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Harvard Is Investing Heavily in MOOCs

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Thanks

Dave Moursund

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The history of online courses is relatively long. The roots lie in correspondence courses, which began about 300 years ago.

The history of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is quite short. On 8/2/2011, I posted an Information Age Education Blog entry that began with:

Stanford University is going to make its regular Introduction to AI course available free on the Web this fall (2011). The course regularly enrolls nearly 200 students. Students taking the free online version of the course can turn in lessons that will be graded and can take the tests. They can receive a certificate indicating their level of performance in the course relative to the regularly enrolled students.

This course had an enrollment of about 160,000 students. I added a Retrospective Comment to the IAE Blog entry on 12/19/2011.

…this coming Spring MIT will offer its first free online course in which a student can do the assignments and receive a Certificate indicating that they have successfully taken the course.

MOOCs have traveled a bumpy road. A 12/31/2013, National Public Radio report summarized difficulties encountered up through the end of 2013. Substantial research and production investments are being made to improve the quality of these courses.

My recent Google search of MOOC produced over 2.7 million hits! For a happening in education, that number sounds like “going viral.” Click here for an extensive worldwide list of upcoming MOOCs. Also see 985 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

 

Harvard’s Recent MOOC Activities

Here are three non-consecutive paragraphs quoted from Marcella Bombardieri’s article in The Boston Globe (5/18/2014):

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Andrew Gordon, both preparing to teach a new breed of free online classes, met in the iconic Widener Library — bequeathed to Harvard University by the family of a Titanic victim — to discuss a topic in social history: the influence of the sewing machine on Japan’s modernization. They were surrounded not by leather-bound volumes but by a multimillion-dollar production studio and no fewer than five bustling staff members adjusting cameras and microphones and ensuring the scholars made their points clearly. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Quietly, Harvard has built what amounts to an in-house production company to create massive open online courses, or MOOCs, high-end classes that some prestigious universities are offering for free to anyone in the world, generally without formal academic credit. Contrary to the popular image of online classes consisting largely of video from a camera planted at the back of the lecture hall, Harvard is increasingly using mini-documentaries, animation, and interactive software tools to offer a far richer product.

HarvardX [a production company] has made about 30 classes and has some 60 more in the works. Nearly 1.3 million people have signed up for HarvardX courses, almost two-thirds of them from outside the United States. (HarvardX makes the classes, but students sign up and log in via another platform, edX, a nonprofit founded in 2012 by Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.) [Bold added for emphasis.]

Many years ago I had a student who was a history major and who completed a Master’s Degree in the area of computers-in-education under my supervision. She taught me about how exporting education was a form of imperialism. Notice that the third paragraph of the quote given above indicates nearly 2/3 of the HarvardX enrollment has been from outside the United States. For those who consider this a form of imperialism, you may want to add in the statistic that for the year 2012-2013, more than 800 thousand international students were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. (See Open Reports on Education.) Education is a global endeavor.

Many countries participate in bringing education to people of other countries. The Open University (OU) in the UK accepted its first students in 1971. The following quote represents some of the work it is currently doing in underdeveloped countries:

We work alongside academic experts within the OU to create and deliver scalable development programmes and teaching and research initiatives that positively impact developing countries.

Our research, often in partnership with multiple institutions and stakeholders, is concentrated on pressing areas of need including medicine, international policy, and health economics.

We deliver impactful and sustainable international programmes in two key areas:

•   global health

•   teacher education.

Our programmes combine the OU's development, distance learning, and academic expertise with practical implementation plans delivered in partnership with governments, NGOs and in-country experts to impact the lives of millions of people across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Programmes include HEAT, a healthcare education and training programme transforming the skills of frontline healthcare workers across sub-Saharan Africa, and English in Action in Bangladesh, a technology-enhanced English language education programme on target to reach 25 million people across the country by 2017. [Bold added for emphasis.]

 

The Worldwide Infrastructure

Gartner provides estimates of worldwide technology research. This company’s 4/4/2013 telecommunication devices statistics and forecasts are:

Worldwide Devices Shipments by Segment (Thousands of Units)

Device Type

2012

2013

2014

2017

PC (Desk-Based and Notebook)

341,263

315,229

302,315

271,612

Ultramobile

9,822

23,592

38,687

96,350

Tablet

116,113

197,202

265,731

467,951

Mobile Phone. (Mobile Smartphone production exceeded 1 billion in 2013.)

1,746,176

1,875,774

1,949,722

2,128,871

Total. (In May 2014, world population was about 7.17 billion.)

2,213,373

2,411,796

2,556,455

2,964,783

Notice that worldwide yearly production of these telecommunication devices now exceeds one device for every three people on earth. My estimate is that the average useful life of one of these devices is about four years. At current rates of production, in four years the world is producing about 1 1/3 devices per person. This is 5 1/3 devices for a family of four. Of course, many people have more devices, and many have none.

 

Final Remarks

Education is a local, state, national, and global enterprise. We have come a long way since the time of the traveling bards of old. The Web is a global library, the Internet facilitates communication among people located throughout the world, and MOOCs and other forms of technology-mediated/enhanced education are beginning to have a profound impact on global education. And remember, MOOCs are less than three years old!

 

What You Can Do

Think about the current education of children and/or adults you help to educate. Consider what you are doing to help them gain a better education about their world and as participants in statewide, nationwide, and international education programs. What are students in other countries having an opportunity to learn at specific grade levels versus the opportunities available to your students at the same grade levels? Explore with your students the question, “How will the world change as more and more students have routine access to Highly Interactive, Intelligent Computer-Assisted Learning Systems MOOCs that cover the full K-16 curriculum?”

 

References

Bombardieri, M. (5/18/2014). Harvard Goes All in for Online Courses. The Boston Globe. Retrieved 5/20/2014 from http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/05/17/behind-harvard-explosion-online-classes-flurry-lights-camera-action/BybPhkyfX59D9a7icmHz5M/story.html.

Kolowich, S. (6/27/2014). Five Things Researchers Have Discovered About MOOCs. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrievedd 627/2014 from http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/5-things-researchers-have-discovered-about-moocs/53585.

MOOCResearch Hub (n.d.). MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved 6/27/2014 from http://www.moocresearch.com. Retrieve research reports from http://www.moocresearch.com/reports.

Moursund, D. (2/27/2012). Supersize Online Courses (MOOCs). IAE Blog. Retrieved 5/20/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/supersized-online-courses-moocs.html. From time to time since the initial publication of the blog entry, I have added links to a number of MOOC articles that I have found interesting.

Moursund, D. (8/2/2012). Stanford University Is Offering a Free Artificial Intelligence Course. IAE Blog. Retrieved 5/20/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/stanford-university-is-offering-a-free-artificial-intelligence-course.html.

Open Culture (n.d.). MOOCs from Great Universities (Many with Certificates.) Retrieved 5/29/2014 from http://www.openculture.com/free_certificate_courses.

The site iclaims to provide information about 950 free online courses, 1000 MOOCs, 675 free movies, 550 free audio books, 170 free textbooks, etc.

Pensylvania  Conference (April 10-14, 1014). MOOCs for development: An international conference.  Retrieved 4/29/2014 from http://www.moocs4d.org/media.html. This site contains videos of seven of the presentations. This was a multilingual conference with translations.

 

IAE Resources

Moursund, D. (10/26/2010). Providing 0ne-to-0ne Computing Starting in the First Grade or Earlier? IAE Blog. Retrieved 5/21/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/providing-0ne-to-0ne-computing-starting-in-the-first-grade-or-earlier.html.

Moursund, D. (4/29/2011). A Major Turning Point in Education. IAE Blog. Retrieved 5/21/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/a-major-turning-point-in-education.html.

Moursund, D., & Albrecht, R. (9/2/2011). Becoming a Better Math Tutor. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Free download is available at http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/208-becoming-a-better-math-tutor.html,

Moursund, D., & Sylwester, R. (October 2012). Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education. Eugene, OR. Information Age Education. Free download is available at http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/243-creating-an-appropriate-21st-century-education.html.

Moursund, D. (9/5/2013). Educating Students for Their Possible Futures. IAE Blog. Retrieved 5/21/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/educating-students-for-their-possible-futures.html.

Moursund, D. (12/21/2013). Education for the Future. IAE Blog. Retrieved 5/21/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/education-for-the-future.html.

Moursund, D. (2013). Empowering Learners and Teachers. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 5/21/2014 from http://iae-pedia.org/Empowering_Learners_and_Teachers.

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Comments

David Moursund (website) on Friday, 06 June 2014 02:04
MOOCs and Learning

This is a comment from Mark Gall, an Emeritus Professor in Education from the University of Oregon. It was sent by email to David Moursund on 6/5/2014.
-----------------
A simple way of thinking about knowledge is that one can (1) acquire knowledge, (2) use knowledge, or (3) create knowledge, or all three.

No doubt MOOCs or informational text for that matter can help students acquire knowledge. But how about using knowledge to some meaningful end? Or creating new knowledge through research, reflection, or other means?

I talked recently to a highly skilled programmer in Seattle, the brother of a family friend, who currently creates computer applications to help medical researchers do their work. For example, creating an app that facilitates data entry by cooperating doctors at different sites on variables related to a particular research project. He says that his internationally trained colleagues can perform routine programming tasks well, but when it comes to problem-solving or thinking outside the box, they’re out to lunch. Their training was too formulaic, in his opinion.

I attended lectures by renowned professors at Harvard, and I went to an exclusive prep school. Yet it was not until I went to UC Berkeley that I really learned to think for myself. That was when I had to design my own research project with the assistance of a skilled researcher. Can MOOC provide that kind of apprenticeship? I don’t think so.

This is a comment from Mark Gall, an Emeritus Professor in Education from the University of Oregon. It was sent by email to David Moursund on 6/5/2014. ----------------- A simple way of thinking about knowledge is that one can (1) acquire knowledge, (2) use knowledge, or (3) create knowledge, or all three. No doubt MOOCs or informational text for that matter can help students acquire knowledge. But how about using knowledge to some meaningful end? Or creating new knowledge through research, reflection, or other means? I talked recently to a highly skilled programmer in Seattle, the brother of a family friend, who currently creates computer applications to help medical researchers do their work. For example, creating an app that facilitates data entry by cooperating doctors at different sites on variables related to a particular research project. He says that his internationally trained colleagues can perform routine programming tasks well, but when it comes to problem-solving or thinking outside the box, they’re out to lunch. Their training was too formulaic, in his opinion. I attended lectures by renowned professors at Harvard, and I went to an exclusive prep school. Yet it was not until I went to UC Berkeley that I really learned to think for myself. That was when I had to design my own research project with the assistance of a skilled researcher. Can MOOC provide that kind of apprenticeship? I don’t think so.
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