University

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.Dar es Salaam: not enough software engineers

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.

Seacom Cable supplies Tanzania with high speed internet (submarine)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.

 

 

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American journalist and author A.J. Jacobs is mostly known for putting himself through bizarre self-experiments. Jacobs spent a year living according to biblical rules and tried to become the smartest or healthiest person alive over the span of just a year. He also tried to outsource his whole life to his personal assistant in India, including marital disputes and reading bedtime stories to his children.

For his newest project the stunt journalist spent the last few months experimenting with eleven MOOCs at the same time.  He’s presenting the conclusion of his research on MOOCs in the New York Times article „Two Cheers for Web U!“.

Jacobs talks about Charles Darwin dolls, discussing economic inequality with Brazilian businessmen and a Japanese plan to assassinate movie star Charles Chaplin. The one thing he liked most about his classes, ranging from genetics over philosophy to cosmology: convenience and the option to tailor MOOCs to his learning behavior.

In keeping with the theme of higher education, Jacobs grades the MOOCs and their different aspects. The overall MOOC experience gets a B+ from Jacobs and he’s glad that he attended the courses. The advantages of MOOCS are obvious to him: They offer easy access to difficult topics and a convenient way for self-improvement and learning something new. And, to be able to take Harvard courses even if your home is in Senegal.   

What he didn’t like about the courses: The difficulty in American MOOCs to communicate with professors, who have to take care of thousands of students with just a small team. His advice: never try to become friends with the professor on Facebook.

Here at iversity, we agree that good communication between students and lecturers is one of the most important factors for a successful MOOC. Because of this, teacher-to-student communication is among the criteria for the jury of the MOOC Fellowship in evaluating the courses and awarding the fellowship.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of MOOCS and curious to make your own experiences, you can soon pre-enroll on iversity in the courses of the winners of the MOOC Fellowship. And if you’re interested in more of Jacobs work you can listen to him talk about his self-experiments on NPR.

 

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By Anna Meixler

 

Access to classroom learning is far from universal, and even those enrolled in formal educational institutions may be hungering for greater, more convenient learning opportunities. In fact, the most heavily cited reason that students take MOOCs, according to a February 2013 Coursera report on their Bioelectricity MOOC from Duke University, is to satisfy intellectual hunger. The desire to extend existing knowledge on certain topics is cited as the second most likely cause for engagement, and professional development as the third.

This academic curiosity is universal. According to the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, its MOOC with only 2,000 students encompassed 109 different countries. Students represent countries with vastly different political and socioeconomic conditions, interacting with individuals internationally through MOOC discussion forums as previous generations had not. The 687 participants from the United States had the opportunity to correspond with students from Egypt, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Educational discourse may eventually bridge conflict and unite citizens between states with historically tense relationships.

These are not only university students, but also adults and working professionals representing a variety of fields, contributing unique perspectives. Many courses consist of students who hold less than a four-year degree along with students who have Bachelors degrees, and students with even more advanced degrees.

MOOCs uniquely offer students a way to explore their interests and expand their knowledge at a university level, without having to apply to or meet the requirements for attending a standard university. In this way, MOOCs provide high-quality educational experiences, without hefty price tags, rigid time commitments, or exclusive acceptance rates. They also allow students to select the learning experience most productive and best suited to their abilities and preferences, which may surprise those who think MOOCs are impersonal. Students choose MOOCs based on their levels of difficulty, and can study class material at their own paces, based on their schedules and learning needs.

This new educational frontier requires flexibility in leadership and participation. Many MOOCs are still in trial-and-error stages, necessary for their eventual success. Like in any higher-learning construct, teachers, and students must interact dynamically to fully reap the unique benefits that MOOCs offer. Professors and students are testing the waters with MOOCs, partaking in the educational experiment of the twenty-first century. In so doing, participants promote innovation in teaching and learning, enhancing global knowledge and satisfying scholarly interests.

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Applications for the first MOOC Production Fellowship closed on April 30. The results are in: with over 250 qualified applicants, this was the most popular competition for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in Europe to date. Professors from over 20 countries applied, with 190 from Germany and 14 from both the United States and Italy. They’re competing for 250.000€ grants (about $320,000) from Stifterverband, a public trust for science in Germany, and us at iversity, to produce one of ten online courses. Furthermore, we as a European MOOCs provider, grant them technological and didactical support throughout course production.

The grants are comparatively high, given previous private initiatives in Germany. But, as our CEO Markus Riecke says, “This competition is not about money. Instead, our fellowship programme is all about advancing online education. And the inquiries show a demand for MOOCs among university instructors in Europe and across the world that is way beyond expectations. Together with Stifterverband, iversity is committed to produce exciting and inspiring courses that are open to everyone.”

This project isn't exclusive to Europe and the US. Professors from countries as varied as China, New Zealand and Columbia are competing for fellowships; many come from esteemed research universities such as the University of California at Berkeley, Columbia, Cambridge, LMU and TU Munich, Heidelberg, Tübingen, Freie and Humboldt Universität Berlin and RWTH Aachen.

"iversity is committed to prMarkus Riecke, CEO of iversityoduce exciting and
inspiring courses that are open to everyone.”

Markus Riecke, CEO of iversity

Submissions from American Ivy League universities, Britain’s most renowned colleges, and German “Eliteuniversitäten” were expected, as these universities often pioneer MOOC development. Surprisingly, some of the most intellectually stimulating courses, however, were submitted by professors and lecturers from less well-known institutions.

Hannes Klöpper, one of the fellowship programme’s initiators at iversity, explains, “MOOCs provide an excellent opportunity for outstanding scholars and enthusiastic teachers, who, for whatever reason, do not teach at one of the elite universities to reach a global audience.
MOOCs not only allow for students to participate in courses, no matter where they live, but also for instructors to teach independently of where they happen to be located.“ The proposed online courses are even more diverse than the academic backgrounds of potential fellows from which they stem. About a third of the applications focus on law, economics, business studies and social sciences, a third are interdisciplinary courses, and about one sixth teach STEM subjects.

English may be today's language of science. But among the applicants from Europe, German prooved to be still a very popular language for MOOCs: 115 of the applications for a MOOC Fellowship are in German, and 109 are in English. Roughly 10% of the the courses that are presented for a fellowship-grant by iversity and Stifterverband are bi-lingual. And two percent of the suggested MOOCs are even multi-lingual, meaning that they would be taught in more than two languages.

Ten of these courses will be chosen by online public votes and a jury of MOOC experts.

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