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We need to revise our thinking about MOOCs.

The old story was that MOOCs are just another overhyped educational technology, one more example of interests outside of the academy (investors, technologists) seeking to “disrupt college” without any true understanding of how higher education actually works.

The new MOOC story may be about the professors.

This is a narrative of energy and enthusiasm to create and teach open online courses that is coming from the professors themselves, as opposed to the institutions in which they work.

Professors, it turns out, love what they teach about and research. The opportunity to share their passion for their disciplines with millions lifelong learners (13 million and counting on, is a strong draw to the professors.

As all the drama to either praise or denigrate MOOCs was playing out in the blogosphere / Twittersphere / conference-circus, something on our campuses has changed. When MOOCs first got started it was the institutions that went to the professors to ask them to develop and teach open online courses.

Today, the professors are coming to the schools and asking that their ambitions to teach open online courses be supported. The challenge we now have is finding some sort of economic model that can support the professor’s ambitions to teach online to a global population of learners.

I’ve witnessed at my school the commitment of professors to combine their scholarship with teaching to a global population of lifelong learners. These professors see their efforts in open online teaching as integral to their larger goals of discovery, educational outreach, and thought leadership.

Professors want to teach open online courses for the same reason that they teach traditional courses, write articles and books and opinion pieces, and give talks to diverse audiences. Open online courses are another platform to share their love of their discipline, their passion for the methods and concepts in their field, and their own contributions to growing knowledge in their area of scholarship.

In this space I’m often reluctant to talk too much about my own institution. This is a blog about the larger conversation around learning and technology, something in which we all have a stake. Plus, I really can’t speak for my institution - as there are people much smarter than I am whose job it is to communicate about what is going on at my school.

Still, in this case, I hope that you will indulge my enthusiasm for a new open online course on edX that we are launching today. The course that inspired me to think about how the world of MOOCs is changing is called Bipedalism: The Science of Upright Walking.  It is the result of the passion of Dartmouth paleoanthropologist Jeremy DeSilva.

In thinking about what this course tells us about how MOOCs are changing, I was struck by the fact that all the open online courses that I’ve been associated with are really about the devotion and commitment of professors. Their love of what they teach and what they research, and their desire to share this enthusiasm with anyone in the world (regardless of economic status) who also shares their curiosity and passion.

If you’ve checked out of checking out MOOCs because of your reaction to the hype, or if you simply burned out on open online courses, I hope you take a few minutes to check out Bipedalism: The Science of Upright Walking.

What you will find is a professor at the top of his teaching and research game, and who has worked with a team of instructional designers, media educators, and librarians to create a powerful learning experience.

This course just might, if you go into it with an open mind, change how you think about MOOCs.



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