What comparative education can offer to MOOC research

The last days I have been amazed at how much my own thinking has been shaped during the days of my graduate school. There were several major influences, but the one I would like to refer to has to do with the module on Comparative Education.

I wanted to write a research paper on the citizenship education in an Eastern European country close to my heart. I do not remember now what I wanted to compare it to. After a few supervision meetings, my  intense Greek professor convinced me that the topic was too hard for me to handle, so I ended up doing something else. I was working on a paper that researched a European voluntary program, that as I discovered by chance, was originated in Denmark. I was trying to understand what made it so that the program that the Danish government shut down, was funded (and is still being funded) by the European Commission.

Long story short, when I wrote my first draft, I meticulously compared the structure of a Danish program to the European one, and brought it to my supervisor. I don’t remember much of the conversation except that he convinced me of one thing: comparing something that looks the same means nothing, if we do not compare the context in which they occurred first. I remember I kept arguing to him (naively) about the features of the two programs being similar or different. He deferred those, and came back to the points of whether I can draw parallels. His main point being – if the context are incomparable, no matter how similar is that thing we are comparing, we are not looking at the same thing.

Comparative education has been concerned with the concepts of context (of educational systems) and concepts of transfer (mostly of educational practice from one educational system to another). Robert Cowen was one of the people who lectured us about it, and I listened in admiration of the simplicity he had to talk about these highlight abstract and theoretical terms.

MOOC research and everything we put on in to me is much like that of moving practices from affluent US neighbourhood to an Indian slum. As long as the context differ, no matter what we are transferring, it is meaningless.

It just keeps amusing me how much everything I have thought and done about MOOCs so far, carries on that conversation about school building looking the same but being so different across the world.

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