Friday, May 3, 2013

On MOOCs and Mastery

Savoir-Faire Is Everywhere!

Savoir-Faire in Search of the Cheese

There was a TV cartoon mouse character from the distant 60's who, in pursuit of the cheese, would say, "Savoir-faire is everywhere." And he was. He had the know-how, or the savoir-faire, to steal those delicious cheesy lumps right from underneath the nose of the cat.

Now, learning isn't cheese. But it is something desired and pursued by many. It can be found in many places too. Not in traps, although some of our students think of it that way. Still, it takes know-how to find it and even more effort to make the knowledge your own.

We are told that Abe Lincoln, as a lad in the 1830's, found an education in the many books he read by the light of the fireplace. His mother, Nancy Lincoln, urged him to read, and she was there to help with difficult words and passages.

Socrates had such a teacher's touch that he could elicit knowledge from the brains of his students by just asking the right questions. He believed all knowledge was innate, and it only took the right questions to free it. Even if that were true, and I doubt it, not many instructors have the gift of Socrates. 

When Edison invented talking movies back in the early 1900's, he opined that films would soon put most teachers out of work. The same was expected of TV in its early days. It never happened. I remember "The Continental Classroom" on public TV back in the early 60's. It helped Sputnik-era math and science teachers improve our skills. But those TV lessons had to be followed up by onsite classes at a nearby campus where we could get answers to our many unanswered questions.

100 years, post Edison, with all its promises to revolutionize education for the better,multimedia has never fully delivered what many promised. Neither did the ancient scrolls in Aristotle's time, nor the books that fill the libraries of the world. Reading them wasn't enough. We had to connect ideas, extrapolate, explain, apply, recreate in order to make the knowledge of others our own.

The latest proposal is MOOC's (Massive Open Online Courses) which open the televised lectures of thousands of fine teachers everywhere to the public to view anywhere. It does provide an opportunity for forums of questions and some answer, but far from the personal and often helpful connections students find in a typical classroom.

I don't know about you, but had I not the help and interaction of other learners in the courses I took, I doubt I would have learned it as well as I did. The more abstruse the content, the more necessary the access to a community of learners to ask, share, puzzle, solve and resolve. 

So, how well will these MOOC's work for learners today? It first begs the question of one's motivation to learn. Without wanting to learn, you can proceed to not learn from any source. We have many K12 learners today for whom this is a serious issue.

How do we connect and enable all those who will need help organizing, understanding, asking, solving, and showing that they know? Texting is about as much help as Twitter. Videochats show promise, but you need to find a suitable study-buddy. Helplines could help, but could be costly. Retired teachers could assist if we can find a way to share their expertise.

One thing is clear: we need far more know-how to know how.

So what's your savoir-faire that can help more learners learn more?

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