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We’re at a curious point in the hype cycle of educational innovation, where the hottest concept of the past year–Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs–is simultaneously being discovered by the mainstream media, even as the education-focused press is declaring them dead. “More Proof MOOCs are Hot,” and “MOOCs Embraced By Top Universities,” said the Wall Street Journal and USA Today last week upon the announcement that Coursera had received a $43 million round of funding to expand its offerings; “Beyond MOOC Hype” was the nearly simultaneous headline in Inside Higher Ed.
Can MOOCs really be growing and dying at the same time?
The best way to resolve these contradictory signals is probably to accept that the MOOC, itself still an evolving innovation, is little more than a rhetorical catchall for a set of anxieties around teaching, learning, funding and connecting higher education to the digital world. This is a moment of cultural transition. Access to higher education is strained. The prices just keep rising.
Questions about relevance are growing. The idea of millions of students from around the world learning from the worlds’ most famous professors at very small marginal cost, using the latest in artificial intelligence and high-bandwidth communications, is a captivating one that has drawn tens of millions in venture capital. Yet, partnerships between MOOC platforms and public institutions like SUNY and the University of California to create self-paced blended courses and multiple paths to degrees look like a sensible next step for the MOOC, but they are far from that revolutionary future. Separate ideas like blended learning and plain old online delivery seem to be blurring with and overtaking the MOOC–even Blackboard is using the term.
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The time seems to be ripe for a reconsideration of the “Massive” impact of “Online” and “Open” learning. The Reclaim Open Learning initiative is a growing community of teachers, researchers and learners in higher education dedicated to this reconsideration. Supporters include the MIT Media Lab and the MacArthur Foundation-supported Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. I am honored to be associated with the project as a documentarian and beater of the drum.
Entries are currently open for our Innovation Contest, offering a $2000 incentive to either teachers or students who have projects to transform higher education in a direction that is connected and creative, is open as in open content and open as in open access, that is participatory, that takes advantage of some of the forms and practices that the MOOC also does but is not beholden to the narrow mainstream MOOC format (referring instead to some of the earlier iterations of student-created, distributed MOOCscreated by Dave Cormier, George Siemens, Stephen Downes and others.)
Current entries include a platform to facilitate peer to peer language learning, a Skype-based open-access seminar with guests from around the world, and a student-created course in educational technology. Go here to add your entry! Deadline is August 2. Our judges include Cathy Davidson (HASTAC), Joi Ito (MIT), and Paul Kim (Stanford).
Reclaim Open Learning earlier sponsored a hackathon at the MIT Media Lab. This fall, September 27 and 28, our judges and contest winners will join us at a series of conversations and demo days to Reclaim Open Learning at the University of California, Irvine. If you’re interested in continuing the conversation