Downes on the “Wrapped MOOC”

Finally read this detailed rumination by Stephen Downes on the question of MOOCs and quality — what would it mean to call a traditional cMOOC “good” as opposed to “bad”, especially in an environment where individual purpose for engaging in the MOOC is going to vary. Contains an important distinction that I’m still thinking about — the difference between evaluation the design of a tool vs. the use of a tool.

I wanted to just highlight this section, though, from the introductory definition of a MOOC. Downes discusses wrapped MOOCs:

Online – I mentioned above the phenomenon of ‘wrapped’ MOOCs, which postulate the use of a MOOC within the context of a traditional location-based course; the material offered by the MOOC is hence ‘wrapped’ with the trappings of a more traditional education. This is the sort of approach to MOOCs which treats them more as modern-day textbooks, rather than as courses in and of themselves. But insofar as these wrapped MOOCs are courses, they are no longer online, and insofar as they are online, they are no longer courses. So whatever a ‘wrapped MOOC’ is, it is not a MOOC. It is (at best) a set of resources misleadingly identified as a ‘MOOC’ and then offered (or more typically, sold) as a means to supplement traditional courses. For a MOOC to be ‘online’ entails that (and I’ll be careful with my wording here) no required element of the course is required to take place at any particular physical location.

The ‘wrapped MOOCs’ are not MOOCs because you cannot attend a wrapped MOOC without attending the in-person course; there will be aspects of the MOOC that are reserved specifically for the people who have (typically) paid tuition and are resident at some college or university, and are physically located at the appropriate campus at the appropriate time. Just as being online is what makes it possible for these courses to be both massive and open, being located at a specific place makes the course small and closed.

This is pretty key, and at the risk of annoying people with repetition, it’s why MOOCs used in the context of flipped classroom practice are being used as Open Educational Resources, not open courses (It’s also part of the reason we started using the term distributed flip to cover this model — it’s not really a MOOC).

That said, I’d like to throw my own design/use wrench into the works: Say we have a group of people studying the Chemistry of Anti-depressants using this sort of OER. A class, perhaps. Or a adult interest group. Or a set of parents concerned with over-medication of children. And we have a bunch of individuals using the same OER. At the same time. Etc, etc. Within the groups there are unified reasons for engaging with the distributed flip. But among the groups, goals vary.

Now, I don’t know how much these groups would talk to each other. The examples we’ve looked at have pretty low group cross-chatter. But suppose we were just stellar moderators and we got the groups to talk a bit back and forth, even if they largely preferred to have more internal conversations.

This looks like an open course (or at least an open something) to me. Having groups engage with it does not really make the experience of the core course “closed”. It means that the elements that are local are inaccessible, sure, but so are the books that you might read on your own to supplement the materials of the MOOC. So are the conversations you have with other people about the MOOC. Again, the local experience is closed, but as much as people in that local experience engage with the broader community, the internet-based course/thing they are engaging with is open, no matter what you want to call that thing.

3 thoughts on “Downes on the “Wrapped MOOC”

  1. So, you’re saying ‘autonomous encapsulation’ is the next big buzz-phrase?

    It’s interesting to think that an independent facilitator, who fancied themselves skilled in facilitating, could choose a hand-full of MOOCs/Communities and try to facilitate an emergent intersecting community out of them.

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