6 Big Takeaways From the EdX Global Forum

Thoughts on a terrific convening.

November 23, 2014

Were you in Boston last week for the 4th edX Global Forum?  What were your big takeaways from the meeting?  First, I’d like to say thank you to our Boston University hosts.  They did an incredible job of making us all feel welcome and well looked after.  I also want to say thank you to the edX team, as they all worked incredibly hard to make this event as productive and enjoyable for all the Consortium members.  This edX Global Forum was particularly well timed as my institution is currently developing our first 4 edX DartmouthX courses.  I hope that you sign up for our first DartmouthX course,  Introduction to Environmental Science, which will launch on February 3rd 2015. 

EdX Global Forums 6 Big Takeways:

#1 - The EdX Global Forum Is Now My Favorite (and Most Productive) EdTech Meeting:

The edX Global Forum is now, by a good measure, the best edtech meeting that I attend.  Paradoxically (or ironically), the reasons that the edX meeting is so productive has very little to do with open online learning at scale.  The reason that the meeting is so good is that open online learning at scale has had a forcing effect to push all of us to think, plan, and act for change.  All of us at the edX meeting are in some stage of planning or running open online courses at scale.  These shared initiatives have required all of us to develop new capabilities, invest in new types of people, and create new organizational structures.  The edX open online courses become the shared means that the edX Consortium members think about the future of our institutions.  The edX Global Forums are opportunities to learn from each other about organizational change.  

#2 - The Big Discussion Is About The Future of Traditional (Campus-Based ) Higher Education:  

The most important outcome of the MOOC movement is a renewed attention on traditional campus-based / credit-bearing teaching and learning.  MOOCs did not set out to improve the introductory residential lecture course, but that is what they have done.  This is not a story of a few superstar professors taking over the teaching of every large enrollment introductory class.  We have some experiments of flipped courses being based on open online courses, but these experiments are still at the margins.  What our students want is to be taught by their own professors.  They want to form relationships with the people teaching them.  What MOOCs have done is raise the quality bar for residential teaching.  It is no longer acceptable to have (expensive) residential classes built on a model of information transmission.  The price of academic content delivery has quickly dropped to zero, thanks to the MOOCs, meaning that the value add that colleges and universities provide to students must be above and beyond content delivery.  That value add is the personalized learning, coaching, and mentoring that comes with relationships.  That value add is the educator getting to know the learner as an individual.  The paradox (or irony) is that MOOCs make the faculty member more valuable than ever. 

#3 - Blended and Online Learning Capabilities Are Increasingly Viewed as Infrastructure:

All of us at the edX Global Forum are thinking about the long-term sustainability (funding) of our open online learning at scale initiatives.  Creating high quality online courses that will be delivered at scale is expensive.  These costs, however, are largely viewed as part of a portfolio of investments that we are all making in teaching and learning.  The costs are part of the larger infrastructure now needed to create high quality learning for all of our students, both our traditional matriculated students and the lifelong learners that we connect with online.  Every edX school in the Consortium is strongly focused on how experimenting with open online courses at scale can improve residential teaching and learning.  This effort may involve building new capabilities in instructional design, analytics, and educational media.  These investments in learning capabilities become available for moving towards more personalized, flipped, and blended models of residential course design.   

#4 - Everyone Is Interested In Learning Science, Learning Analytics, and Learning Research:

The interest amongst edX Consortium members in learning science, analytics, and learning research is difficult to overstate.  All of us see the potential to apply our culture’s of inquiry and our capabilities in research to teaching and learning on our campuses.  We are all already, to some degree or another, research institutions.  The methods, norms and practices of research, however, have been largely absent from the classroom.  We don’t have a very good idea about how people learn because we have not studied how people learn.  This is changing.  We now have strong theoretical and empirical foundations to understand the learning process.  We are no longer willing to accept the traditional weeding of students from STEM disciplines, or the high attrition rates that characterize so much of U.S. postsecondary education.  Blended and online teaching methods are starting to make available the data, the independent variables, that determine learning outcomes.  These data can make the learning process, not just outcomes such as grades or graduation rates, both more visible and more amenable to investment and improvement.  As with many things in the edX world, the data available from the edX platform are pushing us all to develop analytics and research plans for all of the teaching and learning in which we engage.

#5 - There Is A Strong Desire for Collaboration and Sharing:

The most productive moments at the edX meeting were spent sharing stories and advice across the Consortium members.  There is a strong ethos of sharing, mutual assistance, and camaraderie.  It may be because all of us in the Consortium are facing similar challenges around cultural and organizational change to invest in new methods of learning.  Part of the camaraderie is the knowledge that all of us are experimenting and learning together.  None of us are experts in open online learning at scale.  None of us understand exactly how we can leverage this new excitement about student learning and data to make long-lasting improvements in our capabilities around residential teaching and learning.  What is great is that all of us are fully committed to sharing what we are learning.  There is no sense of competition along any dimension.  Open online learning at scale is not a zero sum game.   Any win for a peer institution is a win for us as well, as we are all trying to create a new way of thinking about higher education.  There is something about free and open that changes the calculus of how we relate to each other.  Every institution in the edX Consortium can learn from each other.  Attributes such nationality or size, public or private, liberal arts or R1, start to matter less.  The ability to freely share and collaborate is one of the reasons that working in higher education is amongst the very best jobs to have.   

#6 - The Disconnect Between the Reality of Running an Open Online Course At Scale and the Perceptions of MOOCs is Growing:

If you have not read Allison Dulin Salisbury’s article Impact of MOOCs on Higher Education, please go ahead and do so now.  Allison talks about 5 impacts of MOOCs on higher education.  They are: 1.  Increased institutional consciousness around the future of digital.  2. Elevated appreciation for the profession of teaching.  3. Team-based course design. 4. Privileging institutional capacity building over outsourcing. 5. Creation of new space for experimentation.  The MOOC story that Allison sees from her experience at Davidson is exactly the story that I see at my institution.  What was interesting about Allison’s article was how critical were many of the comments.  The reality is that MOOCs are catalyzing shifts that higher education that should hearten all of us who believe in the centrality of teaching and learning and the need to invest in educators.  The big story of the edX Global Forum is the overall improvement in teaching and learning that we are seeing across the postsecondary spectrum.  The big story is the catalyst role that open online learning at scale is playing in new methods of developing, teaching, and improving residential classes.  My guess is that this story is not well known or well understood outside of those of us actually working on MOOCs.  It would be great if we could figure out how we can close this understanding gap.

What were your big takeaways from the edX Global Forum?

What would you like to know about the edX meeting?

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Joshua Kim

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