Tag Archives: Harvard University

A Revolution Revision

A colleague of mine shared this editorial from the Boston Globe with me last week. It is interesting to see how the president of a university like Harvard is out front and contributing to their own marketing efforts in such a public way. The “revolution” is now officially upon us, right?

Once upon a time university and college presidents were more vocal participants in the public discourse. Then that seemed to fade as they all become more CEOs than presidents, more sensitive to endowments then education. In a way it is refreshing to see Drew Faust throw herself out there. My fear is that so strong is Harvard’s gravitational pull that what they do tends to set the standard and tempo for so many other institutions. Plus, she just has it all wrong on the participatory level.

The interesting thing to me here is just how oversold this EdX and MITx concepts. I am far from the first one to suggest that they are , in fact, not all that revolutionary. What might be revolutionary is that these venerable institutions are giving something away for free, in the form of course content. Although, rest assured they are well on the path of figuring out how they can leverage this freebie into some mechanism to separate participants from their money.

However, all of these xMOOC efforts are still the ultimate in an old world model of teaching and learning, “We have scarce knowledge that we will benevolently bequeath to you, the student, pouring it into your wee head so that you may grow.” Better still, you can say that you got it from [insert brand name university here], eventually for a fee.

Video lectures are still lectures, which we know is only one model of teaching that achieves mixed results. There certainly is a time and place for lecture as an educational tool, and it can be effective too. Yet, a lecture model is still rooted in the notion of scarce, stored knowledge, which is increasingly unraveling. What’s more, as free as some of it might be, it is certainly not open – at least in the truest sense of the term. Were they truly open and distributed across a range of platforms, not hiding behind clunky course management systems, xMOOCs might be more revolutionary but even then only slightly. Instead, these courses are tightly bound behind a secured digital wall, and they are not necessarily available forever either.

In contrast to the connectivist MOOCs, which are open, dynamic, and challenging the very notion of what a course might actually be, the brand name efforts significantly pale on the scale of revolutions, which doesn’t exist but should.

Somewhere in a Latin American Internet cafe the next would-be, digitally savvy Che should be building a matrix of educational revolutions on a laptop that establishes a spectrum, or at least top ten list, to be shared with the world wide web! That would be almost as entertaining as President Faust’s ironic invocation of the blackboard.

I am not sure who Harvard uses for their course management system. Perhaps the Blackboard revolution has returned and she has made her own devil’s bargain.

Beginning xMOOC HLS1x:Copyright

It is pretty clear from my first login that  HLS1x: Copyright is a content based xMOOC, not that I was expecting something different. Yet watching the introductory video left no doubts, as Berkman Center for Internet and Society Director and Harvard Professor Terry Fisher outlined the 12 week course of study.

The course has three major aims which Dr. Fisher articulates clearly from the start.

First, an understanding of the basic principles of copyright law.

Second, an appreciation of the ways in which that law affects, for better and worse, creativity and innovation in a wide variety of artistic and technical fields. To that end, I’ll be providing along the way illustration of the ways that copyright works in literature, music, film, photography, graphic art, software, comedy, fashion, architecture, and so forth.

Third, I will try to provide you a critical understanding of the main theories of copyright, by which I mean the arguments developed over several centuries by economists, philosophers, and political theorists concerning the purposes or functions of the copyright system.

Safe to say that is a pretty ambitious agenda. It became quickly clear that there will be a fair amount of play between legal theory and practice. Things have been pretty lawyerly from the moment of admission. Not having much background in the law, I am going to be really curious as to how that impacts the experience. Scanning through the introductory discussion threads, the students are from all over the place, although there are a definitely students from other law schools involved. I suppose I will have a much better sense of atmosphere after Friday, when my group has a synchronous meeting.

Week 1, as to be expected is introductory with a 90 minute video lecture on the foundations of copyright law, which will include the system of multilateral treaties (addressing the boundaries of how nations shape and apply their individual copyright systems), the concept of originality, and the important legal distinctions between ideas, facts, and expression. Pretty heady stuff.

The whole course is split into two groups, one the focuses primarily on the judicial precedents and opinions from the United States, while the other focuses more on countries other than the US. Fortunately, I am in the group with the US emphasis, since that is most relevant to me. The assignments are all edited case-law readings.

Preparing for a Clash of MOOCs

ETMOOC LogoWhile I am absolutely loving my experience with ETMOOC, I am about to try my first run at an xMOOC. Tomorrow, I will begin a HarvardX course, HLS1x: Copyright. I am excited.

Copyright is a topic that I have been chasing on my own for a few years now and one where I think that educators must have greater command. It seems professionally irresponsible to remain ignorant on the subject anymore. Moreover, while I like Creative Commons, I reject it as the safe and easy option as it is routinely presented in the edtech arena.

On the most fundamental level educators need to now more about copyright not only to help ourselves and students avoid infringement, but exercise our rights to fair use and resist the longstanding encroachment on that provision. I have long admired the work of Renee Hobbs and her Media Education Lab, now at University of Rhode Island. For any educators keen on learning about copyright, I recommend you start there. Yet, this Harvardx class will be a much deeper dive into the subject than Hobbs’ must-read Copyright Clarity. It is a course being offered via the Harvard Law School for one. Plus, the list of guest speakers is impressive, including the likes of Lawrence Lessig and Shepard Fairey among others.

In spite of my excitement, I must admit that I have developed a bias for the cMOOC variety. Of course that is what I know best, having engaged in about six or seven of them with varying degrees of success. So I am reserving some judgement but wanted to start some comparing them for my own understanding as much as anyone else’s.

ETMOOC is fostering such a magnificent community of open-thinking educators from all teaching levels and tech savviness. Loosely connected as a “course,” it is warm, inviting, and filled with innumerable learning opportunities. It is a grand invitation to self-directed wayfinding in a virtual space that hinges on a hashtag. Focusing on education technology, which is much broader and already begun tangentially addressing the legal concept of copyright, the experiences between the two are already so different.

Diagram: Why MOOC Design

While ETMOOC is completely open and proving to be quite adept at building a massive tent to include all those who wish to  participate, HLS1x: Copyright was subject to a pretty serious winnowing process. Thousands of applications were submitted for only 500 spots. So I guess I got pretty lucky. I certainly feel that way. Upon the invitation letter to join the course, however, there was a four part follow-up to secure the spot, including a 20 minute pre-test.

As one of the 500, I am already subdivided into a section of 20, complete with a juris doctor teaching fellow to lead the group, a bit different from the conspirators of the ETMOOC variety so far as I can tell. I have already received a handful of preparatory messages and documents prior to the class start. At the conclusion of the course, I am invited to take a four hour written examination. If my performance in the discussion forums and on the exam are satisfactory,  I can earn a certificate of completion.

It is a given that these two MOOCs are very different. HLS1x: Copyright is a course that really is primarily about content. ETMOOC is less about content and more about discovery, in a variety of forms. Both are genuine opportunities for deep learning and professional growth. Yet, I can’t help feeling a bias in favor of the xMOOC, even if I might be falling prey to it.

The level of commitment that is being requested in the HarvardX is formal, demanding, and leverages the prestige of Harvard University. It is highly focused on the accrual of knowledge, includes an already potentially intimidating test, and even offers a credential, for whatever that is worth.

All of these factors led me to ask my employer for some professional development recognition upon completing the course, as if I was taking a typical graduate course. Graciously, the decision maker in my district granted the request. However, I cannot imagine that the same administrator would have gone for the similar request regarding a cMOOC. Eventually, I will make a the same plea, but figured this xMOOC wasn’t too far of a departure from the known way of doing the business of education. Plus, living in the Boston area, Harvard has even more clout, helping my pitch.

Still, I wonder which experience will ultimately prove most valuable to me. ETMOOC already strikes me as the kind of experience that may have much longer legs than its scheduled 11 weeks. I am waiting to see what HLS1x: Copyright holds. I will  be interested to see what kind of community is created in the course, especially among the cohort of 20 to which I now belong.

On a side note, part of my cMOOC fancy has to do with my increasing aggravation at how much the mainstream press has for the most part completely disregarded them, instead lauding the revolution of the prestigious and for-profit ventures. Friedman’s piece in today’s New York Times is just another egregious example. It is as if cMOOCs never really existed or at least those reporting aren’t even aware of their existence.

Almost all of the press coverage advances a bias about education that I will have to return to in a separate post. Safe to say, the bias is what influenced my effort to pitch my employer on the xMOOC for credit over the cMOOC. Friedman’s understanding articulated in “Revolution Hits the Universities,” with its courting of Coursera isn’t nearly as revolutionary as Couros, or Siemens, Downes, Cormier, Groom, Levine, and all the other practitioners of this new educational phenomenon. At some point, I hope to press the case that the experience offered in a cMOOC is just as valuable, arguably more so, and just as deserving of consideration for some means of professional development recognition, regardless of whether it is affiliated with a credential granting scheme or university, prestigious or not.