And Gabi Witthaus responded:
Stephen Downes has thrown me a curved ball - http://www.downes.ca/ (sixth one down from the top at the moment). It stings a bit because Brenda and I are doing this as individuals with no institutional backing and zero funding, and we are sincerely trying to make a contribution to open education. We are certainly not trying to limit openness - and I don't believe that the idea of groups in open courses runs counter to the spirit of openness. I really don't want to go into battle with Stephen, but I can't let him give people the impression that the OOC is not open! (Apparently he has come to that conclusion because I said it will be run on CourseSites where participants will need to sign in. Well, by that logic, the MOOCs on all the major MOOC platforms are not MOOCs.) I'll base my reply to him on the assumption that I did not make it clear enough in my last post that the OOC is actually an open course.
Here's my response:
Thanks to Gabi for posting this and please allow me a few words.
> It stings a bit because Brenda and I are doing this as individuals with no institutional backing and zero funding, and we are sincerely trying to make a contribution to open education.
I appreciate that, and I’m sympathetic, because I’ve spent many years in a similar situation. By the same token, as I’m sure you would agree, this doesn’t render you immune from criticism. Much of the work I’ve done over the years has been criticized (and in turn, I’ve criticized my share of people along the way). It’s all dialogue and discussion, and intended to result in a better outcome.
> We are certainly not trying to limit openness
I hear this a lot – usually right after someone has taken some of another measure that limits openness. And that, I’m afraid, is how I would interpret the present circumstance.
In my view (and not everyone agrees with me) if you are requiring a login in order to access course materials, you are limiting openness:
- you are requiring that people give something (specifically, contact information) in order to access the material (there’s a reason Blackboard would want to force this)
- you are making it impossible for other sites to simply link to or embed the content you are sharing
- it is not accessible to search engines and aggregators
You might say that these aren’t very significant limitations. True enough. But my point is that they are limitations. You’ve created costs and barriers to the material. It is not open, at least, not open in what I would consider a meaningful sense of the word. Stuff behind userids and passwords has a very different status – a closed and presumptively private status.
> I don't believe that the idea of groups in open courses runs counter to the spirit of openness.
There are groups and then there are groups.
If people gather around open content and organize themselves into groups then that is very much in the spirit of openness. But that’s not what’s happening in this case. You required logins “to be able to set up and manage the groups effectively.” This makes the groups something you create and control, and not something people create and control for themselves.
I’m not sure exactly of the range and scale you had in mind of ‘managing’ the groups – it reminded me of some ill-fated attempts to automatically generate small groups in some previous MOOCs – but to the extent the groups are managed the course becomes less open. For example, are you telling people what groups they can join and what groups they can’t? Are discussions being limited to specific topics? Must groups be located on the course website?
Finally, what if a person doesn’t want to be in a group? This is true for many may people. All they want to do is read the course content and now you’re putting them into a group and giving them (presumably) unwanted messages and email.
You don’t have to agree with me about this. But it’s the sort of criticism of groups I have made many times in the past and would not be at all surprising for someone to see coming from me in this case, especially when it’s used as a justification for closing the course behind a login.
> I really don't want to go into battle with Stephen, but I can't let him give people the impression that the OOC is not open!
Then remove the login.
> by that logic, the MOOCs on all the major MOOC platforms are not MOOCs.
I’ve made that argument many times as well. :)
In fact, many of the MOOC engines are closing their content behind subscription walls. Many also have licenses prohibiting sharing and reuse of the content. Some of them (and most of the ‘major’ MOOC engines) are now even charging for content. They keep chipping away at the definition of MOOC until it comes to resemble exactly the same sort of course that institutions were offering before MOOCs came along, except maybe at discounted prices.
The whole point of MOOCs is that you make them massive by eliminating the bottlenecks in traditional courses that made massive enrollments impossible. These limitations include:
- tuition or other fees
- logins and registration to view content
- centralized discussion forums
They also include things like heavy content (such as video), processor-intensive functions, personal interaction with the professor, etc.
Now I know, the Storyboarding course is not massive. My take is that this is because it couldn`t be massive. And it couldn’t be massive because it is closed or limited in certain ways that make massiveness impossible.
This is your choice. I understand the reasons behind the design decisions that you’ve made. But my observation stands: this makers it just like every other traditional online course – it’s being designed as a hands-on artisan course with specific interactive intent designed into the structure. That’s fine if that’s your choice. But you shouldn’t brand it as the other thing. Because it isn’t one.
Anyhow, I’m sorry the criticism made you feel bad. That wasn’t my intent.