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MOOC

Education & Technology in an Age of Pandemics (revisited)

Michael Trucano's picture
consider this picture
MOOCs -- massively open online courses of the sort that can simultaneously enroll thousands, even tens of thousands, of learners simultaneously -- have been a hot topic of discussion for a few years now in both the worlds of education and 'international development' (and, for what it's worth, the subject of numerous related posts here on the World Bank's EduTech blog). Recent news that edX, one of the prominent MOOC platforms, is to start offering courses aimed at high school students suggests that the potential usefulness and impact of things like MOOCs may soon extend beyond the realm of higher education, out of which MOOCs originally emerged and where most related activity has occurred to date.
 
There is much (potentially) to be excited about here. Few would argue against having greater access to more learning opportunities, especially when those opportunities are offered for 'free', where there is latent unmet demand, and where the opportunities themselves are well constructed and offer real value for learners. As with MOOCs at the level of higher education, however, we perhaps shouldn't be too surprised if these new opportunities at the high school level are first seized upon *not* by some of the groups with the greatest learning needs -- for example, students in overcrowded, poorly resourced secondary schools in developing countries, or even students who would like a secondary education, but for a variety of reasons aren't able to receive one -- but rather by those best placed to take advantage of them. This has been largely been the case for initial adopters of MOOCs. (One of the first studies of this aspect of the 'MOOC Phenomenon', which looked at MOOCs from the University of Pennsylvania, found that students tended to be "young, well educated, and employed, with a majority from developed countries.")
 
As a practical matter, some of the first types of beneficiaries may, for example (and I am just speculating here), be homeschooling families in North America (while not necessarily comparatively 'rich' by local standards, such families need to be affluent enough to be able to afford to have one parent stay at home with the kids, and generally have pretty good Internet connectivity); international schools around the world (which can offer a broader range of courses to students interested in an 'American' education); and the families of 'foreign' students looking to apply to college in the United States (the edX course “COL101x: The Road to Selective College Admissions” looks, at least to my eyes, tailor made for certain segments of the population of learners in places like China, Korea, Hong Kong, etc.). In other words, at least in the near term, a Matthew Effect in Educational Technology may be apparent, where those who are best placed to benefit from the introduction of a new technology tool or innovation are the ones who indeed benefit from it the most.
 
Longer term, though, it is possible to view this news about movement of a major MOOC platform into the area of secondary education as one further indication that we are getting further along from the 'front end of the e-learning wave' (of which MOOCs are but one part) to something that will eventually have a greater mass impact beyond what is happening now in the 'rich' countries of North America and the OECD.
 
Learning with new technologies has of course been around for many decades but, broadly speaking, has not (yet) had the 'transformational' impact that has long been promised. "Gradually, then suddenly" is how one of Ernest Hemingway's characters famously describes how he went bankrupt. Might this be how the large scale adoption of educational technologies will eventually happen as well in much of the world?
 
I
black swan
black swan
f so, one credible potential tipping point may be a 'black swan' event that could push all of this stuff into the mainstream, especially in places where it to date has been largely peripheral: some sort of major health-related scare. (For those unfamiliar with the term, which was popularized by Nicholas Taleb, a 'black swan' is a rare event that people don't anticipate but which has profound consequences). One of the first ever posts on the EduTech blog, Education & Technology in an Age of Pandemics, looked at some of what had been learned about how teachers and learners use new technologies to adapt when schools were closed in response to outbreaks involving the H1N1 influenza virus: the 'swine flu' that afflicted many in Mexico about six years ago; and an earlier outbreak of 'bird flu' in China. I have recently been fielding many calls as a result of the current outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa asking essentially, 'Can we do anything with technology to help our students while our schools are closed?', and so I thought it might be useful to revisit, and update, that earlier post, in case doing so might be a useful contribution to a number of related discussions are occurring.
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Managing Risk for Development – Through a New World Bank MOOC

Sheila Jagannathan's picture

In the past two decades while the world has experienced global integration, technological innovation, and economic reforms, there has also been financial turbulence and continuing environmental damage. As the world changes, a host of opportunities are constantly arising, and with them, appear risks both new and familiar.  These risks range from the possibility of job loss and disease, to the potential for social unrest and natural disasters. This is the topic of a new World Bank Group MOOC illustrating how risk management can be used as a tool for development by helping to minimize crises but also unlocking important opportunities.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

The Transformative Impact of Data and Communication on Governance
Brookings Institution
How do improvements in information and communication technology (ICT) effect governance? Many have studied the role of the Internet in governance by state institutions.  Others have researched how technology changes the way citizens make demands on governments and corporations.  A third area concerns the use of technology in countries where the government is weak or altogether missing. In this case technology can fill, if only partially, the governance vacuum created by a fragile state.

Can Facebook’s Massive Courses Improve Education For Developing Nations?
TechCrunch
Facebook is on a mission to prove that social media-empowered education can help some of the poorest nations on Earth. It recently announced a big industry and Ivy League alliance to bring experimental educational software to Rwanda, providing Internet access and world-class instructional resources to their country’s eager students. However, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) aren’t yet proven to work at scale even in the most well-resourced nations, let alone in a country with uneven access to technology and arguably limited educational opportunities. We took a look at what experts and evidence had to say about the prospects of Facebook’s education project.

A 19,000-Strong Global Classroom Learns About Climate Change

Donna Barne's picture

If you’re thirsty for knowledge about important global development topics like climate change, you’re not alone.  More than 19,000 people signed up for the World Bank’s free online course, Turn Down the Heat –a virtual guided tour of a World Bank- commissioned report by the Potsdam Institute and Climate Analytics on the likely impacts of a warming Earth.  

MIT Climate Co Lab Tweet

The four-week Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) began Jan. 27 and  just wrapped up.  It featured interactive video talks by renowned climate scientists and practitioners, Google hangouts with international experts, discussion forums and social media collaboration via #wbheat on Twitter.  

Scaling up Development: Learning Innovations and the Open Learning Campus

Abha Joshi-Ghani's picture

Learning is a key accelerator for development. In fact, knowledge and learning are intricately connected. As a global development institution, we produce world class knowledge on development issues. However, the impact of this knowledge can only be fully realized when we transform it into learning for our development partners, practitioners, policy makers, our staff and, in fact, the public at large. Barely two percent of our knowledge products get translated into bite-sized practical learning.

Today, we are seeing a revolution in education and learning. Digital and on-line learning is helping us to scale up and reach thousands of people who are eager to learn and apply new knowledge and continue their learning as they progress through their careers, face new challenges, and acquire new competencies. This outreach and democratization of learning takes on greater importance as we endeavor to provide the best possible solutions for vexing development problems.  Learning today is thankfully not a matter of sitting in a class room and listening to a lecture. It is available to us at our fingertips, just-in-time, and conveniently sized to our needs.

Thousands Join the MOOC on Climate Change

Peter Schierl's picture

 

More than 10,000 people from around the world have already signed up for the World Bank Group’s first MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) on climate change, an initiative that appears to be tapping into a younger-than-usual audience than our e-courses usually get.

We’ve been excited to see this participant data because we know that for the world to effectively be able to address climate change, young people must be well-informed and engaged. We’re also pleased that most people who registered so far come from developing nations – and that many are joining an e-course for the first time.

The MOOC course, titled Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided, is based on a recent research report with the same name that the Bank commissioned from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

The course kicks off Monday, January 27, and will be delivered on an online platform hosted by Coursera, an education company that partners with top universities and organizations to offer courses for free.

All About A MOOC (Not A Moose)

Maya Brahmam's picture

Well, it’s finally happening. The World Bank Institute is launching its first MOOC on climate change on January 27, 2014 on the Coursera platform. I still remember when we first talked about MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), colleagues wondered what they were. MOOC sounds like “Mook,” which means a foolish, insignificant, or contemptible person –not the same thing at all!

MOOCs are a way for many people to have access to knowledge – democratizing knowledge, if you will. According to a Short History of MOOCs and Distance Learning, the first MOOC was launched in 2008. It was on ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge/2008’ (CCK8) and was created by educators Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Based on a credit course at the University of Manitoba, Canada, this was the first class designed  as a ‘MOOC’ and used many different platforms to engage students with the topic, including Facebook groups, Wiki pages, blogs, forums and other resources. Around 2,200 people signed up for CCK08, and 170 of them created their own blogs. The course was free and open, which meant that anyone could join, modify or remix the content without paying (although a paid, certified option was offered).

More about MOOCs and developing countries

Michael Trucano's picture
an award-winning mooc(ow), as Joyce might say
an award-winning mooc(ow), as Joyce might say

The New York Times famously labeled 2012 the 'year of the MOOC', acknowledging the attention and excitement generated by a few high profile 'massive open online courses' which enrolled tens of thousands of students from all of the world to participate in offerings from a few elite universities in the United States.

What might 2014 bring for MOOCs, especially as might relate to situations and circumstances in so-called ‘developing countries’?

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It may be hard for some in North America to believe, given the near saturation coverage in some English language web sites that focus on higher education and in certain thematically-linked corners of the English-language blogosphere, but the 'MOOC' phenomenon is only just now starting to register with many educational policymakers in middle and low income countries around the world. While many MOOCs have (from the start, and increasingly) attracted students from all over the world, at the policy level, 'MOOCs' have not – at least in my experience during the course of my work at the World Bank on education and technology issues -- been a topic much discussed by our counterparts in ministries of higher education and universities. Yes, one does see the occasional bullet point in a PowerPoint presentation towards the end of an institutional planning meeting, but my impression is that this can often be as much a reflection of the speaker’s desire to project a familiarity with emerging buzzwords as it is a reflection of any sustained strategic or practical consideration of the potential relevance (or threat) of MOOCs to traditional practices in higher education outside of ‘rich’ countries.

More than a few commenters in North America have invoked the Technology Hype Cycle (a concept developed and popularized by Gartner to represent the maturity, adoption and social application of certain technologies, and their application) when proclaiming that MOOCs have now past a 'peak of inflated expectations' to enter a period known as the 'trough of disillusionment' as a result of things like the recent change of course or ‘pivot’ of Udacity, one of the leading MOOC platform providers.

riding the hype curve ...While this assessment of the state of maturity/adoption may or may not be true from a North American perspective, and even if we concede that technology hype cycles are being compressed (it took Second Life and other ‘virtual worlds’, another recent notable educational technology phenomenon, three times as long to move from a period of great hype in educational circles to one of ‘disillusion’), such commenters may often neglect to consider that many hype cycles can exist simultaneously for the same technology or technology-enabled approach or service, depending on where you might find yourself in the world.

While perhaps unsure of the extent to which MOOCs represent a 'threat' to existing educational practices, a new avenue for higher education, or perhaps something else entirely, I agree with people who say that the reports of the death of the MOOC are highly exaggerated. Roy Amara, the longtime president of the Institute for the Future, famously remarked that "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." I would not be surprised if this holds for many of the trends that we, as a matter of convenience, and correctly or not, group together under the general heading of ‘MOOCs’ today.

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In my personal experience working at the World Bank on projects at the intersection of technology and education sectors, and when in discussions in many similar sorts of international organizations, ‘MOOCs’ are, generally speaking, still not a hot topic of consideration for educational policymakers in most middle and low income countries. That said, they are starting to gain increasing mindshare in some places. At the very least, they are generating some real confusion (and where there is confusion, there is potentially opportunity as well, for better and for worse).

As a result, many folks in the international donor community are now beginning to ask themselves questions like:

• How can, or should, we be talking about MOOCs when speaking with our counterparts in government around the world?
• What are the real, practical opportunities to consider in the short and medium term?
• Where, and how, might education ministries and universities wish to engage with related issues -- and what role (if any) should organizations like the World Bank play in this process of engagement?

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Debating MOOCs

Michael Trucano's picture
MOOOOOOOCs
MOOOOOOOCs

Three recent posts on MOOCs (MOOCs in Africa, Making Sense of MOOCs -- A Reading List & Missing Perspectives on MOOCs -- Views from developing countries) have generated a large amount of traffic and 'buzz' over the past week on the EduTech blog, and so we thought we'd interrupt our normal Friday publishing schedule to bring you one more.

Over the past month, the EduTech Debate site has been featuring posts and comments from authors exploring various issues and opportunities presented by the phenomenon of so-called Massive Online Open Courses. While perhaps it hasn't been a 'debate' per se, it has featured responses and reactions from the authors to each other's posts, and I thought I'd quickly highlight the conversation that has been occurring over there, in case you may have missed it and doing so might be useful.


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