If one believes the press, MOOCS are the future of education…or its ruin. The word is not in yet as to which is going to happen. We have designed and have just completed teaching a MOOC focused on media literacy—specifically, first-year written, visual, and oral communication (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and our Office of the Provost); thus, we are in a good position to explore some ways in which the past informs this approach to media literacy.
The 2013 NMC Horizon Report identifies MOOCs as an important technology, noting that MOOCs have “deviated from the initial premise…a pedagogy in which knowledge [was] not a destination but an ongoing activity, fueled by the relationships people build and the deep discussions” (Johnson et al., 2013, p. 11). This attention is curious, given that US distance education dates back to the 19th century: university extension services, correspondence courses, instructional radio, television (Nasseh, 1997), and, more recently, fiber optic networks. In some regards, MOOCs are remarkably innovative—free courses with a dramatic scale, especially important in a world in which education is often limited and expensive. In other regards, MOOCs are conservative; the narrow options for teaching and learning are driven by distance education technology. Of particular historical interest are the ways technologies constrain and impede pedagogy. MOOCs providers tout free educational resources for the masses, few acknowledging online resources already available for decades from many writing centers, providing a viable approach supporting media literacy.
Grounding our work is our own MOOC, we will address three interrelated topics: distance education history, focusing on factors that are now part of literacy MOOCs; history of ways technologies shape education history, including MOOCs; and the role writing centers have as players in media literacy and their repertoire of resources MOOCs could use.