Massively Open: A book review by Bob Morris

Massively OpenMassively Open: How Massive Open Online Courses Changed the World
Jonan Donaldson, Eliane Agra, Mohammed Alshammari, Andrew Bailey, Daniel Bowdoin, Meghan Kendle, Lauren Nixon, and Lisa Wressel
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2013)

How and why MOOCs could “completely revolutionize what it means to be an educator and what it means to be a student”

This book’s subtitle is premature. However, I am convinced that, in time, Massive Open Online courses (MOOCs) will indeed change the world in ways and to an extent that cannot be determined now. The same was true of the printing press, the Internet, and then the World Wide Web. That said, there is a great need now to begin the difficult process of identifying potentialities, to be sure, but also to identify at least fundamental terms and conditions to consider as well as concerns to be addressed. This book makes a modest but valuable contribution to that process as does Michael Nanfito’s MOOCs: Opportunities, Impacts, and Challenges: Massive Open Online Courses in Colleges and Universities.

As explained in the Introduction, “By the time the first MOOC appeared, online education had been evolving slowly for nearly two decades.” It is important to keep in mind that in 1993, Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist then associated with CERN (the European Particle Physics Laboratory), introduced the World Wide Web. The Introduction then points out that “MOOCs were first introduced through a University of Manitoba course called ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge’ and the term was coined by Canadian University of Prince Edward Island’s Dave Cormier. Widespread international interest in MOOCs began in 2011 when Stanford’s Professor Sebastian Thrun’s course ‘Introduction to Artificial Intelligence’ was offered in MOOC format through Stanford University. Anyone could take the class as long as they had an internet connection. Over 160,000 people enrolled in the free online class.”

The co-authors are Jonan Donaldson, Eliane Agra, Mohammed Alshammari, Andrew Bailey, Daniel Bowdoin, Meghan Kendle, Lauren Nixon, and Lisa Wressel. They acknowledge their debt to Mary Bucy for her leadership, executive support, and fostering of information. The adjective “massively” is somewhat ironic when we take into full account what the nature and extent of potential increases of growth and enrollments in them worldwide during the next two decades. What is “massive” today will probably seem puny then.

I commend the collaborators on this book because, like all of the great explorers through history, they are attempting to give at least some definition to “territory” that was previously unexplored. Moreover, and this is an even greater challenge, they share their thoughts about possibilities and even probabilities in months and years to come. For obvious reasons, they suggest more questions than answers. These are among the issues that intrigue me.

What will be the nature and extent of MOOCs’ impact on

o Secondary schools
o Community colleges
o Four-year colleges and universities
o Trade and professional schools
o Formal training (e.g. corporate sector)
o Self-directed learning
o Content development
o Performance assessment
o Incentives and rewards
o Recognition and authentication (i.e. diploma, degree, certification)
o Funding of education in various dimensions and sectors

It will also be especially interesting, indeed exciting to observe the impact of game-based learning and instruction within the MOOC landscape.

I wholly agree with the concluding remarks: “Anyone with an interest in education would do well to continue following the developments in this exciting area. It may turn out to be the innovation that allows education to become universally available to everyone regardless of location or financial situation. And if it does, it will completely revolutionize what it means to be an educator and what it means to be a student.”

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