MOOCs: Evolution and Revolution Part 3 - History

coverIn Part 1 of this post, I wrote a bit about the MOOC as revolution and an evolution. In Part 2, I wrote about the background of my wife, Lynnette, and myself that led us to contribute a chapter, "MOOCs: Evolution and Revolution," to the book, Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future.

In this post, I want to cover a bit of the pre-history of the MOOC. It's a backstory that encapsulates how distance education developed into online learning.

Distance education dates back to private correspondence courses that were offered in advertisements in the Boston Gazette as early as 1728 by Caleb Phillips.

The University Of London was the first school to offer its degrees worldwide in 1858.

College courses were also offered by radio in the 1940?s and were incorporating television in the 1950s. 

In the 1960s and 70s, movements in education, especially at the pre-university level, such as the use of manipulatives in mathematics and the open classroom movement, suggested models for a learning process that was more student-centered, but was still controlled by the teacher.

In 1969, Open University was established in the UK which again used radio and television to deliver courses.

The technology of the 1980s and early 1990s allowed course materials, now including recorded lectures, to be mailed to students on VHS videotapes and CDs. If the learning appeared ‘student-centered’, it was mostly because the teacher had no way to direct learning other than to give assignments and make due dates. My wife and I both took courses in this enhanced-correspondence" mode. 

?Lynnette used the video series French in Action (FIA) produced by Yale University and WGBH Boston in collaboration with Wellesley College which used a set of over twenty VHS tapes that were paid for by her school district. The series gave the illusion of being interactive since the actor/professor spoke directly to the camera while teaching and then cut to video clips from television and movies for use as reinforcement examples that appeared to be happening live, very much in a soap opera fashion.  There was also a simulated class of students who would sometimes interact on the television screen with this professor and there were times when the television audience was asked to participate by repeating or pronouncing. Once again there were inklings of the potential for future ways to teach, learn, connect and collaborate outside the physical classroom. 

Instructional Television (ITV) emerged next as a way to offer lectures and content. These licensed channels could deliver live or pre-recorded instruction to multiple sites within a school district or to branch campuses at universities. This was considered synchronous communication or instruction because, though it could be prerecorded, it was often used "live" from several locations. In the late 1990s, NJIT offered several courses from campus for advanced high school students via ITV in a "dual enrollment" manner. The sessions could be integrated into the distant classroom setting and often included teachers’ guides that could help with the use of the program in the remote instructors’ lessons. 

It was not until 1998 that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) permitted two-way operations which created the potential for instructional material to be interactive with the program and the learner. This allowed for course offerings in schools where not enough students were enrolled in a course in order for it to run independently. The school would provide funds to connect via satellite to a host school and this two-way communication along with a teacher facilitator allowed students to ask questions and hold discussions with their host in real-time.

The early days of the Internet are what transitioned distance learning into online learning. The use of ‘the Net’ added a number of new elements and greatly facilitated the delivery of course content. The paper mail or ‘snail mail’ that had been a key element of the correspondence model of distance education for a century was transformed by ‘electronic mail’ (email). Many online courses were, and still are, asynchronous, meaning that communication took place outside of real time and there was a lag between the message sent by the learner and the response to it by the instructor. It was also private and not visible to the entire body of students.

There became opportunities as bandwidth increased to stream video and have synchronous (live) lectures, meetings and discussions through mediums such as video conferencing and Skype. Probably the most significant addition was the ability to conduct online discussions. This became possible through the programming provided by online learning management systems (LMS) in text message fashion similar to cell phones. There was still a lag in that not everyone would be ‘logged-in’ at the same time, but the discussion could be followed and thoughts could be added or ‘posted’. Adding and following posts or threaded discussion moved some of the control away from the teacher, and it finally increased the ‘student-to-student’ interaction that had always existed in the physical classroom.

Still, many online courses remain textbook-based and the relationship between teacher and student often remains the most important even though it is online. 

In the United States, between 2002 and 2008, the number of classes being taken online rose by 187%. In 2009, over four million students were taking some type of online course. In 2013, one in four Australian students, or about 298,000 were learning off campus (Lepi, 2013).

This was also a time when social media began to make a greater impact on courses both online and F2F, as teachers began to use it as a part of the design of their courses and students used it to create their own Personal Learning Environments (PLE), a topic which will be described in a separate section of this chapter. 

Large-scale, free online education, Open Education Resources (OER) and open courseware have a longer history than MOOCs. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) OpenCourseWare was initiated as a new way to disseminate knowledge. They also saw this as a way to create a shared intellectual commons or Open Access (OA) in academia to foster collaboration across MIT and among other scholars. OA is online, free of charge, and removes most of the price barriers and permission barriers for use of material. This was the most difficult part of the process for the university to work out.  There were logistical challenges of ownership and intellectual property for items within the course materials as well as technical challenges of converting materials to an online format. Nevertheless, in September 2002, the MIT OpenCourseWare site opened to the public with 50 offerings.

However, these are not considered courses or MOOCs because there is no teacher, facilitator, discussion forum, assignment, feedback, grades or record of any work completed. Possibly, part of the message with this project was that having access to MIT materials did not equate with the value of actually getting credit for an MIT course.  This initiative, however, could be perceived as the precursor to the MOOC.

MOOCWhen the term MOOC was coined, it was not simply meant to be Massive Open Online Course. Here are some of the parameters that highlight the distinctions.

Massive implies numbers as well as diversity. Much of what has been written revolves around the growing number of participants in online learning, but there is yet to be a discussion that includes diversity and the global impact of these initiatives.

Open(ness) alludes to free: free for registration, free for operation, free for materials, free for participation, free for sharing, open syllabus, open space for multiple threads of belief co-existing in a course. The first pure MOOCs were considered ‘open’ but in two different respects. First, they were open enrollment to students outside the hosting university – an ‘open registration’. Open registration resulted in enrollment becoming massive, hence, the numbers. Second, the materials of the courses were licensed using Creative Commons (CC) licenses so that their materials could be remixed and reused by others, as in ‘open license’. The amount of materials and their uses became another incarnation for the term ‘massive’. 

Online has been the core of the discussion as evidenced so far in the chapter and there are massive amounts of changes borne by the changes in technology. 

Course redefines the structure of content being applied to the Internet, its scalability and the pedagogy used to make it a good online class. 

While maintaining these four elements, the ‘purpose’ behind a MOOC has had a significant impact on their evolution, creating different types. For example, we saw the term "xMOOC" to stand for extended. It lays out common ground in a field with opportunities for self-remediating. It is more teacher-centered. An xMOOC tends to have the largest number of enrollees. Most courses offered by the major suppliers (Coursera et al) fit this definition. 

The "cMOOC" came to mean "connectivist," where people can fail together, work together, even cheat together with open research; the connectivism of working on something in the open with people who have a common interest which can help one see clearer. The discovery of common interest leads participants to band together within the MOOC itself to learn the things they want/need to learn. The first courses labeled as MOOC were built in this design and were much more student-centered. 

We also saw the term "vMOOC" used to distinguish vocational offerings. There are companies using their influence to create courses that their employees, clients and service providers can learn from and use to improve their skill levels. It gives people a chance to break into a field of knowledge. They tend not to be open in enrollment or in the open sourcing of the content. They may have a cost to enroll.

An interesting bit of history we came across in our research was about James J. O'Donnell  who wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2012 “I think I taught the first MOOC in history. It was the spring of 1994” He was referring to a standard level course which he would be teaching that semester at Georgetown University whose topic was about the life and thought of St. Augustine of Hippo. Instead of being limited to the paid registrants, he decided to see what would happen if he opened it to the world online. In a time when the first graphical Web browsers, Mosaic (NCSA Mosaic which was later renamed Netscape Navigator) had just been released and network connections were uncommon, his course used ‘primitive’ technology. Gopher, an early Internet protocol, was used to deliver the syllabus and texts. Discussion occurred via a Listserv e-mail list. The course was promoted using several e-mail lists of people with interests similar to the humanist course content. O’Donnell reported that 500 people signed up. He utilized his advanced tuition-paying students to summarize and post content from the F2F seminars, which served to start the online discussions. The participation in the course varied. “Hundreds listened, a few dozen participated, a couple of dozen participated very actively, including some remarkable people” 

But the term ‘MOOC’ was coined in 2008 by Dave Cormier and Bryan Alexander in response to an earlier open online course that had been designed and led earlier that year by George Siemens and Stephen Downes called "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge. Cormier and Alexander’s MOOC had 25 tuition-paying students at the University of Manitoba, Canada, in addition to 2,300 other students from the public who took the online class free of charge for no credit. The course content was available through RSS feeds, and participants used threaded discussions in the Moodle LMS, blog posts, Second Life (a virtual world), and synchronous online meetings.

More important than who stuck their MOOC flag into the ground is that the move to much larger and more open courses that were less concerned with grades, credits, degrees and institutions had arrived.


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