Massive open online courses (Moocs) have been seen as one way to widen access to higher education, but with some believing they still exclude some learners, one lecturer has develop a new model that allows everyone to be a student – and a teacher.
Peter Shukie, an education studies lecturer in the University Centre at Blackburn College had been interested in the Mooc concept since its inception, but said: “Despite this idea of the Mooc being [about connections], it turned into something like an elite university where only a few people were allowed to speak with any weight, and everyone else was just noise.”
Having previously worked as an adult literacy educator in communities, workplaces and colleges, he found many students faced barriers to gaining qualifications in a traditional, classroom-based way. In addition to the stigma attached to adult literacy and numeracy education more generally, there was the practical barrier of finding time to attend their course alongside working. Technology, Shukie felt, provided an opportunity for people to engage with the courses on their own terms.
Based on this disappointment with Moocs, Mr Shukie decided to create an alternative: community open online courses (Coocs). Whereas the Moocs model is designed to allow participants to receive information, he was keen to discover what would happen if participants created their own courses. “What I wanted to do with Coocs was to go back to the principles I had as a literacy tutor and ask, ‘What if you created a place that wasn’t dominated by institutions?’ In Coocs, everybody can teach, everybody can learn. The minute you register on Coocs, you can be a student and join someone else’s course, but you have the right immediately to create your own courses, too.”
He added: “The idea was to create this space where maths and English were no longer seen as a deficit model. Where people could bring in their existing experience, and didn’t have to do courses where they were pushed through the 80 per cent they already knew but couldn’t get to the 20 per cent they needed to know.”
Everyone can teach
There are currently dozens of Coocs available online, on topics ranging from education to sport. Courses on offer include special educational needs resources for teachers, a parents’ guide to literacy skills for key stage 2 and learning anarchy through practice.
The approach of enabling anyone to become a teacher did not affect quality, Shukie stressed: “If you work in an institution where someone’s drafted into teach something they’ve never taught before because of costs, they have absolutely no desire to teach it. With Coocs, people are at the point where they want to create something. Absolutely that can be an alternate view. I call it a gonzo pedagogy. With gonzo pedagogy, you write yourself into the story of the curriculum. It’s not something that exists as a pure clean truth, there are multiple perspectives and no single idea.”
Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands, and she is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons
This is an edited version of an article in the 13 July edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents