Once again, the “International MOOC Colloquium: The MOOC Identity” (a conference recap)

I am writing this (or I at least started writing this) post while flying back from Italy where I was at the second conference I have attended in Anacapri in the last two years, the “International MOOC Colloquium: The MOOC Identity” sponsored by Federica Weblearning at the Universitá di Napoli Federico II (here’s a PDF of the program).  I of course didn’t have to do this on the plane, but a) because it’s the first day of classes, including for my online one, I thought it was worth it to to pay the money and do some teaching/worky-work stuff over the Atlantic and b) I wanted to do my best to stay as awake as possible to adjust to the time difference once we get home (more or less mission accomplished on that one).

Once again, I wondered why I was invited in the first place (pretty much the same reason as before, the Invasion of the MOOCs book and also because I was there last year), and once again I was one of only a few Americans (though also once again there were a few Canadians and folks from South America, too), and this time, I think I might very well have been the only “teaching classes on a regular basis” kind of professor.  Everyone else was some version of administrator, entrepreneur, policy analyst, researcher, and/or educational tech person. Originally, there had been some people on the program from Africa and India, but it didn’t work out for them to be there for one reason or another.

Here’s a link to my presentation (slides incorporated into the Google Doc that was more or less my script– the live version was a little different of course). A general recap of what happened after the break:

 

  • There were presentations from administrator-types about how things like “SPOCs” and “flipped classrooms” are becoming a part of universities– something that’s been on the scene for a long time in the U.S. of course, though again, the ways that these things seem to be viewed in Europe is just a bit different.
  • Darco Jansen from the European Association of Distant Teaching had an interesting presentation about some surveys he had conducted about institutional interests in MOOCs. Here’s a link to the PDF. Long story-short is European universities are (generally) more interested in MOOCs than U.S. universities now, which could be because of the different ways universities work in Europe and/or it could be because the “MOOC hype” is a lot more over in the U.S.
  • Caroline MOL was there from EdX and she talked about a lot of the general things that they’ve been up to around the world. I asked specifically about something she talked about, the program with ASU Global Freshman Academy program. I’ve blogged about this a couple of times– here back last December, and here after the CCCCs in Houston. To briefly recap: even though 34,000 or so students had signed up for courses offered through the Global Freshman Academy last year, only about 360 students had paid the small fee to “opt in” to the for credit option. In this option, students take the class and if they get a grade they like, they can then pay for the ASU credit. Anyway, I asked if she knew how many students out of that last 360 actually bought the college credit. She said she thought it was about 60. SIXTY. Out of 34,000. We quickly left that topic, but um, that’s not even a teeny-tiny-bit sustainable and it is more clear evidence that the audience/purpose of MOOCs is very different than the audience/purpose of higher education generally– at least in the U.S.
  • Once again, there were a lot of interesting and smart young folks (Caroline was one of them) who are in the “Ed-entrepreneur” world. One of these people (not the youngest one there, either) reminded me that he was born the year I started college. Once again, these talks more or less about “strategies” and “trends” seemed not completely connected to talks by folks working for universities who were talking more about what exactly “education” and “learning” are. And at one point in a discussion, I thought Stephen Downes argued pretty effectively the problem with this relationship. To paraphrase (and I hope this is relatively accurate): there are no real “partnerships” between universities (at least public and/or “not for profit” ones) and corporations because corporations inherently are not about “sharing.” Corporations enter what are called partnerships with universities to “get stuff” from them and that’s it. For example, Coursera has “partnered” with universities to get the actual content. Universities, unfortunately, are not nearly as good at getting stuff back from corporations.
  • Once again, I was struck by/reminded repeatedly how universities in Europe are still funded by government monies, though there are a few proprietary-type schools here and there. One thing I didn’t know is that nowadays, it appears that in many countries (France and the Netherlands immediately come to mind), pretty much anyone can go to college. This is not to say that everyone can get out. I was chatting with Catherine Mongenet about the French university system– the semester calendar specifically. I did know that  there is a heavy emphasis on the final exams, but I was surprised how they worked. She said that in France, students take exams in December, but then the next semester doesn’t start until after February because there is another exam period then for the students who didn’t pass the first time. She said it is not uncommon for fifty percent of students to fail the exams the first time around. Apparently, administrator discussions of the importance of “retention” have not made their way to the continent quite yet.
  • Then there were other little things too. During one of the lunches, I was chatting with folks about stuff I’m teaching this fall, including Writing for the Web, an online version of a class I’ve been teaching for a long time now. One of the things I’ve been doing for years is require students to sign up for a series of free services like Twitter– no big deal. But when I mentioned this, the Europeans sitting around the table were shocked that I could get away with this requirement. “You can do that? Do you have to get that approved?” Weird.
  • And once again, I was struck by the general “humaneness” and different vibe of things at the conference. Granted, this was a small group where the University of Naples invited people and paid their ways– though my impression is that these kind of institutional/state-sponsored conferences are much more common in Europe than they are in the U.S. But most American conferences could learn something from this arrangement. It was small; there were coffee breaks, group lunches, and group dinners. The schedule was rearranged on the first day to accommodate a group ride up the chair lift to the highest point on Capri and then a vigorous group hike down the rocky path back to the town. And so forth.
  • They said that they were hoping to do this again next year, but on a different island. So who knows, maybe a third time in three years to Italy?
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