the inherent problems of a slow-moving traditional hierarchy in a fast-moving virtual economy” (2019, p. 188). As this is an excellent synopsis of the tension I am experiencing, I look forward to what will develop through my continued exploration of this topic in LRNT 526.
To that end, I invite your input, and ideas as they relate to your various experiences. And if there are any articles that you have come across in your research that are salient to this area, please do feel free to share them.