Open Education and MOOCs – Getting Started

Open Education and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have been getting a lot of media interest over the last year or so, with some commentators stating that this represents the end of Higher Education (HE) as we know it. This has caused intense discussions and much dismay in the e-learning community in HE, but not much of this has reached the mainstream (as usual). So, this page is for people (particularly those working in higher education) who want to find out a bit more about these things. There is a useful list of resources at the end – including a draft ‘Open UAL’ policy discussion document.

A quick note in passing: We need to remember that in HE we work in a ‘closed’ educational system and that when we discuss ‘open’ education it is from this perspective and that what has appeared to us in the past as radical and innovative in terms of pedagogy and e-learning on the ‘inside’, may seem quite conservative and ineffective (and worse) from the ‘outside’.

One thing to note at the outset that should be a big help to the reader is that ‘open’ as a concept is quite slippery, whether it applies to research outputs, education or culture. It is useful to conceptualise ‘open’ in any of these fields as existing on a continuum from very closed to very open. Also it is worth remembering that this is a multi-dimensional space (apologies if this sounds a bit like theoretical astrophysics!). So, the Open University is ‘open’ in comparison to standard universities in that students are not constrained by time and place of study – but ‘closed’ in the sense that students have to register and pay to study with the OU and the learning resources are copyright and closed. Whereas open research is defined by free and open access to materials on the World Wide Web that are liberally licensed to enable people to make use of them at no cost. Similarly, Open Educational Resources (OERs) are learning and teaching resources that are freely and openly available on the World Wide Web.

For many in HE the open agenda is quite a transgressive and threatening prospect. It is quite normal within HE to consider that the current model (both economic and educational) is the natural order of things and does not need to change – or if it does it will be according to an internal vision. The interesting thing about the open agenda is that this represents the (very mixed) views, aspirations, and needs of those on the ‘outside’ and wider societal concerns about equity, value for money and the purpose of higher education. This inevitably, leads straight into some very deep discussions that some find uncomfortable as it questions often deeply entrenched views and values held in the HE sector.

One critical observation to help readers make sense of this rapidly developing situation, is to ask this question? Does the particular instance of open education you are examining add anything to the ‘open educational commons’? For readers new to the concept of the commons you can find a useful description in this article Creative Commons Licences: Are They Right for You – it can be downloaded from this link

Useful Resources:

1- A Good Place to Start is this critical and  ‘punchy’ analysis of open education and MOOCs and their relation to current trends in higher education, its on the UAL Central Saint Martin blog at this link – its called Taking Care of Business? The political economy of MOOCs and Open Education.

2 – The World Bank has a useful MOOC Reading List at this link, this particularly handy to get a sense of the global dimensions to this discussion and to understand that ‘traditional’ HE is not going to be able to meet the needs of the global population

3 – Senior Managers in the UK are now taking serious notice of the MOOC phenomenon. Universities UK (UUK) held a meeting about this in London in May 2013 and the organization’s strategy group released a useful analysis called Massive Open Online Courses: Higher Education’s Digital Moment – it can be downloaded from this link

4 – The University of Edinburgh participated in a MOOC operated by Coursera and offered several of their courses. They have written up their experiences in a very useful report that you can download from this link, very useful tips about governance for managers and quality control and some eye-popping stats about participants.

4 – The economic crisis that has gripped the world economy since 2007 has led the European Union to consider how it can provide wider access to HE in a more economic manner and asked for ‘vision papers’ setting out how open education techniques might be used to do this. In response colleagues from UAL, Coventry School of Art and Design and the Open University of the Netherlands have written a paper called Reimagining the University: Open Art Education in the 21st century – the section on the ‘emerging political economy of open education’ is particularly useful in listing a number of key innovations and trends that are acting as a good foundation for future work. The reference section also provides useful further readings and links, you can download the paper at this link

5 – MOOCs – What is to be Done? I am not normally a fan of managerial studies but this article (link) from Professor Costas Markides (London Business School) is very useful on helping to understand how to respond to what the proponents of MOOCs like to call ‘disruptive innovation’. The simple answer is not to try and copy a disruptive innovator who is muscling in on your market – but to be different and ‘disrupt the disruptor’. For Art and Design education I would suggest this means seeking to differentiate and position our institutions in the online and open spaces of education. I would further suggest that making strong links with the emerging open education commons and the more democratic and free side of the open education community would be a sensible move – as ultimately this is where the lasting innovation and numbers will be – the ‘closed’ commercial MOOCs are an evolutionary dead-end, in my opinion.

6 – Open UAL draft policy document at this link you can find a short draft policy document for the UAL to discuss and adapt – it covers open research, education, and culture. The background section is very useful for a quick intro to the open agenda.

7 – This article by Martin Weller at the OU gives a good insight into how the established HE e-learning community have been reacting to MOOCs – You Can Stop Worrying About Moocs Now – read it at this link. There are lots of useful links to follow up from there.

8 – MOOCs and Open Education: Implications for Higher Education. A useful survey and analysis of MOOCS from JISC CETIS can be found at this link

9 – UK Government Literature Review – Title: “The maturing of the MOOC: literature review of massive open online courses and other forms of online distance learning”. This is a wide ranging and useful review, and it even contains a reference to our work at the UAL! You can find the review at this link



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