Recently, the Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies program in the Department of English at Ohio State was awarded a $50,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create a “Writing II: Rhetorical Composition” MOOC. Read more details on the OSU Department of English website.
What’s a MOOC? MOOC stands for Massively Open Online Course. So, imagine an online course that is open and (typically) free to anyone who wants to register. In essence, MOOCs bring information technology’s promise of exponential scalability to education. And, obviously, there are some administrative challenges inherent to this kind of teaching. The recent spectacular failure of the “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application” brought MOOCs attention from mainstream media, in part because the course topic made the failure irresistibly ironic.
Can anything be taught in an online classroom with tens of thousands of students? Apparently, yes. I have friends who have learned programming languages this way. Of course, programming languages are much simpler and easy to test (Does your program do this? Good! You pass the quiz!) than most human languages and particularly the advanced rhetoric of a language.
MOOCs frequently crowdsource some of the evaluation of student assignments — think peer editing — which may work well for advanced writing. But, students who enroll with the expectation that they will receive 1/20th of the instructors attention, which they might receive in a traditional classroom, might be surprised by some of these techniques.
This is truly the cutting edge / Wild West of online learning. The good news is, if you’re interested in learning more, you (and all of your friends) can sign up for the course yourself via Coursera, a “social entrepreneurship company” that has partnered with OSU and many other universities to offer MOOCs.
So, maybe the question is, can everything be taught with MOOCs? It’s too early to answer that question. But lots of people are asking it.
Will MOOCs eventually replace traditional brick-and-mortar institutions? New technologies rarely replace old ones completely. For example, you have a television, but you probably still listen to the radio sometimes (in your car, when your iPod battery dies, say.) But, if even moderately successful, it will be difficult for every school to compete with a free course offered by Harvard, MIT, or Stanford. Or Ohio State.