George Siemens and David Wiley Join Forces for a MOOC About Open Education

Digital Learning

George Siemens and David Wiley Join Forces for a MOOC About Open Education

By Manuela Ekowo     Aug 23, 2017

George Siemens and David Wiley Join Forces for a MOOC About Open Education

Since the New York Times named 2012 the year of massive open online courses (MOOCs), millions have flocked to platforms offering them such as edX and Coursera. While these online courses have seen massive enrollment, perspectives on their impact have been decidedly mixed. And an undercurrent has run just below the surface, questioning how accurate it is to call these courses "open."

This October, two open education pioneers are teaming up to pilot a new edX course titled “Introduction to Open Education” with hopes to amplify and answer some of these questions. George Siemens, professor and education technology researcher at the University of Texas at Arlington, and David Wiley, co-founder and chief academic officer at OER company Lumen Learning, will lead the free course that aims to introduce graduate students (though anyone with internet access can take the classes) to open education, and how the field has evolved.

The six-week long MOOC will touch on topics including open educational resources (OER), open pedagogy and practice, open knowledge and open research. Along the way, Siemens and Wiley say they will tackle challenges that their skeptics (and enthusiasts) have thrown at them over the years: Are MOOCs really an example of open education, and who benefits from them? How do you reconcile teaching about open education using closed technologies and platforms? How can you be responsive and inclusive of a diverse, global group of students?

I spoke with Siemens and Wiley about their upcoming course to get a few answers before the MOOC launches. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Ekowo: Why this MOOC? And, why now?

Siemens: It seemed like a good opportunity to expand the audience and get a message out about the importance and history of openness, and where things might be trending. We’ve both been involved in open education for nearly 20 years. But, how do we move this from a small group of people who share similar values, into an entirely new population; people who perhaps haven’t been thinking about openness, whether it’s around scholarship, educational content, teaching practices, or even open algorithms.

Why focus on graduate students? Who else do you imagine taking this course?

Siemens: These are the individuals that will end up in academic or support roles within universities. And, they would benefit from having some familiarity with open education and comfort interacting in an open online environment and using open content and pedagogy. If we want to drive openness, we have to think long term. We can’t just think content has to be openly licensed. We have to also think about helping people contribute to that conversation in the long run.

How will this MOOC compete with or complement other opportunities students have to be introduced to open education, perhaps as courses being offered in graduate programs?

Wiley: For some people edX might not be a good fit. Maybe you’re a graduate student in need a course that will appear as credit on your transcript; your professor will be able to grab some of the openly licensed material in our course and use that to put together something local that’s going to meet your needs. And, I see it very much as being another instance of a course on this topic, hopefully a very good one, that people will use and reuse.

Siemens: We’re trying to use the best resources available from thinkers that have shared resources on this topic. We all create content, but don’t necessarily reuse it as much as we could. And, in addition to being in edX, all the content will also be available on the open web. Faculty that don’t want to access the content in edX can easily download and use any of content we’ve developed.

What specifically will the MOOC cover? What won’t it cover?

Siemens: We’ll discuss the OER and licensing dynamics. But, there’s been some expansion around what openness is and what types of openness is needed to address new realities. It’s not enough to have open content available. It’s a necessary, but not sufficient condition.

We’ve moved in the last decade or two, when the openness movement started, from initially being content-centric and trying to open content and developing a licensing infrastructure that allows that to happen, to a more sophisticated landscape where the algorithms and teaching support resources are also available or at least accessible in some meaningful capacity. Broadly, the course traces the arc of where OER or openness began as a content-focused space to something that’s more sophisticated, integrated, and aware of future concerns such as adaptive and personalized learning, which requires algorithmic openness.

Wiley: Twenty years ago, nobody believed there’d be any kind of sizeable, sustainable movement around people sharing openly licensed, effective learning content. I think people today look at the artificial intelligence and algorithms that are beginning to drive personalization and adaptivity in the same way. It’s easy to say, “There’s no way there’ll ever be a community of people who are willing to give away, freely share, and openly license these kinds of algorithms or platforms.” But, that’s absolutely where this is all going.

What do you hope learners will take away from the course or be able to do as a result of completing the course? What benefits, if any, will non-completers experience?

Siemens: The first benefit is an induction into a community of people who share similar values: getting to know some of the thinkers, academics and practitioners that have already contributed [to the open movement] and companies that are involved that have values and ideals of openness and are helping universities and learning providers move in that direction.

We also want students to actually be able to do something with the content. One activity in the course is pulling together a short instructional module using OER so students have a sense what it’s like to discover open content. And, what I think we’re going to find is that students discover, “Wow, there’s a lot of open content out there,” and, “Wow is it hard creating a coherent module.”

Wiley: We want to both be on the record that the mania about completion rates in MOOCs is utter stupidity. That anybody should stay up at night worrying about whether or not people that came, voluntarily, into an interest-based, informal experience, and didn’t read every single word and complete every single assignment? That’s just dumb, as a premise. We don’t need millions of dollars of research on why people don’t complete MOOCs. It’s because they’re MOOCs.

What do your participation numbers look like so far? Do you think you will reach your target audience? And, where around the globe will you draw audiences from?

Siemens: The numbers game was an early activity in MOOCs that people used for ego inflation. The numbers have changed because there are so many more courses, and a lot more learners. Coursera and edX are now approaching 20 million students on their platforms. I expect we’ll have several thousand students join the course, the norm for MOOCs these days.

It’s also worth emphasizing openness is a global movement and is relevant to anyone that’s involved in higher education anywhere around the world. Because, most people in the field have some view of, “You create a more fair, just, and compassionate world by having a more educated population.” And, the best way to improve educational levels is through quality course materials and instructional practices. I expect, like other MOOCs that I’ve run on edX, this course will have 100 to 150 countries represented. Typically, there are about a third coming from the U.S. But, I would expect a course like this will draw more international learners.

I know you plan to use OER in the course and encourage participants to create modules using OER. Will this MOOC have an open license?

Siemens: When I first approached David about doing the MOOC, that was his one request. That the content be openly licensed. So, absolutely.

What aspects of the course will be easy to teach in a MOOC format? What will be hard?

Wiley: I think the broader challenge is the overall pedagogy we’re trying to enact is difficult in a MOOC format. Because, the course is all about community, people finding, connecting, supporting each other and contextualizing resources. I don’t know if there’s one topic that isn’t amenable to a MOOC. If there is, it doesn’t rise to the degree of difficulty of trying to do this kind of connected learning inside a very traditional learning platform.

Siemens: That’s exactly it. We also hope to bring in other technologies (for example, David’s work with Lumen Learning), and will encourage students to bring in technologies and other resources they’d like to share. We want to provide better student supports than some of the MOOCs have had to date.

The course is a networked learning framework, rather than an expert at the center. And, the course itself gets reshaped with every artifact someone creates. If someone creates a video that summarizes the readings in the course, that begins to engage students to interact around that resource.

How will you introduce or engage participants around the role open education has in solving the disparities in outcomes for different student populations?

Wiley: It’s a complex question primarily because that’s sort of what the whole course is about. How could you talk about OER without talking about equity?

Siemens: There’s a real view that I think is a dangerous one, that, “Just give people access to education and that’s the solution.” And, it is an element, likely the most important. But, I think we’re being disingenuous if we think giving people low-cost access will change the quality of their lives if we don’t also address the related underpinning systems that create that [inequality] in the first place.

Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

More from EdSurge

Get our email newsletterSign me up
Keep up to date with our email newsletterSign me up