To some degree, my teaching practice is shaped by the nature of the activities of my directorate and the boundaries of social work education and the national curriculum. However, on a micro level, I am engaged in academic activities outside of my prescribed role. For example, I am currently co-authoring a text book about social work skills which will be published along with a companion website [K1; A5]. This text will be of value as it will map onto the national curriculum and the Professional Capabilities Framework (TCSW, 2012). However, for many years the issue of skills development has been problematic as there is a gap in terms of how students develop their ability to apply theory to skills and interventions with children, families and/or adults during work placements.
To complement the book and website, a massive open online course (MOOC) may provide the opportunity to bridge this gap by focussing on content (theory and skills) in an applied way. Employing a connectivist paradigm would enable communities of practice to form through peer learning whilst individuals develop the ability to connect experiences with theory and other forms of knowledge (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996; Wenger, 1998; Siemens, 2004). Whilst recognising the value of connectivist pedagogical approaches, a limitation of cMOOCs lies in the reliance on active participation, and in this project a community of practice would rely on collaboration. The use of virtual space where groups can work collaboratively (for example, a Wiki) would enhance communication and group cohesion within the context of a negotiated activity where knowledge is co-constructed (Mason & Rennie, 2008). Indeed, Wenger, Trayner & de Laat (2011, p10) assert that ‘the social fabric of learning’ is supported through collaboration within a community.
Whilst some educators resist emergent technologies and view with suspicion the lack of control over learning that this type of activity facilitates (Kop, Fournier & Mak, 2011), the use of digital technology in this context embraces a constructivist epistemology which is congruent with my preferred pedagogical paradigm. Whilst the alternative type of MOOC (xMOOC) employs more traditional didactic methods (lectures, followed by a form of test) and proves popular with a global e:learning community, xMOOCs are not without their critics. For example, Bates (2012) launched a damning polemic against Daphne Koller, co-founder of online MOOC provider Coursera, for ‘delivering a product which is error-ridden, fails to teach higher order skills of critical thinking and creative thinking, and does not treat students as individuals’.
Indeed, since their emergence, MOOCs have attracted criticism around access, content, quality, pedagogy and universities have been concerned that they will lose market shares and be left behind in the digital revolution (Department of Business, Innovation & Skills, 2013). This latter has not transpired and drop off rates for MOOCS are notoriously high (Department of Business, Innovation & Skills, 2013). However, the cMOOC proposed here would be offered to registered students who are already studying for a social work qualification (and others if they so wished to study social work skills). In addition, some of the concerns about the growing certification of MOOCs presently holds no store in social work education as such certificates would be of no value; social work programmes offer a professional qualification (alongside the academic one) and programmes require formal endorsement from professional bodies. Additionally, much of the content requires face-to-face pedagogical methods and assessment (for example, observed and assessed role play). Thus, certificates acquired through studying MOOCs would not constitute accreditable prior learning and MOOC content and activity would be additional and complementary to formal social work training.
The proposed MOOC would be widely available to social work students and this would enable a transnational community of practice which would only add to what is currently delivered as a localised (within a UK context) generic qualification which has a great deal of prescriptive content (again at a national level). A MOOC would enable specialisms to form as aspects of skills development could be targeted (to children and family workers, or adult-focused practitioners). Additionally, I feel that all higher education provision needs to be competitive in the HEI market economy and in opening up my practice to embedding new technologies, not only am I keeping up with pedagogical innovation, but I am contributing to the shifting terrain of social work education [K4; A5; V4].
Bates, T. (2012) What’s right and wrong about coursera style MOOCs. Available from: http://www.tonybates.ca/2012/08/05/whats-right-and-whats-wrong-about-coursera-style-moocs/.
Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (2013) Maturing of the MOOC: literature review of massive open online courses and other forms of online distance learning. BIS Research Paper Number 130. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/240193/13-1173-maturing-of-the-mooc.pdf.
Duffy, T.M. & Cunningham, D.J. (1996) Constructivism: Implications for the design and delivery of instruction. In D.H. Jonassen (ed) Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology, pp.170-198. New York: Macmillan.
Siemens, G. (2004) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Available from: http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm.
The College of Social Work (2012) Professional Capabilities Framework. Available from: http://www.tcsw.org.uk/pcf.aspx.
Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wenger, E., Trayner, B. & de Laat, M. (2011) Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: A conceptual framework. Rapport 18, Ruud de Moor Centrum, Open Universiteit, The Netherlands.