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MOOC Targets Needs of K-12 Teachers and Students

By guest blogger Michelle R. Davis

While Massive Open Online Courses, commonly known as MOOCs, may be all the rage at the higher-education level, the trend has been slow to make its way into the K-12 arena.

But MOOCs are gradually showing up on the K-12 landscape. Michigan Virtual University and Kent State University recently launched a MOOC aimed at high school students interested in becoming teachers, higher education students currently studying to be teachers, and educators themselves.

The course, "K-12 Teaching in the 21st Century," focuses on what it means to be a teacher in today's technologically-oriented schools. It delves into strategies for using technology in online and blended settings and it covers how to use digital tools to enhance learning. The course is free and though there are some ways participants might get credit for completing it (K-12 students may be able to use it to fulfill Michigan's high school online learning requirement, for example), the real goal is to get people passionate about the topic to learn more and collaborate, said Jamey Fitzpatrick, the president and CEO of Michigan Virtual University.

According to the course description, it "will provide participants with a deeper understanding of MOOCs, along with an introduction to emerging and free technologies such as presentation media (e.g., Flickr), online artifact creation (e.g., Vialogues) and collaboration innovations (e.g., ThingLink)."

The course already has more than 751 students enrolled, though that number was rising by the hour, said Richard E. Ferdig, the summit professor of educational technologies at Kent State's Research Center for Educational Technology, who is helping teach the course.

Mr. Ferdig said he envisions the MOOC to be particularly interactive. "We want to set up experiences and opportunities that can get participants at the same table, creating and sharing, so this quickly becomes a community of practice rather than a 'sage on the stage' experience," he said.

The goal behind the MOOC is to delve deeper into whether the format can be beneficial in the K-12 environment. MOOCs are controversial with some saying they provide greater access to quality teaching and content while others counter that they promote ineffective teaching. But Mr. Fitzpatrick said there's enough buzz around MOOCs that he thought it was important to experiment by creating one.

"Some people say MOOCs are the future of education, others say they will ruin it," he said. "We've got to dip our toe in the water. If this is a complete crash and burn, we will still benefit because we'll be able to learn from this experience."

Mr. Ferdig plans to collect information about the best ways to engage learners through MOOCS as well as  the best methods for organizing content and presenting information.

"The reality is that there are positives and things that we need to be careful of when it comes to MOOCs," Mr. Ferdig said. "We want to collect some research-based facts about what works well and what doesn't."

The MOOC, which launched last week, will run until Nov. 8 and participants are expected to spend four to six hours a week on the course. Even in the first week, participants have gotten creative. The course introduced digital tools, including blogging. One high school student read the material about blogging, then created her own blog, and posted an item detailing what she wished teachers knew about blogs, Mr. Ferdig said.

"The aim is to bring people around the table," he said. "We're doing that."

Want more ed-tech news? Follow @EWmdavis on Twitter.

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