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MOOCs, Blogs, Reading Groups, and, Alas, Those Videos: #FutureEd Movement in Double-Time

MOOCs, Blogs, Reading Groups, and, Alas, Those Videos:  #FutureEd Movement in Double-Time

I've learned more in the last week than in years of doing research on educational innovation--and I gather thousands of other people are learning and sharing ideas too.  It's certainly not my amateurish overview videos that are the "cause" (although people are kinder about them that I am) but the structure of those videos, the Coursera platform, and then all the work the HASTAC team has been doing to create a constellation of networks beyond the MOOC that is galvanizing conversations all over the world.  On Twitter and on and on the Coursera Forums people are reporting back with ideas and excitement, with reports on what they are trying out  in local communities or across extensive networks (such as among student deans or international schools).  About 16,000 are now signed up, and, amazingly, over 7100 people were active on the MOOC last week.   I've read about all the drop out rate and so forth and did not expect anything like those numbers.  That many people around the world are using the occasion of the MOOC to ignite their own conversations, spark innovation, and engage with education deeply.   That was one of my motivations in making the MOOC on "The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education."

The other motivation:  I have been cynical about the MOOC as a format and I really dislike rejecting things before I've really explored them and tried them.  I'm still skeptical about the video format, still nervous--and angry--about gullible legislators thinking they will lower the cost of higher education by paying Coursera and other providers instead of teachers.   So I won't let my MOOC be used anywhere that seems as if it will take someone's jobs.  As far as I can tell, the demographic of participants is largely beyond college age and includes many working teachers, high school and college, plus just so many engaged, serious people outside the education field.  In other words, this particular MOOC is supplementing people's working lives, not replacing a human teacher with a video series and online forum.   Thanks to the seriousness of the participants, this MOOC  experience is turning out to be far richer than I dreamt possible.

Here's an example.   Alan Levine, who keeps the Cogdogblog, has written a superb blog talking back to my first week of video:    He and other programmers and educational technology innovators  have written a number of comments that are worth reading.   And, as I've done now on about twenty blogs, I responded.   I do not know Alan except by reputation and from Twitter and it is possible we exchanged email previously.    We may have met at MozFest or another event but I don't believe so (apologies, Alan, if that is incorrect).


My response is below.  I am reprinting my response here as an example of how these conversations lead to connection.   Alan teased me about it but I believe it.  It's not about the MOOC--it is about how the platform of the MOOC can be part of a larger movement to rethinking higher education.


Adapted from my FEbruary 2 Comment to Alan's Cogdogblog post of January 29:


Hi Alan and Friends, these are great comments and I will link this blog to the Coursera class for a more detailed, accurate, insider view. I think there would be many ways to quibble with the importance of April 22, 1993 but the release of the Mosaic 1.0 browser changed the rapidity of the expansion of the World Wide Web.  And I would quibble back that scientists were certainly involved and, without Al Gore's 1992- work with the FCC, there is no way that the Mosaic 1.0 graphical browser would have been released.  I know and have interviewed several people who were there and would love ot interview others.  I happened to be president of a professioal organization at the time and advocated making our organization the first non-computer science organization to switch to digital--email and internet--from the get-go.  We built an intellectual program around that too, pretty close to April of 1993, in fact. 

Historian Robert Darnton came up with the four Information Ages (although he's added the Codex as a fifth) and I could make cases for others--several people have--but the point, as with any 30,000 feet historiography, is to get people thinking in the long view of our own historical moment.   Because I want change to the educational status quo, I find it helpful to think in terms of how educational institutions have changed in the past in order to make a story of how change happens, in order to help it to happen.  That's the "movement" part.

Unfortunately, the format of the weeks continues to be mostly lectures and reviews.   I went with that because there is a subset of MOOC participants who really loves it.  I don't deviate from the lecture format in any thing like the way Al Filreis does at Penn and many others--or that my own online open learning network HASTAC does in its various Forums and projects and has since 2002.  The movement part comes by building on the MOOC.  Sometimes it's a project. 

Each week we have a collaborative project. Last week it was class constitution/manifesto/code of conduct for a virtual community; on Monday, we'll put it up on RapGenius and on Bob Stein's beta SocialBook to encourage two different kinds of annotation and collaborative reading. The coming week is an international timeline, wiki-based, of educational innovation.  There is no such resource now.   And the final project will be working in teams, starting with three teams in my face-to-face class, to "Design Higher Education from Scratch."   We'll put up napkin sketches by each of the teams for comments and additions and, we hope, more collaborators to join but we hope others will too will come up with their own ideas.  We're looking for a gigantic thought experiment that will be more revolutionary than, say, six weeks of video delivered massively.

But the real "movement" part is because about 50 or 60 classes, working groups, reading groups, discussion groups, planning groups, etc, including a consortium of people at 40 European universities, a virtual group of some 50 deans of students, and campus-based groups in Thailand, India, China, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and other places are using the videos as a jumping off place for their own initiatives.  We're encouraging them to publicize what they are doing.  Check out this infographic of some of those other sites.


And here's the link to the list of all the projects we're doing coming out of the MOOC, including porting Coursera content to other open, free networks:


I also want to comment on the quizzes.  I am a consistent critic of multiple-choice standardized summative testing, in my research and writing and in the MOOC.   But that's the format thousands want.  So at the very least I try to turn every test into a summary and therefore a study guide--there is no (intentionally) false information on any quiz.   You can say which applies or does not apply but all the information should be valid and useful (since research shows people tend to remember false information on quizzes as true:  a great example of bad learning model begetting bad learning). 


I am no more fond of lectures now than I ever was.  My own classes are student-created, project-based, peer-graded even.   Here, the massive part was of interest because of all the voices it would inspire.   The movement is because people ARE using the structure of the MOOC (even the simple part of meeting once a week for six weeks to talk educational change--whether they are participating in the MOOC or not).   So far corporate, for-profits have been seen as the only source of educational innovation.  Not true.  I want this to be students and faculty and interested, passionate, concerned others thinking about what comes next.  


I'll probably reblog this comment on HASTAC and send people to your superb blog.  I definitely think of correction as a form of attention.  And I'm happy I listened to you as attentively as you did to me.  With admiration and thanks, Cathy Davidson aka CatintheStack



I have already learned so much in one week that I certainly cannot quibble with anything about this MOOC.  I appreciate the opportunity to take part and to hear thoughts from so many others around the world who have the same interests and concerns as I do.  Thank you, Cathy Davidson,!


Thsnks for making such a thorough response to my question, Cathy-- something I have not had an experience of in an xMOOC. The norm seems to be the professor is deliberatately un-reachable for direct communication.

I have no argument againt said events of 1993, and helpful to know you had direct experience in that era, and this exchange alone has done more for my understanding than what happens while listening to a video or reading a paper.

That said, I do speculate on how learners learn to advocate for themselves in a class of 16,000 (or 7000 or 1000 or heck, even 30)

Your being this present, and also honest/transparent about learning about teaching about learning as you go earns my respect.



Mutual admiration.  I found your blog so useful and interesting. 

Thanks for taking the time. 


The implications of "anytime,anywhere" access to computer resources were evident in the ealry '60's projects at Dartmouth and Stanford.  There were extensive "elearning" developments by the late '60s. What is important is evaluating the impact of theses resources on learning outcomes.  These evaluations have been few abd far between.