What We Talked About at the EdX Meeting

The discussion comes back to campus learning.

June 8, 2014

I’m just back from the edX Consortium #FutureEDU meeting at Delft University.  (It turns out the Dutch are the world’s most gracious and generous hosts - if at all possible hold your next conference in the Netherlands). 

At last count the not-for-profit edX Consortium has 47 postsecondary and institutional members, and the global forum is our chance to share best practices and lessons learned.

So what did we talk about for the 2 and 1/2 days?

The substance of the most of the conversations that I took part in actually came as somewhat of a surprise. I had expected most of the discussions to be about developing online courses for scale.  

We did have those discussions about online learning at scale, but they did not dominate the conversation. If I were to characterize the discussions this edX consortium meeting they would be in the following 3 buckets:

1) How Teaching and Learning Is Changing on Campus:

The real success of edX and the whole MOOC movement has been to catalyze a new discussion about teaching and learning. The membership of the edX consortium is diverse in terms of locality, size, and focus - but all the members seemed to be talking about a new campus excitement and energy around learning. This excitement is reflected in what seems to be widespread investments in Teaching and Learning Centers amongst member institutions, as well as a renewed focus on large-scale course re-design and blended learning.   

The sense that I got was that open online courses were only a part of what is going on within member institutions to develop capacities for new methods of teaching. There was lots of talk about the recruitment of instructional designers, and of new models of collaboration across academic computing, library, institutional research, and various academic and administrative units.

My sense is that there are some really important and substantial changes taking place in both organizational structure and culture at many institutions of higher education.  

2)  The Potential of Research to Improve Teaching:

The second thread that I picked up on was lots of talk about research. I think that we are on the cusp of a renaissance (or revolution maybe) in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL).  

We are all excited about the amount of data that are generated by courses at scale, and the ability of translate that data into course design changes. The data and analytics story, however, seems to be only a subset of a larger narrative around the potential to move to a more evidence based approach in teaching. Big data may spur interest in educational research, but the really exciting work will be done at the small scale of traditional residential classes.

3)  A New Focus on the Learner and a Convergence of the Traditional Online Learning and MOOC Communities:

This being an edX Consortium meeting there was a good deal of discussion about online learning at scale. What I found most interesting was what I see as an emerging convergence between that the world’s of traditional online teaching and learning (what many of us have been doing for years now), and the people involved in the MOOC initiatives.  

This is a good development. Many of the knocks against MOOCs was that the people leading the open online learning charge were never part of the larger learning and pedagogy communities of practice. For many years the educators involved in online learning have come at the work from theoretical frameworks grounded in research based practices in how people learn. The biggest MOOC evangelists simply did not emerge from this tradition.

At the edX Consortium meeting I began to see changes in the dialogue and discussion. Maybe this is because so many instructional designers have been hired to work on MOOCs. Or perhaps it is because MOOCs catalyzed work on blended learning and new online learning programs. Whatever the underlying causes it was refreshing to hear lots informed discussion on designing open online courses from the learner’s point of view. Backwards course design. Courses designed around learning objectives rather than content coverage.   

Were you at the Delft edX meeting?  What were your big takeaways?

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Joshua Kim

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