Think it outHigher Education in the MOOC age: collaboration and collective intelligence

italian version Collaborative spirit and collective intelligence are two faces of the same coin, basic features of the renewed learning processes possible with new technologies. Starting from the m...

italian version

Collaborative spirit and collective intelligence are two faces of the same coin, basic features of the renewed learning processes possible with new technologies. Starting from the model MOOC, massive open online course, I draw some reflections about it.

Perhaps John Dewey would be happy of this news, because in “How we think” he provides critical insights about traditional teaching methods. He states that they are often monotonous and oriented to a military conformity: fixed arrangement of desks and chairs, rigid organization, rhythms, programs and disciplines, few books or a single book which to refer to, repetition and memorization as the only method to ensure learning. All this allows little or none rooms for individual thinking and learning abilities and frustrates the motivation toward research and intellectual knowledge.

New pedagogical theory: MOOC is an example.
Technologies are not a panacea, but the current media devices, and in particular social media, may allow to test and develop new models and methods in the educational field. For example, MOOC potentially could overcome some limits of education mentioned by Dewey and other limits of the university teaching and learning system, like the demand for a long time, accumulation of knowledge often dispersed and not enough targeted to meet different job demands, expensive and in many cases exclusive. MOOC is not meant only to the uploading of offline produced didactic materials, but its goal is to create ad hoc courses where technologies constitute the learning environment.

Each student is an active collaborator. MOOC o similar models could be useful to organize plural and different information flows and to guide people in retrieving and interpreting them. Information production, distribution and consumption processes are related to the values of sharing and collaborating, characterizing online environment and are depending from an open approach, free and accessible to all. MOOC provides rooms and chances for exchange and deal common issues and relevant topics, through forum and social media devices. Thus, it could be possible to develop the collective intelligence, studied by Pierre Lévy. He uses this concept referring to web population’s ability to connect several knowledge sources developing collective intelligence, which can be organized and cultivated. In the traditional model students were passive subjects, they were receiver and repository of information and notions. Nowadays, students are more and more active collaborators in learning process. In this new role as co-producers and co-consumers, students can choose study paths closer to their passions, needs and interest; they can choose their study pace; they can search and select materials, verifying sources; they can share information, contributing to new materials production. Accordingly to Anant Awarall, president of Edx platform and teacher of Artificial Intelligence at Berkeley, it seems that students confront each other and participate more easily in online environment: a student ask a question and immediately other students get involved. Even if the answers are not totally correct, it triggers a process of reflection and debate which a teacher should only guide.

Mooc for the development of collective intelligence.

The online environment, and in particular the platform dedicate to higher education based on the Mooc, can afford to go beyond the limits of the traditional pedagogical methods producing a new way of pedagogical relationship and communication. Mutual communication from all to all, where technology are used effectively, redefines positively the traditional roles and creates conditions for attitudes of cooperation pursuing, contributing to the development of the ‘social brain’. This is the ability to manage a large number of relationships with other human beings, improving – accordingly to anthropologist Robin Dunbar – the success of the human species. Through MOOC the individual perspectives can be driven to converge. Convergence doesn’t mean uniformity in thought or visions, but rather their blending and multiple synthesis for creativity and innovation.

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