• Love to Learn. Online.

    Love to Learn. Online.

In the year 1776, on a warm but cloudy 4th of July, the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence after a long struggle with the Kingdom of Great Britain, the then-ruling colonial power. The Committee of Five, consisting of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson among others, had spent weeks drafting the declaration before presenting it to Congress and produced one of the most important documents in modern times.

Freedom
(Photo: Martin Burns)

The signing of the declaration meant a decisive step towards a free nation and is still widely celebrated as Independence Day. It is the most important national holidays in the United States and stands as an important symbol for a nation that holds liberty and democracy as the most important values of all.

But a democracy can’t be built overnight: it still took the young nation more than 10 years until the Federal Government was formed and George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the United States in 1789. Naturally, things happen a lot faster now in the internet age than during the time of the Founding Fathers.

Just like the United States began their journey towards freedom and liberty back then, it is now higher education that is becoming more democratic. Massive Open Online Courses offer education for everybody: accessible from every place in the world, with modern didactics that meet individual student’s needs and without high entry requirements that are unsurmountable for many. The internet makes all of this possible. Within 8 years, the number of internet users in the world rose from roughly 1 billion to 2.8 billion, more than one third of the world’s population. With so many people connected to the internet, it is time to bring education into the digital age as well – because we think that MOOCs will bring about an unprecedent transformation of higher education and will without doubt change many people’s lives for the better. We look forward to your thoughts on the democratisation of higher education!

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Fellows at Work (Photo: David Ausserhofer)

iversity's MOOC Kick-Off Workshop in Berlin began last Thursday with a motivating speech from Dr. Volker Meyer-Guckel, Deputy Secretary General of the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft. “Together, we are exploring new frontiers of higher education,” he said, welcoming the fellows who journeyed to Berlin from as far as Madrid and Southern Italy.

The workshop continued as fellows presented their course concepts. Their plans encompass a great breadth of academic topics, reflecting the fellows’ backgrounds as diverse as law and social sciences, finance, math and medicine. Our staff at iversity then helped fellows detail their plans, counseling them on an array of topics. We worked on MOOC basics and gave practical production advise, as well as tips for managing and maintaining student engagement and successfully marketing courses.

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Panel Discussion at MOOC Production Fellowship

Award Ceremony (Photo: David Ausserhofer)

On Thursday evening, iversity and the Stifterverband welcomed distinguished guests from academia, business and politics for the award ceremony of the MOOC Production Fellowship. State Secretary Dr. Georg Schütte of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research began the evening by assessing the future of today’s universities. “Revolution or evolution?”, he argues, was the wrong question to pose about the transformation of higher education. Instead, he invited the audience to partake in this process by asking whether to “shape the transformation, or merely react to it.”

A panel discussion of “Higher Education in the Digital Age” followed, during which Dr. Thomas Kathöfer, Secretary General of the German Rector’s Conference, Dr. Jörg Dräger, Member of the Executive Board of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, and two of the fellows, Prof. Dr. Christoph Hermann with his MOOC "The European Union in Global Governance" and Prof. Dr. Christian Spannagel with his MOOC on Mathematical Thinking discussed the opportunities and drawbacks of MOOCs for universities. Their opinions were both optimistic about and sceptical of MOOC impacts, but the panel agreed that MOOCs are here to stay, and universities must integrate them into their academic programming.

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MOOC Production Fellows (Photo: David Ausserhofer)

During the workshop’s second day, fellows worked together extensively. In small groups, they discussed course creation, challenges faced, student recruitment, class forums, and the visual aids their MOOCs will employ. They refined their courses and concretely strategized their marketing. Fellows were extensively coached by iversity staff, and experts such as Prof. Dr. Jörn Loviscach and Prof. Dr. Sandra Hofhues. As the fellows worked on their projects, they also “established community along with MOOC courses,” said iversity co-founder Hannes Klöpper. The workshop closed as fellows presented their updated course concepts.

Throughout the workshop, participants got to know one another as they networked, discussing their lives and academic pursuits. Over coffee, meals, and downtime in Pariser Platz, they shared stories and similarities. In just two days, iversity fellows invigorated and amplified their courses with new ideas from other fellows, with the strategic and didactic feedback needed from iversity experts and our partners. Fellows are now working to produce their MOOCs, and we look forward to supporting and guiding them throughout this next stage in producing their courses. Beginning this autumn, the first MOOCs on iversity will be launched. See all our courses here.

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moocfellowshipworkshop

iversity is buzzing with creative collaboration and intellectual exchange about new MOOCs. Today, the kick-off workshop is in full swing. Our MOOC Fellowship winners and their teams are currently convening at the Stifterverband office in Berlin, amongst others with our Italian Design 101 team completing their road trip (check @stefi_idlab for some hilarious en-route updates).

The workshop marks the beginning of the production phase of ten new, unique MOOCs. As iversity plans how to best offer higher education in the digital age, fellows are forming a community and together shaping, revising, and solidifying their course concepts.

Together, they will “revolutionize how we use the Internet,” said iversity CEO Marcus Riecke as he welcomed our professors. iversity is orienting our fellowship teams, outlining how MOOCs work, the support their iversity partnerships provide, and different ways to teach and assess online and attract students to courses.

The fellows, however, take center stage, sharing their course components and higher education ideas- and their razor-sharp intellect over shared meals and downtime. 

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Though MOOCs are offered in a wide range of disciplines, satisfying curious intellectuals and skill-seekers, most online courses exist in science, math, and technology. But organisations like iversity and institutions like Wesleyan University (the first liberal arts institution to launch MOOCs) are producing courses in the humanities as well. iversity spoke to Professor Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, Wesleyan’s first Distinguished Teaching Fellow, Jane A. Seney Professor of Greek and Professor of Classical Studies, whose MOOC “The Ancient Greeks” ran this fall and spring.

iversity: What was your personal approach to teaching a MOOC, and how might it differ from those instructing in science or math?

Szegedy-Maszak: With courses like organic chemistry or subatomic physics, what one needs to teach may be clear. But in a humanities course, there is greater flexibility in selecting topics, determining their depth, and assigning readings.

“I worked to allow for complexity, ambiguity, and ignorance”

Professor Andrew Szegedy-Maszak

(Courtesy of Olivia Drake)

I received advice for my course from Professor Peter T. Struck, Associate Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, who taught a successful 10-week MOOC on Classic Mythology. He said he wished his course was shorter; I therefore made mine 7 weeks long. I did so for two reasons. The first constricted the effort involved in making the MOOC, which was hundreds of hours of prep. I also shortened my course to retain student interest. There is a downward slope in engagement from the first to last weeks of courses.

I gave 6 lectures per week, which cover the earliest Greek civilization to the death of Socrates. Deciding on these topics was, in some ways, arbitrary. I chose to teach a survey-style class. The Archaic Age, for example, receives scholarly attention. I could’ve done a course on just that period, or concentrated entirely on the Athenians. But I thought it’d be more useful to give students a broader historical perspective and introduce the sense of a wider Greek world. I taught what students are likely looking for, working in allusions to today’s research, because Greek history keeps changing. I wanted to suggest to my audience that I wasn’t teaching your grandfather’s Greek history class.

The origins of Greece: golden “Mask of Agamemnon”. Bronze Age.

National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Courtesy PD

iversity: Your MOOC assigns no papers, grades, or final assessment. How do you keep students engaged and focused? Is passion alone enough, and is it specific to humanities courses?

Szegedy-Maszak: For most students, Greek history is a subject they’re interested in and wanted to learn more about. I assign blunt, evaluative weekly questions to ensure they stay on track. These quizzes enable people who want them to get statements of accomplishment. Some students requested a tougher final examination, and a statement of accomplishment with distinction for those who do well on it. When the course is offered again on September 2, I may include a final to up the ante.

iversity: In your lectures, you don’t read from a script, as many MOOC instructors do.

Szegedy-Maszak: That’s similar to how I teach my classes at Wesleyan. I’ve been teaching this material for a long time, and know it well. I instead make a list of key topics to cover during each lecture. My MOOC doesn’t use textbook readings, also like my Wesleyan courses. All readings are primary sources in translation. The value of this particular subject [Greek history] lies in hearing the voices of long ago. It gives students a sense of what we, modern historians, deal with when reconstructing past narratives.

An unavoidable factor in teaching online is the amount of compression required, hitting only the subject’s high points. A friend said to “leave a lot out to get it all in,” my operating principle. My lectures at Wesleyan are 80 minutes, and these were from 12-20. Though I left a lot out, I felt a responsibility to the material and students not to dumb it down. I worked to allow for complexity, ambiguity, and ignorance, as there’s a lot we still don’t know about Greek history.  

Bust of Socrates. His death concludes the MOOC.

Rome, Vatican Museum

Courtesy of Wilson Delgado

Interview for iversity by Anna Meixler

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The jury has selected MOOC Fellowship Competition winners from more than 250 submitted course concepts. The winning courses cover a diverse variety of scientific disciplines: from media studies to arithmetics, from medicine to agricultural science. 

The result of the preceding MOOC voting was one of the factors in deciding the winners. “It was important to us that that actual skills are taught in the courses and that the instructors use the new capabilities the web offers,” says Dr. Volker Meyer-Guckel, secretary-general of the Stifterverband and head of the MOOC Fellowship Competition jury

design101

 

Design 101  is one of the  winning courses 

Production of the MOOCs will be the next step for the winners. iversity and the Stifterverband will not only support the professors and teams with the grant money of 25 000 Euros (33 000 USD), but will also give technical advice and advise the winners individually on how to produce a MOOC.

“We are amazed by the diversity of the topics and are looking forward to seeing the concepts become excellent online courses. I believe that, together with the Stifterverband, we’ve proven that online education and MOOCs will be a significant force in the future of higher education on this side of the Atlantic as well”, says Marcus Riecke, CEO of iversity. 

iversity warmly congratulates the winners of the MOOC Fellowship. We are looking forward to meeting the Fellows during our workshop in Berlin.

The winning entries can be found on iversity.org

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