On Friday, January 31, a group of fifteen faculty and staff came together as students for the first local “discussion section” of the MOOC on the future of higher education at SUNY Fredonia. We are all students in a MOOC led by Cathy Davidson, Professor of English at Duke University, on “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education: Or, How We Can Unlearn Our Old Patterns and Relearn for a Happier, More Productive, Ethical, and Socially-Engaged Future.”
The discussion on Friday morning was engaging, entertaining, and sustained by an energy that students bring to the first day of class. As we introduced ourselves, and our reasons for participating, it became clear that we brought a remarkable diversity of experience and perspectives to the table. Faculty from history, political science, education, English, Spanish, music gathered with staff and administrators from human resources, equity and diversity, instructional design, academic support services to talk about the future of higher education over coffee and danish.
Most of us have never experienced a MOOC before and many had never taken or taught an online course. We began by reflecting on the experience of the MOOC, acknowledging that Professor Davis has designed The Future of Higher Education as an anti-MOOC, in which authority is distributed among all the learners.
We all seem to be adapting as students to a new environment of learning. Some talked about feeling overwhelmed by the material of the course and the non-linear experience of moving among lectures, forums and readings. They said they missed the definitive structure of a course that starts and stops at scheduled times. One of our participants said that he realized he had to treat the course as if it had a definitive time, so he schedules two hours on a specific day of the week for his MOOC. This experience has made us aware of the level of self-discipline that a student needs in order to complete an online course.
Most of us liked the ability to start, stop, slow down or speed up a lecture as needed to help comprehension. Others felt the forums to be daunting in the number of posts, and some felt a little shy about contributing. Do I dare start a new thread? said one participant.
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. –Alvin Toffler
But judging by the quality of our discussion, the members of our discussion section learned a lot from the first week’s lesson. All the participants in the discussion section were born and educated in the twentieth century, yet we find ourselves needing to adjust to a new paradigm of teaching and learning in the twenty first century. One participant said that the week’s lesson had made her reflect on whether we were really in an educational system created for the last information age. “Are we educating students for their future or our past?” This question may become the touchstone for our discussion section.
The discussion that unfolded on Friday was peppered with references to Robert Heinlein, John Cage, Robert Pirsig, and Yoda, as each person took turns as teacher. After our discussion, we exchanged links by email to Ken Robinson’s RSAnimate on Changing Education Paradigms and Seth Godin’s TED on the future of education.
As a provost, I find that I have to be determined and disciplined not to let the tyranny of administrative minutiae take command of my head space. I think it’s a matter of survival that we take time to have important conversations like this. I am grateful to Professor Davidson and her team behind the camera at HASTAC for giving us a wonderful, rich course on the future of higher education.
Whatever your interest or experience, you are invited to join me and 50,000+ other students in a massive, open, online course (MOOC) on the future of higher education led by Cathy Davidson, Professor of English at Duke University. Professor Davidson has designed an intriguing course on “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education: Or, How We Can Unlearn Our Old Patterns and Relearn for a Happier, More Productive, Ethical, and Socially-Engaged Future.” Cathy Davidson is co-founder of the Humanities, Arts, Sciences and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC), “a network of innovators dedicated to new forms of learning for the digital age.”
The six-week long course, which begins on January 27, 2014, will use a variety of methods (lecture, discussion and interview) to deliver the course digitally to participants all over the world. The learning objectives are stated clearly and reflect the passion that Professor Davidson has for the subject:
- Understand how and why we inherited the Industrial Age educational systems.
- Think deeply about the requirements of the world we live in now.
- Discover new ideas, methods, competencies, and subject matter.
- Share our pathways to successful innovation with others around the world. Together, we can change schools, classrooms, institutions, learning–and maybe ourselves!
The recommended readings for the course are Professor Davidson’s book Now You See It: How Technology and the Brain Science of Attention Will Change the Way We Live, Work and Learn (Viking, 2011), which will be made available free online for the first 50,000 students registered for this course, and two readings available as free downloads, Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies: A Guide to New Theories, Methods, and Practices for Open Peer Teaching and Learning, and the Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age.
Participants who successfully complete weekly quizzes will receive a Statement of Accomplishment, which is not the same as college credit from Duke University (or any other university). We are in the midst of a great shift in paradigms from credentials (e.g., college degrees) granted on the basis of how many credits a student amasses to credentials granted on the basis of what a student learns. I assume this paradigm shift will be one of the topics that the course explores.
I will be leading a local “discussion section” of the course on the SUNY Fredonia campus on Friday mornings over coffee. (The exact place and time will be determined once I know how many will be joining me.) Contact me if you have questions about our local discussion section.
If you are reading this post, then you have the basic computer skills necessary to participate in the course. You can learn more about the course and sign up for free at Coursera.