Quite inadvertently, I’ve become immersed, and interested, in MOOCs this year. It started with the work of Jeremy Knox, whose PhD research I’m supervising, and who’s doing some fascinating work around open online education. He’ll be in various places over the next few weeks, including #ir13 tomorrow for an ignite session; and at the forthcoming SRHE/University of Edinburgh event “Critical Perspectives on Openness in the Digital University“. I like how Jeremy is applying critical and posthumanist perspectives to the MOOC, and I really like how he’s working to put his research in the path of his posthumanism: developing creative and interesting ways to let elements of his learning network – like books and rooms – contribute to the data his project is generating.

I’m also part of a team developing one of the first MOOCs at the University of Edinburgh – E-learning and Digital Cultures, which will run for the first time in January 2013. Along with developing a great MOOC (of course) which is based on some of the ideas from our MSc in E-learning course of the same name, we’ve been working hard to understand what the MOOC can – and can’t – accomplish; what scale and the ‘massive’ might be good for; and how we should think about the role of the teacher in “MOOC pedagogy“. As my colleague has said, the powerful hype around MOOCs can make it difficult to sort out what is actually going on here. More research – and a variety of kinds – in this area is clearly needed. (in that vein, I’ve been very fortunate to have met and had some delightful conversations with Amy Collier at Stanford University, who (along with her doctoral students) is beginning what seems like important work in analysing MOOC data.)

People are already lamenting the MOOC as a flash-in-the-pan, but that doesn’t trouble me (then again, I still love what we do with our students in Second Life, so maybe I welcome the stage after super-hyped-ness). It’s clearly making a new sort of space for what continue to be vital conversations about what contact means, about presence and pedagogy, and about the nature of higher education, and these are things I like to think and talk about.