More on quantity of engagement vs. quality of production

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This entry will be short because I do not have much time and wish, simply, to capture a few thoughts for further elaboration later. The basic idea that the previous blog post landed on arose in part from thinking about how learning proceeds in MOOCs, both xMOOCs and cMOOCs. In most cases, there is not a lot of professorial agonizing over providing granular feedback on quality, on sentence structure, on the fine characteristics of the learner’s thought or argumentation, or the lack thereof. In the case of many xMOOCs, the rubrics simply capture whether or not the work done is “good enough” in a particular way or across a set of characteristics. (Was there a clear argument? Was evidence presented? Are all sentences complete and grammatically correct? Did the response answer the prompt? And so forth.)

On the other hand, many of us, when we teach face-to-face and evaluate student work, we agonize over providing highly detailed feedback, particularly on writing tasks, and we offer abundant, detailed suggestions for improvement. Experience and anecdotal evidence suggest that much of that effort is futile. In contrast, a highly motivated learner in a cMOOC gets very little formal feedback from a “professor” and, in fact, draws most of her or his learning experience (and whatever other benefits the xMOOC offers) by paying attention during conversations with others, i.e. peer learners, by reflecting deeply and critically, by working out things for him- or herself, by trying new tools. There is a structure and a highly productive flow to a cMOOC experience. Learning definitely takes place, but it’s not via “teacher” to “learner” feedback/critique.

To be honest, I think that for someone who enthusiastically invests her- or himself in the process, learning in a totally informal cMOOC is as robust, as meaningful and as persistent as anything that one does in a face-face class for a grade. Indeed, a lot of my own intellectual rejuvenation in the past half-decade or so has its impetus in learning via MOOCs of different sorts, along with pursuing my own readings and engaging in reflecting, whether on my own or following suggestions from others.

A reasonably scaffolded experience where the reflection and writing are “good enough” over a significant quantity and variety of tasks is probably just as productive and meaningful for the learner, perhaps more so, than a lot of granular, detailed, picky feedback and overabundant suggestions for improvement. What is the better way for an instructor to spend time? I’d say that it is more productive to spend more time on carefully organizing the learning materials & activities, scaffolding well, and providing less but more judicious feedback than in spending a lot time over each student product, detailing every error or wrong turn and providing a long list of detailed suggestions.

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