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MOOC Musings After Day 1 #FutureEd (History/Future Higher Ed)

MOOC Musings After Day 1 #FutureEd (History/Future Higher Ed)

Remember how, not so many months ago, June 2012 to be exact,  a Trustee forced UVA's president to resign because she didn't "solve" the problem of escalating costs by immediately, wholeheartedly, that-very-second jump onto the MOOC bandwagon?  Well, that was sure silly, wasn't it?

At the time, though, it was silly and horrific--that a technological solution so modest in scope could be seen as a "fix" to a thirty-year trend defunding public education by supposedly rational people made us all aware of how much power technology has, how ready humans are to believe technology can solve problems human hath wrought (as if humans aren't making the technology too).   That story, in and of itself, should be told, over and over again, and studied in all its public, political dimensions--including in the smart way faculty (inc Siva Vaidhyanathan and others)  and students worked together, sanely, strategically, and pushed back, using the media to their advantage.  

But it was that summer that I decided to make a MOOC myself.  I wanted to see for myself what you could do with the format and the clunk--and yet also powerfully global--technology platform.  I'd taken many MOOCs in a desultory way, but it is different making one, actually getting into the guts, and actually being online with the participants.   I made a MOOC on "The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education" for two reasons:  

(1)  there was way, way too much hype and way, way too much hysteria for my taste.  I was sure it couldn't be all that great and I was sure it couldn't be all that awful.  But I wanted to be able to see for myself;   and

(2) I wondered if, given the form, and given the right topic, and given the right open attitude, and given a cadre of community teachers to participate and lead and aggregate and social media-ize what was happening in the conversations in the MOOC community, if it would be possible to actually mobilize thinking and make social change?   Could my very humble, homespun, amateur videos--put up on a Coursera platform that could reach some 14,000 people for free--help to provide the occasion for people to gather, to talk, to think about the future of education and learning and learning institutions?  

(3)  And here's the aspirational question:  If you don't have admission requirements, bureaucracy, location, or cost as an impediment, what ideas can people scattered all over the world come up with together that might make a difference in the world in which they live?


I'm not ready, of course, to answer any of those big questions yet but here are a few things from Day 1.  

  • It's so much fun. 
  • The participants come from all over the world and they are delightful, smart, engaged, wise.
  • The real deal here isn't the videos, but the community that is shaping up around ideas of learning and education
  • My favorite online conversations are reflecting conversations that are happening off line.
  • I'm still not sure how we can make sure we go beyond conversation to a movement.
  • The demographic of my students is so not that of college age, paying, degree-gaining students that the hysteria about MOOCs putting all us college profs out of jobs and contributing to the horrific 70+ adjunctive exploitation of young contingent faculty is just wrong.  Blame neoliberalism, folks!  Vote in better elected state officials.   MOOCs aren't the answer, but they are also not the problem.
  • Doc on the Laptop, well, yeah.  I say so in the video.  But the participants are way too strong-minded and smart to believe everything they see and hear in a video.  It's a community of thinkers, dedicated to new modes of learning.  Passivity?  Not so much.  I critique MOOCs in my video (I think 1.3) but, well, I'm not so sure any more.  
  • Community's the thing, and the MOOC is the platform.

But, hey, it's only Day 1.  Just under 5,000 people have tuned in out of more than 14,000+ that signed up.  Something over 6500+ videos have been viewed.   There have been several hundred comments.   Lots of people have favorite teachers---and a lot of teachers are participatng (and I bet there are some great ones here).


And in one quite charming exchange between three people from the UK, the US, and Romania about whether the purpose of education in their respective countries is content or learning how to learn and change and adapt, there was even a way around diction and the stilted form of email by way of an amusing range of quite happy, delightful emoticoms.  I added my own favorite one to that exchange, the Japanese happy face:  *_*.   Why?  Because, after Day 1,  I pretty much feel:   *_*






“The real deal here isn't the videos, but the community that is shaping up around ideas of learning and education.”

I was working with students in our college library from 9:30am-3:00pm yesterday.  Therefore, I was unable to immediately enter the MOOC--something I wanted to do--when it became available yesterday afternoon.  But, by 3:15pm, I had logged in and begun watching the first video. 

I was only going to watch one video and then finish some other work in my office before leaving campus.  Unfortunately for the tasks I had planed to accomplish, the first video was so fascinating that I watched the second, then the third, then the fourth, and then the last one.  However, as you wrote, “the real deal here isn’t about the videos.”

Last night, I began reading the discussion forums and it was so exciting and thought provoking to interact with my colleagues in the course.  The videos gave us a background from which to begin, but the action is in the forums; in the discussions happening among members of the community.

Today, our campus is closed because of the weather.  I have spent my morning sitting in our meditation room participating in the on-line discussions.  I plan to re-watch the videos later today so that I am prepared to incorporate some of them in tomorrow’s classes.  But as much as I enjoyed the videos, the real action is in the forums.

Just before reading your post, I had begun my first homework assignment for the MOOC where we are asked to discuss what we need to unlearn.  I began my essay in a way that mirrors your comments about community, “As a faculty member in the 21st century preparing students for the 21st century, I need to unlearn the definition of classroom community.  My students and I work in a world that allows us to interact with others from around the world.  Even though I teach face-to-face classes, we are not limited by the four walls that make up our assigned classroom.”


I just started the MOOC. Bravo, Cathy, and bravo, learners from around the world! I'm having fun already. Also, I now want a duodecimo-sized pocket in every jacket for my Kindle.


I just started the MOOC. Bravo, Cathy, and bravo, learners from around the world! I'm having fun already. Also, I now want a duodecimo-sized pocket in every jacket for my Kindle.


We are using this MOOC as an opportunity to get a small cohort of faculty together weekly to discuss the future of higher education at our own institution. So we are certainly not the college student demographic -- we are their professors. This course and #FutureEd will help focus us as we work on ways to improve our own teaching and learning at a small liberal arts college. The first week's content seems perfect as we begin to explore new digital tools that we can embrace to evolve past BOTH the "sage on a stage" and the "doc on a laptop" models of instruction to something that is truly collaborative and open. 

Looking forward to the rest of the course!



Hi David, This is wonderful---I'm a huge admirer of Warren Wilson, btw.  We have a FutureEd newsletter--you can sign up by going to "ADD A CLASS" button on the FutureEd page:    You can add your informal meeting groups too.   Give us the details and we can feature you in the FutureEd newsletter.   The point is to use the MOOC to encourage as many different kinds of conversations and as much institutional change and understanding of how change works best for your institution as possible.  Thanks for sharing this and for organizing it, David.   Best Cathy


We are taking the same approach David has mentioned. We have about a half dozen faculty, curriculum design staff, and administrators doing the same thing. My 10-year-old son, a Khan academy fan, even watched the history of info age lectures with me. When we stopped to talk about how history has affected education, he observed that my taking this MOOC was part of the evolution. Looking forward to the rest of the course. Thanks very much, Cathy.