Communities of Practice have been long standing features at Higher Education Institutions; Journal Clubs, Special Interest Groups, User Groups, and even Study Groups are all examples of how we come together in academia to form focused groups interested in learning and developing together. I do not think that anyone out there would argue with me when I say that a class in its traditional form does not constitute a Community of Practice. While attendees to a class do all come together to learn, the community piece is often lacking in a traditional lecture based course. But what happens when we begin to redefine the lecture based classroom, and in particular what happens when we extend our courses outside of the university? In its simplest form, the sharing of materials does not constitute a Community of Practice however Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, may offer us a different perspective.
OK, wait a second, what is a MOOC? MOOC can mean different things to different people so I am referring you over to Wikipedia for a more in-depth discussion on varying definitions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_open_online_course. For the purposes of this blog post I am going to narrow our field to MOOCs that allow registration to anyone (for free or for a small price) and also allow some degree of two way communication.
MOOCs are currently in the earliest stages of development, being only a few years old, but many of them now allow the “students” to collaborate and communicate with one another around the course content thus forming a community. I would argue that MOOCS that encourage participation are forming a new type of Community of Practice where individuals of differing backgrounds come together around a common learning interest.
Is a MOOC for you? Have an interest in an academic topic and a bit of self discipline? If so, then you may find the MOOC experience to fit your learning needs. MOOCs offer learners the ability to explore a topic in depth at their own pace. However, there are a few downsides to MOOCs. Many MOOCs do require self discipline and they can be formulaic in design so they are not right for everyone.
MOOCs appeal to many people for many different reasons, but are they approaching open education in the best way possible? Some argue, yes as they are making information more readily available to all, however most MOOCs are very standardized as it is easiest for an instructor to evaluate standardized curriculum and exams quickly and quantitatively. But this type of standardization does not always facilitate active learning and, in many cases, this type of standardization does not speak to the basic tenants of a Liberal Arts education. Many people are working to break this cycle of standardization while still maintaining the affordability of MOOCs. This is where UnderAcademy steps in! With class titles such as Grammar Porn and Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen, UnderAcademy stretches the current boundaries of the MOOC with irreverence and humor. Read more in Chronicle:
So take a look around and see if there is a MOOC for you!
This post however would not be complete without a mention of WPI. Where do we fit into this discussion? Should WPI be offering Open Content? Have an opinion? Leave us a comment and be sure to stay tuned for more information on a B-term discussion on the concept of “open” at WPI in B-term facilitated by Professors John Orr and Chrys Demetry!