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



While I don't have much insight into the motives of the Coursera and Udacity folks (it seems like they stumbled across a formula that worked and pursued it thought the dominant paradigm of Stanford--the start-up), through my position at MIT OCW I have been involved with some of the discussions around MITx and exX.  MITx actually started up completely apart from MIT OCW, and I think was more a result of faculty interest in exploring the possibility of these new tools that anything on the demand side. 

I think the brand names involved have helped to drive interest and garner attention for the projects, but ironically, I think the primary interest at MIT and (from what I can intuit) Harvard is understanding how these tools can be used to improve on-campus education.  The large body of students moving through the externally offered classes can produce huge datasets indicating the effectiveness of various approaches, and those refinements can be applied in targeted ways (not as full courses, but as augmentations to courses) on campus.  Again, this reflects my personal read of the situation, not any official MIT statement.

What I think many of the MOOC providers are missing--because none of them really come out of the open educational resources movement--are the open education lessons of the past ten years, which include that educational content has no market value, most of the tools needed to offer a course are more or less commodity at this point, and open approaches allow for the growth of an ecosystem that can magnify the impact of all involved.  There is a tremendous amount of money being invested in platforms and content at this point that is redundant and likely not going to result in significant improvements over what's already available (except to the extent that they can collect better data on how resources are used).

There are some true differentiating innovations (or at least spaces for innovation) in assessment, adaptive learning and online educational community support, but the big MOOC providers are still thinking in an LMS mindset--that they have to support all aspects of the learning experience (or they have decided that strategically they want to so they maintain control of the data).  The key to MOOCs right now are the scalable assessments, and these lend themselves to niche efforts rather than centralized production, because the the sophisticated ones are very domain specific.  A big provider like Coursera is either going to have to end up with lowest common denominator assessments like multiple choice and short answer questions, or spend a ton of money developing a hundred different virtual labs and simulations.

In an ecosystem model, small groups of domain experts can create very targeted assessments (see http://rosalind.info/problems/as-table/)  which can be combined with open learning communities and open course materials in a lightweight model like the Mechanical MOOC.  Using existing open resources like OpenStudy and OpenCourseWare allows these courses to take advantage of the course translations, distribution mechanisms and communities the individual projects have worked hard to foster and develop.  Because the focus with open content is on wide distribution, nearly all of the Mech MOOC Python materials are available completely offline.

So I think there is probably an open source platform-based approach, but I also see an open source unplatform path that is compelling.


On Nov 2, 2012, at 10:20 AM, 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.

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

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.

Thanks for all the great feedback, everyone! I'm enjoying hearing
everyone's thoughts!

~ Barry

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