• GlobalHigherEd

    Surveying the Construction of Global Knowledge/Spaces for the ‘Knowledge Economy’


A MOOC on Globalizing Higher Education and Research

We’ve just done our first massive open online course (MOOC)! Not as a participant – we might add – but imagining, making and delivering it over a seven week period this spring to some 18,400 participants.

July 8, 2014

Editors' note: this is a slightly revised version of a new article in the International Association of Universities' Horizons' magazine (June 2014). The English version of Horizons is available at: http://www.iau-aiu.net/content/latest-issue and more specifically at: http://www.iau-aiu.net/sites/all/files/IAU Horizons Vol.20.1 [EN_web].pdf . The French version is available at: http://www.iau-aiu.net/fr/content/vient-de-paraître-0 et plus précisément à: http://www.iau-aiu.net/sites/all/files/IAU Horizons Vol.20.1 [FR_web].pdf. Our thanks to Hilligje van't Land for the invitation to develop this article. It's worth taking a look at the whole issue of Horizons, by the way, as it has an 'In Focus' section on ICTs in Education - Revolution or Evolution?

Please note that our MOOC is freely available for perusal at https://www.coursera.org/course/globalhighered until the end of August 2014, even if you never registered to take the course. Once you register, all commissioned visualizations, PDFs of the text, and SoundCloud-based podcasts embedded in the MOOC, can be freely reviewed and even shared until the course site is shut down on 1 September. The course content was presented in the following fashion:

Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’
Week 1: Universities (Starting Monday 24 March)
Keywords: collaboration, competition, global competency, globalization, internationalization, learning, logics, mechanisms, mission, mobility, models, technology
Week 2: City-regions (Starting Monday 31 March)
Keywords: academic freedom, branch campuses, cities, city-regions, competition, hubs, gateway cities, global cities, innovation systems, liberal arts colleges, mobility, R&D, networks, urbanization.
Week 3: Nations (Starting Monday 7 April)
Keywords: competition, denationalization, exports, mobility, nation-state, revenue, services, students
Week 4: Regions (Starting Monday 14 April)
Keywords: collaboration, competition, geopolitics, higher education areas, interregionalism, regionalism
Week 5: Globals (Starting Monday 21 April)
Keywords: assessment, benchmarking, competition, desectoralization, framing, governance, hegemony, knowledge, intergovernmental organizations, publishing, R&D, rankings, thinkers
Week 6: World Class (Starting Monday 28 April)
Keywords: assessment, benchmarking, bibliometrics, competition, desectoralization, governance, metrics, models, world class universities, world university rankings
Week 7: Singapore (Starting Monday 5 May)
Keywords: academic freedom, branch campuses, city-state, competition, developmental state, global cities, hubs, innovation systems, nation-states, networks, R&D, rankings, regionalism, services

Kris & Susan


We’ve just done our first massive open online course (MOOC)! Not as a participant – we might add – but imagining, making and delivering it over a seven week period this spring to some 18,400 participants. And what a ride this has been.

We, or perhaps we should say Kris, first broached the subject. What about doing a MOOC on globalising higher education? Our dive into the global/digital/public world had its genesis in 2008 and the GlobalHigherEd blog – now in its 6th year and notching up steadily toward ¾ million hits, as well as an associated Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/GlobalHigherEd. For a specialist subject – we’ve been constantly impressed with the level of interest in global higher education developments. And it is a sufficiently fast moving scene – to keep us busy, if not dizzy, with what we think it is worth sharing with others.

The move into the MOOC world felt a natural step. But thinking about it from this end of the experience – with the last class completed, it was also a huge step change in what needs to be in place in order to do it well. To begin - you need not just a level of expertise in your subject, but a very good team of educational technology experts around you that can help you translate your expertise into the formats that will make for a great learning experience. And we had that in spades via the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for which we are hugely grateful. Our MOOC was also somewhat unusual as we were two colleagues who have historically worked together on globalising higher education developments, but an ocean separated us. Learning to communicate over a distance, moving ideas and material back and forth, took both skill and trust. This process involved not just ourselves, but a whole crew of people as they stepped into to help us sort aspects of the development of the MOOC out.

But it was unusual from a different angle. Early on we decided that we wanted a text-based MOOC. Our reasons for this were that we wanted it to be accessible to as global an audience as was possible; we did not want bandwidth for instance to be an issue. We also felt that we could more easily update the content going into the future, rather than be faced with high costs of rerecording a video to take in new developments or evidence. We tried to imagine who might take our class -- a busy administrator? Perhaps a university president or rector? Or journalist? -- where being able to print the text off, or download it on a mobile device, and read it when on a daily journey, might make more sense. We were also quite taken with recent experiments by the New York Times – of extended essays, with movies, podcasts and other moving parts embedded. We liked the look and feel of these efforts and wanted to see how far we could emulate this kind of format. We also wanted a MOOC that was an open access global commons, and a resource to think with and borrow from.

Saying yes, and diving in to deliver each week are two quite different questions. Yes, meant talking though the how, formats, imagining the students, how might we work together and so on. Doing it meant crafting each week, commissioning visual material, recording podcasts with experts around the world (including IAU-ers Eva Egron Polak, Goolam Mohamedbhai, and Madeleine Green) and getting these transcribed, playing around with writing styles to ensure rigor of science but accessibility of ideas, thinking of challenging assessments, poking our nose into discussion forums and threads to engage as far as we could with our participants, and encouraging them from week to week to challenge each other around issues - from global research footprints to global competencies, national exporting strategies of countries around higher education, region building, and world class rankings. It meant monitoring issues like plagiarism from week to week.

We’ve finished now, and are really pleased with our efforts. This is not to say that we got it all right. But it is to say that we also know what things we would like to do differently in the future, and what new issues we would like to address. Our focus on the edges of innovation in higher education took us to the experimental, at times dazzling investments – like the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, and the emerging CUSP experiment in New York. This focus meant we tended not to spend as much time on the huge efforts that go into delivering higher education to an extraordinary number of students day after day – such as the community colleges. We aim to rectify this gap in any future rendition of the course.

But already we are receiving emails of thanks from course participants – who thank us for helping them think through their work in ways that have made a difference to them and their understanding. We’re thrilled by this, as this is the great privilege we have as university academics. The MOOC helped us experiment with reconfiguring the in/out boundaries of the university; it provided us with an opportunity share our expertise with others, whilst at the same time being hugely aware that there is also a great deal for us to learn.

 Susan Robertson (University of Bristol, UK) & Kris Olds (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA)


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