Massive open online courses – MOOCs – offered by top universities have expanded worldwide over the last three years, gaining students globally for courses designed in the United States and elsewhere and disseminated globally on platforms like Coursera, edX and the British-based FutureLearn.
Their spread has the potential to disrupt the model of bricks-and-mortar universities each with their own courses – a theme much discussed in academia.
But a new type of MOOC – dubbed MOOC 2.0 – could even disrupt the way courses are devised, altering the top-down university designed curriculum and the professor-to-student course structure that is still part of the MOOC model.
Current MOOCs are top-down, the English language dominates and in the view of some they are a “one-way transfer of knowledge from the West to the rest”, says Yoonil Auh, a professor of instructional technology at Kyung Hee Cyber University, an online institution linked to the Kyung Hee bricks-and-mortar research university in South Korea.
Even as conventional MOOCs are expanding – Coursera last week announced its first MOOC with an Indian institution – the new type of MOOC is in the pipeline and is poised, if not to cause further disruption in higher education provision, at least to sit alongside traditional higher education and conventional MOOCs as an alternative.
Many conventional MOOCs are developed and designed for Western teaching and learning experiences, says Auh, the lead project designer for MOOC 2.0. “But the general consensus here [among those working on MOOC 2.0] is that MOOCs education must be a collective effort from all parts of the world.”
What is important, according to Auh, is that to avoid a “type of neo-colonialism”, receiving countries must collaborate in devising the MOOCs their students will study.
“The stance of MOOC 2.0 is higher education should find ways to address the needs of those at the bottom of the pyramid while being sensitive to their culture,” Auh told University World News.
“Content will not have to be taken in a specific order but would be more like cafeteria-style modules that can be customised; only those modules taken that are needed for their community.”
MOOC providers have found that, contrary to their expectation of MOOCs serving countries and students not reached by traditional types of higher education, the typical student in countries like Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa already has a degree.
“Report after report shows that most enrolled students already have college degrees and those learners are economically considered the ‘haves’ in the countries where they reside,” says Auh.
But with much of the world’s youthful population in the developing world, particularly in Asia, “it is a myth to think providing open online learning from the English speaking countries to the world will address the challenges of expanding higher education in the developing world”.
MOOC 2.0 is currently in alpha form to test its functionality – “we had a group travelling in the Congo who tested it from there, and we have also tested it in South Asia”, said Auh. The platform will move into beta version with a course on global citizenship education for teachers in Korea, developed collaboratively with community groups and NGOs.
The two-way platform is expected to launch early next year with not just institutions but also community groups, including civil society organisations, providing input for learning.
“MOOC 2.0 will act as an academic mediator,” Auh said. “The MOOC 2.0 technology is such that students can actually learn from each other and the MOOC is the facilitator.”
MOOC platforms like edx and Coursera create a network of elite universities and brilliant professors and disseminate their content, notes Auh, but that might be less than 1% of universities. Out of the 99% of institutions who may not be doing so well in terms of research, there may be many that are innovative in terms of teaching.
“We may discover whole new areas of how the content should be taught from the untouched territory of local colleges and community colleges that we have not yet tapped into,” says Auh.
Kyung Hee Cyber University already offers especially devised humanitarian programmes to non-governmental organisations and their members in the field. MOOC 2.0 parallels those philosophies and goals, according to Auh.
His group at Kyung Hee Cyber University, known as the Global Campus Initiative, is interested in studying how people exchange and share information among their own community and language, even when geographically dispersed. It could become the first MOOC when MOOC 2.0 launches.
And there are other projects that would work well on the MOOC 2.0 platform.
Kyung Hee Cyber University is working with the Royal University of Fine Arts, or RUFA, in Cambodia, which had not had a music department since the civil war known as the ‘killing fields’ in the late 1970s led to the massacre of intellectuals, including teachers of music and the arts.
RUFA set up its first music classes four years ago. University teachers had to go and live for three to four years in the community, cultivating and educating students to become music teachers.
One of the projects involves videotaping and documenting teachers in the field, that can be posted back on the MOOC 2.0 platform “for other teachers in the field, or other parts of the world to study and observe how they learn after music education had disappeared at the national level for decades”, says Auh, a former violin child prodigy who studied music at New York’s Juilliard School before turning to computer programming at Columbia University in the US.
A similar project is being devised in Myanmar with independent NGOs starting up music education at the local level after it disappeared under Myanmar’s military Junta. “The idea is to document how learning takes place and to develop the kind of curriculum that would meet their needs,” Auh says.
In Africa, the MOOC 2.0 designers have had talks with the University of West Africa looking at entrepreneurship programmes linking up with universities in developing and developed countries to help businesses to set up locally.
By sharing local experience on the MOOC 2.0 platform they learn from each other and from others in similar socio-economic environments which have little in common with that envisaged by Western management and business education on conventional MOOCs.
While MOOC 2.0 is being developed at Kyung Hee, once it has enough members it will be hived off into an independent organisation. Kyung Hee is incubating it “until it gets mature”.
“But we are not promoting Kyung Hee’s agenda as an elite research-based university but will be trying to bring in as many institutions as possible and also non-profit organisations. Our agenda is a much more democratic one,” Auh explains.
“MOOC 2.0 is not about technology advancement alone. Rather, it is an educational movement supported by technology that was not possible in the past.”
MOOC 2.0 is a bold move away from mainstream groups and an innovative approach to social inclusion, he says.
There have been other attempts at inclusion, notably the open educational resources, or OER movement, with its OER University – a community of academic institutions, endorsed by UNESCO and intended to make knowledge the “common property of humankind”, which is a move towards sharing knowledge worldwide.
However, even with OER much of the knowledge is from the West. “It will be a while before OER gathers content from institutions from other parts of the world that meet the level of our expectations,” says Auh.
MOOC 2.0 is not competing for market share with conventional MOOCs. Rather, it is using technology to provide a structure for sharing knowledge. “We see this as mindware, open to all,” he says.
And, Auh adds: in the 21st-century “collaboration is the new competition”.
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