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Aurora Institute

Can MOOCs Become System-Builders?

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): State Policy, Develop Educator Capacity

From Atlantic Article
Image from The Atlantic Website

Something really special happens in the second or third year of implementation in schools that are applying competency education with the spirit of learning and the spirit of empowerment – educators develop a deep sense of urgency to improve their skills so they are in a better position to help students learn.

In the first year or so, there is a shared purpose that the goal is to make sure students learn, not cover the curriculum; educators have figured out the new infrastructure for learning; the understanding of what proficiency means for each academic level has been calibrated; everyone is aware of where as a school they are strong and where they are weak in terms of being able to help students learn; and if a strong information system has been put into place, everyone also knows exactly how students are progressing and which ones need more help. With this transparency about how the school is performing, educators become focused on how improve their instructional tool kits – deepening their knowledge about how to teach their discipline, how to upgrade instruction and assessment to higher order skills, integrating language and literacy practices, how to organize learning opportunities so students are really engaged in robust learning, how to better coach students in building habits of learning….and the list goes on.

It’s a tremendous lift in instruction and assessment led by educators themselves who realize that their own professional skills need to be improved if they are going to help students achieve – I think of this as the transition toward the Finnish model. Teachers have explained that this stage of the transition is both the most challenging and the most rewarding. However, as a country, we are challenged to provide adequate professional development and learning opportunities for teachers that are rooted in the values and practices of competency-based education and are available in just-in-time modules.

Thus, I was fascinated by the insights raised in the article The (Accidental) Power of MOOCs: Most participants in MOOCs are college-educated and of those up to 39% are teachers. If teachers are finding that MOOCs are a meaningful way to learn, can we then start to think about creating MOOCs that are designed to meet their needs? For example, if they are using MOOCs to better understand the discipline they are teaching and seek out other ways to structure learning opportunities, could we design something based on their interests? Imagine MOOCs that teach teachers about learning progressions (instructional strategies based on how students learn) in math or in science. Or could we provide MOOCs that enhance assessment literacy and information on how to provide constructive feedback that helps students get an idea when they are struggling?

MOOCs might actually help us with one of the biggest systemic challenges we face – creating mechanisms that allow us to calibrate the determination of proficiency across schools, districts, and states. Imagine signing on to a MOOC with a team of your colleagues to help understand how to determine proficiency in eighth grade writing or the sixth academic level of math.