Clarification on the question, “What is a MOOC?”

I have been thinking more about the question “What exactly is a MOOC, anyway?” related to the #change11 course that started last week and which I am engaging in (in my spare time, ha!!). While I spent some time considering some of the ethical and privacy issues involved in this research, I have conveniently side-stepped the question about what this thing is, anyway.

This may not be a big issue, but when I mentioned this to a F2F colleague this week and was asked what this thing is, I just stood there, speechless.

I have participated in a rather interesting discussion about some of these issue on Frances Bell’s blog, though even there we skirted the issue of what this thing is. So, searching for the response from the facilitators themselves, I came across The MOOC Model for Digital Practice as I reviewed the Week 1 course Orientation page, and came across the following  useful definition which I will quote here at length due to its comprehensive form and complexity (pp. 10-11):

What is a MOOC?

A MOOC is an online course with the option of free and open registration, a publiclyshared curriculum, and open-ended outcomes. MOOCs integrate social networking, accessible online resources, and are facilitated by leading practitioners in the field of study. Most significantly, MOOCs build on the engagement of learners who self-organize their participation according to learning goals, prior knowledge and skills, and common interests. The term came into being in 2008, though versions of very large open online courses were in existence before that time (McAuley, 2010). MOOCs have been offered in conjunction with academic institutions and independently by facilitators: to date, topics have remained within the E-learning and educational technologies fields. Some MOOCs have had upwards of 2000 registrants. MOOCs share in some of the conventions of an ordinary course, such as a predefined timeline and weekly topics for consideration, but generally have no fees, no prerequisites other than Internet access and interest, no predefined expectations for participation, and no formal accreditation (there are several instances of MOOCs that are affiliated with a university and provide learners the option of enrolling formally in the course and submitting assignments for marking).

News that a MOOC will be offered is typically spread through online social networks and email lists. Registration and course topics are offered through a central course site developed by facilitators: participants can use the central site to interact and discuss ideas, or may share their contributions from their own blogs and develop and maintain ties through other technologies such as Twitter. The course operates on an open and a-hierarchical invitation to participate in and scaffold activities and discussions: a true “teacher as learner as teacher” model (Siemens, 2006). Participation in a MOOC is emergent, fragmented, diffuse, and diverse. There is no credit or certificate offered for completion. Facilitators of MOOCs volunteer their time, and comment on participants’ input, but it is expected that the community of participants will be the primary source of feedback for the majority of work contributed. This is in keeping with the participatory collaboration and commenting norms within social media.

With this stated, it seems to me that, in a nutshell, a MOOC is:

An open online course on some topic around which participants interact with one another where and when they want, based on the strength of the connections between participants who self-determine their interaction. The connections between social media and other websites can be traced through links and a tag (#change11).

While I do not want to be locked into a definition, as a MOOC is a moving target, I do want to have a clearer ideas of whaty this thing is that stretches out for months and months ahead. How does this seem to others participating in this?