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Last week my institution announced that it is joining the edX consortium, and will start offering open online courses this fall.

Over the next weeks and months I’m hoping that our IHE community can utilize this platform to engage in a discussion about how to best leverage open online education to improve an intimate, campus-based, learning experience.

The discussion that I hope to engage you in is how a place like Dartmouth, an institution built around our belief in sustaining a close-knit learning community, can utilize our participation in teaching at Internet scale (MOOCs) to improve learning at human scale.

What I’m hoping is that together we can move past our traditional MOOC dialogue and towards a more productive sharing of ideas about the future of learning.  

Like many of you, I come to this open online education opportunity as a skeptic. MOOCs have been so simultaneously overhyped and vilified that it is difficult to see clearly their potential.  

At my institution we came to our decision to join the edX consortium both deliberately and with a clear understanding of our goals. We view our commitment to offer a small set of open online courses as part of a systematic and strategic effort to utilize technology to enrich our traditional model of teaching and learning.

Specifically, we see joining the edX consortium as an opportunity to build competencies, skills, experience and the infrastructure necessary to create and improve digital materials that faculty can utilize in their teaching with our enrolled students.  This digital toolset for teaching may include recorded lectures and presentations, assessments, and exercises. Gaining experience with developing teaching materials for open online learning will enable all of our faculty to access this infrastructure and expertise for all of their courses.

Participating in teaching at scale can also help in-person learning if we are able to utilize the data generated in open online courses.  We need to understand what sort of teaching methods effectively support student learning.  These data can be analyzed and then acted upon in changing how we create learning materials and how we introduce formative and summative assessment.  The idea is to move towards an evidence-based approach for teaching practices.  

These two interrelated goals for participation in the open online education movement, the opportunity to invest in developing infrastructure and expertise to pair educators with technologies to improve learning and the goal of leveraging data to measure success for constant improvement, are of course best understood as part of our larger educational mission.   

So over the next weeks and months I’ll be engaged in a conversation on campus and with peers in higher education about how we can best seize this moment of excitement around open online education to invest in and improve the liberal arts model of learning.   

I’m hoping that at least part of this conversation extends to our IHE community. That I’ll be able to report firsthand on what it is like to participate in open online education with the explicit goal of improving small-scale face-to-face and blended learning.  And that you will share your ideas, experiences, and concerns.

What do you see as the best way to build on the opportunities for conversations about learning and the future of teaching in higher ed that are opened up by the decision to engage in open online education?

What do you want to know about what life looks like from the inside of starting up an open online learning program on campus?

How can we move our MOOC debate past the tired old good vs. bad (savior vs. villain) dichotomy, and move to a more nuanced conversation where open online education is understood as only one part of a much larger effort to improve teaching and learning?  

How can we take the hype and the hyperbole out of MOOCs, leaving us with opportunities to have serious conversations about the future of teaching?

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