Watch Stephen Colbert’s interview with Anant Agarwal, President of edX on last week’s episode of The Colbert Report. Colbert, America's most grandiose television host, comedian, and political satirist grills Agarwal on the merits of MOOCs, which Agarwal explains. The audience also seemed supportive of MOOCs, cheering loudly when, after Colbert asked, “what’s it [a MOOC] cost me?” Agarwal reveals “it’s free.”
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.
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
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.
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
For most visitors the African country of Tanzania means wildlife. Range Rovers, packed with tourists, guides and drivers, the latter often students from Dar es Salaam, gather in endless queues at the entrance of Ngorongoro with its rhinos, lions and elephants. Some tourists visit the historical Stone Town on the island of Zanzibar afterwards or combine dolphin watching with a taste of Mvita Ali’s incredible seafood buffet on a sandbank at Kizimkazi.
But virtually no one takes much time to voluntarily visit Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s busy trade hub at the coast with its 3 or maybe 4 million inhabitants. The port city is big, loud and not exactly the most beautiful harbor town at the Indian Ocean. While most tourists avoid the city, businessmen do not. A lot of European, American and especially Chinese companies are located in Dar es Salaam. Entrepreneurs from India and the Middle East add to the business community. Banking and financial services like micro-finance, mobile communication, logistics and other businesses thrive and grow comparably much faster than in Europe and even many parts of Asia.
Dar es Salaam: not enough software engineers
The bottleneck for this growth is education. A lack of technically skilled workers leads to open positions across corporations in Tanzania. Without more graduates, degree holders and skilled specialists for IT, risk management or actuarial science, the economical capital of Tanzania can’t compete with the West, China or other African nations like Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
Dar es Salaam houses seven universities, among them the Open University of Tanzania and the International Medical and Technological University. The quality of these universities is under dispute though. Even the best one, the University of Dar es Salaam ranks among the worst universities worldwide in terms of research and scientific excellence. As well, these universities do not offer enough study courses in Information and communications technology (ICT) that are in high demand now. And higher education at a university is not available for everyone in a country that is as poor as Tanzania.
Internet connections in Tanzania are comparably good though, given that Dar es Salaam is a landing point of the submarine high-speed Seacom cable, connecting it directly with Mumbai and Marseille.
So, one plausible approach to tackle the issue of higher education is by MOOCs. That is why the World Bank sets up pilot projects for IT and ICT education in Sub-Sahara Africa as a part of their “New Economy Skills for Africa Program – ICT” or short: NESAP-ICT.
In Tanzania, the World Bank designated Dar es Salam as a knowledge hub for SMART skills – SMART being an abbreviation for Software, Mobile Applications, Research and Technology. The next step was to define the critical success factors for a MOOC about IT in Tanzania, like a real impact on employment chances or the need to get credits.
MOOCs are possible: Seacom Cable
(here: undersea near Zanzibar) supplies Tanzania with high speed internet
The Washington-based World Bank choose an American company, Coursera, as its partner, not a MOOC-provider from the EMEA-region like iversity. Together with its partner, the World Bank will design the MOOC over the summer of 2013. Starting MOOCs in East-Africa might have another preferable effect: stopping the brain-drain from Tanzanian students to Europe and America, where they often stay after graduation.
What the World Bank's EduTech blog article about MOOCs in Afrrica does not mention: the opportunity to take courses outside the “knowledge hub”, to take part in a MOOC anywhere in Tanzania. A huge advantage in a country where many of the most gifted young women and men work at least part-time or for some months outside the commercial capital in the tourism regions to make a living. Especially in a country like Tanzania it makes sense to reach out for prospective students where they are today, not where universities are located for historical reasons. Thus MOOCs can make a difference in developing Tanzania’s economic future.