It's now official that I'll be teaching a six-week free, open online course on "The History and Future of Higher Education" in Spring 2014. You and your students, friends, anyone with great ideas on this topic to attend. It will be on the Coursera platform but I intend to use every one of the affordances of that platform to gather ideas, worldwide, about all the new and important and urgent ways people are learning, in formal education, informally, in communities, in person, online. I want to use the affordance of this centralized online MOOC to encourage a world (literally: I hope this is as international as possible) of peer-to-peer exchange about the future of learning. And although the focus of my online lectures will be higher education, I hope K-12 teachers will join as well since many features cross over, such as IQ testing, multiple choice testing, grades, disciplinary divisions and all the rest.
Here are some economic details: our arrangement at Duke is no course relief for teaching a Coursera course but you are given a $10,000 course stipend. This is ridiculous low payment since my colleagues who have created Coursera courses say it takes about 150 hours of planning, editing, and composing segments for every 1 hour of video time, plus the time commitment while the actual class is running is hugely greater than in a face to face course. More to the point, I have made, as a condition of my teaching this Coursera course, that all my payments go back to HASTAC so we can continue to keep it running without cost to the membership a little longer. As HASTAC network members know, there are no dues or fees. We have been able to run the organization by cross-work and cross-subsidy from grants (with their own obligations), volunteer labor of the leadership, and generosity on the part of supporting institutions, largely Duke for central administration costs.
To find out more about this course, you can read this post: http://hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/2013/04/20/what-i-hope-learn-teac...
Now, Coursera is a rigid sage-on-the-stage lecture format that I do not love. I talked about this extensively at MLA, that there is something wrong in this age of open architecture and peer-learning possibilities to think only famous professors at famous universities get to talk at you . . . and that's the best online learning can do. I think we can do better. Lots beter.
BUT . . .change is never right on the first try and you have to start somewhere. I do not know if this experiment will work but I know that Coursera offers a huge, stable platform for worldwide participation in forums and that potential excites me hugely. I want to learn from this worldwide conversation. So I believe that a sage-on-the-stage course can actually be turned into one in which we try out a variety of other interactive methods. Here is where I hope the action will be next year: Every segment will have its multiple choice test that I am working to design, with ideas I've gleaned from hundreds of great teachers, on how to make multiple choice tests more formative and not just end-of-content summaries about assessment. But every segment will also pose questions in a Forum and offer opportunities for participants in the course to start their own global forum threads. That is going to be cool.
A teacher recently suggested we have a forum "What was education like for your mom, your dad, your grandfather and grandmother---interview them!" Or, if you are older, "what is education like for your grandkids?" Interview THEM! Can you imagine how rich a conversation that would be if say 10,000 people were in such a forum worldwide?
I'm also plannint on teaching a face to face course at Duke, a seminar, on "The History and Future of Higher Education" where my students will take the Coursera course and also, for the remaining six weeks of the class, be doing research collaborative projects based on what they have learned, perhaps even with virtual partners met in the online segment.
I invite you to informally or formally offer a course in "The History and Future of Higher Education" for Spring 2014 and be part of this experiment. The great poet Audre Lorde famously said "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." I had the honor and privilege to know her when I was coming up as a young feminist scholar and I adore Audre's poetry and her spirit. But I'm not sure I agree, in pragmatic terms, with the idea. In absolute terms, of course. In realistic terms, I'm not so sure: Every slave rebellion used the materials at hand; every protest and social movement uses the infrastructure of its surroundings to undermine those. Are they pure and complete? Is the dismantling ever permanent and total? Not. Almost never.
But sometimes the master's tools can help to, if not dismantle, improve the master's house. Modestly, I hope we can build on this Coursera platform, to think about ways to improve higher education, to think together about what we want to preserve, what we want to champion, and what we want to change and how. Maybe we can find out real ways that people worldwide are doing an amazing job learning together. That's the hope.
Will it work? I do not know. What I know is that right now a lot of people are being shut out of the educational system (450,000 on the waiting list for community colleges in the state of California right now? that is appalling). What I know is that right now young people have one way of interactive peer learning out of school and then, to often, learn the methods, assumptions, methods, and ideologies of Industrial Age formal education in the classroom (and that to me is shockingly belated and wrong). So I'm going to give this a whirl, and see if we can learn something. I'm not sure if will solve all problems but I know it is better than simply accepting the status quo that is not working as the only way that can work. The educational system we have now was historically constructed for the Taylorist Information Age. We can reshape learning for the post-1993 modes of peer-learning. I know we can. At HASTAC, we've been thriving as an online learning alliance for a decade. I know it can work. Now, what can we do about formal higher education? There are examples out there, everywhere, of people doing and trying great things. I want to learn those, publicize those, and maybe use them to transform all kinds and modes of learning. Some things will work, some things will not. That's how change always works.
Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman notes: "One important source of bad decisions is loss aversion, by which we put far more weight on what we may lose than on what we may gain." My hope for this course is to bring together a community of co-learners and professional educators who understand the benefits of what we may gain, are empathic to those fearful of what we may lose, and who understand that the status quo simply does not serve us well, no matter our fears.
And I hope you will join us next year, beginning in January 2014, as we give it one, good try, to put our faith in the power to change in ways that serves the most people in the best ways, however local, however minor, and, sometimes, however bold.