Most MOOC courses, iversity’s included, are quantitative. But humanities departments are adapting curricula to online platforms, a less intuitive medium for teaching subjective material. 

We look to the thirty-three thousand-student Coursera class “Modern & Contemporary American Poetry”, as a successful example. Its assignments are similar to those in a traditional university, with students close-reading texts then analyzing them. Students then post feedback to essays uploaded on forums. Since students don’t know one another, they comment purely on essay content, a benefit of teaching humanities online. 

However, distinctive challenges arise. When students so vastly different from one another critique each other’s work, meaning may be lost in translation and across culture gaps. Afghan students can now not only access high-quality education, but also provide feedback for Canadian and American students. But geography may hinder these reviews, gaps that, in our ever-globalizing world, may eventually narrow. Peer-to-peer review certainly has its shortcomings, but is a more natural way to assess humanities students than multiple-choice testing. Such testing, typical of MOOC courses, does not lend itself well to the subjective matter and creative interpretations inherent in humanities courses.

The Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania. By Bruce Andersen, via Wikimedia CommonsThough students in “Modern & Contemporary American Poetry” cannot sip tea and converse at the University of Pennsylvania Kelly Writer’s House, they can study under its founder, Al Filreis, an opportunity once afforded to only a privileged few. Filreis made this MOOC not technically perfect but evocative of a certain culture, featuring a tour of the Kelly Writer’s House on a personal camcorder. He sheds the standard MOOC lecture model, opting for live webcasting and discussions, replicating the informal group conversations had at Penn. As MOOCs take root, professors enliven their courses and adapt them to different teaching styles, expanding humanities offerings. iversity will offer many MOOCs that don’t fit the typical quantitative model – keep an eye out for our Design 101 and Future of Storytelling MOOCs.

by Anna Meixler

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by Stefano Mirti

Aldous Huxley says: “I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.” By the way, a similar concept was expressed by Leo Tolstoy some hundred years before (much earlier and in a sharper way): “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” I wanted to change the world

Let’s forget for a second about this desire of improving/changing the world. Let’s focus on a more reasonable goal: trying to understand the world (or some parts of it). As contemporary geographers explain, it is a quite relevant operation. Everytime we describe something, we are already into “design”. Any analysis is in some extent, a project. To observe and describe the world as a first exercise in order to transform the world in a real and practical way. Description as a tool of alteration: I decide what is described and what is not, and because of my choices things start to happen. Finally, design is foremost an operation of manipulation. To manipulate reality.

First step: describing what is around me. Understanding what is happening around us: mutations, directions, moods. It is like shuffling playing cards, shuffling them always more to invent new games that were never seen before. New relations, often unexpected, new connections able to transform the meaning and the value of the existing world. To modify and stretch coded meanings into new significances.

The world is changing at an impressive speed. In these processes of transformation, a key role is played by the new media (either way digital and/or social). Not to accept this challenge is a possible choice but it automatically condemns to a marginal role. A marginality that becomes cultural, social and – obviously – economical.

Broadly speaking, the “new world” we find ourselves in runs along the lines of the dystopic descriptions narrated by the above mentioned Huxley. It is not an easy world, neither reassuring. Once this has been said, this is the world in which we are, here and now. Most likely, it is the hell of some other planet, but at the same time a very intense and passionate place to be in. Understanding the way new media work becomes a necessary choice. It is not what you say. It is what they say. With a lot of attached implications (generally negative). But it can be fun. A lot of fun.

Stefano Mirti is an architect, designer, teacher etc. etc. He is one of the partners of Id-Lab in Milan, responsible of all the design activities and one of the instructors of iversity's MOOC "Design 101".

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There’s big, concerning news in the realm of higher education in Germany, about which iversity recently published a press release. Germany’s 20 biggest universities will, starting in winter 2013/14, apply a Numerus Clauses to two third of their undergraduate programs, as reported by the „Süddeutsche Zeitung“. Barriers to entry are alarming, but it seems that universities must impose restrictions on registration to maintain class sizes. Universities face increasing numbers of first-year students, many of whom are from other European countries. There are also more high school graduates than ever eager to gain admittance to German universities.

Photo: Bigstock Photos

Without the resources to hire more professors and expand academic departments, traditional universities cannot adequately educate all of the masses who are eager to learn. That’s where MOOCs, and iversity, come in, complementing existing higher education institutions. 

MOOCs have no maximum capacity; they are open to unlimited numbers of students. Hannes Klöpper, co-founder of iversity, emphasises: “We need to see the educational expansion as an opportunity to rethink university teaching. Instead of excluding prospective students by setting high barriers to entry for a growing number of subjects, the universities in Germany should develop MOOCs. Thus, it is possible to keep the quality of education while broadening access to higher education.” 

iversity will offer MOOCs starting this winter semester, in collaboration with universities from Germany and Europe. The  courses are from a wide range of topics, and are relevant to students who both gained university entry, and who unfortunately did not. For those enrolled in universities, MOOCs can supplement their studies. And those who did not receive space at a university don’t have to delay their learning; they can start with iversity courses online. As Klöpper says, “No one will fail to access a MOOC because of a numerus clausus.”

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iversity team member Hans Stiegler once worked as a door-to-door salesman, for a cause. He worked in Netherlands neighborhoods, urging residents to support KWF Kanker Bestrijding, an organization that raises funds for cancer research.

Hans found that knocking on doors and asking individuals for donations was not the most efficient method of progress for his cause. It is unclear how to best tackle social problems and establish sustainable solutions. Social entrepreneurship is an innovative approach that has, in many cases, proven highly effective.

A participant of a community health project organized by the Bangladeshi NGO BRAC. By DFID - UK Department for International Development, via Wikimedia CommonsIn fact, perhaps the largest private aid-giving foundation in the world, the Gates Foundation, combines business and charity. Top American businesspeople including Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet, the foundation’s trustees, support endeavors to improve education and healthcare and stem poverty. They organize their foundation with corporate techniques, into divisions that include grant-making programs, human resources, finance and administration, and public relations and communication. This model for successful social entrepreneurship demonstrates how business models, applied to foundations, can ensure sustainable aid. Such organizational strategies are not only important for large foundations and NGOs like Greenpeace and Amnesty International. Adopting an entrepreneurial approach could also enhance the efficiencies of small nongovernmental organizations and action groups that have fewer resources.

A specialist from NGO FEMA assists residents in Texas. By Mike Moore [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThe focus of social entrepreneurship combines business and nonprofit worlds, creating lasting social change that doesn’t rely on outside donations. Like businesspeople, social entrepreneurs measure revenues, but also record positive social benefits. Social entrepreneurship is often area-specific, addressing the political, social, and environmental needs of communities typically met by nonprofits and volunteers. But, since social entrepreneurship generates revenue, it has the potential to involve workers for the long-term, not just as volunteers.    

Participate in the Changemaker MOOC and apply to fund your project with the YooWeeDoo Ideas Competition 2014.iversity understands that there are many ways to confront injustice. We celebrate different endeavors, and know that the most effective programs are often community-based and self-sustaining. Our Changemaker MOOC: Social Entrepreneurship equips those with projects with the communicative and financial skills to strategize long-lasting programs. To launch these programs, the MOOC is connected to the YooWeeDoo Ideas Competition 2014, through which students apply for seed money to kick-start their ideas from the Changemaker MOOC. Social entrepreneurship represents a wave of long-lasting social progress. The iversity team, including former door-to-door salesman Hans, looks forward to the accomplishments of our MOOC’s social entrepreneurs. 

by Anna Meixler

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by Stefano Mirti

In the English language, the word “design” can be used as a noun. A plan or drawing made to show the appearance and functioning of some kind of object (furniture, building, garment etc.) before it is built or produced.Design is a language

Then of course, “design” can be a verb: “to design”. In this extent we can design a building, an exhibition, a journey, our own life.

The design for a lamp. To design a lamp. A design lamp.

Too many lamps, let’s get back to design.

It could be useful to approach “design” from a different point of view. “Design” as an attitude, “design” as some kind of special glasses to view the world, to view life, to view ourselves. Design as a cognitive pattern to generate new meanings, new relations between existing meaning, modifying our perceptions and understanding.

To achieve this is quite a radical goal, but nonetheless, it is very simple.

It’s a switch. A switch that can be turned on or kept off. If you set it on, you enter another world. And this is what we like the most about “design”: when it takes us into magic realms. Feeling like Alice going through the mirror, entering some kind of fascinating (and spooky) wonderland.

Design is a language. Design as a language, as if it were philosophy or mathematics. As if it were music. Learning to play a musical instrument does not necessarily imply living the life of a professional musician. Learning to play music allows us in first instance to live better, add layers of meaning to our existence.

Design to transform the world, but to transform the world, the first thing to do is to transform ourselves. Are you ready? Then enrol in Design 101 here.

Stefano Mirti is an architect, designer, teacher etc. etc. He is one of the partners of Id-Lab in Milan, responsible of all the design activities and one of the instructors of iversity's MOOC "Design 101".

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