MOOCs: Why now?

This is a question that came to mind while I was at CNI last month, and I think it is a very important one. There are a lot of players getting involved in the promotion and development of MOOCs in higher education, and not all of them have the improvement of teaching and learning as their primary objective. Understanding the various agendas and motivations is critical if we are to take advantage of the attention and funding being directed toward these kinds of initiatives.

So: Why now?

Distance education isn’t new.

The Internet isn’t new.

The Web isn’t new.

E-learning isn’t new.

Open learning isn’t new.

This is a time of extreme financial crisis for most institutions of higher education, so there should be no crazy money available for ego projects.

And yet, we have major universities investing millions of dollars in initiatives to make their teaching and learning experience, supposedly one of their key value offerings, available to anyone for free.

Why now?

I have some ideas to potential answers to this question, but for now I think I will just let this question stand as-is.

I don’t think there is a simple answer to this question, nor do I believe that the answers are the same at every university.

I do feel very strongly, though, that anyone who cares at all about the teaching and learning that goes on in higher education needs to think about this question in their own context. They need to not only pay attention to what is happening at their college or university, but get involved in the discussions and decision-making that is happening.

Don’t get me wrong: I believe there is a tremendous amount of potential in MOOCs to do good in the world, and this renewed, wide-spread interest in teaching and learning has if anything the potential to provide the impetus for a much-needed review and revision of how teaching and learning takes place in higher education.

However, we owe it to ourselves and to our institutions to question the fundamentals of these initiatives and make sure that the priorities are in line with our goals and values.

Teaching GLIS 634

Last week was the start of the fall semester and the 2012-2013 academic year, and I’m glad to have the chance to again be teaching! For past five years or so I’ve been teaching GLIS 634 Web System Design and Management as part of the MLIS program at McGill’s School of Information Studies.

This year we’re going back to offering the course in both the fall and winter sessions, each time with a more manageable number of students (cap: 40). This semester I have 24 or so students in my class, which is going to make for a more interactive in-class experience and, I won’t lie, a reasonable correcting load. Although teaching is part of the constellation of academic activities that will make up my tenure dossier, it is not one of my core job responsibilities, so time management is very important if I’m going to be successful. Last winter I had close to 60 students in my class and it was just too hard to be sustainable, so I’m glad SIS decided to go with two sections of 40.

Class size is not the only change. I’ve also made some changes to assignments and hope to refresh some of the activities we do in class and online. This is also the first semester that I’m using McGill’s new course management system, Desire2Learn. I had the good fortune of being part of the project team that led the selection process to replace our previous system (WebCT), and it is very rewarding to finally be able to use the system and to see that, yes, it is much better than before! I still have a lot to learn before I consider myself and expert in the system, but already I can see that with D2L I have the opportunity to take the online component of my course to the next level.

I do plan on writing more about GLIS 634, mostly from a ‘meta’ perspective on how I have planned things and how they are working out. I don’t teach ‘in the open’ (another blog post!), but I do want to find a way to share what I’m learning, so expect some of that over the coming months.