Monthly Archives: November 2012

Abstract: MOOCs Are Really Great! But What’s Next?

This was an invited presentation at the Dé Onderwijsdagen 2012 – World Trade Center, Rotterdam November 13, 2012.

Dr. Severance taught the online course “Internet History, Technology, and Security” using the Coursera teaching platform. His course started July 23, 2012 and was free to all who want to register. The course has over 46,000 registered students from all over the world and 6000 are on track to complete the course and earn a certificate. In this session, we will look at the current trends in teaching and learning technology as well as look at technology and pedagogy behind the course, and behind Cour Sera in general. We will look at the dates Gathered for the course and talk about what worked well and what could be improved. Also we will look at some potential long-term effects of the current MOOC efforts. Charles Severance is a Clinical Associate Professor and teaches in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. Charles is a founding faculty member of the Informatics Concentration undergraduate degree program at the University of Michigan. Hey Also works for Blackboard axis Sakai Chief Strategist. Hey Also works with the IMS Global Learning Consortium promoting and developing standards for teaching and learning technology. Previously he was the Executive Director of the Sakai Foundation and the Chief Architect of the Sakai Project.

A New Dr. Chuck-Mobile – Toyota Prius

My new Dr. Chuck-Mobile is a Toyota Prius. My 2001 Buick LeSabre has 227,000 miles on it and I wanted a vehicle that gets 50 miles per gallon given how much I drive (about 30,000 miles per year).

A Prius is quite a departure for me. My last *new* car was in 1980 – I don’t even remember what it looked like – it was beige. I have been driving effectively the same “family” of car since 1995. The cars were all some variation of a General Motor’s full-size vehicle with a 3.8 Liter engine. There was a Pontiac Bonneville, several Oldsmobile 88’s, and most recently, a Buick LeSabre. Since I drive so many miles, I would purchase these cars with about 100,000 miles on them and drive them until they would have about 220,000 miles on them and sell them. I have driven well over a half-million miles in these cars.

I have been thinking about a Prius for years now. Perter Knoop has a Prius, Michael Korkusa has a Prius, and Joseph Hardin has a Prius. I had been looking at Prius used prices and found that their resale value was very high. I never saw what seemed to be a bargain price. A Prius with 100,000 miles is worth $12,000 – it looked like the new Prius was the best value.

A few months back, my car was in the shop so I rented a Prius for three days and fell in love with the car. I was amazed that the intelligence of the power management system and was able to verify the gas mileage in real-world driving conditions.

I am saving $0.10 every mile I drive the car. That should save me $250.00 per month in real in-my-pocket savings. The fuel saving almost makes the car payment. If I drive the car 200,000 miles – it will save me $20,000 – pretty impressive. My motorcycle also gets 50 miles per gallon so with the Prius all my vehicles get 50 miles per gallon. Pretty cool.

Some asked my why I did not purchase a Chevy Volt. The Volt is really pretty and I love the notion of a plug-in vehicle. But since I drive 120 miles every day and the Volt runs out of a charge at about 30 miles. So for me the key factor in the Volt is the mileage it gets when the gas engine is running. The savings you gain while you are running battery-only are quickly lost when you are running in hybrid mode. Since most of my travel is long distances the nod goes to the Prius.

All The World’s a Classroom

This is a report of my UMSI monthly article of the same title –

This summer it was my great pleasure to teach an online non-credit course titled Internet History, Technology, and Security to a students around the world at no cost using the Coursera platform for large-scale online courses. Over 49,000 students registered for the free class, over 16,000 attended the first week’s lecture and over 4900 students earned a certificate at the end of the 10-week course. It would take 32 years of teaching our SI502 foundations course on Networked Computing to interact with that many students.

For that first course, I chose to use several weeks of SI502 that focused on how the network was built over time and how it functions today and expanded it to become a 10-week course. I chose this material because it is fun, engaging, and very well suited for a video format. But more importantly, I wanted to create a course about technology that would be accessible to learners of all levels and all languages around the world. I also wanted a course that showcased the School of Information’s core competency of “connecting people, information, and technology in more valuable ways”.

The course started by looking at the code breaking efforts during World War II in the United States and the UK. It was a perfect example of having lots of data and using computing to transform that raw, encrypted, and seemingly meaningless data first into information and then ultimately into knowledge. Because of the heavy use of advanced encryption techniques for wartime communications, high-speed computation devices were developed to “crack” the encryption. Initially those devices were electromechanical and then later to increase the speed of the devices, the first electronic computers were invented and built under the top-secret wartime conditions at Bletchley Park. Bletchley Park was a beehive of activity with over 10,000 people, many thousands of encrypted messages (information) and hundreds of computers working 24 hours per day (technology).

The course followed the history through the post war period, through to the current day featuring interviews of many innovators ranging from the co-inventor of the World-Wide-Web (Robert Calliau) through the founder of Amazon (Jeff Bezos).

Once we had viewed the Internet through a historical lens, we went back and took another look at the Internet through a more technical lens, examining how packets work, the Link Layer, Internetwork layer (IP), the Transport Layer (TCP), and the Application Layer.

I saw this course as far more than just another course. To me it represented so much of what it means to be part of the School of Information at the University of Michigan and I tried to reflect the values of SI throughout the course material and how I approached and taught the course. I wanted to make all of the technical material in the course accessible to learners of all levels. The course lecture and video materials were translated by the students (crowd sourcing) into over 30 languages and we had students from all over the world and nearly every single country was represented. I made sure to teach the course in a way that would be accessible to non-English speakers as well as those with slow or unreliable network connections.

Another exciting part of the course was how the students became a self-organizing social learning community. With over 10,000 students active throughout most of the course, there was literally no way that I as the faculty member could help each individual student with a technical issue or problem understanding the materials. The students were amazingly wonderful at helping each other, forming study groups, and some even took the initiative produce supporting course materials and reading lists for the class. Because of so much proactive student involvement, my workload was surprisingly low.

One of the issues in online courses is the sense of loneliness and isolation. One experiment I tried was to have “office hours” in various cities as I travelled in the late summer and early fall. I had office hours in New York City, Los Angeles, Wilmington, NC, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Memphis, Washington, DC, and Seattle WA. The office hours had 2-15 students show up in a local coffee shop and we talked about the class and how it could be improved. The students thought it was cool to meet their online instructor and that I was being very giving of my time. But in actuality I did the office hours because I wanted to see and meet my students – or at least some of them. It helped me maintain my own motivation to know that my students were real and not just numbers and data inside of a computer. I learned so much about how to better teach the course from these interactions. I have upcoming office hours in Seoul, South Korea, Barcelona Spain, Denver Colorado, and Amsterdam as part of my travel plans for the fall.

Students who completed the course with a passing score will receive an online certificate of achievement from Coursera. Students can print out the certificate or link to it in their resumes. I decided to go a step further and offer to sign their certificates if they would send them to me at the School of Information with a self-addressed stamped envelope. I have warned the Dean’s office that they might be receiving 4,900 pieces of mail for me over the next few months. Like everything in the course, for me this is just another experiment in how far we can expand the boundaries of this new form of interacting in the context of teaching the world.

I did a summary lecture for the course and put it up on YouTube that you are welcome to watch to see my reflections on the course as well as a presentation of the student demographics and retention statistics for the course. You can also take a look at an interactive map of the geographic distribution of the students in my course from a blog post that I wrote.

And if you found this interesting, the course will be offered again soon and you are welcome to sign up and join us online. I hope to see you on the net.

The University as a Cloud: Openness in Education

The University as a Cloud: Openness in Education
Dr. Charles Severance
University of Michigan School of Information

This is an extended abstract for a keynote I recently gave in Andora. The slides for the presentation are available on SlideShare.

Warning: I caution you to read this with an understanding that this is not a precise academic treatise backed by deep facts, figures, and data. It is an exaggerated perspective that is intended to make people think. I would also point out that I have little respect for keynote speakers that simply say “all is lost”. For me, this is not an “all is lost” or “higher education will die a horrible death in the next five years” keynote. Frankly – those gloom-and-doom keynotes are a dime-a-dozen, uncreative, and complete crap. I think that those faculty and universities that see the trends I am talking about and evolve to a more open approach to their teaching, research, and engagement with their stakeholders will thrive. So this is an optimistic outlook even though it seems rather negative in the first part.

In this keynote, I explored the nature of the changing relationship between universities and their governments and propose ideas as to how faculty may need to evolve their strategies over the next decade or so around teaching and research to insure a successful career for themselves as well as continued success for higher education in general. The keynote was not intended as presentation of the facts of the current situation – but rather to get people talking about why openness may soon move from optional to nearly required in higher education.

Up to the 1900, the world was relatively unconnected and higher education was only available to a select wealthy few. The pace of research and innovation was relatively slow and much of the academic research was focused on investigating the natural world and gaining increasing understanding in areas like physics, electricity, civil engineering, and metallurgy. Efforts like the Eiffel Tower, electric light, the first powered flight, radio, and the Titanic were the “grand challenges” of the time.

World War II caused a great deal of research into how the “technology” discoveries in the 1800’s and early 1900’s could be used to gain an advantage in war. If you compare trench warfare with rifles at the beginning of World War I with the technology of aircraft carriers, jet engines, rockets, and nuclear weapons by the end of World War II in the 1940s, it was an amazing collaboration between governments, scientists, and engineers to develop these sophisticated technologies in such a short period.

After the war it was clear that the “winner” of the war was the side with the quickest minds and the most scientists. Most countries around the world saw higher education, particularly research-oriented higher education as essential to national security going forward. This resulted in a great expansion of the size and number of research universities around the world. Research funds were available from governments to reward successful scientists and support the next generation of PhD. students.

In order to break the Axis encryption during World War II, scientists at Bletchley Park and elsewhere invented the first high-speed electronic computers and demonstrated the strategic importance of efficient communication and organizing and processing large amounts of information. In the United States after the war, the National Science Foundation was created to fund research into these new technologies. The military also made direct investments in funding academic research through agencies like the United States Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).

From the 1950’s through 2000, governments saw significant payoff in investing in academic research as academics provided solutions to problems first in computing technology, then networking technology as embodied in the Internet and then advances in information management as embodied in the World-Wide-Web. Academic research was an essential element of the progress in the last half of the twentieth century. Academics funded through agencies like the National Science Foundation and Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) performed research that was of strategic value to governments around the world.

With the bounty of research funding during the latter part of the 20th century, there was an increasing need to efficiently allocate research funds to the most worthy scientists. An extensive network of peer-reviewed journals and high-quality conferences are used to award research funds to those who are most worthy. In this environment, a research faculty member must spend their early career furiously publishing research in journals to develop a sufficient reputation within their field so as to assure a regular stream of research funding. Those who can successfully navigate this gauntlet are rewarded with tenure.

After the year 2000 with computing, networking, and the web well developed, there are fewer research areas that are of strategic value to governments. Research funding continues albeit at lower levels with a focus on research that benefits society more broadly such as health-related areas. While government funded research is not going away, the overall level of investment will naturally be lower if research is not seen as a strategic military priority as it was in the second half of the 20th century.

Furthermore as the Internet, web and other technologies have lead to increasingly global manufacturing and markets, the first-world countries are experiencing a slow decline in their economic advantage relative to the rest of the world. This has put governments under pressure to spend shrinking public funds on the most important pressing needs facing society. Around the world the general trend is for governments to reduce the public funding available to support teaching and research.

It is not likely that these reductions in government teaching and research funding levels are “temporary”. It is more likely that universities and colleges will need to rely more on other sources of funding in the long-term. These other sources will likely come from three areas: (a) tuition, (b) donations from alumni, and (c) research funding from industry.

If we assume this hypothesis for the sake of argument, then what would be the best strategy for faculty and administrators to survive and thrive in this new funding environment?

The simple answer that I think will become an increasing element of higher education’s strategy is one of openness. Higher Education must more directly demonstrate its value to governments, students, private industry, and the rest of society. The number of journal papers, which for the past 60 years is the most important measure of the value of a faculty member will have far less value for this new set of stakeholders and possible funders for higher education. Faculty must get their ideas into the open and do so quickly to have real impact on the real problems that are facing our world today. Hiding the best teachers at a university in a small face-to-face classrooms will also not lead to broadly perceived value for the faculty members and the institution.

Higher education must compete in public and in the open. The recent excitement surrounding Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is but one example of how being open and doing something for free shows the value of universities to a broader populace. This is an example of helping amazingly talented teachers at outstanding schools teach in the open – and it has had a very positive worldwide impact for those universities that have participated in the current MOOC efforts.

We need to see this kind of direct openness between universities and their faculty with the rest of society in research areas as well. Ideas need to be made more public and communicated clearly in a way that all people can understand them – rather than cloaked in obtuse mathematics in dusty journals.

Of course the trends I describe in the keynote and this paper are exaggerated to make my point. Nothing moves so quickly so I am not suggesting that young faculty immediately stop writing journal articles. That would be harmful to their career and tenure because the new systems of determining value and measuring impact are not in place at most universities. But young faculty should begin to compliment their traditional research and teaching output with more open forms of teaching and publication so they are prepared to participate in new ways of demonstrating value to society in the future.

Comments welcome.

P.S. I was invited to expand on this notion as an invited submission to a special issue of a journal. That would be ironic. A journal article about the shrinking value of journal articles.

Sakai / Jasig Consolidation Vote Passes

Here is a note from Ian Dolphin sent to the Sakai announcements list:

I would like to report the results of the recent ballots on the merger of the Sakai Foundation and Jasig.

58 Members voted for the merger, 3 voted against, and 3 abstained. 13 Members did not register a vote.

40 Members voted for the merger, 1 voted against, and 1 abstained. 5 Members did not register a vote

Thanks to organisational representatives in both organisations who took the time to appreciate the issues and cast their vote. Minutes of the teleconferences which took place last week, together with a voting record, will be made available shortly.

We will now proceed with the remaining legal steps to bring the two organisations together as the Apereo Foundation. Further announcements of progress will be made in coming weeks.

This is an exciting development and I think lays the groundwork for a significantly stronger higher education participation in open source activities in the long term.