Thursday, August 29, 2013


I was pretty surprised to get an email the other day, from the OLDS MOOC list of all places.  The subject heading was "MOOC vs MOC."  Sure, I was hooked in, both because I enjoyed OLDS MOOC and because it seemed like an interesting discussion to have.  Then I realized that this was sort of spam ;-)

Here is the body of the message:

Maybe wrongly, but I think of " an OC" as simply a very valuable tool to bring high quality education to the world. What a great export industry where the leading centers of intellectual property (such as US, UK, Germany, Canada, Australia...) has so much to provide others.. And, in a much better and easier way than every before.
But, why is "Open" a necessary ingredient? Open = free. Are valuable pharmaceutical products that cost $10s of millions to research (though pennies to produce) given away for free? Is there any evidence whatsoever that this stimulates people to innovate?
How about "Massive Online and Pretty Darn Inexpensive Courses" (MOPDIC). Yeah, right. Not very catchy, but isn't this the model that is the real end-game? Don't we want EVERYONE in the world to have access to great education at REASONABLE price? Fail, cost-effective in local terms and world class?
This next paragraph is an advertisement, so skip over it if you must. I run a "MOC" which provides all the video, discussion, interaction features of Coursera, EDX and the others. We focus on 1 vertical sector: financial services. We are NOT free and we have hundreds of hours of finance stills education for graduate students and working professionals (URL removed).
We have put about $7mm into our technology from friends and family and we have significant revenues. Anyone who wants to provide insights to us in how to do it better, please send me an email: email here

So...where to start? These couple of paragraphs are pretty jam packed with things to pick apart, argue, debate and critique that it's almost like going into a candy store and not knowing what to get :-)  I guess I will start with the whole "leading centers of intellectual property (such as US, UK, Germany, Canada, Australia...)" bit.  For me this argument is very Western, and at that very Anglo focused. All of the countries listed as exemplars of this are former British Colonies, all speaking English, and all coming from the same intellectual tradition (if I am wrong, just leave a comment). The only non-English speaking country in this list is Germany and undoubtedly they have the same roots as the other countries listed. There are valuable insights to be had in non-western contexts and I think that MOOCs have the potential to reach out and spread some diversity in our educational sector.

Intellectual Property is an interesting notion, one that I won't elaborate a ton on here, but I do not think of IP as "property" in the proper physical sense.  If you are an academic, it is my belief that you should be releasing things out to the public, for the improvement of society as a whole, as opposed to hoarding it in some sort of antiquated IP scheme. Education isn't about making pills and selling a physical product, so products of intellectual pursuits (like academic articles) should be freely available.  This leads me to the Open part.

Open is a necessary ingredient. If you want a Massive Online Course (or MOC as you say), just do what we've done all this time with campus courses.  Cram a few hundred paying students in a giant blackboard section, which imitates a large lecture hall, and call it a day.  Nothing new to see here, nothing to challenge the status quo.  Open is important for two reasons:

  • Open as having the freedom to share and remix is important because knowledge can flow out of the classroom without impediments, which can in turn allow for people to interact with the materials in unforeseen ways.  This, then, feeds forward to everyone else in the course.  Remixing, or using and expanding upon someone else's previous work, is something that academics have done for a very long time.
  • Open as in free is also quite important.  How free is free is certainly up for debate, as I've written at other points in this blog. From a 30,000ft view the course and the ability to enroll and interact with the course materials, classmates, and facilitators should be without cost. If it's not, then you're back to that virtual large lecture hall, and we are just not there any longer at this stage of the game.  The optional costs, such as those required to be assessed by someone and get college credit, can cost some, and can be completely optional for the learner.  If a learner is content with what they've learned and have no need to an 3 college credits, why pay?
As I've said above, I disagree with the analogy of the pill (or other physical object for sale).  Pharmaceuticals may cost a lot of money in Research and Development, and the cost pennies to make, but they don't sell for pennies.  Beyond that, everything in academia is already paid for.  Researchers get NIH, NEH, and other government grants to subsidize their research, and to get these research findings out via publishing.  Individuals who are tenured or tenure track (or even those interested like I am, who are neither tenured nor tenure track), work on research and publishing on their own time, unpaid, and we don't see a cent for the journals we publish in.  Neither do the peer reviewers who check our submitted articles!  This work is either paid for already, or donated.  Thus, putting together a course with materials that ought to be free outright should not be something that cost money, even if it's pretty cheap.

The whole innovation bit (i.e. if it's free, then people won't innovate) is complete baloney. Non-free and copyright go hand-in-hand for this argument since people use copyright to get money for their work.  I have not followed this field extensively, but when it comes to innovation, what I have seen is that bad copyright laws do have a chilling effect on innovation. Thus, when something is available for free, more people will see it, therefore more people will be able to use it, cite it, remix it, and innovate.  That's just my take, feel free to disagree.

Finally, yes, we do want people to have access to education at a reasonable price.  I just disagree that MOOCs the necessary approach to solve this issue.  Your MOC seems like a digital equivalent to a giant lecture hall, which isn't sound pedagogically. Whether people admit to this or not, MOOCs, as they are setup, favor those who are autodidacts and have sound pre-requisite foundations to succeed in such environments. As far as world-class goes, I refer you to my first paragraph of this response and ask: What is world-class?  The world of the "elite" Western schools? Do we not have room in this conversation and paradigm shifting for voices other than big western schools?

Your thoughts?
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