So what's a MOOC? It's a new "in" thing in technology. It stands for Massive Online Open Course.
MOOCs have grown out of universities offering their courses on the web to anyone who wants to work on the course, without the necessity of being registered with an education institution, or getting credits for the course. MIT, Stanford and a number of universities are making courses available on this open basis, with no limits to the number of students who can take the course--as long as they accept that they won't be getting course credits.
I have signed up for a four-week MOOC on virtual school research, organized by Michael Barbour, an Assistant Professor at Wayne State University in Michigan. He is the academic who has probably done the most work on tracking developments in K-12 online learning in Canada. He has produced an annual report on online education for iNACOL, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.
Information about iNACOL can be found at their web site http://www.inacol.org/
Barbour's most recent report, "State of the Nation: K-12 Online Learning in Canada," can be found at http://www.inacol.org/research/bookstore/detail.php?id=32
The MOOC has "assignments" and various "badges" that you can earn, basically self-evaluation of work that you carry out. As an example, the assignment that goes with the first entry in the MOOC is to post in your blog on one of these topics:
1. Select five K-12 online and/or blended learning programs and describe them using one of more of the various classifications and descriptors above.
2. Make a case for one of the current classification structures or propose a classification of your own that includes aspects of more than one of the definitions/classifications projects described above.
This MOOC is particularly relevant at this point to some of my work as a member of the BC Teachers' Federation Research Department. I am working on a project with a group of BC Distributed Learning teachers, looking at many of the issues that face our DL programs and the people who teach in them.
In the MOOC's introductory lecture (both video and print elements), Barbour talks about the many different definitions that have been used to describe virtual education, primarily focusing on the many versions in the U.S. Some of the diversity and confusion, Barbour reports, could be intentional:
"It should be noted that some scholars have suggested that these ever expanding definitions and classifications of K-12 online learning have been done for political reasons to show higher than actual growth within the field (in many instances by those who have made outrageous predictions about the scope of K-12 online learning in the coming years)."
I'm not going to do either of the suggested blog posts. Rather, I will write one that describes as succinctly as possible the Distributed Learning structure in British Columbia. I will post the writing that I do for the MOOC on the edu-digicritic blog as the project goes on.
If you are interested in joining the MOOC, you can find it at http://virtualschoolmooc.wikispaces.com/.
It is free and open.