Friday, December 14, 2018

Sharing MOOC resources - whatever happened to open?

CC0 Public domain on Max Pixel
Several years ago there were strong connections between MOOCs and the field of open educational resources (OER). By using OERs you could design open courses that could be offered to large groups of learners - and so the MOOC was born. However, the relationship between the two concepts has become rather complex in recent years, especially since most of the content in MOOCs is anything but open. Indeed, the whole idea of the word open has become elastic.

An example of this is an interesting article in Inside Higher Ed, How MOOC Collaboration Could Aid On-Campus Teaching and Learning. It discusses the problem that most MOOC content is locked into the various MOOC platforms and cannot be reused, not even by the members of the consortium. It seems that not even the institutions within EdX, Coursera or other consortia are able to access each other's course material and this means that some extremely valuable and costly educational resources are locked down. The article looks at a current initiative within Open EdX to share resources among partner institutions and thereby allowing for some level of reuse, especially in regular campus courses.

Sharing MOOC content among partner institutions for the purposes of residential instruction could substantially increase the value-add of participating in a MOOC consortium. The challenges to MOOC providers involve unbundling content from course models, providing interoperability pathways between MOOCs and residential learning management systems, and formulating governance for sharing as more initiatives move toward sustainable -- for-pay and/or for-credit -- models.

Being able to share resources with other member institutions in what is labelled a collaboration economy sounds like an obvious and attractive benefit of belonging to a MOOC consortium. The difficulty at present is being able to search effectively within the platform and easily add content directly into your learning management system. A project at Harvard University DART: Digital Assets for Reuse in Teaching, aims at integrating the university's MOOC content with their LMS, Canvas, and providing effective search and recommendation services. This is so far restricted to using the university's own MOOC resources in their own regular programmes, something that I had assumed was already normal practice. The concept of sharing within a consortium is seen as the next big step but presumably with a price tag.

As edX and other MOOC providers continue to chart paths to paid, for-credit courses, it is an opportune time to more boldly reimagine the benefits participating in a MOOC consortium brings. Institutions of higher education are beginning to more deeply strategize about how they view the digital learning landscape. And at a time when so many institutions have committed to open online courses, it’s natural to ask how these materials can be used to explore new pathways in both existing and nascent learning settings.

At the same time the solutions proposed in the article would be irrelevant if everyone simply put a Creative Commons license on all the material and shared it openly. But since many high profile institutions have invested heavily in their MOOCs, they are wary of simply opening up to the world and want to protect their investment to a certain extent by restricting the openness to consortium members. But is sad to see that the MOOC movement, built on the concept of openness, has resulted in silos of locked content that may in the future be unlocked to those willing to pay for membership. I really thought the whole idea was to share expertise and make education available to everyone.

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