I’m glad that UVa reinstated their president. Seems like the only logical action after the backlash. I keep waiting for “the real reason” to surface because it’s hard for me to believe that the whole thing can be boiled down to MOOCs. Really? I guess it comes down to inventing the future vs. sustaining (current) excellence. But I do want to point out that this is exactly the type of thing I was referring to in my startup paper. There is growing pressure on higher education to change—and we, as librarians, will have to adapt to that.
Regardless of how you feel about UVa’s Board of Visitors – that type of thinking (ie: working with less funding) will continue around the country. Facing an uncertain future, we need to be ready for such seismic disruptions.
I do want to take a minute though to comment on MOOCs because I haven’t done so yet. I mentioned Stanford’s project to Eric Ries and he was pretty unimpressed, stating that the technology and capabilities have been around for a long time and that higher ed is just now figuring that out. This feeling is fairly common among the entrepreneurial class.
That said-- obviously attracting 160,000 people to join an advanced science course is an impressive feat. Even if most people didn’t finish, the expressed massive desire to learn is evident and should be encouraged. I don’t see MOOCs as competition, but as augmentation... at least in this phase of their evolution.
Here’s the thing: most instructors don’t write their own textbooks or other course materials (papers, chapters, data sets, articles, etc) – they rely on the works of others. I see MOOCs working in a similar way. An instructor can use some class time for lecture, but can also rely on videos and other material created by colleagues at other universities to cover content. This enables the flipping effect. Students read, watch, listen and discover outside of the classroom—and then use class time for engagement, interaction, and clarification—along with a little lecture, sharing, and emphasis. Whether course material is text or video or any other media shouldn’t matter: MOOCs augment learning.
They can also amplify the experience by bringing students and other learners together from around the world. Imagine 160,000 people joining online to do something together, to learn something together. That’s a powerful platform for knowledge sharing, curiosity seeking, and intellectual development.
Librarians as Public Thinkers, Public Learners
So where do librarians fit in? My hack-force and I are going to participate in MOOCs this fall, purely from a learner prescriptive. We probably won’t finish the courses, but that’s not our objective—the intention is to soak up the community practices, observe the process, and participate when fitting.
I see MOOCs as a way to expand and redefine what a librarian is/does. We don’t break away from the stereotype of “book people” by talking about it on panels or writing books/articles about how our profession has transformed. We change the way people think through out actions, or more specifically, our interactions.
I imagine librarians joining MOOCs and not just serving a traditional role (let me guide you to some info) but genuinely becoming a part of the course (let’s build and learn together.) This is a chance for us to present ourselves as public thinkers, public learners, public instructors, and public knowledge makers. This is an opportunity to fully participate in the total learning process—or at least a greater share of it. I want students, faculty, and others seeing librarians as partners, collaborators, experts, and fellow learners. Not just the keepers of the proxy.
MOOCs might not replace higher ed, but higher ed will definitely absorb some of the MOOC elements. Librarians who are fluent in MOOCs will only enhance our involvement with the teaching and learning experience. MOOC-style platforms seem to be the next step for learning management systems, so invest time now in understanding how they operate. Instead of reading about them, join one. We talk a lot about a commitment to lifelong learning—MOOCs are a way for us to actually back that up.
Note #1: Interesting article by Cathy Davidson around this general theme.
Note #2: Gerry McKiernan blogs at Alt-Ed about MOOCs and other emerging learning initiatives from a librarian’s point-of-view.