Changing Higher Education to Change the World

What remains from a MOOC after the final video has ended and the last paper has been peer-assessed? The most exciting part of my recent MOOC on the “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education” was the spirited exchanges among the participants. So that is the question. How can a MOOC be more than a “one off”? What remains for the participants after the MOOC is over? What infrastructure is required beyond the MOOC platform to turn a massive learning experience into a movement in the real worl…


5 Tips From a MOOC Producer

It was the second Google Hangout On Air broadcast for the “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education.” Professors and students at three universities—Duke, Stanford, and the University of California at Santa Barbara—were engaged in conversation while dozens of viewers watched, asking questions in the Google Hangout and in the MOOC forums and live-tweeting the session. Seven minutes in, without warning, Google Hangout stopped recording and broadcasting. Viewers were left with blank s…


What We Risk if We Risk Nothing at All

At the beginning of “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education,” the students in both the MOOC and the face-to-face class at Duke University were asked to write about their favorite teacher. I didn’t hesitate in my answer: Karen Hevelston. Her first day was as a substitute in my high-school art class. After dutifully giving the assigned painting project, she strolled through the grouped tables quietly making comments. I was hunched over, sardonically painting, “I don’t want to paint.” Afte…


A Practical Guide for Institutional Change

This week in “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education,” we’re discussing the topic of institutional change. Specifically, we’re considering key strategies that will help us make important changes at colleges and universities. As we consider the development of our own strategies, Professor Davidson encourages us to “make alliances with other change makers” and “take change personally.” Along these lines, I would like to provide a brief practical guide to how those suggestions …


Interdisciplinary Research and Critical Friends

A couple of years ago, Lila McDowell wrote a piece for The Chronicle that described “critical friends” as an essential part of managing the division inherent in interdisciplinary research. Critical friends, she wrote, are the people who challenge us to reconceptualize the obvious—the colleagues and mentors we rely on most, the ones who pay us the courtesy of letting us know when our writing is fuzzy or our arguments are weak.

I’ve remembered this phrase during recent discussions in Professor Dav…


Breaking Down Barriers Between the Humanities and the Sciences

When I graduate from Duke University with a liberal-arts degree (hopefully of my own design), I will never have taken a physics class where I mastered Gaussian surfaces. I won’t have studied dehydrohalogenation of alkyl halides in organic chemistry or the life cycle of Lycopodium in biology. Even after looking up these terms in Wikipedia, I doubt I’ll remember what they mean by the time this post is published.

My excuse for my lack of background knowledge is that I am a humanities person. But is…


We Should Apply the Slow-Food Movement to Higher Education

Why take the time to make a loaf of bread? It is simple enough to toss a shiny cellophane bag of bread into the grocery cart instead of taking a couple of hours to mix the ingredients, knead the dough, let it rise, knead it some more, then shape it into the desired form. The process of cooking from scratch and the growing popularity of the slow-food movement are a fitting analogy for the need to redesign and reshape current forms of higher education.

In a lot of ways the design of higher educati…


Autism, Hackers, and the Future of Higher Education

As a graduate student in Professor Davidson’s “History and Future of Higher Education” course and a teaching assistant in her similarly titled MOOC, I am interacting with more than 17,000 participants online and encountering them in a surprisingly personal way. Recently, a 19-year-old MOOC participant who self-identified as ADHD and a “hacker of his education” wondered in an online forum why we were dealing with higher education specifically. It is a good and valid question, one that resonates w…


Aim Even Higher: Designing Higher Education From Scratch

handheartA debate among higher-education leaders at Duke University broke out in 2003, when news emerged that Nannerl O. Keohane, then president, was working with faculty members, led by Elizabeth Kiss, then an associate professor of political science and philosophy, to found the Kenan Institute for Ethics.

Stanley Fish, who had previously served as chair of the English department at Duke, believed ardently that the university would be violating its fundamental purpose of producing “value free” knowl…


Attention and Focus in the Age of Online Education

I am a perfect example of the kind of unlearning and relearning that Professor Davidson discusses this week in her MOOC, “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education.” As a Ph.D. candidate in classical studies, I am more comfortable researching and writing alone in a carrel, handling antiquities such as Greek papyri or Latin manuscripts, than plunging into new media in collaboration with my peers.

This course has been an immersion experience in digital literacy for me. Not that I am complete…