MOOCs & Mavens

It’s not everyday you get a hat tip from your vice chancellor, but the other day it happened. It was via Twitter – although I’m sure our VC would look quite fetching in suitable headgear – and was in relation to some links and posts I’ve curated regarding MOOCs and EdTech.

The comment was made in relation to an open Coursesites Forum created for a MOOC discussion at the forthcoming Universities Australia 2014 conference. Anyone can register and comment so feel free to sign up and have your say!

As part of my maven reponsibility (which I think should have an accompanying hat) I’ll be posting the comments to the following questions, but I thought for those not wanting to signup to Coursesites, or who want to comment without the gaze of those enrolled, I’d post them here too. Now I know MOOCs aren’t one of my favourite topics – but I think the idea of having a discussion around them is actually important because they have made a mark on the landscape and we do need to respond – to the negative and positive things they’ve bought.

Seeing as this is in a public forum and that there’s a risk of doubling up, I’ve attempted to look a little beyond the most obvious responses (not that the obvious isn’t important!). I’ve already noticed that there’s some common and linked ideas to what others have written so it will be nice to see how things evolve out of this discussion space.

What have been the most significant impacts of MOOCs?

One of these has to be emergence of new ‘for profit’ players into the global education sector. I think it’s important to understand that all of the new MOOC companies are financed by venture capital and have an expectation of making money out of these projects. Secondly these are not American companies in an American market – they have jumped straight into the sector as global brands – something that is only now starting to emerge as a trend from a select few universities.

It’s also been interesting to have watched just how quickly some universities responded to MOOCs. (Mark Smithers picked this up too!) For organisation known for their conservatism, slow pace and reluctance to change it was quite shocking at how agile some universities were in their response. It would be nice to see this new found agility put to work in developing a home grown vision for education and foster innovation internally rather than it be a one off reactionary meassure to outside forces.

What have we learned about teaching and learning from the experience with MOOCs?

In terms of pedagogy we are gathering far more proof and acceptance that it’s interaction, not content that is the key to online learning. Courses that promote higher levels of interaction – essentially peer-to-peer due to the Massive nature – perform much better in their metrics than those that don’t. Designing for experience rather than consumption seems to be a better way to phrase learning design in the online environment.

It’s also becoming abundantly clear that the metrics we have to measure online learning are terribly inadequate. Sign up, clicks, time spent on page and multiple choice questions – are terrible metrics for understanding anything about learning and useless to feed into through to development of better teaching practice. If we want to understand more about learning and teaching in this environment we need better tools than these to gather and generate more usable and focussed conclusions.

What trends do you see for the future of technology in higher education?

Mobile technology is ushering a new age of distribution and decentralisation that applies to the types of device, systems, data, storage and interactions we are used to. Monolithic systems will be replaced by distributed and federated services, systems and data that is User Centric and User Defined. It’s interesting how most MOOC platforms don’t adopt any of these ideas, but those cMOOC mavericks have been there all along.

The technology we are moving towards will allow unprecedented interoperability, personalisation and portability and it will redefine how we think about institutional and organisational support, services and systems. It will be a shift from institutions as the owners/managers/curators of information and data to a system whereby students choose what to share that with the institutions they wish to interface with.

What impacts do you think MOOCs will have on university business models and who do you think will be most affected?

Interestingly I think MOOCs might present universities with some hidden promises because its a business model that makes expertise worthwhile and potentially profitable. For some time degree programs have been reducing the number of niche subjects in favour of more generalist ones because classes sizes are just small and unviable for a campus based university to run. So Matriarchal Society in Iceland is a hard sell when your potential audience is limited to only those students enrolled in a university, on a campus, in a state, in one country. However if you’re potential reach is more than a billion students perhaps uptake could (realisticly) be hundreds of students rather than single digits. An online course for hundreds might not be massive enough to be thought of as a MOOC but it does provide a model for offerings that are niche and require expertise. It’s a way of broadening the global perspective for universities, an opportunity to go beyond the campus, to build on their internal expertise and see staff as a valuable asset.

So if there’s an opportunity, but a threat from MOOCs is to accreditation. There is questioning going on into the legitimacy and value of a university degree already, particularly in the US, as fees are raised and employment prospects are stagnant (or falling). MOOC providers are pivoting their offerings so that they can offer a low cost alternative accreditation or qualification. Universities will have to shift and adapt to this change but perhaps they shouldn’t be competing in terms of costs – rather looking at how to be innovative and add value. New business models will arise from those willing to take some risks. Subscription based education could cater for lifelong learning, fees for alumni could pay for ongoing access to systems, services and professional networks. Even the elites, regardless of their current prestige, will have to cope with their qualifications losing value over time.

What do you think higher education will look like in 20 years’ time?

There will be a major shift around the very concept of education that will see the focus the entire process around the student. To that extent degrees won’t have to be from a single provider anymore but an accredited patchwork of experiences from the best the world has to offer. Students will be able to create and control their pathways through higher education. It will mean universities will have to change their models and become more adaptive and open to recognition, not just accreditation of learning. This kind of education system will thrive from collaboration and complementary practices and systems between institutions rather than in direct competition. This kind of market will promote institutions who are smaller and more agile or force a return to more specialised groups, offerings and centres operating with more autonomy inside large institutions. Higher education needs to ensure that it is seen and understood to be a social enterprise and embed itself in the local communities to leverage a global reach.

The benefits of scale will no longer be there as the middle ground of generic qualifications will be taken up by low cost providers, not necessarily corporate entities (like the MOOC platforms) but initiatives like the OERu who could take a more substantive role within the global education movement. This shift will mean that there insitiutions are required to specialise and develop expertise in order to ensure differentiation in the university sector.

What questions should we be asking ourselves now about change in higher education?

The current funding model is explicitly linked to current arrangements around student enrolments, and those enrolments explicitly to a degree. Are there other options and models that we need to be developed that provide more scope for innovative delivery of education?

As public institutions how can we focus on collaboration and complementary practices that ensure that we are providing value back to the communities that fund us? Furthermore what policy & funding changes are needed to actually enable that to happen?

What are the three best articles you have read on MOOCs?

Andy’s posted a few that I would highly recommend but here’s a few more:

Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina from Michael Feldstein

To Save Everything Click Here is a book by Evgeny Morozov that not about MOOCs per-se but a critique of techno-solutionism. I start with Audrey Watters review of the book here to get gist of the idea.

What Clayton Christensen Got Wrong not about MOOCs but the label often applied to them – Disruptive Innovation. I think this piece is particularly interesting and relevant when we think about consumer driven change (i.e. that coming from our students).


One thought on “MOOCs & Mavens

  1. Pingback: MOOCs & Mavens | E-Learning-Inclusivo (Mash...

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