Why no MOOCs on Gaza?

Note: the Inside Higher Ed version of this entry is available here.


I don’t know about you, but my sense is global politics seems to be on the up this summer regarding turmoil and debate. And, consequently, there is a lot of debate about conflicts in places like the Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Gaza, and so on.

In this context I watched some fascinating, if depressing, documentaries last night on PBS’ Frontline. They focused on Syria and Iraq and were relatively well done, helping me to learn more about these complex countries and their associated conflicts.

While I’m lucky enough to get PBS on TV, many people are not, both here in the US and abroad. Moreover, even though the Frontline shows were longish documentaries, the one on Iraq (‘Losing Iraq‘) was only 84 minutes; a length of time requiring focus and exclusion, especially regarding material on historical context, as well as the differing standpoints on the same issue or debate.

Now I know there are some fantastic courses and deeply knowledgeable experts in research universities regarding these ongoing conflicts and complex places.  And MOOC platforms are, as we now know, structurally biased in favor of partnering with highly ranked research universities. Aha, I thought, what a perfect role for MOOCS — 3 or 5 or 8 weeks worth of rigorous analysis and facilitated deep learning via free and easily accessible MOOCs! The perfect complement to quickfire media coverage, often uncontexualized and implicitly biased in one direction or another.

My search, though, for MOOCs on Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Gaza came up with…nothing. Zip.

Admittedly I was held back by the absence of effective content search functions on the majority of MOOC platform sites.  There is virtually no capacity to search through content by keyword, at least as far as I can see. Here is how select MOOC platforms deal with curious prospective students:

  • Coursera: you can only search by course title, broad topics (e.g., social psychology), and partner university names
  • EdX: you are only provided with a drop-down menu on topics (e.g., Computer Science, Law, Social Sciences)
  • FutureLearn: you can only browse by course title
  • iversity: you browse or search by course title

Only Udacity allows keyword searching in a very easy to use way. But Udacity is not the type of platform to serve up social science or humanities MOOCs that are most likely to deal with these places and their associated conflicts.

But I digress so back to my main point in this entry: where are the MOOCs on Gaza? Where are the MOOCs on Iraq? Etc., etc.

These are not insignificant places and conflicts. And to be sure handling vigorous student participation would require great planning and focus. But there is, arguably, a real need for public service to enhance deep learning on complex events versus generic or broad disciplinary takes (e.g., international relations). I suspect a lot of people (alumni included!) would benefit from engaging with a well planned and executed MOOC on the history and politics of Gaza & Israel right now.

Are universities with MOOC initiatives just searching for low-hanging fruit (i.e. existing broad undergraduate courses that can be morphed into MOOCs)? Are universities and professors just risk averse regarding potentially controversial ‘open online’ course topics? Are MOOCs the equivalent of taste-testers (at food festivals) for university courses and programs, a charge I’ve often heard directed at one MOOC platform. Perhaps the international collaborative potential of MOOC platforms has not been recognized, yet, and relevant professors and researchers in various countries/universities/think tanks have not yet worked together to create the ideal MOOCs on these places and associated conflicts?

Or maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree and I should just be satisfied with quality non-fiction books, TV stations like PBS, and some periodically good coverage in select media outlets?

Kris Olds



A MOOC on Globalizing Higher Education and Research

Editors’ note: today’s blog entry is also available on Inside Higher Ed at http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/globalhighered/mooc-globalizing-higher-education-and-research.

This entry is a slightly revised version of a new article in the International Association of UniversitiesHorizons‘ magazine (June 2014). The English version of Horizons is available at: http://www.iau-aiu.net/content/latest-issue and more specifically at: http://www.iau-aiu.net/sites/all/files/IAU Horizons Vol.20.1 [EN_web].pdf . The French version is available at: http://www.iau-aiu.net/fr/content/vient-de-paraître-0 et plus précisément à: http://www.iau-aiu.net/sites/all/files/IAU Horizons Vol.20.1 [FR_web].pdf. Our thanks to Hilligje van’t Land for the invitation to develop this article. It’s worth taking a look at the whole issue of Horizons, by the way, as it has an ‘In Focus’ section on ICTs in Education – Revolution or Evolution?.

Please note that our MOOC is freely available for perusal at https://www.coursera.org/course/globalhighered until the end of August 2014, even if you never registered to take the course. Once you register, all commissioned visualizations, PDFs of the text, and SoundCloud-based podcasts embedded in the MOOC, can be freely reviewed and even shared until the course site is shut down on 1 September. The course content was presented in the following fashion:

Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’

Week 1: Universities (Starting Monday 24 March)
Keywords: collaboration, competition, global competency, globalization, internationalization, learning, logics, mechanisms, mission, mobility, models, technology
Week 2: City-regions (Starting Monday 31 March)
Keywords: academic freedom, branch campuses, cities, city-regions, competition, hubs, gateway cities, global cities, innovation systems, liberal arts colleges, mobility, R&D, networks, urbanization.
Week 3: Nations (Starting Monday 7 April)
Keywords: competition, denationalization, exports, mobility, nation-state, revenue, services, students
Week 4: Regions (Starting Monday 14 April)
Keywords: collaboration, competition, geopolitics, higher education areas, interregionalism, regionalism
Week 5: Globals (Starting Monday 21 April)
Keywords: assessment, benchmarking, competition, desectoralization, framing, governance, hegemony, knowledge, intergovernmental organizations, publishing, R&D, rankings, thinkers
Week 6: World Class (Starting Monday 28 April)
Keywords: assessment, benchmarking, bibliometrics, competition, desectoralization, governance, metrics, models, world class universities, world university rankings
Week 7: Singapore (Starting Monday 5 May)
Keywords: academic freedom, branch campuses, city-state, competition, developmental state, global cities, hubs, innovation systems, nation-states, networks, R&D, rankings, regionalism, services

Kris & Susan


We’ve just done our first massive open online course (MOOC)! Not as a participant – we might add – but imagining, making and delivering it over a seven week period this spring to some 18,400 participants. And what a ride this has been.

We, or perhaps we should say Kris, first broached the subject. What about doing a MOOC on globalising higher education? Our dive into the global/digital/public world had its genesis in 2008 and the GlobalHigherEd blog – now in its 6th year and notching up steadily toward ¾ million hits, as well as an associated Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/GlobalHigherEd. For a specialist subject – we’ve been constantly impressed with the level of interest in global higher education developments. And it is a sufficiently fast moving scene – to keep us busy, if not dizzy, with what we think it is worth sharing with others.

The move into the MOOC world felt a natural step. But thinking about it from this end of the experience – with the last class completed, it was also a huge step change in what needs to be in place in order to do it well. To begin – you need not just a level of expertise in your subject, but a very good team of educational technology experts around you that can help you translate your expertise into the formats that will make for a great learning experience. And we had that in spades via the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for which we are hugely grateful. Our MOOC was also somewhat unusual as we were two colleagues who have historically worked together on globalising higher education developments, but an ocean separated us. Learning to communicate over a distance, moving ideas and material back and forth, took both skill and trust. This process involved not just ourselves, but a whole crew of people as they stepped into to help us sort aspects of the development of the MOOC out.

But it was unusual from a different angle. Early on we decided that we wanted a text-based MOOC. Our reasons for this were that we wanted it to be accessible to as global an audience as was possible; we did not want bandwidth for instance to be an issue. We also felt that we could more easily update the content going into the future, rather than be faced with high costs of rerecording a video to take in new developments or evidence. We tried to imagine who might take our class — a busy administrator? Perhaps a university president or rector? Or journalist? — where being able to print the text off, or download it on a mobile device, and read it when on a daily journey, might make more sense. We were also quite taken with recent experiments by the New York Times – of extended essays, with movies, podcasts and other moving parts embedded. We liked the look and feel of these efforts and wanted to see how far we could emulate this kind of format. We also wanted a MOOC that was an open access global commons, and a resource to think with and borrow from.

Saying yes, and diving in to deliver each week are two quite different questions. Yes, meant talking though the how, formats, imagining the students, how might we work together and so on. Doing it meant crafting each week, commissioning visual material, recording podcasts with experts around the world (including IAU-ers Eva Egron Polak, Goolam Mohamedbhai, and Madeleine Green) and getting these transcribed, playing around with writing styles to ensure rigor of science but accessibility of ideas, thinking of challenging assessments, poking our nose into discussion forums and threads to engage as far as we could with our participants, and encouraging them from week to week to challenge each other around issues – from global research footprints to global competencies, national exporting strategies of countries around higher education, region building, and world class rankings. It meant monitoring issues like plagiarism from week to week.

We’ve finished now, and are really pleased with our efforts. This is not to say that we got it all right. But it is to say that we also know what things we would like to do differently in the future, and what new issues we would like to address. Our focus on the edges of innovation in higher education took us to the experimental, at times dazzling investments – like the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, and the emerging CUSP experiment in New York. This focus meant we tended not to spend as much time on the huge efforts that go into delivering higher education to an extraordinary number of students day after day – such as the community colleges. We aim to rectify this gap in any future rendition of the course.

But already we are receiving emails of thanks from course participants – who thank us for helping them think through their work in ways that have made a difference to them and their understanding. We’re thrilled by this, as this is the great privilege we have as university academics. The MOOC helped us experiment with reconfiguring the in/out boundaries of the university; it provided us with an opportunity share our expertise with others, whilst at the same time being hugely aware that there is also a great deal for us to learn.

 Susan Robertson (University of Bristol, UK) & Kris Olds (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA)



No MOOCs for Iran or Syria?

This entry is also available on Inside Higher Ed here.  Also see this new IHE article ‘Massive Closed Online Courses‘ for more information about this matter.


Yesterday’s news that Coursera and Udacity need to follow US sanction rules is a reminder that the forces shaping the evolving global geographies of MOOCs is an issue that needs to be grappled with more thoroughly and systematically.

In recent entries here on Inside Higher Ed, I’ve argued that the MOOCs phenomenon has helped deterritorialize higher education institutions and practices via their ‘global reach’ such that the American-centric debates about MOOCs (e.g., completion rates; their uses to resolve austerity-induced public higher ed challenges), are important, yes, but just the edge of much broader debates that need to be engaged in.

From the global reach of MOOCs, to the cosmopolitan nature of the labor force working at the offices for platforms like Coursera and EdX, we see glimmers of a post-national higher ed future emerging. Moreover, we also see a global MOOC development agenda emerging, one backed by international organizations like the World Bank. See, for example:

Nation-states are also using MOOCs to promote national higher education systems abroad to target markets (e.g., a taste of Britain in India, courtesy of FutureLearn; Francophone Africa courtesy of France Université Numérique, and powered by EdX).

But, as the economic geographer Peter Dicken has argued so eloquently over the course of his career, firms and organizations are placed – they’re born and grounded in locales, even when they aspire to operate at a genuinely global scale.

Dicken’s point – about the ‘placing of firms’ – was hammered home in ‘Online education platform Coursera blocks students in Syria and Iran’ in Wamda yesterday. Phil Hill and I chatted about this on Twitter yesterday, and he has a nice summary about the Coursera/Udacity/EdX sanctions story here.

While this issue is still being investigated, I see three initial take-home messages from what is a rather perturbing development.

First, it appears as if the output of MOOCs has been defined by the US state as tradable “services” versus “information” in the US Treasury sanction documents for Iran and Syria, and in this Coursera note. Given this, the content of MOOCs mediated and propelled by US-registered MOOC platforms cannot be transmitted into said territory for they break sanction rules. Keep in mind that the broader regulatory context here regarding GATS and the trade in services (including education services).

Second, and most obviously, this is a bizarre and depressing development. How can the US Government seriously deem engagement with this array of Coursera courses, or this array of EdX courses, as supporting the regimes that sanctions are designed to put pressure on? And, relatedly, do government officials and leaders really think preventing access to MOOCs and associated outcomes (e.g., certificates) will generate the types of internal political pressure they are supposedly designed to do? You decide:

EdXembargoeThird, what role are MOOC platform partner universities playing in these deliberations? Do they even know? I doubt it, though I hope someone proves me wrong.

In this new global higher ed landscape, it is not enough to establish bilateral relations with intermediary firms/organizations like EdX, Coursera, Udacity, FutureLearn, France Université Numérique, et al, and just use their services. Some broader strategic/governance rules of the game may need to be established. After all, if universities are willing to cede some MOOC-related authority to an association like the American Council of Education (ACE) regarding which MOOCs are credit worthy, then surely they should work via their relevant associations to collectively ensure that some very important global access issues, principle issues, and key precedents, are handled in as strategic a manner as they deserve to be.

Kris Olds

Mapping Coursera’s Global Footprint

Over the last year I’ve been stuck by how most debates about MOOCs, and MOOC platform providers, are remarkably national in orientation. In the US, for example, a surprising number of politicians and select ‘disruptive innovation’ consultants have framed MOOCs as a vehicle to help redress the fiscal challenges facing public higher education. This (the MOOC as fiscal challenge solution) is a mug’s game, though, as anyone involved in developing and running online courses (as I am for both regular credit classes and a MOOC) will tell you for they are resource intensive to both develop and run well. MOOCs are great for some things, and worse for others, but they are not going to save universities money by functioning as a silver bullet for the legacy impacts of austerity.

While the politics of MOOCs are primarily national in orientation, the developmental agendas of MOOC platforms like EdX, Coursera, FutureLearn, iversity, et al, are scaled beyond the nation, such that they incorporate multiple world regions with respect to partners and students. Select regions (East Asia, South Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America), and select countries like China and India, are clearly being targeted by US- and Europe-based MOOC organizations and course developers, and they will be so more and more. This partially explains why international organizations like the World Bank have backed Coursera, why Coursera is working with translation services firms, and why Boston-based EdX is working with an increasing number of non-US governments. See, for example, these EdX press releases:

And see these Coursera press releases:

In order to make more sense of the emerging global footprints of MOOC platforms, I recently facilitated a mapping exercise with anonymized and aggregate (i.e. non-course specific) data regarding the location of students taking courses via Coursera. Fortunately, we have a wonderful Cartography Lab in the Department of Geography at UW-Madison. Coursera kindly provided the data in October and our cartographers went to work. What follows are two visualizations – one of the location of the 3+ million students (out of 5+ million) Coursera could geolocate, and one of Coursera’s expanding partnership base.



My thanks to Tanya Buckingham who worked on the above visualizations with GIS Certificate student Laura Poplett. I asked Tanya to provide some information about the first map posted above and this is what she had to say:

There are a two things about the data represented on the map that every reader should know. First, the participant data are represented using IP (Internet Protocol) address. A map of IP addresses will closely correspond to population density. Data are normalized to avoid creating a map of social phenomenon that simply reflects population density. In the experimental stages of this map, MOOC participants (as reported by IP address) were normalized with a denominator of global population information based on the LandScan dataset, from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In the calculations, this resulted in areas that had a higher MOOC population than total population within a given area. This could be due to a handful of reasons, including how IP addresses are counted and aggregated for a certain area, or where people are living versus where they are participating in the MOOC in which they are enrolled. Considering the data by sub-country administrative units also resulted in a less than helpful map, since the area of these administrative units vary so widely. Ultimately, a hexagon tessellation was calculated to cover the earth’s surface, without considering total population within those units. Restricting the area provided a normalization of sorts–think of it as population by square kilometer rather than a population by state or province, where it is expected that the largest areas would have the highest numbers. While the map does look similar to a population distribution in Europe and the United States it does diverge in other areas of the world.

The second thing readers should be aware of is the number of participants shown on the map are just over 3.5 million people, when there are over 5.5 million people are registered as Coursera students. If the data are a representative sample, we would expect to see similar patterns as shown on the map now. However, if there is bias for a region in the world where it is not possible to geographically locate IP addresses, mapping those additional 1.5 million students could illuminate new patterns or clusters of students in areas where they are not represented on the map now. It is because of the missing data that the legend shows a qualitative value of “high, medium, low, no” participation, rather than exact numbers of participants.

The visualizations above thus represent the approximate global footprint of one MOOC platform generated by the students who sought to take courses offered by an expanding list of partners. Regardless of whether you like the idea of MOOCs or not, MOOCs are arguably post-national higher education platforms. Their names are almost uniformly placeless. As I have noted before, the founders of US-based MOOC platforms like EdX, Coursera and Udacity [undergoing pivot] are immigrants to the US from around the world, and many of the staff working in their offices are also recent immigrants. The platforms/courses also serve a growing number of students around the world. On the basis of the first map, Coursera could, arguably, be viewed as a defacto European and Indian MOOC platform for it has a major presence in both of these territories. The sames goes for EdX. Indeed I argued this point in Brussels at a recent ACA/EUA workshop, though the iversity.org representative at the workshop countered that they were the “European” MOOC platform for they were born in Europe and operated by European rules with respect to the protection of student data. Indeed he went on to flag how they would be more protected from the prying eye of the NSA (a worthwhile objective, though technologically to be determined!).

In any case my point is this: US-based platforms like Coursera and EdX are serving more and more students around the world, and they will continue to do so as long as the platforms exist and partners provide courses. Mediating factors obviously include language, the nature of the courses, access to the internet (the latter of which is captured well by the World Bank and the OECD in the figures below), and access to YouTube (which is used in most courses).InternetAccess



Thus, while there is an evident national and regional (in Europe) politics to MOOCs phenomenon, it is important to recognize that these courses reach students around the world, including in countries far less well resourced than the origin country of most MOOCs. And given this, we may need to remember this point more often and open up/reframe practices, discussions, debates, regulations, intra-university governance pathways, analyses, and so on, to recognize this empirical fact. We’ve seen some magazine articles and blog entries on this issue (most recently Anya Kamenetz on ‘The MOOC Evolution‘), but the transnational dimension of MOOC provision and consumption has received remarkably little sustained attention considering how important it is.

My thanks to Coursera for providing the data, and to Tanya Buckingham and Laura Poplett for working so hard to creatively and effectively map Coursera’s global footprint (as at October 2013).

Kris Olds

Briefly Noted (reactions to Sebastian Thrun’s Fast Company hagiography)

Who is troubled by this week’s Sebastian Thrun hagiography (‘Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather Of Free Online Education, Changes Course‘) in Fast Company, as well as this announcement (‘Launching our Data Science & Big Data Track built with Leading Industry Partners‘) via the Udacity blog (both posted on 14 November 2013)? A lot of committed open education thinkers and practitioners, so it seems, and not merely because of the hype machine Thrun so evidently cultivates (I’ll leave aside the possible negative reaction to Thrun getting photographed in Lycra tights through a filter borrowed from a 1970s Swedish cinematographer, or the journalist’s attempt to throw in a clichéd Matrix reference):

I’ve compiled these reflective reactions as they are the only ones to emerge apart from a lot of supportive (of Thrun) tweets that are circulating said Fast Company article far and wide. Will we see some supportive articles and blog entries emerge next week regarding Thrun’s latest “pivot”? We shall see…

Kris Olds

Making Sense of Euro MOOCs

Note: please link here for the Inside Higher Ed version of this article should you with to print it or share it more broadly.


Our European MOOCs in Global Context Workshop (19-20 June 2013 @ UW-Madison) went very well, in my biased opinion.  The event was kicked off by a provocative and well-crafted keynote lecture by George Siemens of Athabasca University. As I noted in the workshop webpage:

Siemens developed and taught (with Stephen Downes) the first ever ‘MOOC’ in 2008, and is one of the world’s leading experts on MOOCs. Siemens is an educator and researcher on learning, networks, analytics and visualization, openness, and organizational effectiveness in digital environments. He is the author of Knowing Knowledge, an exploration of how the context and characteristics of knowledge have changed and what it means to organizations today, and the Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning. Knowing Knowledge has been translated into Mandarin, Spanish, Persian, and Hungarian. Siemens is the Associate Director of the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University, leading the learning analytics research team. Previously, he was the Associate Director, Research and Development, with the Learning Technologies Centre at University of Manitoba. Siemens is also the co-founder of the newly established MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) which is being funded by the Gates Foundation.

An integrated slide/video (with captions) of Siemens’ keynote is available here for your viewing pleasure:


See below for those of you interested in Siemens’ slides, minus the audio/video element:


Siemens is a very informed analyst/practitioner/interlocutor regarding MOOCs, and it is a pleasure to engage with a person who clearly sees the pros and cons of the fast evolving MOOCs phenomenon, and especially the importance of viewing them from multiple perspectives (from the pedagogical through to the political-economic). I also recommend that you take a look at his reflections on his talk (‘Neoliberalism and MOOCs: Amplifying nonsense’) via the elearnspace blog, which includes this statement:

In recent presentations, I’ve been positioning MOOCs in terms of the complexification of higher education…. The argument is simple: Much of today’s economy is knowledge-based. In a knowledge economy, we need to be learning constantly. Universities have failed to recognize the pent-up demand for learning as the economy has diversified and society has become more complex and interconnected. As a consequence, the internet has contributed by creating a shadow education system where learners learn on their own and through social networks. MOOCs reflect society’s transition to a knowledge economy and reveal the inadequacy of existing university models to meet learner’s needs.

Following a perfectly timed (weather-wise) reception on the rooftop of our Education Building, we spent a full day engaging with the MOOCs phenomenon from a range of perspectives.  Michael Gaebel of the European University Association (EUA) and I laid some context for the day’s discussions. Michael’s slides are available here:


It’s worth noting that Gaebel is in charge of the EUA’s task force on MOOCs.

We then heard from representatives of EdX (Howard Lurie) and Coursera (Pang Wei Koh) about the ‘Place of Europe’ in their emerging global strategies. While there was a lot of information conveyed in these two informative talks and Q&A sessions, it is clear that Europe plays a very important part in the global strategies of EdX and Coursera. European universities are increasingly interested in engaging with these two platforms, and in so engaging with the platforms European universities are simultaneously altering the DNA of said platforms.  European universities bring with them particular understandings and approaches to online education, lifelong learning, credit transfer, inter-institutional cooperation, outreach/public service, governance, and capacity building. The linguistic dimensions of the MOOCs on offer have helped these two platforms grapple with multiple language matters both in Europe, but also in the vast post-colonial worlds Europe has footprints in. Indeed there is a structural logic for engaging with European universities in the early phase of truly global platform development as US universities are unilingual.

DillenbourgJune2013We then dug deep into the Euro MOOCs theme via a fascinating talk by Pierre Dillenbourg who spoke about the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne Experience with MOOCs (Situated in the European Context). While we never recorded his talk, see below for his informative slides, as well as another of his presentations from an early June Euro MOOCs summit:



Linda Jorn (UW-Madison) and Pang Wei Koh (Coursera) ably responded to Dillenbourg’s informative presentation. Dillenbourg and others at EPFL are active and critically engaged practitioners regarding MOOCs. Their work with MOOCs seems to be situated in historic perspective, and taken very seriously regarding course vetting and development and learning analytics. It is no surprise, then, that EPFL is an emerging centre of dialogue and debate regarding European MOOCs. As noted in the photo of Dillenbourg above, their philosophy regarding MOOCs is it is “Better be an actor than a spectator.

A large panel discussions was then held regarding Emerging European Institutional Perspectives on MOOCs. Minister Antonio de Lecea (European Union), Michael Gaebel (European University Association), and Fernando Galán Palomares (European Students’ Union) spoke about the MOOCs phenomenon from their particular standpoints, and then Roger Dale (University of Bristol), Susan Robertson (University of Bristol), and Barbara McFadden Allen (Committee on Institutional Cooperation) responded with insight from equally diverse perspectives.

The final session involved Revisiting ‘Disruptor, Saviour, or Distractor: MOOCs and their role in higher education.’ Some time to digest Siemens’ keynote talk the night before, to get to know each other a little more, and to learn along the way, generated a variety of fascinating (I’m biased, I know, but they were!) reflections on the theme of European MOOCs in Global Context.  Amongst the many important points raised, three stand out in my mind a few weeks later while writing this summary up.

The first is that there is genuine interest in the MOOCs phenomenon in Europe. MOOCs have captured the imaginations, for good and for bad, of key European higher education stakeholders. This interest is partly driven by the US-led MOOCs juggernaut which is generating some angst and concerns in Europe. So yes, there is some concern about an initial U.S. domination of the MOOCs landscape, and the discourse about MOOCs. This said, there are many other reasons the MOOCs juggernaut is generating interest in European quarters. There is, for example, a long history of online/distance education in Europe and the MOOCs phenomenon both supports and destabilizes this movement and these historic players. European institutions of higher education also have advanced digitalization (for lack of a better word) and open education resource agendas underway on a number of levels and the MOOCs agenda has potential to sync in well with these. And European HEIs are being asked to do more and more to enhance opportunities for lifelong learning, and to build ties with alumni, and MOOCs have some potential uses on these two fronts.

Second, the global dimensions of the MOOCs phenomenon articulates in fascinating ways with the both the intra- and extra-dimensions of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). MOOCs have some potential to encourage virtual mobility across European space, to build understandings of how different European universities approach teaching and learning, and to share research expertise and strengths via open online courses. MOOCs, be they offered via European or non-European platforms, also enable European universities to reach into other world regions, often in languages other than English. In other words, MOOCs have some untested potential to enhance the building of interregionalisms – an agenda that has been underway since the global dimensions of the formalization of an external dimension to the Bologna Process was spurred on, in May 2005, when the Bergen Communiqué was issued. The Communiqué included the following statement:

The European Higher Education Area must be open and should be attractive to other parts of the world. Our contribution to achieving education for all should be based on the principle of sustainable development and be in accordance with the ongoing international work on developing guidelines for quality provision of crossborder higher education. We reiterate that in international academic cooperation, academic values should prevail.

We see the European Higher Education Area as a partner of higher education systems in other regions of the world, stimulating balanced student and staff exchange and cooperation between higher education institutions. We underline the importance of intercultural understanding and respect. We look forward to enhancing the understanding of the Bologna Process in other continents by sharing our experiences of reform processes with neighbouring regions. We stress the need for dialogue on issues of mutual interest. We see the need to identify partner regions and intensify the exchange of ideas and experiences with those regions.

The Bergen Communiqué then led to the development of a more formal 2007 strategy document titled Looking Out: The Bologna Process in Global Setting: On the External Dimension of the Bologna Process, from which the above quote is taken. And while this statement was issued before George Siemens and Stephen Downes taught the first MOOC in 2008, a read of the Bergen Communiqué and Looking Out will help you see how and why MOOCs might matter to select European higher ed stakeholders. Indeed, just last week the European Commission released a Communication titled ‘European higher education in the world.‘ [For the non-European readers of this entry, a Communication is a paper produced by the European Commission (EC), most often to the key institutions (e.g., Council of the European Union or the European Parliament). It is generally the outcome of a series of initiatives that might follow this sequence: the production of (i) a staff working paper, (ii) the development of a consultation paper that asks for wider inputs and views, and then, if it keeps proceeding it is in the form of (iii) a Communication. The decision to move to this stage is generally if the EC thinks it can get some traction on an issue to be discussed by these other agencies. This is not the only pattern or route, but it does register that issue has wider internal EC backing (that is in the nerve centres of power), and a sense that it might get traction with the Member States.]

As the EUA put it in their summary of ‘European higher education in the world‘, the new Communication:

places emphasis on the broad range of issues that are important for the internationalisation of European higher education. The document, which references the EC’s recent Communications “Modernising Europe’s Higher Education Systems” and “Rethinking Education”, places specific emphasis on how member states and higher education institutions can develop strategic international partnerships to tackle global challenges more effectively.

Among the key priorities outlined is the development of comprehensive internationalisation strategies at national and institutional level. The Commission states that such strategies should cover the following areas:

  • The promotion of international mobility of students and staff (for example through enhanced services for mobility, tools for recognition of studies, better visa procedures for foreign students and emphasis on two-way mobility – into and out of Europe).
  • The promotion of “internationalisation at home” and digital learning (including language learning, using ICT to internationalise curricula).
  • The strengthening of strategic cooperation, partnerships and capacity building (with emphasis on joint and double degrees, partnerships with business and also international development cooperation partnerships).

The EC aims to contribute to the realisation of this strategy through stronger policy support and financial incentives for internationalisation strategies in particular through the future EU programme for education that will be called Erasmus+ (formerly called Erasmus for All). It said the programme, which still needs to be formally approved at the EU level, would integrate external funding instruments and put an end to the fragmentation of the various existing external higher education programmes. It would also link these closer to intra-European cooperation, as the EC said it would provide increased support for mobility to and from non-EU countries through Erasmus+ and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (under Horizon 2020). The Commission also outlines measures in the areas of quality/transparency, cooperation and policy dialogue.

It is worth taking note of what is stated on page 7 of ‘European higher education in the world:

While online courses and degrees are not a new phenomenon, the exponential increase in the supply of online education and digital material, as well as the increase in the provision of assessment, validation and academic credit by selected MOOCs (an emerging trend particularly with many HEIs in countries such as the US and Australia) has the potential of transforming higher education radically. New trends in digital education and the emergence of MOOCs should be an incentive for HEIs to rethink their cost structures and possibly also their missions, and engage in worldwide partnerships to increase the quality of content and of the learning experience through blended learning.

Europe must take the lead in the global efforts to exploit the potential of digital education – including the availability of ICT, the use of OER and the provision of MOOCs – and to overcome the systemic obstacles that still exist in quality assurance, student assessment and recognition, as well as funding. This potential and obstacles will be addressed in a future Commission initiative. [emphasis in original]

Third, it is clear that while in some ways MOOCs are a post-national phenomenon given their multiple identities and citizenships of their visionaries, albeit propelled by well resourced U.S. MOOC platforms, the institutionalization and governance dimensions of MOOCs in Europe are only just unfolding in a complex and different (in comparison to the U.S.) state-society-economy context.

For example, we were pleased that Antonio de Lecea, Minister and Principal Advisor for Economic and Financial Affairs Delegation of the European Union to the United States, was able to join us for the entire workshop. Minister de Lecea provided some fascinating insights on the EU’s emerging views regarding MOOCs and broader contextual factors regarding politics, regulatory systems, and debates about important issues like data privacy (a rather topical issue right now!). As de Lecea, Michael Gaebel, Mark Johnson, Fernando Galán Palomares, Roger Dale, and Susan Robertson all pointed out, Europe is inevitably going to take a broader and more strategic approach to MOOCs than what we see unfolding in the U.S. Given this it is important to critically deliberate about the nature of the MOOCs phenomenon so wise decisions can be made by key European institutions.

Indeed it is clear that the message that MOOCs are no silver bullet for revolutionizing higher education, and resolving all sorts of crises and tensions, is being recognized. In short, proselytizing and the hype factor is evident in Europe, as it is here in the U.S., but given what I witnessed with respect those representing the EU, the EUA, and the ESU, not to mention specific European universities (Bristol and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne), the MOOCs phenomenon is being grappled with in a relatively informed and critically engaged manner. And in doing so, we here in North America, and at UW-Madison, are learning much about MOOCs, as well as Europe, at the same time.

My thanks to all of the participants for their many inputs, and to the many UW-Madison units (the European Union Center of Excellence with additional support via Education Innovation, Division of Continuing Studies, Division of Information Technology, L&S Learning Support Services, Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, Department of Geography) that made this Euro MOOCs event possible.

Kris Olds

European MOOCs in Global Context Workshop (19-20 June 2013 @ UW-Madison)


Schedule Summary


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were ‘invented’ in Canada in 2008, and then became transformed, institutionalized and scaled up via the efforts of people, universities, and firms, in the Boston and San Francisco Bay Area city-regions. In the process debates about MOOCs have blossomed, entangled as they are in discussions about online pedagogy through to longer-standing debates about lifelong learning, internationalization, austerity, ‘disruptive innovation,’ public service, deterritorialization, education reform, and many (many) other issues.

EUBldgThe European MOOCs in Global Context Workshop, a free and open access (i.e. no RSVP) event will be held in the Wisconsin Idea Room, Education Building, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 19-20 June 2013, This workshop is designed to engender discussion and debate about the MOOCs phenomenon from a European perspective, as well as about the implications of the MOOCs juggernaut for European universities and students. We seek to learn about MOOCs by contextualizing them, speaking about their histories and geographies, their technologies and aspirational futures, as well as their uneven geographies and power geometries. In doing so we hope that participants will become more astute thinkers about potentials and limits of MOOCs, not to mention how to situate the fast changing MOOCs phenomenon. Given this workshop attendees need not be Europeanists; you simply need to be interested in MOOCs, online learning, and the transformation of higher education more generally.

gsiemens_unesco-1The workshop kicks off with a 5:00 pm keynote talk on Wednesday 19 June by George Siemens (Athabasca University, Canada). George Siemens developed and taught (with Stephen Downes) the first ever ‘MOOC’ in 2008, and is one of the world’s leading experts on MOOCs. Siemens is an educator and researcher on learning, networks, analytics and visualization, openness, and organizational effectiveness in digital environments. He is the author of Knowing Knowledge, an exploration of how the context and characteristics of knowledge have changed and what it means to organizations today, and the Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning. Knowing Knowledge has been translated into Mandarin, Spanish, Persian, and Hungarian. Siemens is the Associate Director of the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University, leading the learning analytics research team. Previously, he was the Associate Director, Research and Development, with the Learning Technologies Centre at University of Manitoba. Siemens is also the co-founder of the newly established MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) which is being funded by the Gates Foundation.

The title of Siemens’ keynote talk at UW-Madison is ‘Disruptor, Saviour, or Distractor: MOOCs and their role in higher education.’ An open reception on the Education Building’s rooftop terrace will follow.

The remainder of the workshop will be held on 20 June from approximately 9:00 am to ~2:00 pm. A detailed schedule is under development and will be posted here in early June. Additional visiting speakers and panelists include:

  • Roger Dale (University of Bristol, UK). Roger Dale is Professor of Education. Until 2002, he was Professor of Education at the University of Auckland. Prior to moving to Auckland, he had been involved in producing courses in sociology of education and education policy at the UK’s Open University for almost 20 years. He conducts research on the EU and education policy, complementing and extending qualitatively his earlier work on the state and education policy. He was Scientific Coordinator of the EU’s Network of Experts on Social Science and Education (NESSE), and Academic Coordinator of the EU Erasmus Thematic Network, GENIE (Globalisation and Europeanisation in Education) which was based in the University of Bristol’s Centre for Research on Globalisation, Education and Societies.
  • Pierre Dillenbourg (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, EPFL, Switzerland). Pierre Dillenbourg is academic director of EPFL’s Center for Digital Education and head of the Computer-Human Interaction for Learning & Instruction Lab. He is lead organizer of EPFL’s European MOOC Summit (6-7 June 2013; see slides below), and one of the world’s leading thinkers about the nature of MOOCs and learning analytics. He started his research on learning technologies in 1984, and conducts research on MOOCs, computer-supported collaborative learning & work, learning technologies, and human-computer interaction.
  • Michael Gaebel (European University Association, EUA, Belgium). Michael Gaebel is the Head of the Higher Education Policy Unit, which focuses on the Bologna Process, lifelong learning, internationalisation and global dialogue. When he first joined the EUA in 2006, he was in charge of developing EUA’s international strategy and global exchange and cooperation. Mr. Gaebel is in charge of the EUA’s task force on MOOCs. The EUA represents and supports over 860 higher education institutions in 47 countries, providing them with a unique forum to cooperate and keep abreast of the latest trends in higher education and research policies.
  • Fernando M Galán Palomares (European Students’ Union, ESU, Belgium). Mr. Galán Palomares is incoming Vice-Chair of the ESU Executive Committee with responsibilities including quality assurance. The European Students’ Union (ESU) is the umbrella organisation of 47 National Unions of Students (NUS) from 39 countries. The aim of ESU is to represent and promote the educational, social, economic and cultural interests of students at the European level towards all relevant bodies and in particular the European Union, Bologna Follow Up Group, Council of Europe and UNESCO. Through its members, ESU represents over 15 million students in Europe. It is also worth noting that the ESU adopted a new policy about MOOCs in their last General Assembly.
  • Mark Johnson (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA). Mark S. Johnson is Assistant Professor of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and was previously associate professor of history and education at Colorado College. His research and teaching interests focus on education in Russia and Central Eurasia, especially post-Soviet higher education; and comparative studies of soft power and public diplomacy programs. He has worked as a consultant and evaluator for organizations including the U.S. Department of State, the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Bureau of Asian Research, the Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Civilian Research and Development Foundation, the World Bank, the National Research University HigherSchool of Economics in Russia, and Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan.
  • Linda Jorn (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA). Linda Jorn serves as Associate Vice Provost of Learning Technologies and Division of Information Technology (DoIT) Director of Academic Technology (AT) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently leads a team of 80 academic technology professionals that provide a suite of 22 services to campus; several AT team members co-lead, with other campus partners, the campus-wide MOOC pilot. She is passionate about designing academic technology services and developing key partnerships that take a scholarly approach to advancing learning and research through the innovative and thoughtful use of technology. In her day-to-day work, she draws on her academic and work background in curriculum and instruction, rhetoric, communication, nursing, qualitative research, and leadership. Linda regularly serves on review committees for national learning technology grants and advisory boards for national and regional organizations.
  • Pang Wei Koh (Coursera, USA). Pang Wei Koh is Head of Course Operations at Coursera, where he oversees the design, implementation, and support of all online classes on the Coursera platform, and works with faculty and staff from nearly 80 partner institutions to push the envelope in digital pedagogy. Before joining Coursera, Pang Wei worked on computational biology and machine learning in the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab with Professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, Coursera’s co-founders; his work on computational cancer morphology was recently recognized by several awards, including the Ernest Walton Medal for Computer Science, awarded by the President of Ireland.
  • Antonio de Lecea (Delegation of the European Union to the United States). Antonio de Lecea is Minister and Principal Advisor for Economic and Financial Affairs Delegation of the European Union to the United States. Prior to joining the Delegation, Dr. de Lecea served as the Director for International Affairs in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs, steering analytical and policy support for the Commission’s economic relations with non-EU countries and multilateral and regional economic institutions including the IMF, the World Bank, the G-20, the G7/G8, and the OECD. From 1999 to 2004, Dr. de Lecea was the economic advisor to then-European Commission President Romano Prodi. Before joining the European Commission, Dr. de Lecea served in the private office of the Spanish Secretary of State for Finance in Madrid and in academia (at Basque Country University (UPV), in Bilbao, Spain).
  • Barbara McFadden Allen (Committee on Institutional Cooperation, USA). Barbara McFadden Allen is Executive Director of the CIC (a consortium made up of members of the Big Ten Athletic Conference and the University of Chicago). She is responsible for the overall conduct of the CIC headquarters’ staff and programs, and works with the Members (chief academic officers) to define and implement the consortium’s mission and agenda. CIC universities co-own and operate a multi-million dollar fiber optic network; have partnered with Google to digitize our university libraries; and develop and coordinate innovative academic & research collaborations.
  • Howard Lurie (EdX, USA). Howard Lurie is Vice President of External Affairs, EdX. He has taught and designed online courses and managed digital content collections for internationally known educational non-profits, including Facing History and Ourselves. These experiences leveraged a 15-year teaching career, during which Howard taught history and digital humanities. Prior to joining edX, Howard served as the Managing Director for PBS LearningMedia, a nationally recognized digital learning platform produced by the Public Broadcasting System, and also served as the Associate Director for Education at the WGBH Educational Foundation in Boston, Mass. Mr. Lurie will be speaking via Skype on Thursday morning.
  • Kris Olds (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA). Kris Olds is Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Geography, UW-Madison. Olds’ research focuses on the globalization of the services industries (including higher education, architecture, property) and their relationship to urban and regional change. He has played a variety of strategic service roles for UW-Madison, as well as for organizations including the OECD, NAFSA, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the International Association of Universities, and the Association of Commonwealth Universities. He is currently developing a MOOC (Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’) with Susan Robertson (University of Bristol).
  • Susan L. Robertson (University of Bristol, UK). Susan Robertson is Professor, Sociology of Education, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. She is also Director of the University of Bristol’s Centre for Globalisation, Education and Societies, and co-editor of the journal Globalisation, Societies and Education. Robertson’s research focuses on the political economy of the education sector, and how education is the object and outcome of converging and diverging policies and practices around the globe. These include creating education as a services sector, the commercialisation of education, and the increased role of for-profit actors in the sector. An important aspect of this transformation has been the growth of international agencies and transnational firms in shaping these processes. She is currently developing a MOOC (Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’) with Kris Olds of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

UW-Madison Sponsors: European Union Center of Excellence with additional support via Education Innovation, Division of Continuing Studies, Division of Information Technology, Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, Department of Geography.

Further Information: Please note that this is an open and free event – all are welcome, regardless of your affiliation, and there is no need to sign up as an attendee.  All sessions, apart from the 19 June reception, will happen in the Wisconsin Idea Room, Education Building, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Contact: Kris Olds, Professor and Department Chair, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Email: olds@geography.wisc.edu

Note: The slides below were presented at EPFL’s European MOOC Summit (6-7 June 2013) and are worth perusing before our workshop.



Also see these entries on related themes in Inside Higher Ed:


Madison, WI June 7th, 2013 (pic taken by Katie Hermsen)

Cities, MOOCs and Global Networks

The last several days of higher ed media coverage have been rich with discussions about the tangle of global networks being formed.  A case in point is this announcement, by Imperial College London and Zhejiang University, to collaborate on a new initiative in London’s White City. Much like the Amsterdam’s plans to establish a new university (‘On Amsterdam’s Plans to Establish a Third University‘), and the Cornell-Technion experiment in New York City, these global networks are quite tightly configured and very urban-centered: they are being harnessed to create new spaces of knowledge production to creatively unsettle and hopefully strengthen city-region innovation systems.

On the global/urban theme, today’s coverage also included news about the expansion of a Boston-based massive open online course (MOOC) platform – EdX – such that it will now double in size and serve universities from many more parts of the world. The EdX press release explains the nature of the expansion, while these two images from the EdX website – the first reflecting membership yesterday, and the second membership today – make it very clear EdX is now a much more global (if unevenly!) platform:

EdX (20 May 2013)

banner-edx copy

EdX (21 May 2013)

EdX 21 May 2013

See below for further information about the founding universities of the two big MOOC platforms – Coursera and EdX – as well as the non-US universities that have joined these platforms over time.  Please note that I have not included information about the inclusion of additional US universities after platform formation – this is only a list the non-US members that were added over time.

Coursera — Established Fall 2011 | Four founding US universities as of April 2012

  • Princeton University
  • Stanford University
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Pennsylvania
EdX — Established May 2012 | Two founding US universities
  • Harvard University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Coursera — Expansion on 17 July 2012 includes three non-US universities

  • École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland)
  • University of Edinburgh (UK)
  • University of Toronto (Canada)

Coursera — Expansion on 19 September 2012 includes five non-US universities

  • University of British Columbia (Canada)
  • Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel)
  • Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Hong Kong SAR)
  • University of London (UK)
  • University of Melbourne (Australia)

EdX —  Expansion on 20 February 2013 includes five non-US universities

  • The Australian National University (Australia)
  • Delft University of Technology (Netherlands)
  • École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland)
  • McGill University (Canada)
  • University of Toronto (Canada)

Coursera — Expansion on 21 February 2013 includes 16 non-US universities

Latin America

  • Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Mexico)
  • Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico)


  • Ecole Polytechnique (France)
  • IE Business School (Spain)
  • Leiden University (Netherlands)
  • Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Muenchen (Germany)
  • Sapienza, University of Rome (Italy)
  • Technical University Munich (Germany)
  • Technical University of Denmark (Denmark)
  • University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
  • University of Geneva (Switzerland)
  • Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (Spain)


  • Chinese University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong SAR)
  • National Taiwan University (Taiwan)
  • National University of Singapore (Singapore)
  • University of Tokyo (Japan)

EdX — Expansion on 21 May 2013 includes 10 non-US universities


  • University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong SAR)
  • Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (Hong Kong SAR)
  • Kyoto University (Japan)
  • Peking University (China)
  • Seoul National University (South Korea)
  • Tsinghua University (China)


  • University of Queensland (Australia)


  • Karolinska Institutet (Sweden)
  • Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium)
  • Technische Universität München (Germany)

The expanding, albeit unevenly, global footprint of U.S. MOOC platforms is fascinating for a number of reasons.

First, debates about the governance of this phenomenon cannot help but become increasingly complicated.  It’s difficult enough governing higher education institutions within a single nation or sub-national region and yet here we have dynamics including accreditation, quality assurance, faculty and student rights and responsibilities, pedagogy, student confidentiality, intellectual property (IP), etc., becoming rapidly denationalized. What this development process does is profoundly unsettle all relevant discussions, debates and governance options. And while we see some fruitful debates in articles like ‘MOOC Professors Claim No Responsibility for How Courses Are Used‘ in today’s Chronicle, it is striking how underlain they are by what sociologists of education deem ‘methodological nationalism’ – the assumption that we’re still operating in, and thinking in, an era where the national is the key frame for debates, research, regulation, assumptions, and so on. A scan of the comments in the Chronicle article reflect a genuinely needed debate about relational responsibilities and ethics but it is as if the development process is primarily taking part in a container – a very US container. And yet MOOCs are open access and generate global footprints, by design — see this map posted today, for example, of the 45,000 students enrolled in Emory professor Steve Everett’s ‘Introduction to Digital Sound Design‘ MOOC if you want a sense of the reality of the student spread of many (not all) MOOCs.

Can we debate about MOOCs in post-national ways? If so, where should we be debating about MOOCs and the implications of their global expansion? Are MOOCs governable at a global scale? So many questions, so few answers.

Second, and on a related note, representatives of Coursera and EdX are becoming, for practical reasons, the most informed repositories of data and knowledge about inter-institutional and international patterns, processes, and politics, regarding MOOCs. As with the deterritorialization of academic freedom, which puts senior ministers and monarchs in the Gulf and Asia at the center of bilateral relations between state and university, the global expansion of MOOCs puts the leaders and senior officials of Coursera and EdX at the center of bilateral relations between platform and university. There is thus a power geometry to the MOOC development process that is strikingly similar to that universities also have with world university rankers. In short, there is no associational intermediary shaping how universities relate to the two big MOOC platforms – it is a bilateral one that is centered much like the London Eye dynamic I described here. Is this to be expected? Is this to be desired? What are associations of universities and disciplinary bodies (e.g., Geography, History, Computer Science, Physics) doing besides watching the development process unfold?

In closing, cities are functioning as the basing points, and target spots, for the globalization of higher education.  There is a complicated relationship between the emergence of EdX and Coursera and their respective home city-regions. And now we’re seeing universities from around the world seeking and/or being invited to forge relations with these two platforms, and then using their technological prowess, marketing savvy, and fiscal resources to amplify and extend their extra-institutional reach, including at a regional and global scale.

But what are the implications of a development process unfolding further along these lines? Will regional initiatives, like Europe’s OpenupEd platform, or national initiatives like the UK’s Futurelearn or Australia’s Open2Study, enable more effective and diverse experimentation with MOOCs? Or are they setting themselves up for failure by locking in at a national and/or regional scale, thereby precluding the openness to membership that EdX and Coursera are displaying? Are EdX and Coursera acting like exclusive clubs, leaving national and regional agencies to create their own platforms for universities unable to break in (assuming they wish to)?

One way or another, the Boston and San Francisco Bay Area city-regions have blended ideas born elsewhere (including in Canada) with their own experiences, drawn in substantial resources, and powered up a global MOOCs juggernaut. And yes there is far too much hype (especially in the austerity-rattled U.S.) regarding MOOCs, but this is no time to back off on sustained engagement with such a fast changing phenomenon.

Kris Olds

On the Expanding Global Landscape of MOOC Platforms

In Brussels, yesterday, Androulla Vassiliou (European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth) announced that the “first pan-European” MOOC platform will be launched on 25 April 2013. As Commissioner Vassiliou put it:

This is an exciting development and I hope it will open up education to tens of thousands of students and trigger our schools and universities to adopt more innovative and flexible teaching methods. The MOOCs movement has already proved popular, especially in the US, but this pan-European launch takes the scheme to a new level. It reflects European values such as equity, quality and diversity and the partners involved are a guarantee for high-quality learning. We see this as a key part of the Opening up Education strategy which the Commission will launch this summer.

This multi-institutional European MOOC platform (available via www.OpenupEd.eu) is to be formally launched at the Open Universiteit in the Netherlands on Thursday 25 April (11:00-12:00 CET).

The global dimensions of the MOOC juggernaut is coming into view, and evolving, very quickly. As noted in these GlobalHigherEd entries:

as well as in numerous other media releases and media stories, select countries and regions are reacting to the fast paced growth of MOOC platforms like edX, and especially Coursera, with initiatives of their own. MOOCs (as currently envisioned) first emerged in Canada, and then were propelled by higher education institutions and firms located in the Bay Area and Boston city-regions of the United States in 2012. Additional MOOC platforms emerged in Milton Keynes in the UK (Futurelearn) in December 2012, Berlin (iversity) in Germany in March 2013Sydney in Australia (Open2Study) in March 2013, and now Europe’s OpenupEd as of this coming Thursday.

In the next week or so I’ll post a proper analysis of the various platforms and their associated developmental logics.  I’ll also update you about the European MOOCs in Global Context workshop (June 19-20) I am organizing here at UW-Madison. It’s also worth noting that Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) is holding a European MOOC Summit in early June.
The global landscape of MOOC platforms is churning very fast, reinforcing the need to engage in some reflective dialogue about this phenomenon.
Kris Olds

Globalizing MOOCs

Link here for an Inside Higher Ed version of the same article.


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.


Dave Cormier

Stephen Downes

George Siemens

Bonnie Stewart

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.

Kris Olds

The making of a MOOC at the University of Amsterdam

AriedenBoonEditor’s note: The guest entry below was kindly submitted by Arie K. den Boon (PhD), visiting professor of the Department of Communication Science and organizer of the first MOOC of the University of Amsterdam. Arie K. den Boon (pictured to the right) is also founder of StartupPush (with Paul Eikelenboom), GfKDaphne, and June Systems. My thanks to Dr. den Boon and the senior leadership of the University of Amsterdam for enabling our readers to better understand some of the developmental dynamics of MOOCs outside of the US. This entry should also be viewed in the context of nascent debates about the uneven global geographies of MOOCs — a theme dealt with in GlobalHigherEd via ‘Memo to Trustees re: Thomas Friedman’s ‘Revolution Hits the Universities,’ ‘Are MOOCs becoming mechanisms for international competition in global higher ed?,’ ‘On the territorial dimensions of MOOCs,‘ and ‘The MOOCs fad and bubble: please tell us another story!‘.  See, as well, Elizabeth Redden’s ‘Multinational MOOCs‘ and the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education’s ‘Would you credit that? The trajectory of the MOOCs juggernaut‘ (though the latter is behind a paywall).

You can view the MOOC discussed below via this website and follow the associated Twitter feed via https://twitter.com/UvAMOOC.  Link here for the Inside Higher Ed version of the entry.  Kris Olds


The sun is coming out from behind the clouds and makes the lake blindingly white. Skaters have come out in massive numbers on the first tour of the year on natural ice, starting uneasily but learning quickly with growing confidence. Skating is one of those things you only learn by doing.

While I am enjoying the beautiful landscape and concentrate on avoiding the sudden fissures in the ice, my mobile is receiving mails from the MOOC team, some 13 people working feverously to get their first MOOC out to the audience. We started with two: Rutger de Graaf, lecturer of the course Introduction to Communication Science and me, lobbying and trying to get people support the idea of an MOOC. We never expected we would have so many colleagues working on the project. It seemed quite simple to set up a course with video.

UvAlogoWhen I did the Artificial Intelligence course of Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvik in late 2011, I was immediately aware that this was more inspiring than any online or offline college I had before. This was so rich, so challenging and gratifying, that I knew this was going to change the world. The videos were simple and therefore feeling intimate. They were taken in their garage and Sebastian and Peter were clumsily shuffling pieces of paper to correct handwritten formulas and pictures. It looked like they spoke to you personally in a very simple set up. But later I became aware that it took lots of energy and time to create the video. Sebastian’s voice was giving away and later he was absent for a few lessons, and I understood he was exhausted of preparing the MOOC at night in his garage with normal classes and other obligations in daytime. Now I also saw that the course videos and quizzes were well orchestrated and followed a carefully designed path that finally brought me and my tens of thousands of fellow students to the final exam. I received the certificate and could not stop talking about it; this was something we had to do at the University of Amsterdam too. My expectations were very high. It could bring us much higher quality in our education, with a much richer experience because of the student’s interaction that provided extra feedback, with new explanations, examples and references on anything in or related to the course. Perhaps it would also be much more efficient, liberating lecturers to do more research and give any number of people around the world with a browser access to higher education. It would do some good branding as well, showing Communication Science at the University of Amsterdam is innovative in education and research.

AmsterdamSoon I discovered that it was not so easy after all. We started in May 2012, with virtually no budget, only the trust that the idea of a MOOC would be so compelling that we would win fans and budget holders along the way. And, actually, we did; the Graduate School, the College, the Faculty and also the top level decision makers at the University of Amsterdam liked the idea and managed to get us funding. The planning was to get the course out in September, OK, perhaps October. We bought a graphical tablet, some software and started experimenting. The first 30 seconds of the introduction took us a full day just to get right. The course was a replicate of the off line course Rutger was giving, but a MOOC is different, much more compact, and in need of a different narrative. It took us several months to learn how to create a relative efficient process. Peter Neijens, director of the Graduate School estimated we would be running the MOOC in January. I thought that was ridiculous, be I kept silent. Boy, we were going to show we were much faster. But soon I learned better. Making a MOOC is like moving a mountain. We now have a production team of 4, an editorial board of 4, designers and PR people, project managers, staff of the College of Communication and the Graduate School, the IT team with Frank Benneker our MOOC guru, etc. We have internal people on the job, but also some external people, which I think is very healthy for both speed and thoroughness. We have opened registration and plan to start with the course on February 20th. I promise: we will. After attending AI and a Statistics course, I now use the MOOC of Steve Blank on Udacity to coach and train student startups in a flipped classroom setting. The form of flipped classroom works very well, and using other MOOC’s helps to identify the best ways to setup a MOOC. One key component of the power of MOOC’s seems to be the amount of interaction between students, not between students and teacher. So what a MOOC should do, especially with smaller numbers of students, is stimulate the interaction between students. The more MOOCs we get and the fewer students per MOOC, the more important that becomes.

We have decided to see if we can join forces with Coursera, but at the same time develop on Sakai as well. Sakai is an open source environment that is developed by a large group of universities. It has some old fashioned quirks, but also some new developments that make it suitable for a pilot like this one. Besides, it is not yet clear where the American ventures like Coursera, edX, Udacity and others are heading to. What is their business model? What happens to the data of ‘our’ students, how well are their personal data protected the way we Europeans want it? Perhaps it is wise to organize a European platform as well; a little bit of choice for students and some competition would not be harmful. On the other hand it is clear that the largest platform will reach the largest audience and will get the most students. Coursera is growing faster than Facebook and seems to have closed its gates for new universities because of its tremendous growth, at least temporarily. So we are happy to develop on our own platform. The fire is on, other faculties and other universities are interested and want to join the platform and learn from our experiences. The UvA MOOC team is very energetic and dynamic, they know they have something new and exciting and want to make it work. So I feel a little bit guilty to be on the ice and stop now and then to answer mails and keep the speed and spirit up. All goes well. Do I now have different expectations from MOOCs? No, except that it is a lot of work to make one. Strange, why is making a video still so complex and so much work and feels so primitive? Perhaps this is an opportunity for a startup. Some 17.000 people have joined me on the lake, all learning to skate again for the first time this year. It feels like a massive open outdoor course!

Arie K. den Boon

Lessons to be learned via ‘MOOC Mess’ at Coursera?

This is as of the evening of 7 February…I’ll update this entry once per day until general coverage stops. Two mock posters about MOOCs, contained in ‘Cognitive Strategies and Affective dimensions in MOOCs‘ and  ‘The MOOCs that ate themselves,’ are posted at the bottom of this entry.  Kris Oldsmooc-8028605773_857fcd5548


Lessons to be learned via ‘MOOC Mess’ at Coursera?

Is quality control good enough for MOOCs? Part 1 (7 Feb 2013)

The MOOCs that ate themselves (7 Feb 2013)

How online class about online learning failed miserably (5 Feb 2013)

MOOCs and Scalability (5 Feb 2013)

Online Class on How To Teach Online Classes Goes Laughably Awry (5 Feb 2013)

MOOCs: Fail better (5 Feb 2013)

A class is not a commune (5 Feb 2013)

The MOOC Honeymoon is Over: Three Takeaways from the Coursera Calamity (5 Feb 2013)

GT and Coursera’s MOOC stumble: Why they are still experiments (5 February 2013)

Why the Online Ed MOOC Didn’t Work (5 Feb 2013)

A MOOC misstep: The University can learn from the failure of a recently axed massive open online course (4 Feb 2013)

Two Thoughts on the crash of the “Fundamentals of Online Education” MOOC (4 Feb 2013)

Oh, the irony: Coursera suspends online course about how to run an online course (4 Feb 2013)

Georgia Tech and Coursera Try to Recover From MOOC Stumble (4 Feb 2013)

MOOC Mess (4 Feb 2013)

24 Hours – A long time in online learning (4 Feb 2013)

Negating the learner in the learning process (3 Feb 2013)

Cognitive Strategies and Affective dimensions in MOOCs (3 Feb 2013)

Quality Control in MOOCs (3 Feb 2013)

How NOT to Design a MOOC: The Disaster at Coursera and How to Fix it (1 Feb 2013)

FOE MOOC Notes (29 Jan 2013)

Note: Links to 3 Feb pilfered via https://twitter.com/gsiemens