Theoretical Analysis of Harvard University’s Justice and the MOOC


Vincent R. Lastreto
North Carolina State University
May 3, 2016

Daniel. and her comments reassured my position. was rightfully more critical of my work and vocally so. As I drafted the final iteration I considered his concern that my tone was 1 . the broad network of users are a part of an ongoing movement in humanities courses as they become delivered on the MOOC platform in large numbers. Foresman acted as my first set of eyes for the work. This was a central theme of my paper.Theoretical Foundations of Advanced Learning Environments Poe Hall. NC 27695 Dear Dr. It is my intention that this paper raises some important questions and theoretical considerations for instructional designers continuing to deliver the humanities to the masses. Adryan. instructional assistant for ECI 517. While Justice may serve as a case study. and Danielle performed critical evaluations. 2016 Dr. Foresman also provided me with some helpful proofreading edits resulting from hasty errors by the writer. Evans: Please find enclosed my original paper entitled: “Theoretical Analysis of Harvard University’s Justice and the MOOC Platform” which I am submitting as the final deliverable for the application paper assignment in ECI 517. Particularly. May 3. NC 27695 Tuesday. 402D 2310 Stinson Drive Raleigh. While I disagree with some of Mr. Ms. I was pleased that she seemed to concur with many of the findings of my inquiry. Michael Evans. Instructor ECI 517. she praised my assertion that assessment methods on the MOOC platform should receive additional scrutiny. I appreciate his willingness to challenge my position. My paper was reviewed by two of my peers. It was also reviewed by Danielle Boulden. A PhD student. This paper explores theoretical applications and their implications in Harvard University’s Justice – a MOOC course. Kelly’s editorial notes.College of Education North Carolina State University Raleigh. and provided the writer will valuable feedback worth noting here. Ms. Adryan Foresman and Daniel Kelly. Daniel Kelly.

Mr. To her. Kelly was quite helpful when it came to citations and formatting as well. Also I would like to thank you. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to those that viewed my submission video and provided the constructive feedback that helped put the finishing touches on this final iteration. It has been a pleasure.perhaps too “dogmatic. I included headers as my writing progressed through the various themes of the piece. pointed out a couple of places where my diction was perhaps drifting from the academic focus of the assignment. Dr. for reading this work as well as all of your additional assistance throughout this semester. my paper needed a clearer structure – and she thought that including more headings would be helpful. Best Regards. Danielle Boulden was also a valuable resource in composing this final iteration. Vince Lastreto 2 . Acting as the intermediary to the faculty.” Therefore. As such. Danielle was thoughtful in the constructive feedback that she provided. Ms. Danielle. I attempted to revise accordingly. similar to Daniel. Evans. I revised some of the diction to preserve the work as academic.

Dr. 3 . The goal of the course is to introduce classical and modern concepts of political philosophy and to engage students in thoughtful debate about contemporary moral issues.Abstract Questions for instructors and designers are growing especially important in the context of MOOCs. a course established on the edX platform by Harvard University. As Sandel puts in his closing remarks of lecture one: “The aim of this course is awaken the restlessness of reason. Sandel’s lectures and pedagogy are geared towards an undergraduate-level audience. 2015).” (Sandel. Michael J. The centerpiece of Justice is a series of lectures by acclaimed American political philosopher. Sandel. Yet there seems to be a degree of theoretical divergence when comparing the in-class experience to the MOOC experience. This case study will aim to explore the theoretical applications inherent in Justice. and to see where it might lead.

and structures information that facilitates optimal processing (Ertmer & Newby. Most of the time. instructional design and traditional paradigms of higher education have experienced a significant disruption. they are entirely free. Sandal effectively persuades in-class students into doing “domain-related practices” by engaging students in argumentation exercises. Stanford. Locke. and Yale are eager to showcase their faculty’s research to the world. Sandel’s epistemology is derived from the content of his course. His approach: focuses on conceptualizing student learning processes.. Sites like edX and Coursera are attracting millions of users. now seemingly accessible to all despite one’s geography or socioeconomic status. and Kant with contemporary discussions of issues. 2012). The in-class argumentation among students proves a valuable tool in asking to students to “.. Lectures blend the ideas of historical theorists like: Aristotle.reveal and 4 .Introduction In recent years. emphasizes the role of environmental conditions. is a decent internet connection. Costs are substantially lower than their traditional counterparts... 1993). All you need. Participating institutions: Harvard. Technology has made content once thought reserved only for the aristocracy. 1993). Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have created a movement that aims to challenge the antiquated notion that an education. Context Sandel’s in-class Justice most closely aligns with the cognitive theory tradition. of the “Ivy League” caliber. The aim of the course is to make knowledge meaningful and helpful to learners (Ertmer & Newby. can only be available to STEM savants and wealthy elites. He largely develops a community of practice in the cognitive apprenticeship framework (Jonassen & Land.

” (Anderson. Reder. The interface is a thoughtfully organized learning space. The instructional design of the space reflects that of a learning community (Jonassen & Land. for a digital repository to support student-centered learning. 2012). 1996. appropriate learning tasks. and Simon. A casual observer can see how the argument exchanges become more and more sophisticated as the course unfolds. his theoretical foundation and employ are sound. tools. In other words. Sandel also ensures that the learning context remains motivating by adequately structuring the ethical dilemma (Jonassen & Land). 5 . Throughout the units. 115).” (p. Not only does the success of these endeavors demonstrate a mastery of scaffolding and transfer. the course aims to foster thoughtful discussion and philosophical reflection among participants. 10). p.reflect on prior conceptions. Sandel’s cognitive approach with his in-class audience preserves the teleology of the content. 2012. but also how a situated learning strategy can be “context-independent. Analysis of Shortcomings of the MOOC The syllabus of the Justice course on the edX (HarvardX) interface states that the aim of the course is to explore classical and contemporary theories of justice. as well as reflect an important disciplinary practice in its own right. p. there is opportunity for collective understanding through a knowledge forum. The role of the knowledge forum is outlined by Jonassen and Land 2012: “This work emphasizes collective building and improvement of ideas. The model fits the ideal mold outlined by Jonassen and Land (2012): “Indeed. and technology tools support students to post their ideas and notes. and scaffolds must be effectively integrated with the resources. and to add varied graphical representations. 17).” (p. organize their own and others’ ideas according to different conceptual frames. Units are clearly segregated with activities and extensive digital repositories.” (Jonassen & Land. More broadly. comment on and add to others’ ideas. HarvardX has designed a user-friendly experience with its Justice module.19).

Further.” While these reasons are inherently noble.This ad hoc style is a departure from the cognitive/semi- constructivist style of classroom instruction. there was a 2014 study done by MIT on one of its first MOOC courses - 6. et al. It is predicated on a strong associative response brought by continuous pairing (Burton. there seem to be no tangible reinforcements in this student-centered learning environment particularly if the ethos of the typical MOOC learner is considered. For example. there are abstract standards of performance for many users/learners. part of the beauty of the MOOC model is access. The final exam is twenty-five multiple choice 2014). particularly considering the content. This mismatch illustrates a main 6 . While this creates better access.002x. The found that approximately 30% of participants in the course stated social engagement or personal challenge as reasons for taking the course provided by the Electrical Engineering department (DeBoer.. et. Quizzes are structured to include five multiple choice questions. No inhibitive entrance exams or prerequisites required to participate. How can students become active learners without traditional performance dilemmas? Lectures and activities laid out in the HarvardX Justice module are coupled with formative quizzes concluded by a cumulative final exam.Who is the MOOC Learner? One should reiterate the diversity of the MOOC learner/consumer. The assessment method is one of striking convenience and pays homage to the behaviorist tradition. This denigrates Sandel’s eloquent lectures and community of learners strategies.. As mentioned earlier. numbers such as these present quite a challenge for instructional designers. It makes the goal of instruction to elicit a desired response from a learner presented with a target stimulus (Ertmer & Newby. The goal of the assessment is to maximize encoding and recalling (Ertmer & Newby. 1994). 1994). 1996).

174). A keen and theoretically minded approach would give credence to SRL and provide learners/users a greater opportunity to be subject to deeper cognitive evaluations where the student can become more aware of a poor fit between products and standards.Benjamin Franklin (Best. 2012. Designers should acknowledge that multiple choice assessments are invalid to a certain degree with this type of content and this learner. 1970. The case study of Harvard Justice only highlights this notion. he or she can enact greater control over the learning operations to refine the product. which. 163). under the management of Ignorance and Wickedness. often draw on destruction. MOOC students of ethics and philosophy are invested in personal enrichment that potentially transcends exam mastery. in my opinion.” The quote above. . showing a mismatch between behaviorist assessment and cognitive instruction on the MOOC platform. Contemporary theoretical inquiries have shown it impossible to isolate a one-size fits all theory in instructional design. instead of providing for the safety of a people. revise the conditions and standards.challenge for the instructor and instructional designer in bridging the gap between the classroom and the World Wide Web. The MOOC concept is predicated on the idea of self-regulated learning (SRL). p. Ethics Courses on the MOOC Platform “Wise and good men are. or both (Jonassen & Land. 7 . the strength of a state: much more so than riches or arms. SRL assumes that learners exercise agency by consciously monitoring and intervening in their learning (Jonassen & Land. 174). by Benjamin Franklin in a 1750 letter to Samuel Johnson. p. illustrates the value of Justice and Harvard’s intentions to make the content available on the MOOC format. As a result.

p. is investing a lot of time and monetary resources into exploring the gaming concept. 2012). To a certain degree. technology can be the answer (Bransford. Operating under an informed assumption that Justice users are working professionals. Distance Education Learning and Technology Applications. One can envisage a hypothetical game in which students would be regularly challenged with ethical scenarios and forced to make decisions rooted in ethical theories. p. The Justice module at edX represents an exciting case study for one that would welcome the sight of humanities disciplines succeeding in the digital age. 2012. Key to the humanities is the “human” element. Imagine a mobile version of Oregon Trail focused on classical and contemporary ethics. instructional designers could mimic in-class discussions among students by considering dialogic gaming. By bringing real-world problems into modules through demonstrations and simulations. The only difference would be that the dialogue has the potential to be more sophisticated. To improve the Justice module. The game would focus on triggering events that could potentially encourage choice and discussion (Jonassen & Land. a company called Ethics Game challenges participants to solve ethical problems from a cosmopolitan array of viewpoints. 243). For example. Simulation exercises revolving around ethical dilemmas are common in many continuing professional education modules. These games can also be integrated into other social media platforms such as Facebook and SnapChat (Jonassen & Land. Bransford (2000) highlights: “These learning experiences are 8 . 132). our society already engages in political debates using these mediums. 2012. MOOCs can connect learning to larger communities. where the focus could be on making productive arguments part of a game (Jonassen & Land. 131). p. perhaps this type of assessment/reinforcement activity would be a better fit. Perhaps a renaissance of “viral” proportions is well overdue. 2012. at NC State.

245).” Keen theoretical analysis can help bridge the gap between world class local learning experiences and SCLE MOOC platforms. 9 .fundamental to children’s--and adults’--lives since they are embedded in the culture and the social structures that organize their daily activities (p.

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Michael J.Sandel.justiceharvard. Podcast retrieved from: http://www. 11 . (Lecturer). Doing the Right Thing. Justice with Michael 01/#watch. Justice [Episode 1]. (2011).