Friday, August 23, 2013

The Feminist Anti-MOOC - Something New in MOOCville?

Scott Jaschik in Inside Education, in "A Feminist Anti-MOOC," reports on a new MOOC-like course, Feminism and Technology, developed by a consortium of professors at 17 colleges and co-led by Anne Balsamo, dean of the School of Media Studies at the New School.

Unlike the now-standard x-MOOC, the course will feature a distributed model based on 'feminist pedagogical principles.' It will be labeled a DOCC - a distributed open collaborative course. The DOCC will be available for credit at each of the 17 schools and  anyone with Internet access can watch the videos and access the materials. 

The DOCC explicitly challenges the top-down, hierarchical, patriarchal model of xMOOCs. Facilitators assume that every participant brings expertise and unique capabilities, which can then be used collaboratively to study the place of women in technology - no more sage on the (virtual) stage.
The backbone of the course will consist of a series of videos - lectures and interviews created by participating faculty. But faculty in each college will build their own courses, and set their own grading standards, in accord with their own institutional expectations. Each of the 17 sites will involve between 15-30 for-credit students. Thus the total number of full participants will be limited to around 500 - the course is explicitly non-massive.  

Collaboration will be key to course learning - students will exchange their ideas and expertise and collaborate on the course project, 'Storming Wikipedia,' in which all students will research women in technology and then create or edit wikipedia articles on these women. The end result will thus be a rich, easily accessible information resource on the course topic.

This looks to be an attractive template for collaborative teaching and learning using the Internet. Especially interesting is use of what amounts to an 'invisible college' in the field of technology studies as a collaborative teaching faculty. Here are a few comments and questions for further discussion:

1. Full participation will require enrollment in the for-credit DOCC. The facilitators claim to be challenging the role of money in the development of the highly publicised MOOCs like Coursera, but this DOCC, like typical college courses, shifts the expenses primarily to tuition paying students. thus it doesn't address the pressing money challenge in the MOOC space - how to make quality higher education accessible for those now priced out. How can DOCCs help address this problem? 

2. The leaders of this DOCC claim that the distributive model differentiates it from xMOOCs. It doesn't. Cathy Davidson of Duke, as I noted in a MOOCville post a few weeks back, uses distributive learning principles in her Coursera course - her use of her massive learner base to create a highly-detailed database for the history of higher education throughout the world is very similar to the 'Storming Wikipedia' project. A course from the Darden Business school at Virginia that I described recently also uses connectivist principles within the xMOOC framework. 

As Stephen Downes noted in a comment to the IHE article, 'DOCC'  is just another term for cMOOC - the original MOOC framework that he and others developed in Canada some years ago:

 " This is a cMOOC. This is exactly what Siemens and I built, and have written about for years." 

So while this course is a welcome development, it is really not much of an innovation; its just another variant of a familiar MOOC design. One question is whether smaller, more circumscribed DOCC participant groups can add something special to online distributive learning? 

3. The distributive learning model, while quite central to feminist pedagogy, pre-dates it by many decades. It lies at the heart of John Dewey's Democracy and Education, where the interactions of individuals from distinct ethnic and religious communities in dealing with selected common subject materials ARE the curriculum. So a question is whether laying claim to distributive learning as a 'feminist' alternative to patriarchy advances either the understanding or uptake of distributive pedagogical principles?. 

4.  What lessons can we learn from this DOCC? 

A faculty of explicitly feminist teachers, engaging feminist students in a course on feminism, is likely to generate sustained conversation and collaboration, because the free-wheeling exploration will be bounded by shared understandings and constraints. 

But many students in mass online higher education do not engage in course discussions or chat at all; discussion boards frequently degenerate into bitching sessions and flame wars. Creating such a communicative environment in more typical college environments may prove difficult, without shared learning aims or pedagogical principles. Do the DOCC leaders plan to extend this experiment beyond their own favorable settings?    

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