MOOCs: High Technology and Higher Learning
reviewed by Stephanie Blackmon - November 08, 2016
MOOCs: High Technology and Higher Learning
Robert A. Rhoads
Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore
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In MOOCs: High Technology and Higher Learning, author Robert A. Rhoads provides readers with a panoramic view of massive open online courses (MOOCs), from their early open courseware (OCW) attachments and connectivist roots to their current uses and future possibilities. The authors discussion of MOOCs rests on seven major points, which he presents at the beginning of the text and refers to as Seven Key Theses (pp. 67). Rhoads indicates that each thesis corresponds with a particular chapter or chapters in the book.
Chapter One is connected to Rhoads first thesis, which highlights the connection between MOOCs and open educational resources (OER). The author situates MOOCs within the open education movement in this chapter. He also details the early days of MITs OCW initiative and the rise of online learning. Furthermore, he explains the way online courses grew and notes their popularity among for-profit colleges and universities before gaining traction at non-profit higher education institutions. By carefully recounting the backdrop of massive open online courses, Rhoads provides a much-needed historical context for a phenomenon that often seems divorced from other movements in higher education. He also addresses the beginning of the MOOC hype and its divergence from the open education movement, a schism that Rhoads suggests is connected to the mass market potential of MOOCs.
The second thesis makes up the crux of Chapter Two by emphasizing the sometimes complex relationship between MOOCs and organizations. Readers receive a more in-depth conversation about the impact of MOOCs market potential, a topic that was previously introduced in Chapter One. Rhoads explains the six elements that comprise the organizational systems he discusses: MOOC users, course producers, course providers, legitimizers, funders, and networks/associations (p. 33). He also emphasizes that the organizational system he presents should not be taken as a full representation of the intricate nature of MOOC systems. While relaying the various organizations that offer and have a stake in MOOCs (e.g., the Gates Foundation, Coursera, Udacity, edX, etc.), Rhoads addresses another salient point related to MOOCs and higher education: their role for various institutions. While some have touted MOOCs as equalizers and democratizers, the author reminds readers that it is possible for public good and private interest to compete (p. 52). Rhoads notes that he is not advocating for or against connections among MOOCs, higher education, and venture capitalists. Instead, he is highlighting a key component of the MOOC movement.
Thesis three and Chapter Three address the importance of distinguishing between cMOOCs (connectivist MOOCs) and xMOOCs (extension/extended MOOCs) and examining their place within connectivist learning theory. The author also addresses aspects of thesis four in Chapter Three by discussing the challenges related to implementing cMOOCs and xMOOCs. When Siemens and Downes started with the cMOOC, Rhoads points out that they showed the connected nature of learning and Siemens connectivist learning theory came out of that. The author provides a greater understanding of the distinction between cMOOCs and xMOOCs, as their differences have implications for MOOC creators and users. He also discusses the complex nature of implementing both types of courses. This includes the potential challenges with scale for the interactive nature of cMOOCs and the lack of interaction in many xMOOCs. By carefully cataloging the origins and variations of MOOCs and their links to connectivist learning theory, Rhoads brings another important aspect of these courses to the forefront.
Chapter Four covers thesis four (focusing on the challenges associated with cMOOCs and xMOOCs), five (addressing the heavy presence of elite institutions in the MOOC arena), and six (detailing the lack of diversity conversations around MOOCs). In the section on epistemology, Rhoads laments that xMOOCs, in particular, do not provide opportunities to critique the role of power relative to knowledge claims (p. 93). In the section on pedagogy, the author discusses xMOOCs in the context of Paulo Freire and bell hooks, noting that many xMOOCs do not allow users to experience engaged . . . or liberatory pedagogy (p. 99). He mentions concerns related to cMOOCs and believes that some proponents of cMOOCs are not examining their own assumptions related to claims of democratization. Like other writers, the author addresses the hegemony associated with MOOCs because many of the course offerings come from American institutions sharing similar tiers and are taught in English. However, Rhoads also addresses diversity issues related to internet access, race, culture, and socioeconomics. These areas are not often part of conversations about MOOCs and the author highlights another critical aspect of providing these massive online courses by discussing them here. Chapter Four also delves into MOOCs implications for faculty labor.
Chapter Five covers thesis seven, which addresses MOOCs and faculty, through a discussion related to ownership of faculty content. However, parts of this thesis were also covered in Chapter Fours discussion of MOOCs and faculty labor. Rhoads talks about the future of MOOCs in the context of policies and procedures that should be reviewed to understand what open access means regarding the time and products of faculty members. The author also presents his idea of another type of MOOC in this chapter: the extra support MOOC, xsMOOC, which will provide the connections that are sometimes lacking in xMOOCs and the scalability that can be challenging to achieve with cMOOCs.
Overall, Rhoads provides a balanced and necessary examination of MOOCs in higher education through MOOCs: High Technology and Higher Learning. He covers a number of pertinent issues related to MOOCs, some of which have not been addressed at length in the burgeoning literature in this field. Even with their relatively short history, particularly when compared to other types of courses, Rhoads manages to situate MOOCs in a context that allows readers to consider their origins, current offerings, and future.