Reflections on experiences with a MOOC for teachers
In the fall of 2013,
I facilitated learning in a MOOC designed for K-12 classroom teachers. In this
posting, I share some of my initial insights and questions regarding this
As a facilitator, I
felt that the structure of the MOOC was rigid and made it difficult to
incorporate tools and techniques I have used successfully in online graduate
courses. I understand that facilitating learning in a MOOC is not the same as in a graduate course, but with the focus of this course on technology use and an audience largely of teachers, I think it makes sense to consider how these experiences may have differed.
I found that most of
the conversations MOOC participants had about the content and their experiences
were typical of teacher talk, i.e., discussions comprised largely of sharing experiences
and information about tools, but lacking critical consideration of the context
in which those tools are used or their value for teaching or assessing specific
student learning needs. This contrasts with rich, substantive conversations reported in successful efforts to promote
online or virtual teacher professional development (PD) communities in the research
literature. Early research engaging teachers in online professional communities
were successful - see LabNet (Spitzer & Wedding, 1995) and the Math
Learning Forums (Honey et al., 1994) as examples.
One indicator that I
use to identify substantive, productive conversations in online discourse is the appearance of disagreement and questioning of positions or claims made. In the discussions that I viewed or participated in as
part of the MOOC, I saw few if any instances of this type of conversation. I find that
it is a challenge to “create” or “nurture” substantive, productive discussions
in online forums comprised of classroom teachers for many reasons. But my experience is that absent these kinds of critical discussions, teachers do not learn much
of substance related to the topics discussed.
cultural or sociocognitive theories of learning as participation in authentic,
critical discourse, this is clearly a challenge for online or virtual teacher
professional development efforts regardless of the format. Absent critical
conversations about pedagogical benefits of technology use in teaching, these
experiences are unlikely to provide participants with substantive knowledge
regarding the complexities of technology integration. This raises questions,
for me, about what “active participants” took from their MOOC experience and
the extent to which what they learned helped them incorporate technology into
their teaching practices.
I have argued in
previous posts that “passive participation” in a MOOC is similar to watching a
video or viewing a PowerPoint lecture. Certainly, you can learn something from
such activities, depending on how you approach them, but I do not believe that
passive participation results in meaningful learning for adults. Much of the PD that K-12 teachers
participate in unfortunately is of this form – where they are told/shown what
tools to use but do not engage in the critical consideration of how/when/why
using them might be beneficial for their students. Technical knowledge
and skill are a necessary, but insufficient, if the goal is integration of technology in support of
It is difficult to
judge whether passive or limited participation in MOOCs is something that
eventually is valuable or productive for “passive participants.” One question is: given the time spent as a passive participant, what perceived value
is there from participation in the MOOC? What is the link between perceptions of value and expectations for learning?
If perceptions of
limited value influence participant’s level of commitment to learning,
this would certainly constrain what students will gain from a limited participation experience in a MOOC. In a
graduate-level course, students pay to learn how, when and why technology can
be helpful in their teaching and assessments. Certainly the money and time
spent in a graduate course ensures that most participants are invested in the
outcome. Teacher PD, in comparison, is often free or inexpensive, so perhaps expectations
are lower, based on perceived value and previous experiences. Likewise, perhaps because MOOCs are low cost or free, some professionals may be less
committed to participating deeply and may learn little as a result.
I think another key element of
successful online PD is ensuring that the interactions are inherently interesting and
valuable, which is another distinction between MOOCs and effective online
graduate education. The literature on virtual or online teacher PD reflects the
challenges associated with this idea in practice, but I believe it is necessary for
sustained teacher development. Dede (2006) and Breit et al. (2009) provide
considerations and suggestions, based on research in this domain, for effective
online teacher PD.
This is not to
suggest that all online graduate courses in educational technology or other
subjects are effective or worthwhile. Certainly, as with traditional courses,
online instruction can be excellent, average, or poor, depending on a variety of
factors. There is, however, strong evidence that the quality of interactions strongly influence students' perceptions of the value of online learning. As we move towards more inexpensive, accessible, and open forms of
online learning, I think the issues raised here, based on my limited
experiences with a MOOC, may help those considering participation in a MOOC focused on teacher PD determine if the outcomes will be worth their time.
Breit, L., Dede, C., Ketelhut, D.J., McCloskety, E.M., & Whitehouse, P. (2009). A research agenda for online teacher professional development. Journal of Teacher Education, 60(1), 8-19.
Honey, M., Bennett, D., Hupert, H., Kanze, B., Meade, T., Panush, E. Powell, K., & Spielvogel, B. (1994). The Math Learning Forums online: Using telecommunications as a tool for reflective practice. Machine Mediated Learning, 4(2&3), 163-176.
Dede, C. (2006). Online professional development for teachers: Emerging models and methods. Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, MA.
Spitzer, W., & Wedding, K. (1995). LabNet: An intentional electronic community for professional development. Computers & Education, 24(3), 247-255.