Why we shouldn’t fear MOOCs

We are at a significant crossroads in higher education, in the liberal arts especially. A staggering economy for graduates combined with public outcry about high tuition and student loans is all bringing the value of a liberal arts education into question: a perfect storm. What’s most disturbing is a lingering doubtful perception about the return on investment made manifest by many media sources, occasionally influencing elected officials to poke fun at the arts and humanities. While many lament the advent of MOOCs, online learning has been around for nearly two decades. It’s yesterday’s news. But as Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan, has elegantly written, the liberal arts DO matter now more than ever. So the current promulgation and growing abundance of freely available content is a powerful incentive and opportunity to re-visit and re-invigorate traditional entry-level curricula in new fruitful directions. History 101 can shed the first 4 weeks of materials, mostly review content that’s easily flipped, and develop new, higher quality activities in class.

Beyond the hype, at the core of MOOCs, especially connectivist MOOCs, is a genuine community sharing of open resources, an extension of the historical mission of 20th century public libraries with print publications, to connect citizens with electronic access to assets of knowledge.  The real value of open online learning is that it has solved the access issue for knowledge-thirsty netizens around the world. There’s a subtle efficiency at play here. What’s to come? Motivated self-directed learners will find ways to imbibe introductory level course materials that will push faculty to redesign richer learning goals in first year seminars. These future students will be there, and we want to attract them. It’s an exciting time for Ed Ttech folks, especially those of us just getting started in earnest with blended learning efforts, to revisit why we used technology in the first place, namely to assist and augment sound instructional design. Open online courses will not destabilize the foundation of higher education. It’s natural to be fearful at first, and it’s even healthy. The natural instinct of self-preservation brings out the best in everyone. But as we let go of this panic, there is much to reflect and build on. As George Siemens points out in a recent interview:

MOOCs are not replacement models. They don’t replace the existing university systems. They augment it and help those universities become more relevant in the digital space. We’ve known in online and distance learning for 20 years or more that students who are at risk, you can’t just give them access. There have to be support systems in place that help those students to succeed.

Not to fear, the ominous specter of online learning, free or otherwise, will not impact the tremendous value of personalized, meaningful relationships between faculty expert guides and students in our classrooms. The abundance of open materials reveals that content is no longer king; relationships and networked connections between faculty and students matter much, much more. As Harold Jarche shared on Twitter:

Relationships cannot be automated; drones and droids won’t even come close. What’s certain, some schools are going to close; but as history will show, institutions that collaborate around the sharing of knowledge and resources with an eye toward the distribution of course redesign efforts have much to gain.

ETMOOC assignment #1

Hello! My name is Ben Harwood. I’m looking forward to #ETMOOC, the massive open online connectivist course, which begins today. Many thanks to Alec Couros, Cogdog and other stellar and generous colleagues who are making ETMOOC happen auto-magically for me and other open online participants. Please listen to my SoundCloud recording in which I introduce myself to my colleagues and classmates. In the recording, I mention my homework assignment from last week’s MOOCMOOC.2013/365 The Abominable Snowman

All the best in 2013!

MOOCMOOC Homework assignment

I participated to some degree in the week-long MOOCMOOC. Here is a link to my Homework assignment for Day 2 in which participants were asked to either record a video clip or xtranormal animated visual that captures one’s thoughts about connected and networked learning and MOOCs in general. That was certainly how I interpreted the assignment perhaps mashing it up as I went along. So I opted for the xtranormal assignment. What a great tool! You can read more about MOOCMOOC and the Day 2 assignment.

The Right Stuff: Open content licensing for educators 2012-01

Wordle: OCL4Ed

Blog post pending on this week-long MOOC. It finished yesterday. I’m still working my way through it as I didn’t have time to devote a 1.5 to 2 hours per night last week. I will be back.

Back to this post on 2/11. I did finish the course last week and now have got a moment to quickly summarize and finish out the post. What an awesome experience! Here’s a post about how the MOOC has influenced my thinking about whether teaching is more a vocation or profession… Great question.

I took a number of notes in a Google doc for later reference. I understand much more now what creative commons licensing is and how it works to name but one takeaway. The Moodle course and Wiki are rich resources that I’ve bookmarked and will come back to. They just work great in tandem, too. The wiki structure gave me an overview to frame what I needed to learn that day with the key concepts. The Moodle course let me interact with others in a more traditional online environment where I shared some posts and comments in the discussion boards. Of course, following #OCL4Ed on Twitter was indispensable for communication. Using any and all of these tools to engage around OER topics is very cool:

Now more than ever, open is the way to go.

I would like to offer a huge shout out to all the folks who signed up and participated. It was great to meet some of you. Above all, thank you so much to the course leaders and organizers, to the very good people at Aotearoa, WikiEducator and the OER Foundation. For me, this was an inspiring eye-opener and community-building event. I’m ready to visit friends and colleagues in New Zealand now. I once spent 10 days or so in the Cook Islands on my honeymoon.  The next time we are down that way, we will be sure continue on to Auckland and points south.

Teaching is a vocation — my take. Day 1 of the Open content licensing for educators 2012-01 MOOC

Wow, it’s shaping up to be a very busy semester! I have enrolled in the Open content licensing for educators MOOC. If like me, you’re still wondering what a MOOC is, check out Wikipedia’s definition here. Also, I just read an excellent and most insightful post by Stephen Downes. In the introductions portion of the Moodle course, I was asked to answer a few questions… what brought me to this open online course; also, whether teaching is a vocation or a profession.

Teaching is a vocation because you have to be passionate and focused to want to help others develop themselves. While the rigor and discipline required to teach well are imbued with professionalism, people are generally drawn to this line of work because they care about people and the future. They usually are not not seeking fame or fortune either. I think most teachers would agree with this. I certainly do.

As an education and technology person, I often seek out opportunities to further my knowledge about education and technology. I came across a tweet that promoted this course last month and immediately signed up. I’m looking forward to getting a firmer grasp on what open content is, how licensing works, how OER works, etc. Extending my thinking here in a very open way…ok, bear with me here….I really believe that institutions of higher education in privileged, wealthy countries have a moral imperative to assist developing countries around the world. It’s my hope that a better understanding of open content will allow me to connect with colleagues all over the world who share similar values around sharing… a distributed social network of individuals who believe that collaboration and knowledge-sharing starts with making basic knowledge available to others who wish to join the 21st century ONLINE. Those who stand to profit the most from open educational resources are also those who have few resources to teach with right now. I spent a week in Haiti last January helping technology support people bring Skype into their classrooms. That was a life-changing trip.

I am deeply troubled by what is happening with respect to SOPA /  PIPA. The more I understand about the tenets of open content licensing, the better I can help to promote change and openness in my circles. Teaching educators how to make resources more readily available via the creation and sharing of open and fair licensing allows everyone around the world to use and contribute without fear of copyright infringement. And most educators will probably want to contribute back in whatever way they can by sharing their own work or building on the work of others. Passionate educators are curious and social creatures by nature and they really want to share openly and correctly.