July 18, 2012 Mike Gwaltney , , , , no responses

Distinguishing the Open part of Massive Open Online Courses

With the news of Coursera adding 12 new universities, the blogosphere erupted yesterday with stories of disruption, the end of Higher Ed as we know it, and some tentative hope for general social improvement. Not lost on a few bloggers though was the important point to note that Coursera isn’t really offering MOOCs, in the way that the approach was designed originally by George Siemens and Steven Downes. Massive Open Online Courses meant that the resources were, well, open to anyone and open to use thereafter. Audrey Watters points out the Coursera difference:

@ right -- "open" = open enrollment. "open" in this case isn't OER.
Audrey Watters

Indeed, it appears the openness of the Coursera courses is that anyone can join, and NOT that the resources are openly available. But full open enrollment is a powerful thing, mind you. According to an email I received from Coursera last night, the potential to educate people everywhere is emerging:
"To date, 700,000 students from 190 countries have taken Coursera courses, w/ 1.6 million+ enrollmentsl!" ~@ #eLearning #HigherEd
Mike Gwaltney

So, let’s distinguish open in the context of Coursera, as opposed to the openness of the Siemens/Downes model (or like this MOOC upcoming on Mobile Learning): Coursera = open-enrollment/closed-resources, Siemens/Downes-style MOOCs = completely open.

Is there virtue to making all the course resources open? For one, teachers like me could use the excellent elements of a Coursera course in my own classroom. Or people anywhere who weren’t able to enroll in the Coursera course at the time of its offering could take the course when they’re able. Open Education Resources (OER) remain available on the web, for the good of all of us. If the 17 Coursera partners were to commit to making the courses this open, we’d all need to stand and applaud the impact for good they would make.

I think there is some hope for more openness from Coursera than it may seem though. I was curious about a course that looks remarkably similar to the one I’m paying for at the University of Edinburgh in September. The free “E-learning and Digital Cultures” course will be an innovative study of “how digital cultures intersect with learning cultures online, and how our ideas about online education are shaped through ‘narratives’, or big stories, about the relationship between people and technology.” And, importantly, it’s a wee bit more open than other Coursera offerings:

E-learning and Digital Cultures will make use of online spaces beyond the Coursera environment, and we want some aspects of participation in this course to involve the wider social web. We hope that participants will share in the creation of course content and assessed work that will be publicly available online.

How much of the work of this Edinburgh Coursera course eventually goes onto the open web is yet to be seen. That participants will be producing work for all to see is a hopeful sign however. If the model works well (and of course it will), perhaps it will push other instructors to make their resources more open.

I for one welcome Coursera as an emerging positive force in the education marketplace, despite a host of reservations. When it becomes more open, many of my reservations will melt away.

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Mike Gwaltney