The mushrooming of university-sponsored Massive Open Online Courses, also known as MOOCs or xMOOCs, over the last year and a half through the growth of the Coursera, Udacity and edx platforms, has pushed the conversation about innovations in higher education from the sidelines into the national spotlight.
Millions have enrolled. Thousands have completed. MOOCs are raising as much excitement outside the academy as trepidation and antipathy within it. Whether blended into an in-person class, or as standalone online offerings, MOOCs threaten to accelerate the postwar trend toward "casualization" of the teaching profession, rendering some professors "glorified teaching assistants" even as they turn others into "rock stars."
But what about the learning? Many observers have noted the irony that in their current form, xMOOCs seem to be loosely modeled after the least interesting instructional modes of the age of mass higher education. They are structured as synchronous, several-week courses featuring short lecture video clips paired with rapid-recall multiple choice questions, plus some form of exams, papers, and project assignments, and a small amount of reading.
Even as the "massiveness" of enrollment and "online-ness" of delivery in the MOOC may be new (or somewhat new), in other words, the "course" piece is all too familiar.
And what about the Open?
Open learning can mean many things to many people. It can mean learning that takes advantage of Creative Commons-licensed open educational resources or OER (of the major MOOC platforms, EDx is open-source, but none have open content). It can mean learning that is self-organized, experimental, peer-to-peer, DIY, badged or otherwise nontraditionally accredited. It takes place where theory meets practice, in communities of practice, in bar camps, hackathons, hacker spaces, Maker Faires, chat rooms, virtual worlds, archaeological digs, libraries, on Twitter, on Vine, on Instructables, on Vimeo, at the after-afterparty to the conference, at the Occupy encampment, in abandoned churches in Pittsburgh, coworking spaces in Nairobi or the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
xMOOCs have never been and will never be the sum total or even the best example of experimentation with truly open learning.
But what are the best examples?
That's what my teammates and I are trying to find out. And we need your help!
Reclaim Open Learning is an innovation contest, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, the Digital Media and Learning Hub, and the MIT Media Lab, with a humble mission. We want to find the five best examples of innovation happening right now in higher ed.
The best of truly open, online and networked learning + The knowledge and expertise represented by institutions of higher education = Reclaim Open Learning.
We're trying to find out:
What are independent learners and innovative teachers doing now that deserves support, recognition, and scaling up?
How can colleges and universities engage with the social, participatory, and open learning ecology of the Internet in ways that go beyond making, using, or resisting xMOOCs?
What kinds of infrastructures, policies, and business models can support more participatory and peer-based forms of post-secondary learning?
What kind of programs and platforms could meld the grassroots capacity and peer-based learning of the net with the knowledge, expertise, and credibility of institutionalized research and education?
Entries are due August 2, 2013. Winners will receive a small prize and Winners will recieve a $2000 honorarium and be invited to present at a summit on Reclaiming Open Learning at UC Irvine on September 26-27, 2013.
For more info, including judges' names, go to the official site here.
Follow Anya Kamenetz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Anya1anya