Monday, June 24, 2013

ANU MOOCs for Exploring Education Not Profit

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington,  Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) is reprising her keynote presentation to the THETA conference ‘Navigating the Edge of the World’. Professor Hughes-Warrington started by explaining that as a historian, she could use her skills to get a perspective on on-line education, and MOOCs in particular. When exploring a new territory, the explorers project their own wishes on the unknown.

Professor Hughes-Warrington explained that as a new initiative MOOCs are an exploration, not a business venture for ANU. At the same time she argued that MOOCs have very large numbers of students and so there is potential for this being treated as a startup, which would later earn income.

Professor Hughes-Warrington pointed out that many of those undertaking MOOCs are school students and those with degrees. The MOOC therefore can act as a way to connect with potential students.

Professor Hughes-Warrington discussed how ANU is adapting to on-line education. There are obvious synergies between MOOCs and traditional on-line courses. ANU has been offering on-line and blended courses for many years (I have been running COMP7310 on-line since 2009).

Professor Hughes-Warrington also discussed more flexible evidence based forms of assessment, using e-portfolios. This is particularly applicable, in my view, for postgraduate education.

Professor Hughes-Warrington poitned out ANU has a Course Assessment: Consultation and Finalisation policy. ANU students are required to be consulted about the proposed assessment at the start of a course. The logistics of how to do this with a course having a large number of students is challenging. In my view the ANU policy should be dropped for other reasons: it is unfair on the students. As a student, one of the primary criteria I use to select a course is the assessment. If the assessment is changed after the course starts, then the student is not getting what they signed up for.

One area I suggest need to be explored is to look at education from the point of view of the learner, not the educator. Spending a year as a student of higher education, the most important insight was how hard it was being a student and how administrative problems were so frustrating. One of the advantages of e-learning is that it puts problems with administration out in the open, where hopefully they will be solved.

ANU is taking a cautious approach to MOOCs, as was done with the ANU e-Press. In my view there is a risk that other institutions may over-invest in free on-line courses, with the irrationally exuberant idea that some time soon, somehow, this will make them money. We may be at the beginning of a MOOC bubble which will burst within a year, bankrupting universities and companies, much like the  1990s Dot.COM bubble.

ps: I will be speaking on "MOOCs with Books" in the CSIRO Seminar Room at ANU, 4pm, 8 July 2013.

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