Proposal: Object of Study — MOOCs in Composition

Over the years, higher education has experienced a variety of shifts, some qualifying as seismic (such as admitting women), others deserving more modest descriptors (for example, electronic textbooks). Add to the seismic column the distance learning classroom. Yet even that arena of growth has seen variations that now may seem tame; for example, distance learning programs have a surprisingly long history, as this graphic from the website Straighterline illustrates.

day of the MOOC gif

Creative Commons image; author M. Branson Smith

In my own lifetime as a composition instructor, I have witnessed the growing demand for online course offerings – and with that growth tensions between pedagogy and university business models. However, the field of English Studies appears to be progressively engaging this trend, if publication records are any indication. (See this link for the CCCC annotated bibliography on online writing practices.) A thread in this conversation appears to invite intense scrutiny, and is my chosen Object of Study for this course: MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses.

What Is A MOOC?

“What Is A MOOC?” EdTechReview. Image and video. 15 March 2013.
http://edtechreview.in/dictionary/198-what-is-a-mooc

MOOCs, simply defined, are typically tuition- and credit-free classes offered online to any and all interested students, using a variety of methods which include recorded short lectures, discussion boards, and asynchronous activities, depending on the subject matter. Specifically, I plan to examine Composition MOOCs, as writing courses – especially freshman writing – are problematic areas of study given the established theories of best practices that have evolved in concert with our field’s evolution into digital spaces. The subject matter seems especially useful as an object of study given that many discussions of the online or digital classroom in our field often reflect tensions associated with the history of our field’s quest for professionalization. Given the nature of MOOC-based learning systems, questions of best practices and integrity of degree programs are likely to be part of any network.

The demand for online higher education course offerings comes from a variety of sources and stakeholders. The unique characteristics of MOOCs, however, offer additional challenges, many of which mirror common discussions within our field: assessment, access, instructor training / qualifications, questions of labor, plagiarism, student engagement, retention, and pedagogy. Given recent attention paid to the trend of MOOCs by higher education publications (see resources list below), it would appear that this is an area of debate and activity that may promise productive research. For example, MOOC-based composition courses, such as that described in a paper being presented by Sherry Jones’ and Daniel singer at the 2014 CCCC on incorporating gaming in the classroom, also open up new potential for digital pedagogy.

Given the inherent structural nature of MOOCs, it seems self-evident to approach this Object of Study as a network. However, I believe the network (the rhetorical situation of this study) must incorporate more than the rather obvious element of online connectivity among students and teacher. There is the “incorporeal discourse” of which Foucault writes (24) – and what Biesecker might link to Derrida’s concept of “différance” in discussions of rhetorical situation — which might be explored through consideration of the structural / mechanical, economic / business, as well as pedagogical discourses. In short, the network concept offers a way to connect stakeholder discourses with those of the technical and the pedagogical. As I am largely unfamiliar with MOOCs, opportunities for discovery and exploration are rich, and I anticipate unexpected nodes and layers emerging as I progress.

“What is a MOOC?” A Video Explanation.

[youtube: http://youtu.be/eW3gMGqcZQc]

Preliminary List of Resources:

1.  NY Times article Nov. 2012: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/massive-open-online-courses-are-multiplying-at-a-rapid-pace.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

2.  Educause resource list: http://www.educause.edu/library/massive-open-online-course-mooc

3.  Businessweek article Jan. 2014: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-01-16/academics-are-down-on-moocs-dot-business-schools-arent

4.  Duke Univ. Coursera Comp I course page: https://www.coursera.org/course/composition

5.  Blog written by a participant in the above: http://stevendkrause.com/2013/06/21/the-end-of-the-duke-composition-mooc-again-what-did-we-learn-here/

6.  Georgia Institute of Tech Comp MOOC course page: https://www.coursera.org/course/gtcomp

7.  Academe blog: “The Gates Foundation and Three Composition Blogs”: http://academeblog.org/2012/12/03/courage/

8.  The Chronicle of Higher Education – “What You Need to Know About MOOCs.” Frequently updated hub of articles:  http://chronicle.com/article/What-You-Need-to-Know-About/133475/

9.  CCCC 2014 – “Composition on a New Scale: Game Studies and Massive Open Online Composition” by Sherry Jones and Daniel Singer

10.  “What Is A MOOC?” EdTechReview.  Image and video. 15 March 2013.

 

2 Responses to Proposal: Object of Study — MOOCs in Composition

  1. I really like that you are thinking beyond the obvious here. There is a vast network of discourses (if you wanna go Foucault) that are determining the why and the how of the MOOC. It’ll be interesting to explore the network and then talk about what it is and what it isn’t an perhaps find a location for yourself as scholar within the network to take on a question regarding this project with a much better understanding of how it is rhetorically situation in future scholarship. This will be fun to play with.

  2. I think both Foucault and the upcoming Spinuzzi’s ways of thinking about networks on multi- levels or dimensions will be very useful when thinking about MOOCs. They have whole networks related to technologies, institutional support, students/participants, etc. And, as we all know, this is a hot topic right now; so it’s something to think and write about to try to get published! 😉

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