CARNETS DESCARTES

MOOC Tsunami in Higher Education

(Version Française)

Massive, open, online courses embed all characteristics of what could be disruptive innovation in higher education: several alternatives, vivid discussion and debate, passion, new entrants arising every week, all of them trying to establish what will become the dominant design.

On April, 15, at the French Academy of Science, when French and German Ministers of Higher Education and Research celebrated the French-German Week for Science, a Convention has been signed between Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin and Sorbonne Paris Cité, founding the Virchow-Villermé Centre for Public Health (see post in French). Among its priorities, we, at the Centre, have decided to launch by October (2013) a MOOC platform, designed together with Inria and entirely dedicated to public health education. The National Institute for Research in IT and Mathematics (Inria), is our Silicon Valley in France. They have fabulous achievements such as in air and space engineering, in energy, in virtual technologies for surgeons. Next Fall, faculty and researchers from France and Germany, but also from universities in the South, as well as from any country in Europe or in Americas, will be able to apply for posting their courses including digitalised homework on one of the first available MOOC platform entirely developed in Europe. This MOOC will be definitely an ethical one. We will not sale student profiles to search firms nor to hiring companies, since we do consider that student profiles will be student's exclusive ownership. But students themselves will have full access to their profile data (and to performant profiling tools for their own purpose exclusively, and limited to their personal data). In that meaning at least, we will make the difference from so called "free educational MOOCs" blooming in the USA. Virchow&Villermé MOOC will be based on a sustainable and original economic model, where courses will be delivered for a (small) fee, i.e. 4 euro for a 5-wk course. Faculty members as well as institutions will be rewarded for their copyright, in a virtuous circle: the highest the participation, the highest the rewarding. Next Fall in Public Health will be definitely innovative at Sorbonne Paris Cité, where Université Paris Descartes, one of its founding member, has been designated to coordinate these developments, in collaboration with its 7 other partners, including EHESP French School of Public Health.

On the very same 15th of April, at Stanford, where disruptive innovation is a daily assumption, one of its professor and a PhD student have launched NovoEd, a MOOC they want to be of new generation, bridging the gap between existing "old" MOOCs (those who are one year old...) and residential campus life in universities. They want to make online education more social, experiential, and interactive. NovoEd will combine various techniques of crowdsourcing, design and analysis of reputation systems, algorithm design, to enable collaboration and peer learning. Virtual classes are built around team-based exercises where student will exchange ideas, communicate and evaluate each others' work.

"The platform is designed to map more closely how the world really works", said NovoEd CEO Prof. Amin Saberi NovoEd to Venture Beat website (free of access, in English). Adding "It promotes higher engagement and accountability among students through several social processes designed to give them a meaningful sense of activity and membership in a learning community. Together, they create a force that maintains students’ attention, interest, and engagement throughout the course". Currently, the platform hosts seven open free courses, done by Stanford faculty membres, towards the general public. Course topics are non specific of a discipline, such as "Mobile health without borders", which start at the end of April. A recent experience of a course titled "Technology Entrepreneurship" attracted more than 80,000 students from over 150 countries. "They formed teams to execute the assigned projects, which required them to use skills in problem solving, communication, and leadership. The top 200 teams found mentors to help them develop business plans, and the top 20 teams pitched their ideas to venture capitalists. The course ultimately led to the creation of multiple companies around the world, and Saberi said a few have even received funding".

Major MOOC initiatives such as Khan Academy, Udacity, edX, ou Coursera (they claim today 3.2 million courserians), are creating large consortium of top world class universities (e.g. 62 institutions went to Coursera, all of them from rich countries). The question for a president at any university is not to consider or not defining a strategy on massive online course, it is rather to decide when and how to deliver it.This disruption may deeply impact pedagogy. It may affect instutions as well. And faculty too. Are we moving to a new model of global professors as we know in sports games or cinema? For a while, professors regreted that part of their job dedicated to training was not well and enough assessed. In the future, it may change drastically. With MOOCs, it may happen that we'll read in resume "I've done a 5 week course in epidemiology, on case control studies, where 50,000 students did register, 5,000 took their exams, and 3,500 passed it with marks up to 50%, it was translated in 5 languages..."

Can Europe longer stay out of this momentum? How will universities and research institute participate to these vivid discussions? First comers are not always those whe eventually win the game. It has been clearly seen with search engines. Google is currently the most used worldwide (at least in the Western world). It has been created at Stanford. However, initially search engines were named Altavista, Netscape, Excite or Magellan, and we almost forgot all of them now ! That was in the mid 90s... World is moving fast. Europe must stand ambitious, innovative, and must keep fighting on these domains. Europe can also make its difference. We mentioned ethical issues in data privacy, and we can add cultural and lingual issues. These are crucial points in education. Francophone community, i.e. hundred of million people all over the world, express clear needs in educational material in French, and these needs are not currently met.

Game is not over yet in higher education and research. Tomorrow, it may occur that Ivy League Universites will no more rank at the top of higher education globally. Or it may happen that mixed model, including both face-to-face and distance learning will take place of existing ones. Nobody knows. But wouldn't be a pity not to try at least to explore these new avenues?

Antoine Flahault's blog (in English)

Antoine Flahault's blog (in English)

Antoine Flahault's blog. He is Faculty member, in public health, from Descartes School of Medicine, Sorbonne Paris Cité

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