Making MOOCs

A number of people have asked about what’s it’s like being on the inside of the MOOC-development process, now that my recent Fellowship puts me in the middle of the action of course creation.

While I could wax rhapsodic about the joy of working with smart and dedicated colleagues (vs. just consuming their output, as I did last year), one of the most interesting aspects of being on the inside is seeing how much that experience confirms a definition of “MOOC” that serves as the main thesis for MOOCS: The Essential Guide.

Presuming most people haven’t read that book yet (since it’s just now reaching bookstores), a shortened version of the thesis I’m talking about can be seen here.  In that piece, I dismiss the most obvious definitions of “MOOC” (notably those that rely on the acronym to spell out meaning) in favor of a definition based on the culture of research and experimentation out of which the MOOC phenomenon arose.

This afternoon, for example, I’ll be talking testing science with a huge group of Harvard and MIT researchers who are working on a long list of research projects related to every aspect of MOOC classes.  And that research is not limited to making MOOCs better.  Rather, they are trying to answer all kinds of questions about distance education, flipped classrooms, student engagement and dozens of other issues related to how technology helps (or doesn’t help) improve teaching and learning.

And while all of the people working on these projects hail from academia, their work is far from “purely academic.”  For research results are being built directly into new courses, just as experiments in new teaching and assessment methodology that prove successful immediately inform other projects.

In fact, I’ve never seen an environment where people are so eager to try new things and share the results (good and bad).  And while groups like HarvardX or edX might be considered by some to be competitors to other schools or companies involved with the MOOC experiment, everyone recognizes that there is more to be gained by improving the MOOC standard overall  through sharing of successes and failures, rather than treating good ideas as proprietary.

Just as the Open Source movement has created valuable products (including the WordPress blogging software I’m using to communicate with you right now), the MOOC culture of research, experimentation and sharing has gotten us to the point where it’s hard to dismiss the significance of this new teaching methodology, even if everyone is still unsure where MOOCs might ultimately fit into a broader technology-driven educational ecosystem.


  1. Education News / Making MOOCs - January 12, 2015

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