Turning a MOOC Into a Meta-MOOC (Participatory) Experience

By Cathy Davidson

My colleague Kaysi and I spent today working on quizzes for the certificate one can earn from taking my Coursera course on “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education.”   This MOOC is actually a “meta-MOOC” in that we are using this massive platform to engage a worldwide community in a movement on behalf of learning innovations.   CalledFutureEd, HASTAC’s initiative is led by students and faculty (not corporations), and we’re hoping to think together, in a massive way, and with different voices from around the world, about many of the practices, standards, ideas, and institutional models in current education.

Quizzes are one example.  One segment in “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education”  addresses the many shortcomings of standardized testing. Whether you have 700 students in a lecture hall, several thousand in a MOOC, or millions taking SATs or GREs, item-response tests are efficient, often machine gradable–and highly flawed in what they test, how they test, and especially in the way they mis-direct learning to “teaching for the test” and “learning for the test score.”    One other way that standardized test fails students is that, when multiple choice tests include deliberately wrong answers, people tend to retain misinformation–often longer than they retain accurate information.   There is plenty of research on the shortcomings of standardized testing but that basic befuddlement certainly strikes me as a very poor learning outcome of our most common testing method, and one that is easily fixed.  Therefore, in the meta-MOOC, in addition to hosting a Forum on “ways to improve standardized testing and conventional assessment methods,” we are also trying to make the quizzes themselves be learning recaps rather than simple “tests.” One of our principles is to only include good, sound, true information among the answers to choose from so that, even in reading over possible answers, one is getting a concise summary of valid content.  Here’s one of our questions, and it constitutes a pretty fair summary of the principles motivating this entire meta-MOOC (NB:  the correct answer is “all”):

1. Let’s review some of the guiding principles of the class. They include (check all that apply):

  • Purposive, activist history helps you understand how people in the past developed certain institutions for a specific purpose in order that you can think more clearly about what you need to do to re-design those outmoded institutions to better serve the present and the future

  • There is always “someone behind the camera”; meaning, there are people, institutions, cultural practices, and social norms that we often do not see but that shape what we do and how we do it.

  • There are powerful and often reciprocal relationships between local and global knowledges.

  • MOOCs may have been founded on an idea of hierarchical one-directional education but this course (and many other MOOCs too) increasingly emphasize learning communities and the potential of peer-to-peer collaboration

  • Lifelong Unlearning:  The world is constantly changing.  We can hang on to habits that no longer serve us well or we can be introspective, we can review our patterns, and we can find ways to change them in order to be able to develop new ideas, new habits, new opinions, and new appreciations of how to live in a changing world.

  • Proximity:  Within 100 miles of any of us, anywhere, something interesting is happening.  Being open to finding what and who is interesting is crucial.

  • Distance and distributed learning:  With the internet, “proximity” can be as close as our fingertips.  We can connect with anyone, anywhere.  How to do that productively, creatively, compassionately, and collaboratively is one of the lessons of this class.

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