Blog Post

Storyboarding the Future of Higher Education.

Storyboarding the Future of Higher Education.

This is a powerpoint based on the storyboard outline for The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, the six-week Coursera course that will begin in late January  2014, and that is open to all, for free, without prerequisites of any kind.  We will be announcing the details as they are available.

It is the heterogeneity of the students and the engaged, lively Forums we will conduct online that make this course, but, to find out the sequence of the six video lectures (to me, the least interesting component) please look below this blog and you will find them presented in "PowerPoint" form with a breakdown of the content of each week of the course and some segments within each week's lesson plan.   I welcome comments that will prompt revision before I begin filming these videos in June. 

In addition to this Coursera course, HASTAC is leading an initiative to mount face-to-face courses, webinars, seminars, discussion groups, and other face-to-face activities worldwide on the Future of Higher Education.  You can read more about that here: 

NOTE: This is an ACTIVIST course, with MOOCs not just the platform but also the subject matter for our online conversations. For example, I am very excited about what we will all learn from a global forum directed at the question:  "What is the history of defunding public education in YOUR country in YOUR lifetime?"   

Our intention is to take advantage of the stable Coursera platform to de-stabilize some assumptions about both online and face-to-face learning, and to use the Forums to energize a significant conversation about what it means to create a public educational system (the history) and what it means to defund one (the future--unless we work together to alter a thirty-year international trend).

I personally do not believe MOOCs that are simply top down and offer one centralized  point of view are the future of higher education.  They do not begin to take full advantage of the community aspects of peer-to-peer learning.   I hope we can use this course to, together, explore the possibilities of both online learning and formal and traditional modes of education.   I hope this course is the platform for a global conversation with engaged  interactive participants thinking together about better forms of education for the world we live in now.  

One focus of the conversation will be about the role of MOOCs in higher education today.  I hope that a sustained, serious conversation on MOOCs, using the platform offered by this MOOC, will in fact help move us past "MOOC Mania" to a more enlightened discussion of what works, what doesn't work, what can be improved, what offers a true and viable alternative form of learning, and what is simply a commercialized and centralized form of "content delivery" that offers very little real learning potential. I hope it will allow us to talk about the business model of MOOCs and the business model of the contemporary university (different in different countries, in different regions, in different states in the U.S., and different in private, public, community college, and for-profit venues.)  The Forums and peer-to-peer discussion sessions incorporated into each week's lessons will be an ideal way for a Massive Online Open Conversation about MOOCs.

Since none of my classroom teaching follows a standard "Sage on the Stage" model,and Doc on the Laptop is an even worse model of pedagogy.  I have no intention of having my Coursera course revert to that.   The videos, as outlined and storyboarded here, are simply a resource, just as a text book or online videos might be a resource.   It's the interactive, massive, online discussion that will rock the course and, I truly hope, supply some great new ideas that we can all share as we shape the future of higher education together.   

I'm using the global forum of Coursera to also address the "robbing our future" aspect of the global so-called "neoLiberal" defunding and underfunding of public higher education that is documentable (and deplorable) over the last three decades.   MOOCs are being touted as a "solution" to the "problem" of costly education that is not available to all.   There is a larger social problem to consider:  what it does to a society, to any society, to reduce access to higher education for all, especially in a time of rapid technological change.   MOOCs are one response to a problem that is a huge cultural, social, economic, and philosophical problem that every citizen of the digital age should find alarming. 

But is it the right response?   Or does it simply contribute to the problem of rising costs, underfunded schooling, undermining of the professorate, massive student debt, and increasing commodification and commercialization of what should be a public good?   What is the relationship between innovation which is truly necessary to expand access to education and offer new methods (and I am a strong advocate for educatioal innovation) and innovation which is simply about someone's profit margin but not really about learning and making the best forms of learning to a larger population? I hope this course will also be a rallying cry on behalf of a reinvestment in the future of learning. 

At the same time, this course admonishes those in higher education--especially those who have achieved the status of tenured professor--to rethink their own theories and principles to ensure the most relevant, urgent forms of learning for students coming of age in this interactive age.   I am a strong advocate of peer learning.   Therefore, one "textbook" for the course will be the multimedia websites  made in project teams entirely by  undergraduates in Surprise Endings:  Social Science and Literature (cotaught with behavioral economist Dan Ariely):   

The other textbook will be "Field Notes to 21st Century Literacies: A Guide to Open Learning and Peer Teaching," a book written by the graduate students in my 21st Century Literacies class and that will be available later this summer for free download online: 

Those are just some ideas.  I hope others will contribute more.   What would you like to see for the History and Future of Higher Education?     This course is scheduled to be offered online for six weeks, beginning in late January of 2014.    Feel free to use the Comments section to ask questions, offer ideas, and make suggestions that I can incorporate into the course or into the future Forums.



To find out more about this course, please see this post: 


COURSERA start date:  January 2014.   It will run for six weeks

The Coursera course on "The History and Future of Higher Education" includes six hour-long weekly video lectures by Duke Professor Cathy Davidson (divided into 10-15 minute segments), quizzes, and then ethnographic, interview, research, reading, and writing assignments, with weekly and biweekly Forums (open to anyone who registered) that will invite connectivist, peer-to-peer participation and contribution, and opportunity for parallel face-to-face courses to participate and connect with one another online (undergraduate classes, graduate classes, high school classes, one middle school class, plus teacher development, informal learning centers, and more). 

Before we do content-based assignments, we'll online create "community rules" for interactions in the course.   Anyone not observing the rules of respect will be asked to leave the Forums.   Trolls are not welcome.  This is an opportunity for a global exchange on the future of education.  Experimentation requires generosity, creativity, tolerance, and mutual respect and respectful disagreement with a goal of better exchange of ideas. 

Sample assignment Week 1:   Interview a parent or grandparent about their own education.   If you're a grandparent or parent, interview your child.  We'll end up with international, regional, and generational ethnographies and oral histories of education.

Sample assignment Week 2:    Organize a peer-learning group in your area and set yourself a syllabus. And an action plan.  See what happens.  Report back!

Sample assignment Week 3:    Why do we need diplomas?   Why do you need a diploma?  If you didn't, would you still want to go to college?  Why?   What can you learn in college that you cannot learn from DIY (do it yourself) peer-learning online networks?  What can you learn from DIY networks online that you cannot learn in a formal degree program?   What other alternative ways of learning are there?  What other alternative forms of credentialing are there?

Sample assignment Week 4:    See one. Do one. Teach one:  What did you learn and what did you teach this week? Post a video of the result.

Sample assignment Week 5:   Storyboard your own class in the history and future of higher education.  Or K-12.  Etc.

Sample assignment Week 6:   Why are you taking this Coursera MOOC?  What "problem" does this online course solve that is not being addressed for you in other ways?  e.g. cost? admissions requirements?  location?  timeframe/asynchronous opportunity?  topic?   What other ways can you think of to address this problem?  

Sample assignment every week:  Write your own question.  Suggest it to the community.   We'll use the leaderboards to vote on which questions we all want to answer for next week's Forum.


You are invited.  Join us!





It would be super neat to see a book-writing experiment in this MOOC of yours using Coursera's built-in wiki platform. I wonder, qualitatively, how a book written between 8 grad students F2F differs from a book written across hundreds of students of varying backgrounds (and seeing the changelog of who actually does which tasks in collaborative writing!).


I am going to add that to the project syllabus now!   What a great idea, a MOOC-written book using the wiki on the future of education as open, peer education on a massive, global scale.


Example:  I could put up each of the Paradigm Changers Ive come up with and (a) ask anyone to contriburte their own ideas to each paradigm and (b) add new paradigms and ideas.   We could then have worked examples of tactics, methods, ideas, and inspirations that are already working---a fabulous way to ground and inspire new ideas everywhere.  


I think this could work, Barry.   Thanks so much for suggesting it.   Anyone else?   What else should we think about?


 So interesting! 



Hey Cathy... I've been playing around with this idea a bit.

I think the key is to see the MOOC as a yearly event and see the book as one of the outputs of that event. It always seems such a shame to put so much work into a large collaborative event and then have it slowly age into broken links and 5 year old examples.





Hi Dave, Can't wait to read all of this.  I love you work, as you know.  Actually, I can wait.  I'm on vacation and only have a timed connection and a weak one and so it requires having time off and boy that is nice after an insanely busy year.   Thanks so much for taking the time to send this and I look forward to spending time and being back in touch later.  Best, Cathy


Sample forums:

  • Has education in your country or your region been funded or defunded in your lifetime?  How? How much? Under what rationale?
  • Interview a grandparent (or grandchild) about their education. How is it the same or different from your own?
  • What form should a revitalized general education take?  One inspiration is the new Harvard model of introductory courses on such topics as "The Art of Looking" or "The Art of Listening." [See see: ] What other ideas can we share on this important topic?
  • What can you do today to make a difference in the future of higher education?  How can you energize the alliance of students taking this co-located course to help you in your mission?
  • What is the difference (in form, structure, method, labor practices, and business model) of the for-profit MOOC and the peer-to-peer, community-based nonprofit alternative learning movement?  How does either contribute to, compromise, augment, damage, or promote change (for good or ill) in traditional universities?  Debate this!
  • What would YOU like to see as a Forum discussed by thousands of diverse participants world-wide?.

I just was reading about the growth in web-design so that readers can actually annotate a webpage (similar to, yet different from the current wiki models). And you are adding a collaborative book to this course (which I am eager to sign-up for). I applaud this effort because your Coursera is doing what I am fearful could be the fall of public education as we have known it.

Your Coursera is holding up the mirror and asking education to critically self-examine, which is the fundamental tenet of education going to Socrates. Public education, however, has not taken this task. Public education has been forced into a reactionary modality throughout the second half of the 20th century and into the present century.

And if this mission failure does not rot education from within, then the pressures of testing and the pressures of funding will cause its collapse.

However, I believe there may be time to save education from itself and for the tyrannical legislators who are clueless about what education should be about: the examined life.

I hope to join you in the course in January. . . .


Certainly the technology is there to collaborate on a book, particularly a book about education . . . and there are lots of people who have keen insights into the structure who eager to share ideas. However, there are going to be these issues you have to consider:

  • Whether we want to admit it or not, there are still those in academia and elsewhere who have issues concerning ownership.  Tho' the book is not published in the usual way, there will be tensions about who gets to add what to their CV.
  • Concomitant with this issue is the notion of the "web." Many still believe in the 20th century mode of thinking: accuracy and ownership. As Terry Heick says, the 21st century is in the mode of "form and interdependence." The idea of a "MOOC-book" is certainly 21st thinking, yet some are still living a 20th century notion of ownership. In a real sense, your suggestion of a "MOOC-book" is where I believe the web has pushed us: back to tribal cultural where there is no individual ownership and collectively the group works, shares, lives.
  • How might this MOOC-book be organized? How do you avoid it falling into the trap of an "online collection of works"? These are critical issues you have to address. . .

These are some initial thoughts and I believe the idea may very well push un into a different level of online interaction. . .


Actually, in a few weeks, HASTAC (and also Github, a Google Doc, Rap Genius, and then an Amazon printed book) will be publishing a peer-written student-written book on peer-learning.  Here's the Table of Contents for what is coming soon:


And my colleague Dan Ariely had a co-written essay in his MOOC this year.   And David Theo Goldberg and I took our draft of The Future of Thinking, put it on Comment Press, and held four national forums on the topic, and then incorporated all the changes, with full citations of everyone who attended or contributed.  So a MOOC-book may well be the next thing!   Keep us posted if you try it.