John Harvard’s Journal (2013) Online evolution accelerates, Harvard Magazine, March-April, 2013
This article provides an insight in the thinking and plans for Harvard’s use of MOOCs within edX, and some faculty reactions. In particular:
- in its second season this spring, it will be offering its first non-quantitative MOOCs in humanities, including courses on both Greek and Chinese history
- edX aims at assessing the effectiveness of innovations in teaching and learning, and Harvard has appointed an assistant professor of education as research director; research objectives include:
- finding out who the several thousand students who completed early MOOCs are
- conducting learning assessments;
- exploring how to assure integrity among online learners
- meetings were also held with faculty in Harvard;s Faculty of Arts to discuss MOOCs and their reactions are recorded in the article, ranging from hostile, to mildly critical, to interested
- from the discussions several points emerged:
- edX is explicitly meant to extend teaching broadly, for those who are interested, and to devise techniques to improve on-campus, class-based learning in all disciplines and formats
- part of its experimental nature is to devise tools, such as online laboratories for science classes, but also qualitative assessments of coursework
- no one has figured out a sustainable business model yet, but ‘it is nascent.’ (Harvard’s funding commitment is tied to grants and philanthropy.)
Once again, edX institutions such as MIT and Harvard appear to be taking a more thoughtful approach to MOOCs than Coursera or Udacity. If nothing else, MOOCs are forcing Ivy League academics to think about online learning in ways that those in public institutions have been doing for many years. Indirectly it is making online learning more aceptable generally.
MOOCs offer elements that are new, in particular the opportunity to collect data very quickly from very large data sets of student information, which could provide useful insights into how to teach very large numbers of students at low or minimal cost. They allow for innovation and experimentation with peer assessment and other forms of assessment. However, it still remains to show that these new approaches to assessment are valid or reliable,
What is disappointing is the continual lack of recognition of the research, design and best practices that have come from earlier work on online learning. Frankly, this shows a lack of scholarship that would not be tolerated in other disciplines – and it is coming from those very institutions that place most emphasis on scholarship. They should be incorporating best online practices into MOOCs – as far as the format allows – before throwing them at learners. But that would mean acknowledging that MOOCs are an evolution of online teaching, and not something new invented by Ivy League universities.