11.133x mooc

Wrapping up week 0 of the 11.133x MOOC

So far so good in the MITx 11.133x Implementation and Evaluation of Educational Technology MOOC – I’ve just finished Week 0 which I guess is like the O (Orientation) Week of MOOCs.

A bit of “here’s how to navigate the platform”, a bit of “introduce yourself” but also a dip of the toe into reflective practice with a small forum post about an experience we have had with educational technology. I dipped into a recent story about me designing a course in Moodle that I thought was cool but quickly realised that I had designed it for me and not the needs of my learners. We then made 3 responses to other posters.

The three required responses were simple enough but I couldn’t resist responding to an additional post that may not have made me so many friends. Tell me what you think – was  I unreasonable?

This is the original post:

In 1989 I was teaching ethics at a liberal arts college in the U.S. A friend and colleague was teaching ethics the same semester at one of the military service academies in the U.S. We decided to create a Usenet newsgroup for our 2 sets of students and require them to interact with each other to collaborate on assignments and discuss readings.

It had mixed success. Many of the students had not previously used a computer and, worse, believed that they were entitled to take an ethics class without having to use a computer. So a lot of the students were grumpy and resentful about what they considered to be a frivolous, extraneous and irrelevant requirement (you can probably imagine what the teaching evaluations looked like). Some students really enjoyed it and became avid collaborators and participants, but others just groused all the way through it and gave us really bad teaching evaluations.

Our intention was to have our respective students explore various ethics topics with other students who were very different demographically from their classmates. It was also to get them to use computers to interact with others at a distance (remember — this pre-dated the World Wide web or Listserv, and Windows did not have much of a GUI, as I recall).

For those students who jumped in and ran with it, I think it went quite well. Unfortunately there was also a large number of students at both institutions who resisted it all the way, and that made for a difficult classroom dynamic for both of us. Many students were downright angry that they were required to use computers in an ethics class (they believed computers were only appropriate in math and science classes) and gave us really devastating teaching evaluations that, in part, led to both of our departures from our respective institutions.

There was a selection of short, sympathetic responses to this and then mine:

Thanks for sharing your story – sorry to hear that it pushed you away from that teaching job.

I’m going to go against the flow here a tiny bit and sympathise a little with your students. Was it clear in the course outline that there would be an online component? Did you explain to the students how using Usenet would enhance their learning experience? (Did it provide a better experience than could have been provided if the course was wholly face-to-face?)

Obviously I’m here in this MOOC because I believe that technology and digital literacy are vitally important in education but I also believe that the education part has to be the prime focus.

If students (as autonomous adult learners) were signing up for an ethics class and then were suddenly told that they needed to learn computer skills, I’m not surprised that they were unhappy. They were suddenly taken to a place where their ignorance was on public display and they had lost a degree of control of their education.

I have no doubt that you acted from the best of intentions but this story speaks to me a lot about the need to bring our students (or the teachers that we support in my case) along with us on the journey and that they have to believe that we are meeting their needs/interests foremost.

I think it’s all well and good to use technology in teaching and learning (obviously) but we need to be mindful about how much we are designing a course for ourselves vs our students.

Was I wrong?