Stepping into the land of MOOC

A while ago I began hearing about this new world of education called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  One professor teaching tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of students online, at no cost, with the apparent goal of opening up high quality education to all who might enjoy and benefit from it.  Being one who already appreciated the philosophy of information sharing, as embodied in technologies like Wikipedia, this sounded really fantastic.  Moreover, I must openly admit, that being the sort of professor who truly enjoys teaching large classes, this really felt like something I wanted to try.  Can one effectively teach so many students?  What is the experience like?  What does one learn about teaching in this sort of extreme context?

Of course I then heard some of the concerns.  Clearly there is more to this than the free open sharing of education.  Someone hopes to make some money off of this somehow.  Too many investors are pouring too much money into MOOCs, and the platforms used to host them, to deny that this phenomenon will only be sustained if there is some sort of business model (or models) that reward those involved.  What are those models?  Will those models result in dramatic changes in the public education system?  If so, will those changes have a negative impact, or could the appearance of MOOCs actually provide a long needed impetus for change in the University and College system?

In the context of all this I was asked to submit a proposal to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to mount an Introductory Psychology MOOC on the Coursera platform.  Being one who has extreme difficulty saying no to any new opportunity I couldn’t resist.  I submitted a proposal and with great administrative support I won it (thanks Laurie and crew!), and as I type today we are four days into the eight week course.  Four fascinating days filled mostly with really great vibes.

Given this is such a new world for me I decided I’d write a digital equivalent of a travel log.  Actually I meant to begin it about a week ago, as I was anticipating the MOOC.  However, one thing I learned is that it takes a lot of time and thought to get a MOOC ready to go … there was no time last week for blogging!  But now things to be a little more under control, so this entry stands as my introduction.  Yes my feet are already planted firmly on MOOC land, I have arrived, and the students – about 30,000 of the 58,000 registered – have arrived, and I am sincerely amazed at how comfortable I feel, despite the fact that this place is full of Cannibals!  Ah, but that’s for the next chapter.

So my goals in this blog are to recount this particular journey while also highlighting some of my views on MOOCs and public education reform along the way.  I have invited my #CognitiveCannibals (those would be my students) to follow and comment on the blog, so don’t be surprised if they chime in along the way … I hope all of you feel free sharing your perspectives and ideas as we go.  OK, next step, giving a brief overview of Week 1 …