Pursuing quality in an evolving educational format

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The Chronicle Wired Blog asked “What happens when you invite the whole world to an online class?”  The result last summer was eduMOOC – a class about “Online Learning Today… and Tomorrow” with more than 2,500 registered participants in 70 countries and a plethora of wikis, blogs, tweets, panels, discussions and more. The MOOC offers the opportunity for service; building a student base; connecting with an entire field or industry; and establishing a worldwide reputation for leadership.   https://sites.google.com/site/edumooc 

Forces converge to create environment ripe for transformation:

(c) Ray Schroeder. 2011 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Where we are:

Leading Open Online Providers to follow today:

Coursera, at this time, is a collaborative online learning effort among more than 30 universities: Charter providers were Princeton University, Stanford University, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and the University of Pennsylvania. More recently a dozens of universities joined Coursera.  High quality online courses taught by faculty members from those institutions are freely available on a published schedule. The first classes are attracting tens of thousands of enrollees. Academic credit was not offered for the first classes; however certificates are awarded to those who take all of the quizzes and exams in classes.

Harvard University and MIT recently joined together in an open online initiative called edX. UC Berkeley recently announced they are joining MIT and Harvard in edX .It is designed to offer online learning to millions of people around the world. Through the partnership, the two universities intend to “extend their collective reach to build a global community of online learners and to improve education for everyone)." The not-for-profit edX initiative is equally owned and funded by the two universities. In announcing edX, the founders said it “will never replace the traditional residential model of undergraduate education,” but rather that “it will serve to improve and supplement the teaching and learning experienced at both universities". The director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, and the president of edX, Anant Agarwal, says the goal of the combined initiatives is to educate up to one billion people in the coming decade. The edX initiative is based on MITx, which was begun in December, 2011.  


Google launched its first online class this summer - "Power Searching with Google."  Peter Norvig, vice president of research announced that Google has released the basic learning management system for free and open use.  In doing so, he made an interesting remark hinting at the future of Google in leading the MOOC movement:  "The Course Builder open source project is an experimental early step for us in the world of online education," Peter Norvig, director of Google Research said. "It is a snapshot of an approach we found useful and an indication of our future direction."  

Apple Corporation, which had long offered iTunes U as an educational site for podcasting, announced an upgrade in its service to include many more features that allow educators to provide entire classes, rather than merely podcast lectures and other presentations. Apple’s iTunes U provides a unique learning management system that supports audio, video, text, and additional multi-media. The free service can be accessed through the web, but also through apps on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.

The now-famous story of the hedge-fund manager who tutored his nieces and nephews online through YouTube is the foundation of this extraordinary initiative of millions of students taught by a faculty of one. Currently more than 3,200 videos are online at the Khan Academy site. Each one is carefully researched and presented by Salman Khan. Universities and schools use these videos as learning objects to supplement and review instruction. Students and informal learners alike use them independently to build knowledge in thousands of areas. Perhaps most interesting is the adaptive-learning feature of the Khan Academy. Each time a student works on a problem, the Khan Academy tracks the learning and time on task. These data are used to suggest the next step, whether it is reviewing problems or moving ahead to the next topic in the field. This approach of using data to dynamically program learning assignments leverages the power of data analytics to guide progress.

The Minerva Project is a singular initiative that seeks to provide elite quality education at a reduced cost online to students worldwide. Scheduled to launch in 2013, it is actively building at the time of this writing. The project describes its approach as transforming “every aspect of the university-student relationship in anticipation of students' changing needs in an evolving world. Across a full life cycle of admission to instruction to post graduation support, The Minerva Project is rethinking the role of an elite institution of higher learning." Cost reductions will come through reduced capital investment in a campus and in encouraging students to cluster together in dispersed communities such as apartment complexes near major cities. Though not open at its core, it remains to be seen which aspects of this initiative will be available to the broader public. The massive online aspects of this project are worth tracking as they influence other online projects.

Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) is a volunteer-driven effort to provide learning opportunities outside of traditional formal higher education through peer-taught courses. Participants learn from each other, and students who complete a course receive a digital badge but no credit or official certificate. This free and open initiative continues to develop and take form. It is at the fully open end of the continuum of initiatives in the emerging environment.

The Saylor Foundation has created a site that offers certificates for successful completion of online classes. They describe their initiative in the following manner:  Saylor.org is a free and open collection of college level courses. There are no registrations or fees required to take our courses, and you will earn a certificate upon completion of each course. Because we are not accredited, you will not earn a college degree or diploma; however, our team of experienced college professors has designed each course so you will be able to achieve the same learning objectives as students enrolled in traditional colleges."  Saylor University courses now offer credit opportunities through StraighterLine and Excelsior College.

TED is the very popular video and discussion site that addresses many topics of importance in learning and more broadly in science and society. In response to open online initiatives, TED released a beta project to add learning components to videos. They describe the initiative in this way: Within the growing TED-Ed video library, you will find carefully curated educational videos, many of which represent collaborations between talented educators and animators nominated through the TED-Ed platform. This platform also allows users to take any useful educational video, not just TED's, and easily create a customized lesson around the video. Users can distribute the lessons, publicly or privately, and track their impact on the world, a class, or an individual student.


After his huge success with the artificial-intelligence MOOC conducted in the fall of 2011, Sebastian Thrun resigned as a professor at Stanford University and started up a for-profit open online higher education intiative, Udacity. The site unabashedly claims that the classes are rigorous: “Udacity classes will make you sweat. Passing a Udacity class is as demanding as passing a university-level class…. In return for your hard work, Udacity offers a range of certification options that are recognized by major technology companies who are actively recruiting from the Udacity student body." The business model is that revenues from the placement service, which will charge the employer 20 percent of the first-year salary that is awarded top students, will fund the operating expenses of making the classes open to everyone. 

Udemy is one of the early models of offering open online classes that can be created by anyone and taken by anyone. Much like P2PU, Udemy is a fully open project. Its stated goal is “to disrupt and democratize education by enabling anyone to learn from the world's experts."

Billed as “the world’s first tuition-free university,” the University of the People started in 2009. This is how UoPeople describes itself: Based on the principles of e-learning and peer-to-peer learning, coupled with open-source technology and Open Educational Resources, UoPeople is designed to provide access to undergraduate degree programs for qualified individuals, despite financial, geographic or societal constraints. The university offers baccalaureate degrees in business administration and computer science and has accepted students from 130 countries. In June, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation granted $500,000 to the University of the People to gain regional accreditation.

Steps toward preparing a quality MOOC
  • Institutional Planning
    • Examine the initiative in the context of other online and on-campus
    • Track the trends and project a trajectory of how these will impact you
    • Complete a SWOT exercise:  http://tinyurl.com/moocswot
    • Develop distinguishing content areas and strategies that work for you 
  • Start modestly and scale based on what works and what doesn't work
    • Concurrent for-credit (tuition) and open might be a useful incremental model
    • Start today!

Instructional design for thousands
  • Principles are the same
    • Clarity, Depth, Challenge
    • Accessibility
    • Learning Styles
    • Engagement
    • Assessment
    • Cycle of improvement
  • Select a learning managment system
    • Google and Apple both released new open systems
    • Moodle is scalable and open
    • Blackboard now has an open hosted LMS CourseSites 
  • Many of the factors are altered by the scale
    • Providing learning alternatives on a grand scale
    • Languages
    • Cultures
    • Distributed engagement 
    • Machine graded or peer graded 
    • Gather meaningful data all along the way for analytic-driven improvement
    • Emerging credentialing models

Mozilla Open Badges Project - funded by MacArthur - a step toward credentialing: https://wiki.mozilla.org/Badges


Prepare a MOOC of Your Own!

MOOC Planning Preliminary Checklist

Planning a MOOC:

  • Identify intended audience (demographics)
  • Identify learning outcomes
  • Other objectives (recruitment, publicity, etc.)
  • Determine optimum time and time frame
  • Consider credit/certifying options
  • Assess available/needed resources
    • Technologies
      • Learning Management System or Platform
      • Synchronous options 
        • Streaming
        • Social media
      • Asynchronous options
        • Recordings
        • Discussion boards
        • Social media
    • Staffing (volunteer and paid)
      • Administrative
      • Facilitators
      • Languages
  • Assessments and feedback
    • Formative/summative
    • Grading/assessment options
      • Machine grading
      • Adaptive learning engine
      • Peer assessment rubrics/models
      • Proctoring (webcam or in person)
  • Sustaining the MOOC after the end of the scheduled sessions
    • Continuing attention to what has become OCW

Two Items to ponder on your return trip to campus:

Moody's Investment on Impact of MOOCs

“Shifting Ground: Technology Begins to Alter Centuries-Old Business Model for Universities.” It says that offering free online courses will help well-known universities bring in new revenue, heighten brand recognition, and reduce operating costs.

The report paints a much bleaker picture for smaller universities and for-profit colleges, however. Regional universities that chiefly attract students from surrounding areas could use MOOC’s to broaden their brand recognition and cut their costs, but they could lose market share to stronger universities over the long term, the report states.

Using MOOC’s produced by other universities could also lead to faculty and staff cuts, said Karen Kedem, vice president and senior analyst at Moody’s and the report’s author.

The future of credentials in higher education - Salman Khan

The Future of Credentials in Higher Education - Salman Khan, CNN

Let’s try a simple thought experiment: What if we were to separate the teaching and credentialing roles of universities? What would happen if regardless of where (or whether) you went to college, you could take rigorous, internationally recognized assessments that measured your understanding and proficiency in various fields  anything from art history to software engineering.

With our hypothetical assessments - microcredentials, if you will - people could prove that they know just as much in a specific domain as those with an exclusive diploma. Even more, they wouldn’t have had to go into debt and attend university to prove it. They could prepare through textbooks, the Khan Academy or life experience. Because even name-brand diplomas give employers limited information, it would be a way for elite college graduates to differentiate themselves from their peers, to show that they have retained deep, useful knowledge.

In short, it would make the credential that most students and parents need cheaper (since it is an assessment that is not predicated on seat time in lecture halls) and more powerful - it would tell employers who is best ready to contribute at their organizations based on metrics that they find important. College would become optional even for students pursuing prestigious and selective career tracks.

Continuing Resource:  How can I possibly keep up with the news and trends in MOOCs in higher education?

Daily, I review more than a hundred articles, reports and tweets on online learning.  My five daily blogs are aggregated below.  You may subscribe to these via RSS or email for daily updates.  No advertising or spamming.  You may also do a search for any  keword(s) you choose to read the summaries and follow the links to these reports to uncover a chronology of articles about MOOCs over the past year or more.

Professional Continuing & Online Ed Blog

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Contact information:

Ray Schroeder 
Associate Vice Chancellor
Center for Online Learning, Research and Service
University of Illinois Springfield
One University Plaza
Springfield, IL 62703