On Wednesday evening (March 26), I joined about 30 others at the launch of the Dunedin Free University. Appropriately, the event took place at the Kokiri Training Centre, 51 Macandrew Road, in the heart of South Dunedin. The Twitter profile for @DunedinFreeUni describes it as a “Free Knowledge Community”. There is also a website and a Facebook page for the project.
The Dunedin initiative is based loosely on the Melbourne Free University model (@MelbFreeUni), which was started in 2010. We heard about how the Melbourne project is structured, how it has grown over the years, and how we could learn from it. Participants gave short talks about the increasingly instrumental nature of higher education, and how knowledge is often treated as a commodity to be sold, rather than as a contribution to the public good. We heard about the history of free education, and how citizens have initiated community-based intellectual discussions in different countries in the past. Someone reported on the problem that rising tuition fees presented, especially in the UK.
We talked about what a community-based knowledge sharing group could do, and what it would need. Meeting spaces were discussed, ideas about how to access books and other resources were suggested, and the use of a photocopier was offered. To get things started, a course on sustainability, running on the last Wednesday of the month for six consecutive months, starting at the end of April, at the Kokiri Training Centre, 51 Macandrew Road, was discussed.
Whatever else they do, institutions institutionalise. Whatever else we teach there, we teach institutionalisation. Many of the systems and technologies that comprise, and operate within, traditional institutions of higher education have been internalised to such a degree that they have become invisible to us. We can’t change what we can no longer see. By operating outside traditional institutions, and by leaving behind the roles, hierarchies, and behaviours that they frame and enforce, we are free to redefine our relationships and to rethink what a learning community can be.
Last week was Open Education Week (March 10-15). This annual event followed the final week of the “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education”, a six-week Coursera MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) that several of us at the University of Otago took part in. #FutureEd (the hashtag used for the course in Twitter and other social media sites) dealt with the opportunities for changing how we teach and learn in higher education, given the development of the Internet and innovations in pedagogy. It was a very American-centric course, which is understandable. As a colleague likes to say, the best way to begin is to “dig where you stand“. The issues that were raised by the instructor, Cathy Davidson (from Duke University) are relevant to New Zealand and most of the other OECD countries. The course has encouraged me to dig where I stand here in Dunedin, New Zealand, and to think about how I can learn from the ongoing global conversation about change in higher education and apply what I am learning to my national and local contexts.
MOOCs are adding to the increasing number of responses to the wicked problem of how to provide higher education in an environment characterised by continuing financial austerity and rapid technological change. It won’t be (and never has been) a one-size-fits all winner-takes-all single (or best) solution. We are likely to see an increasingly varied and complex future for higher education in which the various players and providers are more deeply intertwingled than ever.
CCK08 (Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, 2008) and the cMOOCs that followed could be described as pedagogically disruptive, as the coordinators (George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier and followers) were (and still are) experimenting with techniques that would help individuals to build and maintain their own personal learning network, rather than focussing on creating better (traditional, institutional) courses. Coursera, Udacity and the other xMOOCs (the “x” is from edX, the MOOC platform founded by Harvard and MIT) might be characterised as disruptive in terms of their business model (giving the course away, the freemium model, long tail, etc.) but, however technologically sophisticated, they are not progressive in terms of their pedagogical approach or in their use of open strategies. The fundamental differences in the objectives and the degree of openness between cMOOCs and xMOOCs was the focus of at least one discussion about #FutureEd that took place on Twitter. #FutureEd was notable for the degree to which Professor Davidson and her team opened up the Coursera MOOC through the use of Creative Commons licences, connecting the MOOC to place-based courses, and encouraging parallel discussions on Twitter and on the HASTAC network, which is dedicated to “Changing the Way We Teach and Learn”.
The response to MOOCs by many university academic and managers (focussing on Coursera, Udacity and other xMOOCs), is that they are an inferior experience offered by venture capital-funded start-ups that have not managed to develop a workable business model. Therefore, they can be dismissed as a short-term experiment. Sebastian Thrun’s admission that Udacity’s low completion rates signaled a failure that required a significant shift in strategy was picked up by many who were waiting for their “I told you so” moment. This, despite the view that ‘failure’ in business is like iteration in design — it’s the way you find the approach, model, and solution that works.
Within academia, some healthy discussions are taking place about how to best provide our students with a high quality public education in the context of networked communication. These discussions should include the opportunities that open strategies present, as well as the pros and cons of MOOCs as one of many possible models. Unfortunately, the high profile privately owned for-profit MOOC platforms, which employ the traditional lecture format and machine marking of multiple choice quizzes, have diverted attention from the more transformative possibilities of open, collaborative practices that digital networks can support.
Although we (university academics, administrators and managers) like to consider ourselves as the champions of advanced teaching, learning and research, and as the guardians of the institutions that support higher education, the future may not be determined by what we believe is best for our students and for the future of universities. It is much more likely to be determined by those who have the money and the power to influence public opinion and public policy (and the former does not necessarily determine the latter). The disappointing reality is that the cMOOC vs xMOOC debate, and the growing open education movement will be of little interest to large private businesses and neoliberal politicians. We have seen the freezing, or actual reduction, of the public contribution to higher education across the OECD countries in recent years, especially since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. A belief in the public benefits of higher education has been replaced by a narrative in which tertiary education is considered to be a private good for which the individual consumer must pay. Unless we work hard to make our voices heard outside the academy, the public debate will be dominated by this view — one that devalues public education and shows more regard for the ‘free market’ than for the public good.
We are fooling ourselves if we think that higher education is immune from the significant changes that have reshaped other sectors. We are not likely to be left alone. The governments intention to reduce the size of University councils and to increase the number of ministerial appointees, despite considerable opposition, makes this clear. Tertiary Education Minister Stephen Joyce’s statement that universities need to “think more strategically and move more quickly on areas like online learning and MOOCs” suggests what might be in store. Change is going to come. The question, in New Zealand as in other countries, is whether it will come from within or from without, and whether it will serve the public interest or whether it will deliver yet another slice of the public sector to the maw of the market — one institution and one student at a time.
I’ve signed up for a Coursera MOOC called “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education” (#FutureEd).This isn’t a “normal” Coursera MOOC. The instructor, Cathy N. Davidson (Duke University) is teaching a place-based course (ISIS 640: History and Future of Higher Education) in parallel with the MOOC, and she’s inviting others to form groups (or workshops or courses) to participate in the MOOC as place-based satellite nodes.
This looks like an interesting experiment, and it draws on the experience of DOCC13, the first Distributed Open Collaborative Course, which began in the (North American) fall of 2013 (check out the FemTechNet Whitepaper). Hybrid models that mix online and place-based teaching may be more sustainable (and more pedagogically sound) than the massive MOOCs on their own (or a single, place-based course in isolation).
A group of us at the University of Otago plan to do this MOOC together. We are forming a discussion group around it and will meet once a week (those who are able to meet). So far, we have about 10 people who want to take part in this way (about a dozen would be ideal). Although Coursera suggests it might take 2-4 hours per week, here is no fixed amount of time that you have to devote to this MOOC (or any of these free, not-for-credit MOOCs — people tend to dip in when it suits them). Although we can all blog, tweet and interact with the course on our own, we hope to get more out of the experience by meeting face-to-face and discussing the relevance of the videos and readings to our specific context. We all understand the value of group work, right?
So, what do you think? If you are interested, sign up for the MOOC (it comes with a no obligation, money back guarantee). If you want to join the this MOOC Group (that would be a MOOCG, but I’m sure we could come up with a better acronym), leave a comment below, or contact me directly (email: email@example.com; Twitter: @mark_mcguire). If you can form a local group (even two is better than one!), then you could get a face-to-face discussion going where you live. If you want to join the Otago group virtually, that’s great, too!
If not us, who? If not now, when?
The Coursera course
History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education (27 Jan, 6 weeks)
History and Future of Higher Education
This describes the strategy for a global movement to rethink higher education.
History and Future of Higher Education (ISIS 640) (Prof Cathy N. Davidson, Duke University)
This is the online syllabus place-based course she will be teaching at Duke.
Designing Higher Education From Scratch (Google Doc)
Posted by Cathy N. Davidson November 23, 2013
Her place-based students will do this a project. MOOC participants are also encouraged to work with this template.
What If We Could Build Higher Education From Scratch? What Would It Look Like?(blog post by Cathy N. Davidson)
How To Take On the MOOCs—And the Rest of Higher Ed Too (blog post by Cathy N. Davidson, 21 Nov 2013)
Storyboarding the Future of Higher Education. (blog post by Cathy N. Davidson, 15 May 2013)
This is a HASTAC group for “The History and Future of Higher Education,” the multi-institutional collaborative project (that includes the Coursera MOOC), that was initiated by the HASTAC alliance. We will list the Otago group on this site.
The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age. By Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg (Free download)
Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century (by Cathy N. Davidson) [Paperback on Amazon]
An Innovative Course on Methods and Practice of Social Science and Literature,
Co-Taught by Dan Ariely and Cathy N. Davidson
Re-Mixed by #DukeSurprise Students as a Self-Paced Open Course (SPOC)
A version of this entry was also posted on the Open Otago Blog.
The slides embedded below are from a talk that I will be giving at the 3rd Mobile Creativity and Innovation Symposium, which will take place at the Auckland University of Technology from 21-22 November, 2013. You can download the pdf of the presentation (8.5 MB) from Slideshare or from here). I have also uploaded a draft of the written paper (about 3,700 words, 117KB PDF).
The Twitter hashtag for the conference is #MINA2013. MINA stands for the Mobile Innovation Network Aotearoa, which is sponsoring the event with Colab (AUT University) and the School of Art & Design (AUT University) in collaboration with the School of Design at the College of Creative Arts (Massey University, Wellington).
I’ll write more following the symposium, but I thought I would upload my presentation and draft paper before the event. Emerging collaborative practices suggest how people can work together in a way that is conversational, rather than emulating old sender-receiver media and processes. I would like to connect with others who are making or following stories that are created and shared in a way that is informed by, and takes advantage of, digital devices and networks.
As Rainie and Wellman explain in Networked (2012) the rise of the Internet, social networks and mobile technologies have resulted in media experiences that are personal, multiuser, multitasking and multithreaded. They refer to this new social operating system as “networked individualism”. In Spreadable Media (2013), Jenkins et al. argue that our networked culture is characterized by instantaneous, informal communication through multiple channels in which the audience participates in the creation of value and meaning, and in the circulation of media and messages. In this paper, I use the concepts of networked individualism and spreadable media in an examination of projects that use Twitter and Instagram to create and share micro-narratives.
In 140 Illustrated Haikus, an iPhone and Instagram were used to document a month-long trip to three countries in late 2012. The resulting photos and short texts were published simultaneously via Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, email and Tumblr. In addition to the limitations imposed by time and technology, captions for the photos were written on the spot in the form of a haiku. These constraints were found to help, rather than hinder, the creative process.
Austin Kleon is a writer and artist who creates “Newspaper Blackout Poetry” by selecting a newspaper, choosing a few key words, and blacking out the rest with a marker. He shares the results with more than 28,000 followers on Twitter (@austinkleon), many of whom tweet their own blackout poems. Kleon also posts his poems to a website, where others are encouraged to contribute their own efforts. An advocate of sharing work-in-progress, Kleon’s approach exemplifies the process-based, conversational nature of networked creative practice.
Desert Friends, the “World’s First Instagram TV Show” is about three individuals who are transported to a distant galaxy and try to find their way back to Palm Springs. The filmmakers uploaded the first installment on 23 June 2013, and have continued to publish about four 15-second “shows” each week. Shot in black and white using the Instagram App on an iPhone, the programs emulate the style of low budget science fiction movies of the 1950s and 1960s. By episode number 63, the Desert Friends Instagram stream had attracted over 25,000 followers. This production demonstrates that filmmakers can create their own “TV show” with their own gear, and broadcast it over channels that anyone can use.
These case studies show that, by regularly sharing ideas and processes as well as outcomes online, individuals become part of a creative ecology that enables visibility, mutual support, collaboration, and better work.
The slides embedded below are from a talk that I gave at the Cumulus Dublin conference, which took place in Dublin from 7-9 November, 2013 (you can download the pdf from Slideshare). Cumulus is an international association of nearly 200 universities and colleges of art, design and media. The university of Otago and the Otago Polytechnic are both institutional members. I provided a brief summary of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and then discussed three courses that serve as models that we can all learn from. If you know of another good example of an open course in art/design/media, I’d love to hear from you. It would also be good to hear what you think about the examples I have highlighted (which are briefly explained below).
The following is the abstract for the presentation and paper:
In many countries, the increasing costs associated with higher education combined with reduced funding for public education during a period of fiscal restraint threatens the sustainability of current models of provision. Glenn Harlan Reynolds (2012) warns of a “Higher Education Bubble” in the United States. Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity.com, a for-profit platform for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), predicts that there will be only 10 institutions delivering higher education in 50 years (Steven Leckart, 2012). In contrast to these doomsday scenarios, Audrey Watters (2013) and others counter that professors and the institutions that employ them are not necessarily resistant to change, and that we should not “hack education” in a way that dismantles public institutions and threatens local economies, the community, social justice, and the public good.
In this presentation, I briefly trace the development of MOOCs and I discuss the differences between the high profile platforms that rely on lecture videos and machine marking (xMOOCs) and earlier experiments that follow what George Siemens refers to as a “Connectivist” approach (2005), which encourages participants to build their own personal learning network (cMOOCs). Using a case study method, I discuss three types of Design courses that leverage open strategies and serve as exemplars of “digital scholarship” (Martin Weller, 2011). The first, #Phonar (Photography and Narrative), is a Coventry University course that uses blogging and social media to connect place-based students to online participants. The second, ds106 (Digital Storytelling), is an online-only course offered by the University of Mary Washington that requires students to interact with one another and with the wider world through blogs, social media and an Internet radio station. The third, DOCC2013: Dialogues on Feminism and Technology, is a Distributed Open Collaborative Course that was offered for the first time in the fall of 2013 by fifteen universities in the United States and Canada, with academics working collaboratively across institutions.
I argue that by encouraging a paradigm shift in education from Push (broadcast) to Pull (accessing an archive) to Co-create (collaborative production) Design education can provide positive examples of how we can do more, and reach more, sustainably. Blurring the boundaries between teacher and student, online and offline, and formal and informal, education can enhance learning and extend its benefits beyond the lecture theatre and design studio. This pedagogical shift is in line with contemporary Design practice, in which collaborative and participatory processes are crucial, especially when working to solve wicked problems.
Free streaming of the Reclaim Open Learning Symposium begins at 5:00PM on Saturday 26 Sept. Pacific time (that’s 12:00 noon on Friday 27 Sept. in New Zealand) at UC Irvine, with a conversation with John Seely Brown and Amin Saberi, moderated by Anya Kamenetz. The event (and stream) continues the next day (Sat. 5:00AM-12:00PM NZ time) with Howard Rheingold and the winners of the Reclaim Open Learning Innovation Challenge, who are
transforming higher education toward connected and creative learning, open in content and access, participatory, and building on a growing range of experiments and innovations in networked learning.
These are innovative project worth hearing about from dedicated, creative people who are worth following. Speakers include Jim Groom, Martha Buris and Alan Levine, from the University of Mary Washington (USA). They are behind ds106, an online community as much as a course, that focuses on Digital Storytelling and online identity. Jonathan Worth, Matt Johnston, Shaun Hides and Jonathan Shaw (from Coventry University, UK) won for #Phonar (Photography and Narrative), which they teach to a place-based class linked via blogs, websites and social media to the world. Susanna Ferrell and Jade Ulrich (Scripps College, United States) have put together a DOCC (Distributed Open Collaborative Course), “DOCC 2013: Dialogues on Feminism and Technology“, which looks very promising. I am less familiar with the other winning projects, but I’m sure they are all worthy of our time and attention.
These initiatives challenge the dominant MOOC narrative, which has been captured by large (mostly private, for-profit) internet startups and elite universities, and they demonstrate how we can all innovate now, where we are, in our current institutions of higher education. Check out the winners’ websites and follow the symposium on Twitter (#ReclaimOpen, @DMLResearchHub). I assume the talks will be archived after the streaming of the presentations, so check the symposium website following the event.