Need-to-Know News: #MassiveTeaching Mess, University of Texas Online Courses, Pearson’s SOOCs

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.  This post was updated on July 22, 2014 to reflect clarification on the type of online courses offered by The University of Texas at Austin.

1) Massive Teaching Mess
Much has already been written about the most bizarre MOOC on Coursera to date, “Teaching Goes Massive: New Skills Required” (#massiveTeaching) developed by University of Zurich’s professor Paul-Oliver Dehaye. The MOOC has been labeled as a pedagogical experiment (though some say also a psychological), and the professor called  a “lunatic”, “brilliant” and/or “stupid” (via student comments within the course forum).

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“Teaching Goes Massive” (screen shot) on Cousera. Course content is no longer accessible, even to previously enrolled students  (most courses provide access to content after course is complete)

I was an enrolled student and found the course odd from day one. First, there were no course goals or focus questions provided whatsoever indicating what direction the course would take. After numerous student comments, Dehaye posted his version of course goals:

Learning Goals
– Pedagogical
– Technical
– Legal
– Business
– Societal

Brief to say the least. In fairness to Dehaye, he did state from the beginning that the entire course was an experiment, and that several experiments would be taking place within the course, “The other experiment which has been running from the start is the “Structure the Discussion Area” experiment…” and “A third experiment, which is only just starting, was initiated by courageous course participant _____ here” (excerpt from course-generated email from Dehaye on Day 2). What happened next was the catalyst for the publicity of the course, Dehaye removed all of the course content from the course site. It disappeared, no videos, announcements, no links—nothing. Then there were strange Twitter messages posted by Dehaye, and finally a of day or so later Coursera removed Dehaye from the course sending this message to enrolled students:

“We understand that the course included experimental components designed by the professor that have resulted in some course interruptions,” the statement read. “We are working with the university to make arrangements so that the course can continue to its conclusion in an appropriate manner.” Coursera

Takeaway: I agree with what appears to be the consensus, Dehaye did not do much to further constructive discussion about MOOCs, privacy or pedagogy in higher education. Though George Siemens generated quite a bit of discussion by congratulating Dehaye in his blog post. However, it was unclear what kind of statement or message Dehaye was trying to send. It had potential to be effective, but was lost.

2) University of Texas at Austin Online Courses – Correction

An earlier version of this post misrepresented the course offerings of University of Texas at Austin by suggesting the course “Topics in Globalization” would be available for credit via the edX platform.  The school is not offering college credit via its MOOC courses on edX, but is offering courses for credit on their online platform via UT Austin’s University Extension program.  Several courses are available on this platform that are for credit, that include American Government, Psychology Live and US Foreign Policy. For a full list of courses click here.

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Screen shot of University of Texas at Austin’s web page featuring information on the offerings of its online courses. Visit

3) Pearson’s SOOCs
When reading the article on Pearson’s blog, “Will SOOCs eat MOOCs for breakfast?”, I started with a good chuckle given the cartoon featured in the opening. After reading the full post though, I wasn’t sure if the entire article was a continuation of the joke, or if it were serious. But apparently Pearson is serious. The idea of SOOCs, the article suggests, evolved during the this year’s EdTech Summit in Europe.

An evolution on the idea of MOOCs is the “selectively open online course” (or SOOC) – simply, a MOOC with an entrance requirement designed to reduce the “unwanted diversity.” This could be proven competency (e.g., pass an entrance quiz), a credential (e.g., have a degree), or membership (e.g., be in the university’s alumni network). The theory is that a more uniform student body will lead to improved peer-to-peer collaboration and higher learner outcomes.

It goes on….

Higher quality is also likely to increase learners’ willingness to pay for an online course, which in turn will increase a university’s willingness to invest in better professors, facilities, and/or pedagogy. The Harvard Business School, long a stalwart of pedagogical innovation, has taken bold steps to build its own SOOC…

Takeaway: This article (sadly) highlights the misconceptions and lack of awareness that still exists about online learning and higher education. Never mind that closed, online courses have been offered at public and private higher education institutions for well over ten years, and that the mere name SOOC, contradicts the concept of ‘open‘. Sigh.

You can keep up to date with developments in education and related sectors by following me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI 

Need-to-Know-News: What’s Trending Now and How it Affects Education

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features 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.


Each year leaders, entrepreneurs, and analysts from a range of sectors, including technology, healthcare, and business closely analyze Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report. I’m optimistic that many leaders within the education sector are part of this group and are analyzing Meeker’s ‘trends’ and considering the implications for their own institutions and the future of education in general.  Meeker is a former Wall Street analyst and partner in a venture capitalist firm, which contributes to her expansive research of global industries, insight and acumen that come together in her much-anticipated annual slideshare. It’s packed full of statistics and facts, and I’ve no doubt readers will find something of interest (Meeker’s full slideshare is below).

Meeker devotes a handful of her 164 slide presentation to education (#23 – 28). There’s not many surprises, yet the real value comes when considering where the education sector is now in light of what’s in the rest of the report.  I highlight three themes that may impact providers and educators working within higher education.

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Screenshot of slide 9 displaying chart of Global Mobile Usage

I. Mobile Computing is BIG:

  • Mobile computing continues to grow; fueled by decreasing costs of devices and internet access
  • People’s lives are entwined, virtually embedded in their mobile devices. Apps facilitate users to socialize, communicate, share, track physical activities, etc.
  • Mobile use expanding globally, led by Asia and Africa

Implications for education: Education institutions need to meet students on their mobile device, i.e. creating apps and a platforms that allow students to study, register for classes, communicate with tech, homework and other support 24/7  •  Opportunity exists to reach students in countries where education is inaccessible due to geography or cost • Delivering quality education on mobile platform, that is regionally specific and relevant, will be the next challenge for education institutions • Opportunities are endless, too many to mention in this brief post

II. Cybersecurity in the Spotlight:

  • Millions of resources, dollars will be invested by businesses, government, non-profit institutions, banking and more to combat the pressing and increasing threats to security of government intelligence, business, financial and personal data.

Implications for education: Who will prepare the next generation of workers needed to address Cybersecurity? •  Will our institutions be ready to educate students in diverse areas to address the challenges? • Programs of study that go beyond computer science, and expand to ethics, communication, law, computer science engineering, etc.

III. Tablet and Smartphone growth.

  • Laptop and desktop sales continue to decline—mobile device growth, both smart phone and tablets continue to rise globally.

Implications for education: Students will show up on campus, [and are already], with more than one device, putting demands on brick-and-mortar institutions’ infrastructure to support demand for bandwidth • Big opportunities [driven by student demand] for education institutions and educators to integrate, embed mobile device use in classroom and distance learning •  E-textbooks likely to take over hard cover texts within next few years, affecting how students interact with content • Increase in interaction with classmates, faculty, administrators, facilitated by mobile device and apps such as whatsapp, allowing for customized, personalized learning.

2. Three Trends in Non-Traditional Education

The American Council on Education’s (ACE), shared via its blog three trends specific to non-traditional students —a vast share of the higher education market. As per the blog post, Three Trends Worth Watching for Continuing Education Leaders on May 5, 2014:

I. Variable Wrap-Around Services and Flexible Tuition Models
Non-traditional students represent a wide range of sub-populations and their needs are as varied as their characteristics and experiences. There is no one size that fits all for these students, so institutions need to be flexible and innovative in serving them.

II. Analytics and Data-Driven Management
As more tools to measure all aspects of institutional performance become available, it’s increasingly possible for colleges and universities to use that data to improve student learning outcomes and improve decision-making. This trend will only grow as more performance measurement tools become available.

III.  Alternative Credentials
The four-year degree is the gold standard and will continue to be for some time…However, many new forms of non-degree credentials have emerged that may be helpful to many students in the current educational and economic contexts. Though most students will pursue associate or bachelor degrees, others now have the option to earn high-quality certificates with labor market value. Still other students may consider a series of highly specialized micro-credentials recognized by employers.

Implications for education: Non-traditional students are the primary driver of changes in higher education. MOOC growth for example, is not fueled by undergraduate-age students, but by working adults, professionals and educated individuals. Mature students continue to seek education and credentials for specific and job-related skill sets as technological advancements increase access and reduce costs. Institutions interested in serving this population, need to be ready with adequate support services and infrastructure.

3.  Zappos Ditches the Traditional Recruiting Method, the Job Posting

Zappos, an off-shoot of Amazon, embodies the new generation of workplaces; offering an offbeat work environment, unique culture, and way of doing business.

Now it’s turned recruiting upside down. Who needs traditional [and mundane]  job postings? Instead Zappos encourages potential applicants to become ‘insiders’, where the applicant, or real person as Zappos states, gets to know how the company works and the culture before even sending a resume, which is also now passé.

Screenshot  ZAPPOS web page, 'Insider FAQ' inviting potential applicants to become an 'Insider' and join a team.  It's  Zappos alternative to the 'careers' page on a company website.
Screenshot ZAPPOS web page inviting potential applicants to become an ‘Insider’ and join a team.  It’s  Zappos alternative to the ‘careers’ page on a company website.

You’re not just a number; you’re a real person with a real personality and real skills and we want to treat you that way by getting to know you before making any decisions one way or the other. This is your chance to shine and show us how perfect you’d be for Zappos. And we recognize that this getting-to-know-you stuff is a two-way street!   Zappos, Insider FAQ

Implications for education: Why have I included this news story readers may wonder. Because it is an example of how organizations are taking a traditional and routine function common to an organization, recruiting, hiring and training new employees in this instance, and reinventing the process. Zappos identified the problem, what wasn’t working in its hiring practices, determined how the traditional process was outdated in the context of today’s culture, and reinvented the function. Note, they are still hiring candidates, yet they are going about it in a completely different way; using a method that fits the needs of the culture in which we live. I need not elaborate further to draw parallels to the processes and functions within higher education.

That’s it for now. You can keep up to date with developments in education and related sectors by following me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI 

Need-to-Know-News: App ‘Spritz’ Promises Speedy Reading, eLearning Manifesto is [Very] Serious, and $5 Million Prize for College Success Solution

MP900405500This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features 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.  

1. Spritz the New Way to Read

 “Spritz’s Mission is to change the way people read and make communication faster, easier, and more effective.”

Speed reading is not new. I remember a few short years ago when my oldest son, a college junior at the time, enrolled in a Speed Reading workshop hoping it would help with his studies. The goal of the half-day session was to teach students the skill set specific to reading rapidly, yet with comprehension. Now with an innovative software program Spritz, there’s no skill required—just about anyone can speed read with technology customized for small screens, i.e. smartphones, wearable devices etc. The Spritz software, developed by a group of entrepreneurs, software engineers, and experts in reading methodologies (, is apparently based upon the scientific principles of how we read. It’s gaining considerable attention from media and with headlines like this one, How To Read A 223 Page Novel In Just 77 Minutes, many readers too.

How it Works

“The structure of our visual sensors forces us to scan the page by jerking our eyes around every two or three-tenths of a second.” These eye movements take time, slowing down the rate at which we can read. But what if the words moved, instead of our eyes? That’s the innovation behind Spritz, which employs a technique called rapid sequential visual presentation, or RSVP. When using the app, words are presented one at a time, in the exact spot where our gaze is “focalized,” or primed for visual recognition. Then that word is whisked away and another appears in the same, optimal place—and quickly, quickly, others follow.

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The focal point Spritz has identified for the eye to best parse words is where the letters coloured in red appear in the above examples

There are similar programs available now based upon the RSVP method, an example is Speeder [click here to try it out]. However according to Spritz’s CEO, Spritz is different, by using new technology and ‘optimization components’ including the use of color contrast and positioning of words.

Insight: I see the technology helping when skimming information for instance, news headlines, briefs or executive summaries, when the purpose is to have a general familiarity with topic. But for deep reading I don’t see Spritz being able to support not just reading comprehension, but enjoyment.  I can’t image reading a literary classic with Spritz, or a book that requires thought and time to ponder and consider. To me, this is one of the great joys of reading.

2. The SERIOUS e-learning Manifesto

Launched this week by a group of four e-learning professionals, labeled “instigators” on the manifesto’s website, the document seeks to provide us with a set of principles for developing and implementing e-learning.  I watched the beginning part of the hour-long recorded presentation titled the ‘world premiere‘ and it was heavy, with statements such as, e-learning is doomed if we don’t get on a better path, before it’s too late, we need to turn it around why we still can, and the current situation is bad but the opportunity is so wonderful (Youtube).  How depressing. I couldn’t watch much beyond that—why bother, we may as well just throw in the towel and close up shop (a touch of sarcasm).

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“we believe that we need to go beyond typical elearning to the values and characteristics of Serious eLearning”

Insight: I don’t mean to make light of the effort, as I do see value in several of the supporting principles outlined on the website. But the premise for the document is weak, where is the data to support their claims that e-learning is doomed? Though the manifesto appears to have backers, or at least organizations “providing their support to draw attention to the Manifesto”, something is missing.  Stephen Downes in his daily newsletter The Olddaily, sums it up best, “The manifesto is relentlessly provider-focused, which is unfortunate. If I were writing a manifesto it would be more about making my profession unnecessary, so that people wouldn’t need specially designed materials in order to learn, but rather, could forge learning out of raw materials for themselves.

3. Robin Hood Prize: College Success Prize

I met a woman at the EDUCAUSE conference last November who described what seemed to me at the time, a fanstastical idea for a contest sponsored by New York-based Robin Hood Foundation for the development of a phone application or software program that will help at-risk students graduate with an Associate Degree in two to three years. The contest payout would be big, but the results, students graduation rates, would have to be tied directly to the innovation, in other words the app or other software be need to be directly responsible for student success. I wondered how on earth it would look. I need not wonder any longer—Robin Hood launched its College Success Prize this week with a hefty prize for the winners, $5 million. I am hopeful it will generate several innovative programs to address the low-graduation rates of students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Skepticism aside, full marks to the foundation for putting effort and significant funds into a worthy cause. Details below:

“The competition is open to individuals and teams that develop scalable solutions that will help more community college students graduate within 2-3 years.  Competitors may address whichever set of student skills they believe will produce the greatest success. These may include math, reading, or writing, as well as behavioral, non-cognitive or non-academic factors. 

The Prize will reward successful interventions – such as smartphone apps, computer applications, and web-based tools—that are aimed at the individual student and will supplement existing curricula and supportive services such as tutoring.”

Need-to-Know News: White Male Cohort in Georgia Tech MOOC Degree & Surprising Data on Student Tech Use

MP900405500This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features 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.  Note: This is a re-posting of a blog article published on January 18, 2014.

Cohort Begins in the First-ever Massive Online Degree Program 
Georgia Tech in conjunction with Udacity launched its first cohort of 375 students in its MOOC-inspired Masters of Computer Science 100% online degree program. Readers may remember the headlines, a computer science Master’s Degree from Georgia Institute of Technology, offered 100% online for less than $7,000. The program, inspired by MOOCs and with start-up funds from AT&T was voted as a ‘go’ by Georgia Tech faculty last year.

We now have a profile of enrolled students in the first cohort which started this week—there is little diversity; the vast majority are white males, who work and live in the United States. Yet Sebastian Thrun described the cohort in his blog post quite differently,  “This is a very big day for us. Udacity’s mission is to democratize higher education. With this program, we are making a top-notch computer science education available to a much broader group of students… I believe this is a watershed moment for students around the world. ” What exactly does Thrun mean by ‘much broader group of students’? Ironically, there is more diversity in Georgia Tech’s on-campus Master’s of Computer Science Program than in this one.

Online Degree Program Applicant Demographics:

  • 2,360 applicants: 86% male, 14% female
  • 514 applicants from AT&T
  • Over 80% resided in the United States: Most represented states:  343 from California and 336 from Georgia

There is a disconnect between the final numbers in the cohort, 375 and what a Udacity spokesperson said this past October, “450 of the applicants will start the program in January, but every qualified applicant will be accepted and may start next summer“.

Final Cohort Student Demographics:

  • 375 students: 82 work at AT&T
  • 330 or 92% are from the US, in contrast to Georgia Tech’s on-campus comparable program, of which 90% are International
  • Average age is thirty-five, eleven years older than the on-campus program

Insights: The demographic profile of the programs’ applicants, and enrolled students are worth examining as stand alone data, and in comparison to Georgia Tech’s traditional degree; it provides a window into the potential and pitfalls associated with offering a fully online, Masters degree offered at a cost that requires considerable scale.  In order for the program to be sustainable, it requires 10,000 by the third year. Is this feasible given the student profile where there are so few students from outside of the United States?

2) Report Suggests Higher Education and MOOCs like Oil and Water
This week Babson Survey Research Group released its eleventh annual report about the state of online education in the United States, Grade Change, Tracking Online Education in the United States. The report collected data from 2800 colleges and universities in the US and provides a readable summary of critical issues in online education: perceptions of online education, enrolled student data, and online as a strategy. I find the Babson reports helpful in identifying patterns and trends in online education.  This is the  second year MOOCs data is included, and this year’s data is more telling and potentially helpful for institutions and organizations involved in higher education given the comparison to last year’s numbers . Highlights:

  • The top three reasons that institutions site for offering MOOCs
    • increase the institution’s visibility: 27.2%
    • to drive student recruitment : 20.0 %
    • innovative pedagogy: 18.0%
  • How well are MOOCs meeting institution’s objectives
    • too early to tell: 65.8%
    • meeting very few:  1.3 %
    • meeting some: 17.2%
  • Only 23 percent of academic leaders believe that MOOCs represent a sustainable method for offering online courses.

Insights: It’s apparent that the profile of the typical MOOC student is not the undergraduate student profile—an example is Udacity’s experience with San Jose State University, where Thrun called his course a lousy product [to explain the failure of the program], which isn’t quite accurate. MOOCs [offered through MOOC platforms, i.e. Coursera, Udacity] are not the best vehicles to serve the needs of undergraduate students. Institutions have invested considerable resources in MOOCs, it’s time to move on.

3) Students and Technology— It’s Not What You Think 
The report by EDUCAUSE about higher education students’ and their technology use as it relates to their education is enlightening. It includes their perceptions, usage patterns and needs when it comes to technology—it’s a must read. The info graphic [below] gives a good summary of the findings. Other highlights:

  • Students recognize the value of technology but still need guidance when it comes to using it more effectively for academics
  • Students prefer blended learning environments
  • Students are ready to use their mobile devices more for academics, and they look to institutions and instructors for opportunities and encouragement to do so.
  • Students value their privacy, and using technology to connect with them has its limits.


Insights: Student patterns—their behaviours, and interaction with technology give institutional leaders and educators a glimpse into how to effectively provide support and make education relevant. I wrote a post about this very topic last week.

To keep up with other developments in online learning, you can follow me on Twitter, @onlinelearningi.

Need-to-Know News: ‘Exclusive’ MOOCs, Brain Stimulation to Enhance Learning, & Teacher Training Secrets from Singapore

“News of the Week”, image from iStock

The ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features 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. 

1) Harvard University to Offer Exclusive MOOCs
This week Harvard University announced a MOOC with a twist, HarvardX for Alumni “an online education opportunity exclusively for Harvard Alumni”. A slick video on Harvard’s website promotes the program ‘Alumni X’ [though the website calls it HarvardX for Alumni] as an opportunity to ‘reconnect with other graduates’, and ‘continue the journey as a Harvard graduate’. The first course begins in March “Explorations in Learning”, a survey course studying the intellectual riches of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, according to Harvard’s website.

Insights: The idea itself is not offending, it’s using the word ‘exclusive’ and MOOC in the same sentence that is—it’s a gross contradiction. HarvardX for MOOC for alumni is the antithesis of what MOOCs stand for.

2) The New Thinking Cap:  Transcranial Electrical Stimulation

“Dr. Cohen Kadosh’s pioneering work on learning enhancement and brain stimulation is one example of the long journey faced by scientists studying brain-stimulation and cognitive-stimulation techniques.” Wang, 2014

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“The electrodes are placed in a tightly fitted cap and worn around the head” screen shot from the image in ‘Can Electric Currents Make People Better at Match’, WSJ

The Wall Street Journal published a story this week about a researcher working at Oxford University, Dr. Cohen Kadosh, who is studying the effects of transcranial electrical stimulation (tES) on cognitive function. Dr. Kadosh studies how electric currents to the brain can improve math skills in adults and children as young as eight-years old. I find this disturbing for several reasons. Though there is a long history of using magnetic and electric currents to treat various neurological disorders, Kadoshs’ work with electrical currents at varying strengths on parts of the brain thought to control learning, takes this technique to a new level—cognitive enhancement by ‘playing’ with the brain. There are safety and ethical considerations associated with the research. For one, Kadosh uses test subjects that include children and the elderly. He determined that the “procedure has the opposite effect on the young and elderly”, and discovered he “could temporarily turn off regions of the brain known to be important for cognitive skills.” Wow—what if it’s not temporary? There are other ethical implications. For instance, would it be considered ‘fair’ if a student receives tES treatment before writing an SAT test and out-scores those without treatment—the students that study the old-fashioned way, hitting the books for hours on end?

How it works:
“The electrodes are placed in a tightly fitted cap and worn around the head. The device, run off a 9-volt battery commonly used in smoke detectors, induces only a gentle current and can be targeted to specific areas of the brain or applied generally. The mild current reduces the risk of side effects, which has opened up possibilities about using it, even in individuals without a disorder, as a general cognitive enhancer.” (Wang, 2014)

Insights: Though transcranial electrical stimulation research is considered promising given its reputed potential as a therapeutic tool, using children for experimental techniques for brain research is inappropriate, even irresponsible. At what lengths should we go to enhance learning by manipulating how the brain functions?

3) Singapore’s Rigorous Teaching Training
Students from Singapore scored in third place on the reading and science literacy skills and second in math skills in 2012 on OECD’s PISA test given to 15-year-old students around the world. Though it’s unfair to compare countries’ results given the host of factors that are non-comparable from country to country, it’s nonetheless worth examining practices of teacher training approaches in other countries.

An  article published this week in HechingerEd gives us a glimpse into the teacher education in Singapore. Summary:

  • Teaching is a sought-after profession in Singapore and viewed as a prestigious career
  • Admissions staff at the National Institute of Education [the institution responsible for training all teachers for the country] only considers applicants in the top third of the graduating class
  • Once students graduate from teacher’s training, they must serve in the classroom for at least three years under the guidance of a mentor
  • K-12 schools offer ongoing training for all teachers and have courses geared towards beginner teachers

Insights: Replicating a teacher training program of another country’s into one’s own obviously won’t work, but examining broad themes is. It appears one barrier to improving teacher training, in the United States at least, is the perception of teaching as a career, which in the US is not considered prestigious, nor is it a sought after career. Though it is culture specific, and it does suggest an opportunity.  According to a report published recently in Education Next, the United States is making progress in raising the prestige level of teaching with efforts that include an emphasis on recruiting highly qualified teachers for science and math [STEM] positions, and programs that highlight teaching as a selective and prestigious assignment such as the Teach for America program.

Stay tuned for more updates on education news by checking my Twitter stream, @onlinelearningi.