The Business Model for MOOCs

Last week I was at the HEA/SEDA day conference in Birmingham, UK

HEA/SEDA Conference on OER and Staff Development: Open Horizons: Sharing the future

I was there with my colleagues George Roberts, Marion Waite and Liz Lovegrove  because we had a slot in which we shared the work we have done on the FSLT12 MOOC. George has posted his slides to Slideshare.

What is Necessary and what is Contingent in Design for Massive Open Online Courses?

 

You will see that there are a lot of slides (48), but in fact we only got to slide 27 because there was so much interest in the MOOC and so many questions – and of course, so little time for discussion.

However, there was one very interesting, topical and pertinent question, which was,

What was the business model for the FSLT12 MOOC?

And it seems that this question is currently being considered by others on and off the net – see for example the article in The Chronicle of Higher Education

Inside the Coursera Contract: How an Upstart Company Might Profit From Free Courses

It seems that many institutions think about business models in terms of how much money they can make from MOOCs and certainly Oxford Brookes is thinking of accrediting the MOOC and charging for assessment next year.

But I wonder whether it would be better to think of the benefits and strategic advantages of offering MOOCs in non-direct monetary terms.

I was very interested at the conference in the session presented by Melissa Highton on OERs and Staff Development at University of Oxford. In her presentation she talked about the development of OERs – iTunesU – at the University, what this had involved, how lecturers had been encouraged to share their work and the benefits to Oxford University.

Through their iTunesU open lectures (videos and podcasts) Oxford University now has strong links with their alumni and prospective students. iTunesU thus helps the University to meet many of its institutional goals. The iTunesU site effectively markets and broadcasts the high quality teaching practice at the University and provides access to the expertise of Oxford University lecturers and the latest research.  The University has a quick turn around time for creating and uploading videos of lectures and podcast. For example they were able to upload a response to the Higgs boson discovery within 24 hours.

ITunesU also puts Oxford lecturers and researchers in the limelight. A video of a good lecture can get up to 100,000 hits a week and a lecturer can become widely known for his/her work in a matter of years or less, rather than it taking anything up to a lifetime as in the past. This has also had the effect of raising the status of teaching/lecturing in comparison to research.

The situation at Oxford University (and Cambridge) is different to some other institutions – because at Oxford the lecturers own their teaching materials and work, unlike at other Universities where anything produced by a lecturer as part of their work belongs to the institution. So through iTunesU and providing OERs in the name of the academic staff, the University is able to openly market the expertise of its staff. The reward for staff who do this is a high quality resource in their name which is open to the whole world. Both the institution and the lecturers benefit.

Clearly Oxford University must have the money to be able to produce these high quality OERs so quickly, but these resources are open access, clearly licensed through Creative Commons and free.

Whilst iTunesU is not a MOOC, the non-monetary benefits, or non-direct monetary benefits (since attracting increasing numbers of students from across the world will ultimately bring monetary benefits), are probably those that can be gained from running a MOOC.

Perhaps Universities who wish to run MOOCs need to take a fresh look at what they mean by ‘business model’.

Open Educational Resources and Pedagogy

Dave White’s presentation to FSLT12 yesterday included a number of thought-provoking ideas.

In the past I have heard Dave speak a number of times about ‘Visitors and Residents’ in the online environment. You can find out more about this on his TALL blog – Technology Assisted life-long learning – TALL for short  (his joke – not mine :-))

But this week’s talk took a different focus. It centred on the relationship between open educational resources (OERs), open academic practice and changing pedagogy. The title of his talk was even longer than this:

OER: The quality vs credibility vs access vs pedagogy vs legitimacy vs money debate

Click here for the recording of the session.

As Dave pointed out, OERs come in all shapes and sizes and Creative Commons  licensing of these is very important in determining our use of them.  But despite being in all shapes and sizes, we can take the iceberg metaphor and categorise them as

  • those above the water-line, visible, above board, properly licensed – the kind of resources produced by an institution to market itself
  • or those below the water line – where licensing is not so important.

These below the water line resources are easy access , free and easy to remix and repurpose, without much attribution.  This happens a lot below the water line.

Slide 6 - Dave White presentation

(Slide 6 from Dave White’s presentation)

But perhaps the most important point/question raised by Dave is 

What effect has access to OERs, above or below the water line, had on the way we teach and learn?

I remember when MIT first opened access to their educational resources, this was accompanied by a statement to the effect that it was not an issue for them to open their content to the world – because the educational value and quality they provide is not so much in their content, but in their teaching and learning. To get this we have to pay to go to MIT.

So as Dave said, when thinking about OERs we cannot neglect ‘contact’. It is not all about ‘content’. So how do OERs ‘drive pedagogy back into what it’s meant to be’? (quoting Dave from the presentation). For me they do this in a number of ways:

  • Now that we have more clarity around what we are allowed to do with OERs (through Creative Commons Licences), we can remix, repurpose and feed-forward OERs (to quote Stephen Downes). We can be more creative.
  • Perhaps OERs also enable us to challenge the ‘status quo’ – in the sense that ‘credible, quality’ content might no longer always be in peer reviewed journals, articles and academic sites, but might instead be on ‘John or Jane Doe’s blog’ or deep below the water line (iceberg metaphor).
  • They do tend to force more critical thinking and the framing of critically relevant questions, e.g. what is a credible, quality resource? How do we recognize it?  And this in turn raises the whole question of whether learners have the skills to navigate the web to find the quality resources.
  • And from the teacher’s perspective, as Dave pointed out, we will have to come up with assessment tasks that don’t allow the student to simply find the answer through an easy access easy to find OER. This has always been a challenge for teachers, but even more so now.

Dave’s final slide quotes Harouni (2009).

“I must value not answers but instead questions that represent the continued renewal of the search. I must value uncertainty and admit complexity in the study of all things”

For me living with uncertainty is the big paradigm shift we might need in today’s digital world. Roy Williams, Regina Karousou, Simone Gumtau and I have been exploring this in our papers about emergent learning  – and Dave Cormier raised this as a key point in his presentation to the in the ‘New Places to Learn’  – NewPlacesEvent HEA event held at the Said Business School in Oxford in April of this year.

Hopefully discussion about how OERs affect pedagogy will continue in the FSLT12 Week 4 Moodle discussion forum  There is still lots to talk about.

First Steps to Planning a MOOC

We started planning for this MOOC last week – I blogged about it here – https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/a-new-mooc-for-mayjune-first-steps-into-teaching-in-fehe/

There has already been a lot written about planning and running a MOOC. Stephen Downes has written a lot of blog posts about this and done many presentations.  (See for example,  http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2009/02/access2oer-cck08-solution.html ; http://change.mooc.ca/how.htm and http://www.slideshare.net/Downes/how-to-organize-a-mooc )

There is also the MOOC Guide Wiki  – initiated by Inge de Waard

….. but there’s nothing quite like having to do it yourself for learning! George Marion  and I had our second Skype planning meeting yesterday to discuss the MOOC that we are planning for May/June this year.

The full Title of this MOOC, which is being offered by Oxford Brookes University,  is:

First Steps into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education

This will be a MOOC for:

  • New lecturers in HE/FE
  • PhD students who are teaching in HE,
  • teachers in schools who want to move into HE/FE,
  • people in industry etc. who want to move into HE/FE,
  • Educational Developers who want to know more about Oxford Brookes University’s approach/resources
  • and … because it’s a MOOC, anyone who is interested enough to join us

Keywords associated with the MOOC are:

open education development resources oer mooc higher learning teaching pcthe further academy pgcert hea 

(We felt that these words in various combinations would probably fulfil most search term requirements)

Key issues at the moment, which we hope to finalise by early next week are:

  • a hashtag for the MOOC
  • registration – how will this be organized, especially for participants wishing to take the assessments
  • a web conferencing system. We hope to be able to use Blackboard Collaborate
  • a course home site. We think we will use Brookes’ WordPress site
  • a discussion forum area. We think we will use Brookes’ Moodle site
  • an aggregator. We are looking into Google Reader for aggregating blogs and paper.li for a daily online newsletter
  • Video. We will probably use the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (OCSLD) YouTube channel
  • Collation of Resources. We are thinking of using Cloudworks
  • Assessment.  Those who sign up for and complete assessment will receive an OCSLD certificate.

Organising a MOOC really brings home the difficulty of planning for an unspecified number of people, especially in terms of the choice of technologies. For example, we need a robust web conferencing system, which works just as well for large numbers as for small numbers.

It has occurred to me to wonder whether just this one element of running a MOOC means that many groups who could really benefit from MOOC-like activities, such as charities, would not be able to afford to run synchronous sessions.

This begs a second question – what would be the effect of not offering synchronous sessions in a MOOC? Are MOOCs reliant on synchronous sessions? Do synchronous sessions dominate to the detriment of other modes of learning in a MOOC?

So we are nearly there in terms of decisions about the technologies to use. Next week we will finalise these and move on to focusing on the content of the MOOC

OER Issues at first hand

This week in Change Mooc  – I have particularly enjoyed reading Rory McGreal’s rant. It is interesting how a bit of passion can make a topic come alive.

 A short harangue by this week’s discussion leader: McGreal, R. (2009, October 21). Stop paying twice for education material: Online resources, open content make proprietary textbooks obsolete. Edmonton Journal. Retrieved from http://auspace.athabascau.ca:8080/dspace/bitstream/2149/2324/1/rory_ed_journal-1.pdf

In parallel with the MOOC topic I have myself been involved in OER issues this week. I am working on a government-funded project with a team, which is tasked to develop some educational training packages for primary and secondary schools in England. The idea is that we will write new materials, but also review and update a wide range of existing archived resources, which have been produced by the same team for prior government-funded projects. We will then filter and select from this extensive archive the resources we need to create new training packages.

This is where the OER issues arise. The question is who owns these archived materials. Evidently there are millions of pounds worth of educational resources languishing in government archives, while the powers that be decide who can have access to them and whether they can be remixed and repurposed. My understanding is that this kind of archiving often happens when governments change. The funders of the project who attended the first team meeting told us that one education project had recently been taken to court for infringing copyright – a very costly mistake. So funders are nervous about OER issues, but at the same time didn’t appear to know anything about Creative Commons licenses. Fortunately one of our team is very knowledgeable about this.

As an aside I often wonder if the number of Flickr accounts with ‘all rights reserved’ is through choice or simply because people are not aware of the other options. I wasn’t aware of them myself until my MOOC friend and colleague Matthias Melcher asked me why I had all rights reserved on my Flickr site.

The issue of accreditation also came up in our project meeting. The training materials we develop will be used by education centres to deliver training for schools. Will the University, which has been funded to do this project, accredit this training – for example – by allowing the modules to carry 10 or 20 credits? Evidently this will take considerable time and effort to thrash out.

So it has been interesting to experience first hand the issues that Rory McGreal discussed this week. It seems that perhaps the biggest challenge is educating people about the issues and raising awareness.

See A Basic Guide to Open Educational Resources (OER) and Guidelines for OER in Higher Education  for further information.