MOOCs, Courseware, and the Course as an Artifact

As Phil mentioned in his last post, he and I had the privilege of participating in a two-day ELI webinar on MOOCs. A majority of the speakers had been involved in implementing MOOCs at their institutions in one way or another. And an interesting thing happened. Over the course of the two days, almost none of the presenters—with the exception of the ACE representative, who has a vested interest—expressed the belief that MOOCs provide equivalent learning experiences to traditional college courses. Keep in mind, these folks were believers. They were enthusiastic about MOOCs in general. But they tended to describe the value of MOOCs as reaching a different audience than the traditional matriculated college student and provide a different value. They talked about it extending the university mission. By and large, they did not talk about it as being an improvement on, or even equal to, a traditional class. Now, there were well over 400 participants, so it wouldn’t be fair of me to say that there was unanimity, about this point or any other. But the level of agreement was remarkable.

On the other hand, there was widespread enthusiasm for using MOOCs as essentially substitutions for textbooks in classes that included instructors from the local campus. Vanderbilt created what they called a course “wrapper” around a Coursera MOOC on machine learning. Folks from Stanford talked about the notion of a “distributed flip,” i.e., a group of flipped classrooms participating together in a MOOC. And SJSU talked about using an edX course in a blended course environment on one hand, and a Udacity course with Udacity-provided “course mentors” on the other.

The obvious conclusion is that MOOCs are more of a threat to textbook companies than they are to universities. I think that’s true, but I also think it’s an oversimplification. There is a deeper (and older) trend to boil down a course into a set of digital artifacts that can be “played” by the student at will. It’s worth taking a deeper look at that trend, where it’s going, what’s useful about it, and what’s pernicious about it.

The Course as an Artifact: A Brief History

Course artifacts, in and of themselves, are hardly new. In fact, the textbook as a collection of catechisms (or questions and answers designed to facilitate memorization) goes back to at least the 4th Century A.D. Basically, the catechisms were the course. We tend to think of these being used in what we would call primary school today, but in fact, this sort of text-as-course was used at all levels of education. For example, check out the Catechism of the Steam Engine, published in the 1850s.

In the modern higher education context, there is a strong sense among many teaching faculty of themselves as craftspeople. In this view, they teach their courses their own way and use their unique strengths and knowledge to benefit their students. The degree to which this rhetoric matches reality varies wildly depending on the individual instructor, the level and subject of the course, and the school at which the course is being taught. There is a tendency among instructors of lower-division courses to follow the textbook pretty closely, including the homework and quizzes, and decorate that pre-packaged curriculum with lectures—particularly in courses that are easily machine-graded and tend to have very large enrolments.

This is not to say that the instructors and TAs in these classes add zero value over the textbook content. One of the most important but least valorized functions that an instructor serves in the class is providing support to students when they are stuck—answering questions, modeling good problem-solving skills, providing mentoring about study skills, and so on. Likewise, the curation that these faculty do in terms of picking the books, selecting the problem sets within the book, and so on, provides real value. (And this is a spectrum, rather than a binary distinction between faculty who just follow the book completely and faculty who make up their own curricula completely.) But the point is that much of what we refer to as the “course” is often a packaged up in a set of artifacts that come from the textbook publishers and are augmented by pre-packaged performances of lectures by the professors. The degree to which this sort of thing happens is just hidden from view because it happens behind the closed doors of individual classrooms.

When the LMS first came onto the scene in the late 1990s, the one artifact that every professor would put online if they were putting up just one would be the syllabus. Then they might add lecture notes, and then possibly some readings. None of that really changed anything, since it was still happening behind the virtual closed doors of the LMS course logins. But in 2002, when MIT announced their OpenCourseWare initiative, the conversation began to change. Even though the process of adopting OpenCourseWare wasn’t essentially different from one of adopting a textbook publisher’s book and ancillaries, MIT’s brand imprimatur carried with it a sense of superiority in some quarters. Why would you, a professor at Unremarkable College, think that your course design is better than the famous MIT professor’s? On the one hand, it felt to me at the time like there was a strong undercurrent of elitism in these conversations. On the other hand, it raised the useful question of when the instructor is crafting the course curriculum to meet the particular needs of the students in the room versus when she is crafting it in order to satisfy her own creative needs as a craftsperson. But even here, OCW ultimately didn’t do much to disrupt the Order of Things. At most, OCW courses are recipes that can be adopted either in whole or in part by the instructors, and how they are adopted is still mostly kept behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, the textbook publishers were combining their textbooks—now online—with their ancillary materials and their homework platforms into a kind of higher-end courseware that goes a few steps beyond what you can get from a typical OCW package. Whether we are talking about Cengage MindTap, Pearson CourseConnect, or WileyPLUS, these product packages basically provide the curriculum, the course materials, the assessments and, in some cases, the analytics to track student progress and make study suggestions.  Yet still, these are adopted mostly behind the closed door of the classroom.

Enter the MOOC

In some ways, the xMOOC in its current form is this trend to turn the course into an artifact taken to its logical conclusion (possibly ad absurdum). Course lectures are now artifacts in the form of videos. Assignment and assessment functions are packaged into machine-graded tools. Certification of knowledge is provided by the machines as well. Yes, there are still class discussions, and yes, the course instructors do participate sometimes, but they appear to be rather secondary in most of the xMOOC course designs I have looked at. In general, xMOOCs tend to explore the degree to which the pedagogical function can be fulfilled by artifacts.[1]



One critical difference is that, by raising the question of whether this package is worthy of being offered for credit, the MOOC also is forcing us to begin to articulate the value instructors add—both that they can in principle and what they are adding in practice today in large survey courses under the conditions that they are often taught. This is a big and complex question. It’s far too big to address fully in one post. But I think the conversations that happen in places like the ELI webinar about what MOOC instructors think is missing from MOOCs that keeps them from being credit-worthy is an interesting first approximation at an answer. The sentiment articulated by some of the ELI webinar participants, which was echoed by a presentation at this week’s MOOC colloquium at RPI, is that xMOOCs don’t tend to be able to get at deep skill acquisition because students have limited opportunities to either see those skills modeled for them or to practice them. As Jim Hendler put it during the RPI colloquium, “I don’t hear a lot of talk about using MOOCs to give students PhDs.” To be clear, I don’t believe that it is impossible to give that kind of deep skill learning in an online context; nor do I think that today’s giant lower-division survey courses do a whole lot to teach deep skills, by and large. But I do think that the gut reactions that folks in the MOOC conversations seem to be having is revealing in terms of the limits of what we think we can achieve at the moment with the course as a product—whether that product is instantiated through a MOOC or through an instructor “teaching” a traditional survey class and going through the motions as described to him by his textbook vendor. To the degree that a graduate seminar as a MOOC seems like a strange idea to you, ask yourself what would be missing and whether that missing element also belongs in our undergraduate survey courses.

The “Distributed Flip” and Other Amazing Feats

Equally revealing, in my view, is the significantly higher level of enthusiasm among MOOC veterans for using MOOCs as course materials for blended learning. But not just any blended learning. Two themes have been coming up repeatedly: flipping the classroom and collaboration between professors teaching the same class. You can get a clear sense of what’s going on from this guest column on The Chronicle’s “Professor Hacker” blog by Douglas Fisher of Vanderbilt University, who used a MOOC as the basis for his flipped class:

I now view MOOCs, and the assessment and discussion infrastructure that comes with them, as invaluable resources that I embrace and to which I add value. I, and I am guessing many others, are short steps away from full-blown customizations of individual courses and even entire curricula, drawing upon resources from around the world and contributing back to those resources.

The implications of MOOCs for community between faculty and students, as well as the relationships within and between local and global learning communities, interest and excite me. In fact, it is a nuance on the theme of community that I think is most responsible for my excitement as I embrace online educational content. For the first time in 25 years of teaching, I feel as though I am in a scholarly-like community with my fellow educators. I have long regarded scholarship as the noblest aspect of academia– the scholar’s tenacity in identifying, acknowledging, addressing and building on the intellectual contributions of others. I have not experienced the same profound sense of community among my colleagues in the education realm, however – I have largely been a lone wolf. Now there has been a profound shift in my mindset – I use and build on the educational production of others; I do it openly on public sites, of which I am proud rather than embarrassed; I contribute back, and my students see and learn from this practice of scholarly appreciation, and are even encouraged to contribute to it through their own content creation and sharing. This opportunity for “scholarship” in educational practice is what, as an educator and scholar, I find most exciting about this nascent and exploding online education movement.

I think the point about the missing community around teaching is particularly critical. The aforementioned RPI professor Jim Hendler, who was recognized by Playboy Magazine as “one of the nation’s most influential and imaginative college professors” who are “reinventing the classroom,”[2] talked about how he struggled to flip his classroom in a way that his students would embrace and lamented that he had no training in pedagogy. Later in his presentation, he talked about how university libraries and computer labs, which used to be places where students would go and solve problems together, are largely empty now. I wondered about how college education would be different if professors had shared problem-solving spaces for their teaching, like the study carrels and computer centers of yore, and if there were no stigma attached to sharing.

Meanwhile this week, San José State University announced the creation of the Center for Excellence in Adaptive and Blended Learning, the first project of which will be to teach faculty at 11 other CSU campuses how to use an edX course on circuits and electronics as the basis for a flipped class. It’s a short step from training faculty on how to flip a class using the MOOC to a “distributed flip,” where those faculty members are sharing best practices with each other as they teach the same class using the same class using the same materials, and having their students interact with each other on the MOOC discussion board. This is promising.

It also raises questions about the MOOC course designs. At RPI, I was able to ask edX’s Howard Lurie about whether the course design for the blended classes in the SJSU project will be the same as the fully online one. He acknowledged that there would have to be a variant. We’re going to see more of that. To the degree that MOOCs are going to used in this way, they need to (1) have the curricular wrap-around that scaffolds the classroom use, and (2) be designed to be modular so that faculty using them in their own classrooms can customize them to the local needs of their students. In other words, we need to be able to draw different and more flexible lines between where the course-as-artifact ends and human-directed course experience begins. Which, by the way, is essentially what I think Adrian Sannier was saying in his interview with me a while back when he positioned OpenClass courses in contrast to MOOCs:

“Somebody will make a math class with 6 million students around the world. But it will be offered locally with teachers at a scale of between 1 to 20 and 1 to 50. Because teachers matter.”

And this is where we get to the part of the MOOCs competing with the textbook vendors. Both MOOC producers and textbook vendors are beginning to converge on a product model of courseware that is more of a complete curriculum than a traditional textbook but less of a stand-alone, autopilot course than a current-generation xMOOC. Both groups have a lot to learn creating flexible designs that make the right compromises between completeness and ease of localization as well as facilitating communities of practice among teaching faculty. But it’s clear that’s where we’re headed.



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  1. This is in contrast with cMOOCs, which tend to explore the degree to which the pedagogical function can be fulfilled through crowdsourcing among the students. []
  2. No, there wasn’t a photo spread. []

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About Michael Feldstein

Michael Feldstein is co-Publisher of e-Literate, co-Producer of e-Literate TV, and Partner in MindWires Consulting. For more information, see his profile page.
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32 Responses to MOOCs, Courseware, and the Course as an Artifact

  1. Scott Leslie says:

    “be designed to be modular so that faculty using them in their own classrooms can customize them to the local needs of their students.” What, you mean like “learning objects”? 😉

  2. Scott Leslie says:

    More seriously, this post brought to mind a question posed earlier by Bryan Alexander ( on why MOOCs but not (or less so) OERs and Learning Objects. I think the answer is a combination of these two posts – as I think you are arguing, larger granularity & expansion beyond static content plus perceived “quality” through association with brand-name institutions, but also hype-cycles and hey, more than a few mentions in the NYT and Forbes doesn’t hurt. Plus, I’d add, an even more decimated system looking for any way out. Anyways, good post NTL/IDR (not too long; I did read)

  3. Dan says:

    I really enjoy all the posts on eLiterate. Not that you need my endorsement, but anyone who is interested in deeper, contextualized, and nuanced explanations of developments in higher ed could hardly do better then by reading this blog. I would pay for it.

    I wonder, isnt building this aspirational MOOC not so different then the traditional model of teams (SME, specialists, technologists, editorial, etc etc) building products that can be used by many others at scale? textbooks, games, software programs, applications, etc. etc. So the challenge is building a sustainable economic model so the teams will have some reward to keep at it? maybe its not based on a student having to pay 25 to 200 dollars, maybe it is.

    Really liked the last part on distributed flip, a number of colleges have long been doing this right? NCAT would claim so. Seems SJSU gets press because it decided to use EdX. And there are countless examples of professors sharing best practices while using same materials and having students interact (dare i say for profit schools do this well in a lot of programs). Maybe someone could start collecting and sharing all those practices.

    I agree the more interesting part is around missing community. But isn’t it discouraging that it took the development of a MOOC to get more professors to engage in conversations and responsibilities around teaching and learning they should have done long ago. I shouldn’t criticize, higher education is difficult, its great that we have so many new things pushing change. And again, thanks eLiterate for tracking and explaining these changes.

  4. Scott, I agree with your list of causes for MOOCs rather than OERs getting the attention (and I also agree that it’s a good question). Going forward, I think the OER community is going to have to come up with more “last mile” packaged courseware solutions to gain more traction (which is one reason why I’m interested to see what Lumen Learning does).

    Dan, you’re right to see parallels in the development teams across these product models and to think about funding and sustainability as an important question going forward. I also think the NCAT reference is on target. There is nothing new under the sun….

  5. Stella Porto says:

    My comment was exactly related to Michael’s response to Scott… As I read the conclusions of the discussion, I feel like I went into a circle and I’m back again to the concept of OERs. Maybe not the strategies, since I think OERs have failed miserably in terms of strategy and actual adoption. But, one important discussion in the OER world is OEP: Open Educational Practices. As I read the discussion of MOOCs, we are back to the same place – OEPs are crucial for change to actually happen. Now that this discussion from the DE field has reached the Ivy league people, maybe there will be some significant traction. Location, location, location…

  6. Tom abeles says:

    The conversation makes me think about Christensen’s model of disruptive innovation. While this is a longer conversation, it seems like all this is trying to fit these ideas into the university frame, like making those first cars to resemble the buggy, or adding features to counter an emergent and as yet fully formed alternative. The world is filled w/skeletons of failed civilizations and lists of jobs long gone. Maybe we need a new archaeology?

  7. I was at the same conference of course and viewed it a bit differently. The attendees are self-selected from an audience consisting almost entirely of instructors (people outside this community were prohibited from attending). The presentations and discussion seemed to me to be repeated instances of “please please please let MOOCs be whatever they are so long as they don’t touch the sacred role of instruction.”

    People who live and work exclusively within these institutions need to get out more. They need to see beyond an idea of education where the students come from cookie-cutter upper income homes and whose deepest problems are motivation, distraction and information overload. They need to get beyond facile debates about quality and enter the real-word debate around access.

    Seriously, what else can be said about a statement like this: ” it will be offered locally with teachers at a scale of between 1 to 20 and 1 to 50. Because teachers matter.” It’s like saying “we must at all costs limit education to small groups of people led by a teacher.” The “distributed flip”, advanced as this Great New Thing, is the connectivist model of MOOCs, but with small-group in-person attached.

    The arguments in which the four elements of MOOCs – ‘massive’, ‘open’, ‘online’, and ‘course’ – are one by one putated to be ‘optional’ or ‘unnecessary’ seems to me to be a desparate attempt to cleanse MOOCs of any disruptive impact they may have on the traditional action of in-person teaching to a teacher to a small group of people.

    These arguments miss the point of the MOOC, and that point is, precisely, to make education available to people who cannot afford pay the cost to travel to and attend these small in-person events. Having one instructor for 20-50 people is expensive, and most of the world cannot afford that cost. That’s *why* the institutions – from which the attendees of this conference were uniquely selected – charge thousands of dollars of tuition every year.

    MOOCs were not designed to serve the missions of the elite colleges and universities. They were designed to undermine them, and make those missions obsolete.

    Yes there has been a great rebranding and co-option of the concept of the MOOC over the last couple of years. The near-instant response form the elites, almost unprecedented in my experience, is a recognition of the deeply subversive intent and design of the original MOOCs (which they would like very much to erase from history).

  8. Stephen, let me start by responding to the portion of your comment that I agree with. MOOCs, in their current incarnation, are well suited to address educational access problems that universities are failing to address. I don’t think there was any disagreement on that point among the MOOC presenters, by the way. A number of them talked about “expanding the university mission.”

    But “MOOC” is not an ontological category that is carved into the fabric of the universe. I don’t think it is out of bounds for folks to ask what lessons they can learn from MOOCs to apply to meet the goals that they are trying to achieve—particularly since current-generation MOOCs are not really designed to meet those goals. Nor was it “desperate” for them to be doing so. I don’t think any of those folks were particularly worried about job security.

    You and I also just flat out disagree (and have for some time now) on the value of a traditional, instructor-facilitated college learning environment. It is true that such an approach will not scale to meet our global educational needs, but saying so is not the same as saying that the education one gets from a MOOC is equivalent to the education one gets from a more traditional college experience. I suspect that we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

  9. Tom abeles says:

    Michael and Stephen are two ships passing. Michael’s ideal for Education” is that of Newman with a touch of German influence. Unfortunately , P-12 is now P-16, where 13-16 is an extension. Also, since most 13-16 is not paid for, the expanded capacity has a different student. Additionally, there is a difference between an “Oxbridge education and one from State univ in middle America or in a developing country. This is why “money talks” and there will always be that differential between public”U” with those who have a large number of working students and those in medallion univ.

    Stephen’s idea of a MOOC has the same issue coming from a more egalitarian ideal. Again the outcome is not the great equalizer. As long as money divides, it will also maintain the education differential. MOOC’S are like chicken pox, evidence of an existing underlying etiology. Their eruption is symptomatic of a problem in grades 13-16 and beyond, MOOC’s or no MOOC’s.

    MOOC’s might be considered the signal of an emergent alternative to education in general and education beyond grade 12. As I have said previously, most efforts in this domain do not consider that we are in a disruptive mode. E illiterate sits squarely in the camp of supporting the extant establishment’s effort to shoehorn the MOOC into their perception of the “glass slipper” of an ideal education. Stephen conservatively is trying to move beyond, not quite as radically as the thinking of Marc Prensky who sees computers as an extension or mind enhancement rather than a tool which forces a change in how we perceive education and deliver it.

    Still the insights of Bruce Sterling in his Gree Days in Brunei. The technicians are but one’s and zero’s in the banker’s microchips. That differential in education will never disappear and education will not be the great equalizer MOOC’s or not.

  10. This is a pivotal moment for MOOCs; I find it helpful to read these two perspectives and to think about why they can’t converge. If the original MOOCs were a grenade over the ramparts of elite institutions, it’s obviously frustrating that those institutions have simply lobbed the grenade back having nipped the pin out, and we’re now looking at serious risk to smaller institutions in more fragile educational markets.

    This risk is driven by the immense media production capacity of the north, because really, that’s what we’re looking at now — the individual celebrity academic is onscreen talent, and could technically come from anywhere, but the most powerful courses will be those with the best media, and these are exponentially more likely to come from the north, if not from the US specifically.

    I’m not so sure, though, that the advantage of smaller-scale instructional relationships can only come from the north, or can only be offered offline. To this extent I don’t agree with Stephen. There’s a third space for collaborative global learning programs that are at a human scale, that don’t require in person instruction but that do enable quite personalised interaction, and that have been going for a long time. MOOCs of both dispositions have lent these small, durable projects some institutional uplift, I think.

  11. Tom abeles says:

    We are still thinking “TOOLS and TEXT”. Reported here earlier was work on computer grading of essays. Years ago there was a psychology pgm, Eliza. Think Stephenson’s the diamond Age,
    ; think “”HAL”; think Singularity.. Think neither technophile/strong AI or the opposite. Think tipping point but maybe over a long period., rather than like flipping a light switch. The dinosaur did not just disappear over night and the Japanese cars did not rise over night. Someone once said that when God created humans he took a chance. Intelligence is not necessarily a survival characteristic. And institutions are not guaranteed either.

  12. Tom, I guess I would say that I’m not ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater. It is absolutely true that there are many, many people who need an education and are not served well—or at all—by the current system of higher education. I am delighted to see MOOCs step in to fill that role. And if it turns out that they end up disrupting the current educational system and bringing better education to all, I would be happy with that outcome. I am not driven by one ideal of education, as you seem to think that I am.

    But I’m not going to pretend that current-generation MOOCs are equivalent in educational outcomes and value to the traditional class experience. Our current educational system does some things very well and has had enormous positive impact on human civilization over the last thousand years. There is more than one educational problem to be solved in the world, and I don’t see the argument for throwing out one approach that has proven itself good at solving problems just because you’ve found another approach that can tackle problems that it doesn’t solve—particularly when the new approach has not yet demonstrated (in my view) the ability to solve the (important) problems that the current system does handle relatively well.

    By the same token, I am also not going to pretend that MOOCs, as currently designed, are well suited fix the problems that the current system of higher education needs to solve in order to do a better job of what it is supposed to do well. So when I suggest that institutions should look at MOOCs in a different way and pick and choose the pieces that are fit for their purpose, it is not because I am trying to undermine or subvert the original goals of the MOOC movement. To the contrary, I think MOOCs will have a better chance of getting better at increasing access to the degree that the people who are creating them are clear about what they are and are not designed to do. If the MOOC is intended to be as radically disruptive as you suggest, then it would be foolish for universities to adopt them as-is in an attempt to sustain the traditional university mission. It won’t work. But that doesn’t mean that there are no lessons to be learned by the universities here.

    And by the way, referring to this site as “E illiterate” does not do you credit or improve your credibility. Tom, you and I have worked together before. The fact that we may disagree about something we both care about passionately is a good reason to work harder to focus on the substance of the disagreement. It is easy to let our passions infect our rhetoric, and I am as guilty of letting that happen at times as anyone. But ultimately, I don’t think we are going to be able to solve the hard and important problems of high-quality, universal education if we can’t engage in constructive and civil conversation.

  13. Kate, I would agree completely with your point that the advantages of human-scale instruction don’t have to be offline. The examples of the MOOC that we have seen in this role so far have been blended, but there’s no reason why they couldn’t be part of more traditional-sized fully online classes.

  14. Tom, I’m not saying this to be snarky, but I literally don’t understand half of what you’re saying. I read Diamond Age. It was a good book, if a little overwrought. I read Tipping Point too. Also a good book, if a little under-wrought. I understand the concepts of disruption and of punctuated equilibrium. Maybe that’s what you mean by some of these references (although what this has to do with HAL escapes me). But exactly what kind of a tipping point do you think we are at? What evidence do you have that we are at one? And to the extent that it is happening, what evidence do you have that it is mostly a good thing? I’m not taking the other side of any of these questions, by the way. I would just like to hear more of a clearly articulated argument, backed by evidence.

  15. Tom abeles says:

    Hi Michael,
    Let me refer to a subsequent column here-the one on the OLI and related materials which open up the LMS to new apps.and the dawn of the learning engineer. One point made was that the best researcher may not be the best teacher and now we have the opportunity to get the best teacher (think TED talks) regardless of institution. This is the evolution of the MOOC-or one variant using the cloud.

    Now, if the content can be moved to the cloud with the faculty from “everywhere”, the one hook that proprietary LMS systems have had is the admin system or back office hook into the institution’s registrar etc. which can also moved into the cloud. Think about the EU where students can physically move across borders and institutions and now do so virtually.

    At the bachelor level, grades 13-16, and even P-12 core knowledge acquisition, certification becomes global in a form only seen thru a glass darkly. Beyond, at the post baccalaureate the university still stands but changed, also. We have moved the “idea” of the univ to post baccalaureate.

    Stephen’s idea of what a MOOC could be is realized from a knowledge acquisition perspective..what the new arena of “learning engineering” shows us is that content delivery can be provided by the “best” whether by humans or, as I suggest, from a strong AI perspective, the equivalent of HAL or blended as in stephensonson’s Diamond Age.

    What is potentially more complex is the EU model on steroids with universal global admin sys in the cloud. The new learning engineer seeds institutional change far more radical than change in content delivery. If I were head of an HEI I might be afraid, very afraid for the institution but not worried that it would happen on my watch.

  16. Pingback: Inexpensive Ways to Further Your Education | Sub Notes

  17. Tom abeles says:

    One other point: the abstract for the keynote at the Montclair University is supposed to discuss a disruption of the university while a topic at Atwood day Teagle grantee conf also broached the issue. From the article in IHE, it appears that some of the same issues raised by the loss of jobs by faculty was there the same as w/airline flight engineers and railroad brakemen-strong neo-Luddite sentiments

  18. jmetcher says:

    To pick up the scalability theme: yes, teachers are important. But good online learning design can help them be effective at 500:1. Sannier badly undervalued the potential of good design and risks badly underutilising good teachers. This is true whether or not you’re trying to reach the under-served masses.
    xMOOCs will also struggle with this until they become a friendlier place for design innovation. The current round of xMOOC initiatives are understandably focussed on issues of scale and availability – dull, in no way innovative, but necessary. I look forward to the next iteration or two, where I expect the real gains in learner outcomes will be made.

  19. IMHO, xMOOCs are also natural evolution of educational TV of the sixties, e.g. the still existing German Telekolleg ( ) that includes lots of TV sequences, plus initiatives to teach over satellite in the 1990s? (e.g.,

    Therefore xMOOCs = educational TV (at lesser cost) + some textbook + a bit of social web + pulse (weekly lessons) + a touch of Illich

    Indeed, decision makers and journalists like xMOOCs, because their structure is very close to what they already understand. Not only transmissive pedagogy, but also weekly structure, “old” technology, and the “easy” part of the social web that engages people in what I call “bronze age” cultural genes, i.e. trading artifacts, networking and oral conversation…

    I view Educational Technology as a field with 15-25 year wave patterns. Frequently, only the third attempt works. E.g. so far, almost none of edutech systems developed in research are used in schools. E-learning platforms btw. were invented in the 1960’s (PLATO) and not the 2000’s. Participation in knowledge construction is more recent (I’d say maybe the WELL in the 1980’s) and therefore not yet integrated in our culture(s), therefore no chance for cMOOCs.

  20. mgozaydin says:

    We came to this point finally.
    The problem of HE in the USA is 118-22 years olds, to go to college, get a degree, get a job, make a living. That simple .

    California made the first experiment with EDX in Sam Jose State University.
    It was successful. Pasing students went up from 55 % to 95 % .
    So California decided to get edx for its 11 state universities asap .
    First time about 10,000 or so people at 18-22 range will get edx courses. Then we will see if MOOCs are good for traditional college education .
    I cross my fingers.

  21. Tom abeles says:

    Hi mike, sorry about mis-label. I could blame it on the “auto-correct” on the IPad but It’s my sloppy proofing. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

    I would point out that there were a number of us who were early players w/ Turoff’s EIES system, users of The WELL and the Caucus BBS system, etc. I am for early adoption of MOOC’s whether of the Edx type or Stephen’s c-MOOC’s. what concerns me is laid out in Christen’s work on innovation, the thinking of folks like the late Max Boisot and the evolution of these idea when turned inward on Academia mostly by using the argument of filling unmet educational needs.

    It seems that it is treating symptoms as a palliative while not dealing with the underlying etiology whether as a faculty or administrator at an HEI. The issue transcends the argument that these MOOC’s are early models to be evolved.

  22. tom abeles says:

    Hi Mike

    I need to clarify, but briefly. Some members of my editorial board see a major shift in education in general and the HEI’s in particular, globally, but particularly in the US. Education is moving from P-12 to P-16 with the differentiation being more logistical than philosophical. The focus on MOOC’s whether C or X or variants now fall mainly into the area of curriculum development similar to the efforts of university research on teaching in areas such as games/simulations and similar e-learning issues. For the journal I edit, On the Horizon, most article submitted in these areas get referred to journals more concerned with the pedagogy as opposed to looking at the larger, long term, institutional issues. Hence, my referral to the treating of symptoms rather than underlying etiology. And it is reflected in the envelop pushing by such individuals as Boisot, Christensen, and a host of others working primarily in the corporate world.

    MOOC’s, as the rush to play gets amplified, is an important arena as a teaching method along with such theories such as those devised by Illich, Montessori, etc. It is manifest in the world of “Development” by such thinkers as Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen as exemplifed in Nussbaum’s volume, Creating Capabilities. Unfortunately I see the emphasis on MOOC’s as treating symptoms and not the underlying etiology with the hope that, for academics, the storm, as in the past, will blow over and for administrators, that it will cure Baumol’s disease.

    Yes, ideas such as Prensky’s, or the writings from the SF community, including Stephenson and others or visionaries such as Kurzweil are speculative, but perhaps insightful and thus need addressment. MOOC’s are now a “practice” and the efforts to development are important. But, to believe that the old institutions are not sitting on an academic San Andreas fault seems Polyannaish.

    MOOC’s whether X,C or variants are still bricks-to-clicks, with X being the more straight forward and the C’s having a strong vestigial component of the ideas with which many worked in the 60’s and as, stated above, now appearing, globally, in heterodox or neo-neo classical economic theory.

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  25. Russ Abbott says:

    Mike, I agree completely with the notion of a MOOC as the 21st century textbook. (In fact, I thought I created that notion myself!) Here’s how I use MOOCs:

    I am coming to the position that the key is the mechanism used when evaluating students. It’s not that evaluation is the only important thing; it’s that evaluation is the one place where we claim to determine what students do and don’t know.

    The approach I describe at the link above is very labor intensive. To do a less labor intensive version might go something like this.

    1. Students watch MOOC lectures and do the assignements on their own.

    2. They then work in small groups to discuss their assignment work and to prepare for a session with the instructor. A primary goal of these small group meetings is to prepare the students for these meetings. It’s like a rehearsal. At these meetings it’s even ok for students to copy each other’s work since they will be required to explain it themselves when they see the instructor.

    3. Students meet one-on-one (for a short time to avoid excessive instructor costs) with the instructor. The student explains his assignment work. Even if the work was done by another student, if the student can explain it in depth and with sophistication, that’s probably good enough.

    The key is that the student must face the instructor and demonstrate his/her understanding. That’s a lot better than a written test that tend to be more easily gamed.

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  30. Beth Harris says:

    Michael, can you explain more what you mean when you write, “Going forward, I think the OER community is going to have to come up with more “last mile” packaged courseware solutions to gain more traction…”

    Great post as usual!

  31. Thanks, Beth. What I mean is that faculty want full, course-sized collections of content, organized by something like a syllabus and clear navigation, and with at least some assessments. It needs to be a package that enables them to use it out-of-the-box to teach a class without a ton of design time investment before the semester starts. This is not to say that they will use such courseware without making any modifications. To the contrary, many will. But if they are given a fairly polished starting point, then they can focus their time at making the modifications that they care about rather than re-inventing the wheel.

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