From The Chronicle:
Textbook publishers argue that their newest digital products shouldn’t even be called “textbooks.” They’re really software programs built to deliver a mix of text, videos, and homework assignments. But delivering them is just the beginning. No old-school textbook was able to be customized for each student in the classroom. The books never graded the homework. And while they contain sample exam questions, they couldn’t administer the test themselves.
What’s happening right now is that xMOOCs are moving backwards into replicable content from the interaction and assessment pole while textbooks are are moving forward into interaction and assessment from the replicable content pole.
The end result of this is not necessarily massive classes. It’s broadly used courseware — software that provides much of the skeleton of standard classes the way publisher texts do today. In other words, the best way to think of a MOOC isn’t really as a class brought to your doorstep — it’s more a textbook with ambitions.
This isn’t a trivial shift at all. It marks a shift from the class seen as an event to the class seen as a designed (and somewhat replicable) learning environment. It subverts traditional divisions of labor, and has the potential to radically change what we mean by education. It will force us to understand the physical classroom as a learning environment as well (albeit a different one) much as the emergence of recorded music created the conception of live music.
But it’s not a new shift, either. It’s been quietly happening for quite a long time now. And after all the talk about first tier schools and massive class sizes burn off, we’ll be left with questions we’ve been asking for quite a long time now: What is courseware? What can it do/not do? What are its implications?