After nearly 12 years living in the United States, I continue to be perplexed by this country. As I noted when acting as a respondent to Anya Kamenetz at ED Talks Wisconsin last Friday night, the US is an amazing place when it it comes to unleashing and scaling up a multiplicity of innovations related to higher education. Kamenetz’s recent books capture many of these innovations; a veritable cacophony of experiments, some successful, some still with us, and some quickly dated (is anyone still talking about Second Life?!). This said, the US has a troubling history of seeking easy ‘silver bullet’ solutions to complex higher ed challenges that can only be addressed by the state and other stakeholders (including universities) in a strategic, systemic, and sustained way.
Back on the ed innovation topic, as an economic geographer it is mandatory of me to point out that all innovations are placed; they’re dreamt up, variably fueled, and then scaled up such that they can potentially leave their mark on multiple locales and/or larger numbers of people. The unruly process of innovation, being what it is, means that innovations are translated – the take-up/utilization process, the interpretation process, and the impact generation process, vary across space and time via the translation process.
A case in point is the phenomenon of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). While we can argue about important histories and practices, we do know that the first online MOOC was dreamt up and run in Canada (see ‘What is a MOOC? 100k people want to know‘ and ‘All about MOOCs‘) courtesy of some innovative scholars, state-run funding councils (the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the National Research Council), and the facilitative work of two universities (the University of Manitoba and the University of Prince Edward Island).
It’s also worth noting that three of these scholars (Dave Cormier, George Siemens, and Bonnie Stewart) are co-authoring a book length manuscript about MOOCs. I’m thrilled that some reflective practitioners are crafting a book that uses MOOCs as a lens through which to make sense of the transformation of higher education. The narration of the early history of MOOCs is also an important activity as the scale of hype needs to be matched by quality analyses that factor in a wide array of developmental dynamics. See, for example, this informative talk in February 2013 by George Siemens:
Link here for a copy of his slides.
Keep an eye on the websites and Twitter feeds below, too, for insights and a range of reactions as the formative thinkers behind the MOOC phenomenon react with a mix of fascination and horror to what is unfolding right now.
While there is a lot of attention to the role of key disciplines (especially computer science), universities (Stanford, MIT, Harvard) and key city-regions (Silicon Valley, Boston) in the subsequent creation of the MOOC juggernaut we’re so intensively debating, it is also worth reflecting upon the way the idea of the MOOC has been taken up and interpreted outside of North America.
As noted in an earlier entry (‘Are MOOCs becoming mechanisms for international competition in global higher ed?‘), MOOCs are generating some serious attention and concern in other parts of the world. This has led an increasingly large number of non-US universities to tie up with platforms like Coursera and edX as was evident when they expanded a few weeks ago (see ‘Twice as Many MOOCs‘). Meanwhile, the UK has launched its own MOOC (Futurelearn), the University of Amsterdam is experimenting with its own MOOC, and a Berlin-based platform known as iversity has “relaunched” as a MOOC platform with an eye to “becoming the Coursera Of Europe.” Thus while we see the UK’s Futurelearn driven by the state (and public universities), this nascent ‘European’ platform is being driven ideas and capital associated with a German think tank and investors including “BFB Frühphasenfonds Brandenburg, bmp media investors AG and the Business Angel Masoud Kamali.”
On the other side of the world, the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade), though largely via its Washington DC-based office, has been tracking this phenomenon and recently published a report (‘More than MOOCS: Opportunities arising from disruptive technologies in education’) on MOOCs from an Australian perspective. Unfortunately the Austrade report cannot be publicly circulated which is unfortunate given the ostensibly ‘open’ nature of the phenomenon. In contrast the European University Association (EUA) has been happy to encourage the circulation of its early views on MOOCs via this February 2013 report. It is is worth noting that the EUA has launched a taskforce to consider this phenomenon in a more strategic sense.
All of the above, and many things I have not flagged, act as food for fodder for the MOOC I am just starting to develop with my colleague and GlobalHigherEd co-editor, Susan Robertson. The course is titled Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’ and it starts in January 2014. As we note on the course site:
Universities, and higher education systems worldwide, are being transformed by new or changing practices, programs, policies, and agendas. From notions of ‘global competency’ and the ‘global engineer,’ through to ever more common perceptions that international collaborative research is a desirable objective, through to the phenomena of bibliometrics, rankings and benchmarking that work at a global scale, contexts are changing.
This course is designed to help students better understand the complex and rapidly changing nature of higher education and research in a globalizing era. A complementary objective is to experiment with the MOOC platform and assess how well it works to support international collaborative teaching and service.
While we have not yet developed a detailed syllabus, it is clear that we we’ll be including one class on the long history of distance education, in which we’ll assessing MOOCs and their developmental dynamics. With some effort, and creative thinking, we hope to stretch the Coursera platform along the way so that it incorporates some of the more connectivist agendas built into the first MOOCs. Indeed this already happened in small but important way. To cut a long story short, the launch process involved providing a variety of forms of information about the course and the instructors to the CA-based firm. Coursera, however, signs contracts with individual universities and courses are listed by university name or subject. On launch day (20 February 2013) the platform implied Susan was a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor. After several hours of work Coursera’s engineers were eventually able to reconfigure the platform to recognize multi-institutional affiliations: this was not a surface edit of their website for an element of the entire platform had to be redesigned. While our course is still badged as a UW-Madison one (the University of Bristol is not affiliated with Coursera), this is, perhaps, a tiny step on the path to creating more effective and open international collaborative platforms for teaching, advising, and public service.