Thursday, January 30, 2014

Addressing MOOCs with the CCCC OWI Position Statement

Last time, I posted about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), suggesting some good ideas/practices that might emanate from massive courses. Now, I'm looking briefly at how writing MOOCs can be viewed in the context of A Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction (OWI), published last year by our CCCC Committee for Effective Practices in Online Writing Instruction (again, I'm co-chair of this hard-working group).
Many people in higher ed, of course, are up in arms over MOOCs. Many good reasons exist not to like these courses, but I think fear and helplessness driving many criticisms: People rightly feel helpless in the face of this tide of depersonalized instruction. Teachers and whole institutions are scrambling. However, as I’ve said, some of education’s resistance to MOOCs is hypocritical because we’re complaining about depersonalized learning experiences even though for decades we've herded students into 500-seat lecture halls and allowed our writing courses to be taught by people without offices who make about $150/week per course (if that).

The principles and practices in the OWI Position Statement can help writing teachers and WPAs by providing evidence and conversational scaffolding. The Position Statement, by design, can help potential writing MOOC teachers think through these courses; it might help some argue against MOOCs. Briefly, here are a few specific principles and how they might operate in this context:
OWI Principle 2: "An online writing course should focus on writing and not on technology orientation or teaching students how to use learning and other technologies." This means that for MOOC students, who are, by the definition of "open," not necessarily part of an institution, the learning platform has to be really easy to use. Students can’t spend their term figuring out how to manage the technology – there will be little teacher or IT support for them.
OWI Principle 5: "Online writing teachers should retain reasonable control over their own content and/or techniques for conveying, teaching, and assessing their students’ writing in their OWCs." Principle 5 addresses MOOCs in several ways, but especially with this: With 80,000 (or even 800) students, teachers have no control over assessing their students’ writing.
OWI Principle 6: "Alternative, self-paced, or experimental OWI models should be subject to the same principles of pedagogical soundness, teacher/designer preparation, and oversight detailed in this document." A MOOC can't result in the cutting of pedagogical corners (for those feeling institutional pressure...).
OWI Principle 13: "OWI students should be provided support components through online/digital media as a primary resource; they should have access to onsite support components as a secondary set of resources." A MOOC problem is that if you like MOOCs and work from that paradigm, you end up with support services that might replicate the same lack of institutional contact. If a 40,000 to 1 ratio is good enough for instruction, why not counseling, advising, and registrar ratios? Since the C stands for "course," institutions will have to make sure students understand what they get with "Open."
OWI Principle 9: "OWCs should be capped responsibly at 20 students per course with 15 being a preferable number." Those seeking a line-in-the-sand principle could find it here. Remember, C in MOOC is for "course." According to Principle 9, with 40,000 students, it can't be a "course." But maybe it can be a MOOE, with E for “experience.”
We designed these principles to help educators with OWI, including new approaches to teaching writing online. MOOCs are only one example. Massive courses aren’t good or bad, but teachers have to believe in a certain type of teaching to make them work. The Position Statement can help support or at least think through the kind of teaching that Massive Open Online Course represents.

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