Disruption in Higher Education: Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Article excerpt

TO START THE ACADEMIC YEAR, THE PRESIDENT OF OUR UNIVERSITY ESTABLISHED SEVERAL COMMITTEES TO ROADMAP FOR THE FUTURE OF OUR UNIVERSITY SYSTEM. We are a public institution that receives minimal state support. I was asked to be on the Emerging Technologies Commiteee.

It has been fascinating to examine emerging technologies within the larger context of higher education. The committee was provided with several articles, blogs, and videos to reflect upon before meeting. Despite my long experience with online teaching, I must admit I was surprised when the president started the conversation with MOOCs, defined by Educause as "a model for delivering learning content online to virtually any person--and as many of them--who wants to take the course" (www.educause.edu/library/resources/ 7-things-you-should-know-about-moocs).

MOOCs can involve thousands of students. The structure tends to be asynchronous and flexible to accommodate the varying levels of participation. Anyone can participate for free in any or all of the course's learning activities (e.g., discussions, blogs, video lectures, other social media tools). While there may not be feedback from the instructor, chances are there will lots of discussion from all open participants.

The "so what" of MOOCs, according to Educause. is a dynamic learning model that offers collaborative and social engagement opportunities for learners to construct knowledge. MOOCs are a great mechanism for lifelong learning. The downsides include variability across and within courses and the lack of completion rates. MOOCs are not for all students, especially those who like structure, but "Digital Storytelling" and "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence," offered by two Stanford University professors, exceeded 100,000 learners.

Educause noted that George Siemens and Steven Downes offered the first MOOC, "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge." It turns out that Siemens and Downes were doing a MOOC titled "Current/Future State of Higher Education," which started on October 8, and I decided to participate. (The course is housed on the learning management system Desire2Learn: for more information, visit http://edfuture.net/.) I logged on and found an introduction to the course, the content being covered over the six weeks of the course, a list of readings, and access to the discussion group.

Module 1 is focused on higher education around the world with weekly topics, including Change Pressures: What Is Influencing Higher Education; Net Pedagogies: New Models of Teaching and Learning; Entrepreneurship and Commercial Activity: and Big Data and Analytics. For the first weekly topic, I chose to examine a few of the readings (see Sidebar) and looked at the learning activities, which included discussions about the readings, sharing resources on www.diigo.com, engaging in a Twitter conversation, and creating and sharing a concept map of the change drivers. An update arrives every day. Needless to say, I was quickly overwhelmed.

But the nice thing about MOOCs is, you can pick and choose as a lurker or as an active participant. Here is how the instructors describe the distributive nature of MOOC conversations: "There is no single space where you'll track the discussion. Conversations will happen on Twitter, Facebook, Desire2Learn, etc. The course is an activity stream rather than a particular destination. You may find this structure disorienting at first. From our experience, once acclimated to the distributed format, owning your own spaces of learning is valuable and (dare I say it) empowering."

I am definitely a lurker in the course, one who scans the discussions and checks the resource websites. From reading the blogs, I have found it fascinating how different people have approached the course. One blog that caught my interest, titled "Lifelong Learner: Claudia's Personal Learning Portfolio and Journal," provided a mindmap for the six weeks of the course and listed the changing pressures influencing higher education (http://claudiascholz. …