Blog Post

History/Future (Mostly Higher) Education MOOC: Week One Progress Report #lifeUnlearning

In an earlier blog, "Clearing Up Some Myths About MOOCs" ( ) I promised to keep a log of time, expense, human resources, ideas, drafts, syllabi, books, articles, assignments, and other MOOC-y features, as they emerge, for the free, six-week course I'll be offering in January 2014, "The History and Future of (Mostly Higher) Education:  How We Can Unlearn Our Old Patterns to Relearn for a Happier, More Productive, and Socially Engaged Future."  No prerequisites or prior educational experience are required to enroll in the course.  The class will be conducted in English but we're hoping to crowdsource translation.   Anyone who has access to enough bandwidth to participate is welcome.  #lifeUnlearning


(Below the draft of the Week One lectures, readings, and assignments, you can find some comments about the work and resources and people who contributed to making the first videos.  Post-production editing still lies ahead . . .   Doing a Coursera MOOC is a ton of work, and the students are mostly non-traditional learners: my preliminary verdict, based on my first-hand experience and that of others teaching these MOOCs, is that this is not going to replace traditional higher education but it is going to amplify our work to a much broader community.)


TEXTBOOK NEWS:  Special thanks to Viking-Penguin Publishers for agreeing to make available to 50,000 registrants in the Coursera course a PDF  of my book, which provides the basis of much of my thinking about this course:   Now You See It:  How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century.


And please note that Field Notes to 21st Century Literacies, our main textbook, collaboratively peer written by my graduate students in Spring 2013, won't be published for a few more weeks.   It's terrific--super helpfu, and will be available on the site, on GitHub, and as Google Doc downloadable as a free pdfl.   I'll let you know when it is available. 


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The History and Future of (Mostly Higher) Education:  How We Can Unlearn Our Old Patterns to Relearn for a Happier, More Productive, and Socially Engaged Future.     To be offered January 2014.  Six-week free, open course; no prerequisites; offered on the Coursera platform by Cathy N. Davidson, Duke University




Segment One:   Overview:  Towards an Activist History:  Or, Why We Need to Understand the Past in Order to Have Perspective on How We Got Here and the Power To Get Where We Want to Go. 

          Addressing a Global, Multi-Generational Audience of Peer-Teachers, Co-Learners in Order to Turn Traditional, Elite,     Professor-Driven Top-Down Education (the method upon which most MOOCs rest) Into a DIY Collaborative Learning Community (as much as possible within the limits of the Coursera affordances):  Learning the Future Together.  Difference is our Operating System, Not Our Deficit.  #lifeUnlearning

          Plus: Why a Peer-to-Peer Community Requires Generosity, Difference, and Civility:  Or, No Sympathy for the Trolls  


Segment Two:   From Cuneiform to the World Wide Web:  Four Information Ages and the Long History of TechnoDeterminism and “Presentist” Protests About Harm to “the Brain” (i.e. Going Back to Socrates!); Or, Why “New” Technology Makes Us Lose Our Marbles

Segment Three:   The Last Information Age:  How Steam-Powered Presses, Machine-Made Paper, and Machine-Made Ink in the post-Revolutionary Period (U.S.) Contributed to Literacy, Public Culture, the Popular Novel, Compulsory Public Education, and Freaked-Out Pundits (That means you, John Adams!)   Or, The Industrial Age Origins of Contemporary Higher Education

Segment Four:    April 22, 1993:  The Fourth Information Age in Human History.  Or, What Do We Need To Know In an Era Where It Has Become Possible for Anyone in the World with Access to an Internet Connection To Publish Ideas to Anyone Else in the World with Access to An Internet Connection ( . . . and What Does It Mean To Those Who Do Not Have Access)?  How Do We Need To Change (Mostly Higher) Education To Equip Ourselves for This World?  

Segment Five:    21st Century Literacies:   Arming Ourselves for the Fourth Information Age (Privacy, Security, Data Management and Manipulation, Surveillance, Copyright, Intellectual Property, Safety, Identity, Collaboration, “Crap Detection,” Community, Peer-to-Peer Interaction, Assessment, Credentialing, Badging).   Connected Learning and the Values of Production/Making--Not Just Consuming/Taking.  New Modes of Peer-to-Peer Assessment (Digital Badges), as alternatives to standardized, summative testing, and that "Count What We Value and Value What We Count."

Segment Six:  Who’s Behind the Camera?  Or, Education Is Social, Technology is Social.  Whose Labor Makes Our Learning Possible?   People, Institutions, Structures (Often Unacknowledged).  Who Are Our (Sometimes Hidden) Teachers?  How Do They Support Us?  How Do We Recognize Who They Are?  Which Are the Lessons That Last a Lifetime?  Why? 

Interview Questions:  Who Is Your Favorite Teacher and Why?  What Lessons Have They Passed on To You That Continue to Be Important in Your Everyday Life?

    Interviews:   Bonita





Cathy N. Davidson “Why Every Class Needs to Write a Constitution,” Chapter One, Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies

Barry Peddycord III and Elizabeth A. Pitts, From Open Programming to Open Learning: The Cathedral, the Bazaar, and the Open Classroom,” Chapter Two, Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies

Patrick Thomas Morgan, “Practicing Web Wisdom: Mindfully Incorporating Digital Literacies into the Classroom,"  Chapter Three, Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies


******Cathy N. Davidson, Now You See It:  How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century (NB:  special thanks to Viking-Penguin publishers:  by arrangement with Viking-Penguin, 50,000 PDF copies of this book will be available to Courera registrants; for more information, see: )


Please note that you will be learning how to use digital tools as you learn about  these tools, what they allow, their limits, and also how to use them as safely and securely as possible.  DIY is our method so you are encouraged to experiment and report on all you do.

(1)   WIKI assignment:   

    • Read the Mozilla Manifesto and its remix as “Duke21C Community Manifesto.”   On the collaboratively editable version, turn this set of community-based rules for a face-to-face peer class into rules for our online course. [Digital Literacy:  affordances [working within the limits of a tool and modding where you can], collaboration, community, civility,  authority.  Digital Tools:   Wiki, Creative Commons Licenses.]

    • After the deadline for edits closes, we will use a Leaderboard and perhaps digital badges to celebrate the best additions and to honor those who have contributed most (there will be no negative scoring; only badging of the most generous participants.   Digital Tools:  Leaderboards, Digital Badges).  

    • Nominate yourself to be an editor of the final document.   We will need three editors for copyediting, form, and adjudication of the final document/

(2)  TEXT and/or VIDEO assignment:

    • Answer the question:  “who was your favorite teacher and why?  what lessons about yourself, learning, or the world did you learn from them that you  carry with you today?”    

    • Ask two others the same question    

    • Post your own answer and the two interviews to our class Forum for this week or to the YouTube video channel.   [Digital Literacy:  privacy, intellectual property, identity, permission, translation.  No video can be posted unless you have secured permission; a downloadable permission form is available.  It requires discussing with your interviewee the forms and practices of online identity.  Will you use first and last names?  Is your interviewee a minor?  Will you use voice only or voice and face? If your interview is not in English, how will you translate for our English-language-based community?  Digital Tools: Video, Blog, Forums)


Yochai Benkler, “Coase’s Penguin”

 The Wealth of Networks

Adam Smith,  The Wealth of Nations

Howard Rheingold, Net Smart  (MIT Press)


Cristiane Damasceno, et al, Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies:  A Guide to New Theories, Methods, and Practices for  Open Peer Teaching and Learning  EBOOK AVAILABLE FREE ON HASTAC.ORG

Cathy N. Davidson, Revolution and the Word:  The Rise of the Novel in America  (1986; Expanded Edition, 200?, Oxford University Press).

            Reading in America:  Literature and Social History (3rd edition;  Johns Hopkins University, ???)

            Now You See It:  How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century (NY:  Viking-Penguin, Cloth, 2011; Paperback 2012):     PDF AVAILABLE FOR FREE DOWNLOAD TO FIRST 50,000

        The Future of Thinking:  Learning Institutions in a Digital Age, with David Theo Goldberg (Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press, 2010).  PDF AVAILABLE FOR FREE DOWNLOAD FROM MIT PRESS


Amanda Bannorris, The Female Land Pirate; or Awful, mysterious, and horrible disclosures of Amanda Bannorris, wife and accomplice of Richard Bannorris,: A leader in ... known far and wide as the Murrell Men

William Hill Brown, The Power of Sympathy

Hannah Webster Foster, The Coquette

Susanna Rowson, Charlotte Temple



Co-Located Face-to-Face Courses on "History and Future of Higher Education":   

Concurrently with this Coursera MOOC, I and about twenty others (maybe more:  join us!) will be running a series of diverse and loosely coordianted face-to-face classes loosely based on the topic of the history and future of higher education and, in my version, students will be studying the economic, financial, political, pedagogical, and technological implications of MOOCs in general, this Coursera model and the public agreements Duke has signed to be part of this consortium, alternative models of online commercial for-profit education, the HASTACy version of online free nonprofit peer-to-peer difference-based learning communities, and everything else they can think of.  They will use and other platforms (Google Hangouts and so forth) to communicate across universities and, we hope, to create an activist student movement on behalf of (a) greater support for higher education and (b) educational reform designed to transform the apparatus of the Industrial Age university we have inherited for the world we live in now (however students decide to define that).  For more information, see:   



Labor inventory:  The planning alone for Week One easily took 70-80 hours of our combined time.  The shoot itself for the first Week (approximately one hour of video time) took about three hours (we are delighted by this; we thought it would take longer).


The above DRAFT of Week One of "The History and Future of (Mostly Higher) Education" emerged from an initial filming session, with @KaysiHolman on the video camera and the cue cards.  We planned for a few weeks, we changed location a few times before we decided to set up a "studio" in my office so that we wouldn't have to put up and take down the lights and so forth every week, and we adopted a surprising methods:   I would think about ideas, write out notes with key words and a few dates and proper names and other things on four large poster boards, Kaysi would turn when I'd get to the end of my talking from a page, and then we'd go to the next.   The segments ranged from about 8 minutes to nearly 28 minutes---so that one we will break into two segments.   


Next step is to type up more elaborated notes as "reader's guides."   And use post-produciton (that would be the amazing Kaysi again) to drop in url's, book titles, proper names, some images.    We'll then build out the assignment portions and flesh out and finish the bibliography above.


 There will be only considerable post-production work.   We don't plan to edit out a lot of the mistakes--we think those are instructive and part of the DIY ideal we are pushing.  So, for example, we've decided to leave in the bad lighting of the first segment and simply note in a sidebar that we figured this out and tried to fix it in future ones and ask for feedback on how we did.  Sound was a bit shaky too.  We are not professional filmmakers!   So leaving in the stakes is part of our "iterative process" and we want it to be apparent. 


But there is so much left to do!   We believe it will turn out to be about 150 hours of work for 1 Week's Coursera lessons.  Really.   And everything we've seen and heard so far suggests that the audience is not the normal audience of college classes.   These are mostly lifelong learners who, through time, money, location, experience (pre-requisites), or ability/disability, would not normally enroll in a college class.  


Preliminary Verdict on Whether MOOCs Are A Real Threat to the Future of Higher Education:

My preliminary thought (and I may live to eat these words) this iteration of the Coursera model is not going to put present or future college teachers out of business.  Here are the real threats:

  • Neoliberalism's determination to shrink the middle class and its concomittant focus on de-funding public education is a real and significant threat to the future of the university globally.   
  • The intransigence of university administrators and professors in rethinking the system and apparatus and assumptions of  education inherited from the Industrial Age for this era is a real and significant threat.
  • The bloated administrative costs of running universities today is a real and significant threat.



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