MOOCs and pistol shrimp in the Sea of Cortez
By Marcy Slapcoff, Teaching and Learning Services.
I think this opinion piece from the New York Times presents an interesting and original take on online courses. Are MOOCs so highly organized (curated, is the term the author uses) that they eliminate the possibility of learning anything that is not on the syllabus, anything that cannot be easily assessed?
Great face-to-face courses create situations where everyone, including the instructor, can tackle problems together and discover something new in the process. The author describes a field course where two of his students discover what makes the the popping sound in the Sea of Cortez (spoiler alert – it’s the pistol shrimp!) The course becomes a triangle between the instructor, the student, and the world and the learning outcomes are surprising and likely to be remembered forever.
I think there is the potential for MOOCs to be designed as inquiry-based instruction, but most of what is currently out there focuses on the delivery of content above all else. Imagine MOOCS as arenas for global citizen science – a place where instructors could help their students not just figure out the mating calls of shrimp underwater but also grapple with the uncertainty around them and deal with unanswered questions. Thousands of students could be mobilized worldwide to address pressing issues while learning something at the same time. Wouldn’t that be exciting??
Photo Credit: Standing Watch by aquarist.me, on Flickr