The Future of MOOCs according to Sir John Daniel, Tony Bates, Anant Agarwal & Sanjay Sarma

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The Sixth Conference of MIT’s Learning International Networks Consortium (LINC) June 16th – 19th, 2013

Earlier this week I watched a selection of the proceedings from The Learning International Networks Consortium’s (LINC) two-day conference held at MIT that hosted 300 participants from over fifty countries. The four scholars featured in the panel discussion collectively shared a breadth of experiences in open and distance higher education. The panel of four included Anant Agarwal, President of edX, Sir John Daniel, former Chancellor of the UK Open University, Tony Bates, Research Associate of Contact North, and Sanjay Sarma, Director of MITx.

Each shared his convictions on the direction higher education, but there was an intense focus if not preoccupation with xMOOCs. And because the conference was hosted by MIT, the discussion focused on the edX platform. However the scope expanded considerably with the participation of Sir John Daniel and Tony Bates. Both of these scholars have a depth of experience in open higher education that reaches outside of the United States in developed and developing nations.

I watched the highlights of each speaker’s presentation [courtesy of Jim Shimaburkuro’s blog post] and the first hour of the opening of the conference via the webcast, which provided a thought-provoking range of perspectives on the direction of higher education in the context of the MOOC movement. I’ll share the highlights in this post that I hope will give interested readers a snapshot into the panelists diverse perspectives on MOOCs—as a threat or opportunity, hype leading to disillusionment, or the misguided direction of resources to the MOOC movement by institutions.

Background: What is LINC?
Important to note, is that the sponsoring organization LINC has been around longer than xMOOCs—even cMOOCs. Founded in 2003, LINC is a non-profit group with International university partnerships.  The organization’s primary goal is to improve education opportunities globally with distance learning supported by technology.

“Their [participating institutions] goal in collaborating through LINC is to help build on-the-ground expertise and virtual distance learning communities in each of the respective countries seeking such assistance. Their focus is not on the narrow engineering aspects of technology but on pedagogical issues, educational content, financial planning, political constraints and organizational issues. Technology fits into this in a natural way – as defining what can and cannot be done in various regions”.

Stakeholders vs. Shareholders
The opening presentation of the conference led by Sanjay Sarma focused on the future of education with MOOCs as the focal point. He emphasized MIT’s role in educational research and commitment to advancement of education, the history of MIT’s successful Open Courseware initiative.

One of his statements did resonate with me—Sarma made it clear that MIT is using its MOOC platform to “bring stakeholders to the table [with edX] not shareholders.”  He emphasized the not-for-profit versus the for-profit motive, alluding to the “others”, obviously Coursera and Udacity [both for-profit companies] that operate on a different premise.  The non-profit aspect does have significant implications that run deep, encompassing values that include, the concept of traditional, non-profit education institutions versus for-profit providers, the purpose of education, and the motives.

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From the blog post “MIT LINC 2013: Consistent but Stupid”. The 3:42 video captures the exchanges among the panelists.

Though it was clear that not all the panelists see MOOCs as a panacea for higher education or for educating learners in developing nations; Sir John Daniel and Tony Bates both see MOOCs as a barrier to moving education forward. Yet Daniel did describe MOOCs as a catalyst for highlighting the potential of online education.

Key Take Aways
Below I’ve condensed further the key takeaways from three of the panelists. To view the video highlights of each panelist, visit this blog post from education technology & change [etc].

1)  Sanjay Sarma: The Magic that Happens on Campus”

  • Dr. Sarma drew a hard-line between MOOCs and campus experience. He stressed that ‘magic’ happens on campus, not just in the classroom, but in the labs, during water cooler conversations, the ‘back of envelope’ meetings, the infinite corridor and the robot lab.
  • He encouraged faculty to view MOOCs not as a threat to their jobs, but as an opportunity for advancing and enhancing education.
  • Even though Sarma is passionate about the effectiveness of MOOC pedagogy, he does highlight the value of the on-campus experience. Yet he believes MOOCs fit a niche, that brings education to students that would never be able to have an on-campus experience.

2) Sir John Daniel: “MOOCs: What Lies Beyond the Trough of Disillusionment?”

  • Sir John Daniel, on the other hand, sees MOOCs as creating “confusion” in higher education, and suggests that “what lies beyond is a trough of disillusionment”.
  • He believes MOOCs are a source for inflated expectations.
  • The year 2013 will be the peak of MOOCs, there will be a slide as  institutions begin wonder how deep their pockets can be. The ‘slope of enlightenment’ as per technology adoption cycle supports this premise.
  • However he believes what will follow after the decline of MOOC popularity is the ‘year of online learning’ as institutions gradually move their teaching to online—or to hybrid [blended learning].
  • He does not believe that MOOCs are the best route to advancing education, but hopes that we can reach the slope of productivity with online learning.

3) Tony Bates: “How to Make MOOCs Really Effective: Lessons from 20 Years of Research Into Online Learning”

  • Students want to feel that the teacher is ‘there’.
  • Teaching an online course is a team approach, not an individual one.
  • We need to re-think the cost of MOOCs. Rather than spend time on development i.e. video production, the focus should be on learner support. And, how can support be effectively outsourced? Quality is critical.
  • We need to re-think MOOCs as a strategy, and focus on increasing learner activity and engagement.
  • MOOCs are not a viable vehicle to educate all global communities given lack of Internet access, devices and cultural differences.

Resources

Need-to-Know-News: An Anti-MOOC Contest, edX & the Future of Higher Ed, New Ed Tech Tools

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series my aim is to share noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

In this post I’ve included key developments that surfaced this week, one which featured Anant Agarwal president of edX sharing his views on the future of higher education, MOOCs and edX in multiple venues. And MOOC news continues but with a twist—a contest announced this week Reclaim Open Learning that appears to be anti-MOOC. I also discovered two novel ed-tech tools that may be of interest to educators, perhaps worthy of testing out this summer.

edx_logo1) Anant Agarwal, president of edX
This past week I’ve read and heard more on Anant Agarwal’s views on higher education than I’ve read about in the past year since the launch of the MOOC platform he founded, edX. But I find his views about higher education somewhat disconcerting. Disconcerting given edX’s role in shaping higher education with MOOCs, as is evident in the licensing partnerships edX is entering in with  numerous universities, public and private, to use edX’s content and platform to supplement courses. Agarwal appears not to be offering a new or revolutionary mode of learning for students that adapts and puts the focus on the 21st century student, but is rehashing the traditional learning in the form of video taped lectures, and introducing a blended model of learning. Blended learning is not new, in fact it has been around for several years. Though Agarwal calls this model, SPOCS, an acronym for small, private, online courses. edX has plans in place to license SPOCS to a dozen California State University campuses from autumn this year. I’ll not review each source of Agarwal’s views in-depth, but provide an overview and link to the original.

  • The TIMES of UK featured Agarwal in MOOCs? They’re a cracking good idea (Parr) where Agarwal discusses his entrepreneurial background and edX, the non-profit venture, focusing specifically on the licensing arrangement with universities for its content.
  • Agarwal participated in MIT’s Learning International Networks Consortium last week which online learning expert Tony Bates also was involved in. Bates’ wrote two blog posts well worth reading that summarize key presentations and themes of the Symposium. But it is Bates post MOOCs, Magic and MIT that was most telling of edX’s direction. His post discusses why MIT ignoring 25 years of research into online learning and 100 years research into how students learn in its design of [edX] online courses.
  • Released this week was the recording of a panel discussion through Innovation Hub, College 2.0, The Future of Higher Ed featuring four educators, one which was Agarwal. I watched the entire panel discussion, which I wrote about in a previous post, though the low-down is that Agarwal seemed the most myopic about the future of higher education of the four panelists—he seems to be looking through the lens of edX.

2) An Anti-MOOC Contest
The Reclaim Open Learning Innovation contest was launched this week— a small contest sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, the Digital Media and Learning Hub, and MIT Media Lab. I was somewhat puzzled when I first read about the idea—I wasn’t aware that open learning had been lost or forgotten. Before MOOCs the majority of people were not even familiar with the open learning, or aware that Open Educational Resources [OER] existed. However, the team has an interesting idea, “to find the five best examples of innovation happening right now in higher ed” that are not MOOCs. The last phrase [that are not MOOCs] is not included in the verbiage on the website but is implied.

“The internet is an amazing place for learning. But recent high-profile forays into online learning for higher education (the MOOCs) seem to replicate a traditional lecture-based, course-based model of campus instruction, instead of embracing the peer-to-peer connected nature of the web. The networked and digital world offers an unprecedented wealth of resources for engaged, interest-driven, lifelong learning. Reclaim Open Learning intervenes in this debate by supporting and showcasing innovation that brings together the best of truly open, online and networked learning in the free wilds of the Internet, with the expertise represented by institutions of higher education”.  Reclaim Open Learning  open.media.mit.edu/about

Winners of the contest will receive a $2000 honorarium and be invited to present at a summit on Reclaiming Open Learning at UC Irvine on September 26-27, 2013. To find out more about the contest click here.

3) Novel Ed Tech Tools

  • Tapestry. Tapestry is an ever-growing collection of short, beautiful, tappable stories. I’ve read about Tapestry before, but it appears to have developed into a highly functioning writing and creative application that could be used as a tool in K-12 and higher ed learning. Tapestry is a mobile application and designed for creating, collaborating and sharing short stories and presentations.
  • VideoAnt. A simple and useful tool for annotating videos and creating dialogue. This tool is getting great reviews. Great potential for sharing and discussing media clips with students, either for flipped classroom learning, where annotation could be part of the assignment before coming to class, or for group projects where groups create, comment and discuss each others created videos.

These are the highlights this week, but for more you can follow keep-up-to-date with other news I come across through my Twitter feed @OnlineLearningI.

College 2.0: The New Face of Higher Education

What will education look like 15 years from now?

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What will education look like 15 years from now? This was the first question posed to a group of four leading educators during a recorded panel discussion, College 2.0: The New Face of Higher Education with Richard Miller of Olin College, Anant Agarwal of edX, Peter Hopkins of Big Think, and Eric Mazur of Harvard University.  I listened to this recorded session last night and found it enlightening and worthwhile, though it appears that no one really knows what the future holds for higher education. The divergent viewpoints expressed in the discussion no doubt mirror the conversations happening within higher education institutions in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe.

This session was held at Suffolk University in Boston on June 4, 2013. Kara Miller of Innovation Hub facilitated this civil and intimate discussion that lasted for one hour and forty minutes. Viewing the recorded session was  well worth the time invested and I’ll share with readers the highlights—though for brevity’s sake I’ve included the key points below.

Four Different Perspectives
The discussion was interesting, albeit reserved. Had the four been tasked with creating a blueprint for higher education of the future, it would have been a different discussion altogether. A barrier to productive problem solving discussions in higher ed is the differing beliefs and viewpoints about the purpose of education and how people learn. Though the goal of the panel was not to come up with a solution, it did highlight these fundamental issues. These two issues are significant; it is these beliefs that drive the pedagogy, the curriculum and even the delivery mechanism of learning, i.e. the Internet, the lecture hall, the textbook etc.

Below I’ve summarized responses from each panel member that encapsulates his viewpoint on learning and the future of education.

Anant Agarwal: edX
Anant Agarwal of edX believes that learning via the MOOC platform is a more effective and personal method than traditional instruction and learning—in his words it is “transformative”. He believes that the delivery of recorded lectures, quizzes and discussions forums on an open, online platform is superior to traditional face-to-face teaching.  Though ironically this method is similar in concept to classroom instruction with its recorded lecture. Agarwal also believes the quality of education will improve dramatically with MOOC platforms. Though it did seem to me that Agarwal wasn’t able to look at learning and the future of higher education objectively given his involvement with edX. I also question his reference to ‘quality’ improvements in education with the MOOC format—quality based upon what standards?

Richard Miller: Orin College
On the other end of the spectrum we have Richard Miller of Orin College who stated that education of the future would be about not what you know, but what you can DO.  He is a proponent of design based learning, similar to problem-centered learning, where the student discovers the problem and develops the solution through application, not instruction. He believes this method is essential to tapping into intrinsic motivation. Though I don’t agree with this format for learning, his point about motivation is a good one. 

Peter Hopkins: Big Think
Hopkins’ perspective is different from the other three. More from the outside looking in, given he is not working within higher education institutions, but works with academics to provide un-credentialed learning to motivated, life-long learners through his platform Big Think.  He predicts that technology will have a tremendous impact on the future of education, and it is the technological advancements that will break down the traditional four-year, in-residence bachelor’s degree path. His suggests that learning will happen in many venues, and the buildings of the universities will become innovation hubs, with students converging for short periods of times to work on projects, or study for condensed periods.

Eric Mazur: Professor at Harvard University
Eric Mazur believes that the change that is coming will not be controlled or initiated by the universities, but by external factors—technological influences. Mazur stated that it will be the “demands on the workforce will force universities to change – because the type of skills that are required are changing”.  Rote learning is still prevalent from what Mazur sees in education systems around the world, yet he suggested that this type of learning will change with the external pressures as mentioned above. He is founder of the flipped classroom for higher education and stresses the emphasis should be on learning and not teaching.

Closing
After considering the discussion and the various positions of the panel, I would say that Mazur and Hopkins provided a glimpse of what the future may hold for higher education. The message from both was that we cannot be focused on what we think education should be, or what will work, but realize that it is external factors that will drive the change and shape the future of higher ed. An article I read this morning validated the viewpoint, The internet of things and the future of manufacturing, which suggests that another industrial revolution is afoot, Industry 4.0.

The panel discussed other topics including academic motivation, student debt in the US and quality of education. Mazur demonstrated his flipped classroom strategy – his method for making learning engaging and meaningful through application. See below for links and resources.

Resources: