Vol. 13 - Issue 1 2017 - ISSN 1504-4831
Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Mocking the MOOCs

2013MOOC is one of the new terms that occupy many higher learning institutions these days. Rectors, Presidents or Vice-Chancellors, leaders of higher education in general, are all of a sudden all set for the target: we also want to provide courses for the “MOOC”. The conservative Norwegian newspaper “Aftenposten” claimed recently that the MOOCs will revolutionize higher education, and will alter “the ways we learn” in fundamental ways. The Norwegian Ministry of Education has established an expert group to monitor the development of MOOCs and the consequences for national higher education systems. The reactions sway between exhilaration and “moral panic”. Many positive reactions reflect what Thomas Alva Edison hoped for a century ago, by predicting that learning was now liberated from the institutions and offered entirely via film and radio. The moral panic is a sentiment held by those who think that higher education institutions also have an obligation to maintain national cultures of science and humanities. Leaving teaching to MIT, Open University or whoever wants to claim the turf of teaching a topic, is a challenge to the established higher education policies. The global market of science, communication, publishing and library service is already vastly dominated by the English speaking academia.

The MOOCs are so far predominantly a phenomenon from this cultural area, and will add to the cultural dominance that is already so strong. In this respect I subscribe to a moral panic. On the other hand one might ask, what is truly new to the “MOOC”? Not much, in my view, except a different way of organizing, financing and marketing content and processes which are as old as correspondence schools. The technological wrapping is redesigned and offered in an importantly different context: “open access”. This tantalizing concept clouds the fact that teaching in higher education is situated in local cultural contexts, and is, as always, problematic to recontextualize.

The first article in this issue is titled “From Classroom to Digital Arena in Seeking Higher-level Learning: Student Experience” and is written by dr. Mark Brown of The Department of Communication, Culture and Languages, BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo. In the article he acknowledges the vast influences distance-learning has had on the area of introducing digital technologies in higher education. The article reports some results from a teaching project in which they moved a mid-level learning process out of the classroom and into a digital learning environment in order to free up teaching time for higher-level learning. The findings demonstrate that students respond very positively to such reflective learning opportunities.

In the paper “Challenges with social software for collaboration: Two case studies from teacher training” a collective of authors from the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Eastern Finland, Teemu Valtonen, Sari Havo-Nuutinen, Patrick Dillon, Sini Kontkanen, Mikko Vesisenaho and Susanne Pöntinen offer us insights into which challenges with collaborative learning  one meets when using social software. It reports two case studies conducted in a teacher training department. Although the case studies were concerned with providing teacher students with inspiring and motivating experiences of using ICT in pedagogically meaningful ways, the research design was set up so that challenges could be identified and investigated. It turned out that the presumed added value of interaction and collaboration was poorly recognised.

In the last article, Ragnhild Nilsen and Line Lundvoll Nilsen, of The University of Tromsø, write about their project on “Interdisciplinary professional education (IPE)”. The title, “Interprofessional Participation and Reflection in a Digital Network” introduces us to how teaching with digital tools allows collaborative learning to take place. Their methods supported collective reflection and increased professional understanding. The digital network allowed students from different health science programmes to draw on each other’s knowledge and expertise. The authors suggest that their findings are relevant for the development of reflection and professional understanding among health science students, as they show how students discuss and seek solutions to complex challenges in the practice.