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Re: [Osdc-list] MOOCs the Open Source Way

Barry Peddycord III wrote:
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On 11/02/2012 09:45 AM, Miles Fidelman wrote:
On Fri, 2 Nov 2012, Barry Peddycord III wrote:

The perceived problem they are solving is one I've been fussing
about for a long time: while EdX and Coursera are making a
really big splash, they are relying on the brand-recognition of
the Ivy League and Research Universities they partner with,
I think it's worth pointing out how inaccurate this statement is.
I can't talk about Coursera, but EdX (and open courseware in
general) started at MIT, with the goal of making available courses
more widely available, for free - starting with MIT's "Open
Courseware" initiative and growing into EdX.  A few other
universities then jumped on board (notably Harvard).

It's a non-profit initiative, motivated by making existing courses
more widely available.  Not, as implied by the above, by some
outside entity capitalizing on the "brand recognition" of carefully
selected partners.
That's a fair point, and thanks - it's rather easy to get carried away
making broad claims like these. I'm not trying to imply that the
organizations are using the name recognition to capitalize, but
rather, that it produces this perception (at least for me) that only
professors at some institutions are "worthy" to participate. True or
not, it irks me.

Ahh... also a fair point. In this regard, as I understand it (mostly from following it in alumni publications), EdX emerged from MIT's Open Courseware initiative when people started wanting more than just access to MIT's course materials - i.e., when folks started asking for "syllabus, content, etc." It sort of started as a call for an MIT, online equivalent of the Harvard Extension, and with the question of "what about course and degree credit for this stuff?" Which led to the question of "how would we differentiate this from an MIT degree - with all the associated screening of students, on-campus learning, and so forth?" EdX seems to be an experimental approach to muddling toward an answer, with a couple of other institutions joining in to collaborate on platform technology and share administrative costs (consortia being all the rage these days).

So... I see EdX as an extension of a very select group of existing universities - which does kind of imply that only those institutions are "qualified" to participate. Not so much "name recognition" as "brand maintenance." (As an MIT alum., I kind of think that MIT professors, and their courses, are a cut above the average, and see some value in maintaining the "brand." :-)

<I've taken the liberty of slightly re-ordering the quotes below>

Not that it isn't valuable in its own right, what differentiates a MOOC from Open
Courseware (in my mind) is that a MOOC is the package deal: syllabus,
content, delivery, community, and assessment.

Can't it also be said that this is what distinguishes a formal course, taken as part of a degree program, at a college or university, from a textbook? Arguably, a MOOC is the institutional equivalent when it comes to on-line courses.

The openness that I'm referring to is open participation in the
*development* of the course - not just the courseware.

What I find interesting about "democratized" platforms (and
un-platforms, as Steve brought up) is that it makes it possible to
create courses on very niche subjects by teachers and researchers
working together to develop them.

This strikes me as a separate set of issues - equally (or more) important, but separable. Now we're into a space akin to the differences between Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia. And perhaps a repeat of the dynamics associated with earlier varieties of distance learning.

One set of MOOCs (notably EdX), are emerging from specific institutions, as essentially distance learning / extension programs -- with some partnerships emerging as ways to share platform technology and administrative overhead. This is where the early experimentation is taking place, and where we're seeing the early successes. From a platform point of view, EdX is somewhat akin to DSPace, the digital repository package that started with the MIT libraries, spun out into a separate foundation, and is now used by a fairly large number of academic libraries to store things like doctoral theses.

We're starting to see for-profit entities trying to make a buck in this space - to which I react much the same way that I react to "University of Phoenix" and its ilk. (I hope there are no proud Univ. of Phoenix graduates reading this.) I guess there are also some respectable private, for-profit universities as well - Walden comes to mind. Walden, U. of Phoenix are somewhat traditional in that they're "virtual campus" models. Now it seems like software platform vendors are trying to become educational vendors.

I expect we'll see some new types of institutions emerge, as we did with earlier generations of distance learning - such as National Technological University (the first accredited "virtual university" - organized as a partnership between traditional institutions). As traditional universities expanded their own distance learning programs, NTU kind of got reabsorbed. The UK's Open University also comes to mind.

Which brings us to "democratized" platforms. And I certainly relate to the notion of "mak(ing) it possible to create courses on very niche subjects by teachers and researchers working together to develop them." I guess this kind of breaks down into two further issues/questions:

- Platform: I'm not sure this is really an issue.. there are already quite a few courseware development platforms, and there are likely to be more. This is a lot like the self-publishing world - lots of options. Distribution channels are a more interesting question.

- Pedagogical and Institutional model: How do such niche courses fit into / complement traditional degree programs, certification programs, and so forth? Or do they fit at all? Are they, perhaps, more akin to privately developed handbooks, seminars, one-off courses, supplemented by on-line materials and community? I guess the underlying question is whether there's a value to having these kinds of courses combined under one or more institutional umbrellas, and whether/how such umbrellas might emerge (and what their associated funding models might be).

Wikipedia comes to mind as a model. There where earlier "virtual libraries" (starting with the WWW Virtual Library). Why is Wikipedia the only one with legs? Is there room for more than one? Are we going to see a "Wikiversity" emerge?

Interesting topic!

Miles Fidelman

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice.
In practice, there is.   .... Yogi Berra

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