Friday, March 15, 2013

Assignment 2: Collective Intelligence

With the recent Alberta budget cuts, the Education Minister is requesting a new “more unified post-secondary system”, a collaborative approach to controlling costs, while continuing to ensure accessibility. The education landscape is changing. Henry Jenkin’s believes that schools have not kept pace with the changing media landscape or the ability to exploit the participatory culture it offers.  Could Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) be a step in the right direction? MOOC design fits nicely against Jenkin’s key requirements for participatory learning. MOOC’s are voluntary, free and available online.  A learning community develops around a common interest in a topic. Collaboration and mentorship opportunities emerge as students help each other and a sustained interest in the community motivates completion and a connection beyond the course timeframe.

The three texts I have chosen look at the MOOC as an emerging form of participatory literacy from three different sources.  First, a TedTalks Video from Dr. Daphne Koller, a professor of Computer Science at Stanford and the co-founder of the online MOOC platform Coursera. Second, a column from The Guardian by Clay Shirky, author, consultant and adjunct professor at New York University who specializes in the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. Third, a short informational video on MOOCs created by Dave Cormier, Web Communication and Innovations Manager at the University of Prince Edward Island (attributed with coining the term MOOC) and his fellow research team all Ph.D.’s or candidates with appropriate areas of expertise.   Here is the link to my pinboard: single pins also follow.

1.  TedTalks Video: Daphne Koller: What we're learning from online education

Source: via Teresa on Pinterest

This inspiring presentation uses fact based, credible evidence, moving emotional testimonials and examples to persuade us on MOOCs. Her academic credentials and experience in designing and delivering MOOCs adds to her credibility.  No opposing perspectives are addressed. She pitches MOOCs as a means to provide the fundamental right of education for all. She uses graphs to demonstrate that tuition has increased by 559% since 1985 with less than half of students attaining employment using that education.  She says MOOCs can improve this by providing the best professors and courses to whoever wants them. There is no support to indicate that the courses currently being developed or delivered by Coursera are strategic in considering how to address the gaps in employability. Some of her claims are not backed with evidence. For example, she tells how students are using MOOC course certificates to get better jobs and attain actual college credit for completion.  But this is anecdotal and not backed with data. Impressive stats on participation are shared but controversial completion metrics are not.  Her most impressive argument comes in the unprecedented opportunity MOOC course data analysis has in being able to understand human learning and hence improve education.  The video format puts the onus on the viewer to dig deeper on Koller’s arguments.  For example, I searched for the last research paper she displays graphically on the benefits of Active Learning in a Large Physics Classroom.  I found it in the Journal of Science along with two separate published academic criticisms of the research results. 

2.  Clay Shirky, The Guardian Article: Higher education: our MP3 is the Mooc

Shirky's interesting article compares what is happening with the disruption offered by MOOCs in higher education to what happened in the music industry with digital music. In critiquing Shirky’s argument it is important to note his expertise and consulting demonstrates a bias towards the internet as a positive revolutionary force to enabling group forming and collaboration. His article takes for granted that MOOCs will positively transform higher education, no other position is considered despite their early days. He makes it appear that Udacity and fellow MOOC providers are the original innovators of online platforms, yet schools like MIT have been offering OpenCourseWare online for free since 2002. He says, "that open courses, even in their nascent state, will be able to raise quality and improve certification faster than traditional institutions can lower cost or increase enrollment.” This is a hopeful statement but not one that he has evidence with which to defend the quality or improved process of learning.  It is also an aggressive claim given that MOOCs are still emerging on the backs of investors, their future business models yet to be confirmed.  He criticizes the for-profit Kaplan college system for poor education and increasing debt. But to become viable will the Mooc model be different? Will it use corporate sponsorship? The exchange of participant data? How will the final business model impact success?  Shirky’s writing also segments higher education into elite and non-elite status, he assumes his Yale education is superior to the education that 75% of American’s are getting at “mediocre colleges”.  As a business student I attended a local college and then transferred to a more prestigious university program to complete a degree.  For me, there is no question that the college education was superior in terms of overall value and learning. Shirky is a highly regarded writer but this piece is speculative and biased. Shirky’s Blog version of this article.

3.  Dave Cormier, YouTube Video:  What is a Mooc?

Source: via Teresa on Pinterest

This video uses simple line drawing animation to effectively inform the viewer on MOOC benefits by differentiating them from traditional learning.  Informative but assumes the viewer has a certain level of digital literacy describing them as open, participatory, distributed and using symbols like the twitter bird, blog posts and tag icons. Emphasizes there is no single path to learning and that students learn from each other. This develops life long learning networks that can continue long after the course is over. Some information could cause confusion, “participants are not asked to complete assignments but to engage with each other and material all over the web . . .” This is not an accurate statement for all MOOCs as this author’s research colleague, Dr. Siemens has provided credit for MOOCs as he explains in this interview with Harold RheingoldThe issues or concerns that MOOCs could present, are not considered in this video.  It is an effective, but simplified conceptual presentation. My biggest critique is not apparent with an initial viewing. In researching the authors and credits at the end of the video I learned it is one of four videos created and embedded in the researchers grant funded paper, The Mooc Model for Digital Practice which is responding to the Federal Governments consulting paper Building Critical Skill for Tomorrow. This video is helpful on its own but comments could have been posted on YouTube to connect interested viewers to the original research paper it was created for, in addition to its three additional companion videos. A concluding URL in the last frame of the video offering a site to receive more information would be ideal.


Cormier, D. (Producer & Writer). 2010. What is a mooc? [Video]. Retrieved from
Deslauriers, L., & Wieman, C. E. (2011). Response. Science, 333(6047), 1221.
Jenkins, H. (2006, October 20). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: media education for the 21st century (part one) [Web log message]. Retrieved from
McAuley, A., Stewart, B., Siemens, G. & Cormier, D. (2010). The Mooc Model for Digital practice. Retrieved from
TedtalksDirector. (Producer). 2012.  Daphne Koller: What we're learning from online education [Video]. Retrieved from
Jenkins, H. (2006, October 20). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: media education for the 21st century (part one) [Web log message]. Retrieved from


  1. Fascinating! I really enjoyed your Pinboard, Teresa. The topic of MOOCs is really interesting to me - I'm actually thinking of focusing on it for my final paper. I've glanced at some of the Standford classes around Design Thinking and it was really neat to experience a structured online learning environment with thousands of others around the world. Dr. Daphane Koller makes a really persuasive argument that this is where education is heading - personalized, interactive, cost-effective, and full of possibilities.

    There are some good questions raised in your commentary on Clay Shirky's article in terms of MOOCs and funding. I've been watching the growth of Khan Academy, which has over 4,000 videos teaching a wide range of topics. Corporate donations have fueled their development including Google, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other organizations. I don't know what the participatory exchange is, but I think these organizations are tapped into the fact that the way people are learning is changing, and education is not going away.

    I think I should have watched these in reverse order as the last link was a great short and simple overview. It reinforced notions of how MOOCs are about connecting, collaborating, and engaging. It puts learners in a very empowered position, and I'm excited about how it re-envisions lifelong learning.

  2. Hi Sylvia, I’m glad you enjoyed the pins. Taking a MOOC is on the top of my list of things to do post MACT. I really want to experience one. One thing we can be sure of with Social Media is that there will be feedback, not only on professors but also their courses, especially as there are so many participants. For example, I know there was poor publicity last fall on one offered – quite ironically on learning to teach effectively online – it was so badly organized that the instructor pulled the plug on it – which really annoyed students who had started to bond and form study groups. The University of Alberta is in discussion with Udacity to deliver these (assuming this hasn’t been impacted by recent budget cuts (

    1. Teresa, I just saw this tweet from Clay Shirky on MOOCs. How relevant:

  3. I found your sources on MOOCs very interesting and informative Teresa. Daphne Koller made some very compelling arguments advocating for MOOCs specially in areas of socioeconomic disparity. Koller had me thinking globally and locally about the reach MOOCs can have. MOOCs appear to be used most often in advanced education, but in looking at educational disparity among First Nation students at the high school level in Alberta, an opportunity presents itself. High school drop out rates are twice as high within First Nations communities than all other demographic groups of Alberta learners. High school completion rates are also lower than other students learning in this Province, and remain some of the lowest in the country Much of this has said to be attributed to the negative relationships that these students and their ancestors have had with residential schooling. The school as an institution has created a very uncomfortable learning environment. So much so, that many students refuse to attend. Strategies for improving high school completion rates for First Nations peoples are listed in the Alberta School Board Perspectives on Improving High School Completion Rates ( The first strategy listed is program variety, flexibility and choice (page 4). An alternative learning environment, self paced learning, peer support, are all factors that Koller mentions that could be instrumental in as a strategy by our own government to restore a more positive educational experience for our First Nations community.

    Koller's insights may have a "humanitarian" and community building bias, but it resonates with action that should be taken. Opportunities for advanced education are elitist as we see tuition rates across Canada rising (, and our own tuition costs at the U of A are set to hike up another 2.15% ( while post secondary institutions face shortfalls in government funding. Even in our well off economic climate, opportunities will not reach all deserving students in our communities.

    Looking at MOOCs as opportunities in advanced education for developing countries is an excellent response to issues of global disparity in education. It's a shame that we have not moved into the 21st century with a mandate for education as a human right. The continent of Africa is at a tremendous deficit to the western world in meeting basic needs. Yet, as Rheingold mentions one in eight Africans have a cell phone. Applications for technology in Africa appear to be growing. MOOCs may present a real opportunity to increase the quality of life for people in Africa using devices like cell phones, and in effect create self sustainability.

    Shirkey also makes some great arguments in favor of MOOCs. In light of tuition increases without a ceiling, and students desires to participate in advanced education, not to mention a degree or certificate as the the current standard in employment, MOOCs do seem like a reasonable solution. Although he does have a strong bias favoring MOOCs, he attempts to address the concerns I have. The questions Shirkey asks about "teaching complex thinking skills", and "subsidizing the professor's work" are good ones. Shouldn't education at this level be discriminating in some way? Will institutions like Udacity provide a comparable quality of education if delivered exclusively on line? Interesting argument that he presents in saying that most classes in current institutions are taught by T.A.'s, with good lectures at a premium, and large reading lists. The benefit of MOOCs could come in the ability to replay a great lecture online in the future, perhaps even publish it. MOOCs do appear to be reasonable when stacking both sides up. In light of it all, the endorsement from schools like MIT, and Stanford are pretty good for me.

  4. Gail, your comments on first nations completion stats and the continuing fall out of residential schools is so interesting. Sometimes I think our traditional school system is like trying to jam a round peg into a square hole for many learners. The current educational system was created for a different time using a different set of technologies.

    One thing I have noticed with our MACT courses is that they disappear after a set time frame, so you loose the site as a resource of collective learning. I don’t like that. I would like to see online courses, and the communities that gather on and around them not be subjected to artificial completion dates. Not all students can or want to take a course in 6, 8 or 15 weeks. Moocs empower participants to learn and collaborate, some people need to take longer than others –why should there be an artificially imposed time frame? Take the course online, work through it at your own pace, finish it when you can and be forever connected to the material you learned with and created for yourself and the others in the class. The opportunities moocs present are exciting. I want Shirky, Rheingold, and Jenkin’s to facilitate a mooc! Where do I sign up?