The End of College – It Gets Better!

MOOC, cocreate
Two elementary school students record Munsell colors on ceramic vessels in Nivin, Peru.

Debbie Morrison’s review of the End Of College by Kevin Carey convinced me to read the book.  I am glad I did.  Carey’s basic thesis is that traditional higher education, particularly for undergraduates, is not working well today and is in need of restructuring.  Carey uses the MITx MOOC Introduction to Biology: The Secret of Life taught by Professor Eric Lander as a framework to explore and pose solutions on what that restructured undergraduate model might look like.

Critique of Critiques

As Debbie notes in her review, much of the criticism of The End of College misses the point of the book.  I wholeheartedly agree.  For example, when I first read John Seery’s review in the Huffington Post I wondered if I should read the book.  However, reading The End of College revealed Seery’s review to be more of a defense of his past, present, and future vision at Pomona College where he has taught for the past 25 years.  In fact, I had some question if we even read the same book, waiting for the evidence of the damning indictments Seery made of Carey’s book.  Seery concludes his review with “The End of College is an embarrassment. And it’s not because Kevin Carey lacks a PhD” I find Seery’s review an embarrassment that he can find no value or validity in Carey’s critique of undergraduate education.

Though less inflammatory than Seery, the review of the book by Audrey Watters and Sarah Boldrick-Rab in Inside Higher Education similarly does not acknowledge any problem in higher education or propose an alternative to Carey’s analysis.  The general tone of the noted reviews reminds me of folks like Arthur Keen in his Cult of the Amateur or the more simplistic “the sky is falling” arguments against MOOCs of a few years ago.  The reviewers do a disservice to their own arguments by presenting critiques at odds with the facts.

What is the book about?

Debbie’s review does a great job in reviewing the content of the End of College.  Carey contextualizes his proposals within the historic development of higher education and hybrid (joint research and undergraduate) institutions. Of particular value is the discussion of engaging more digital technology in restructuring undergraduate curricula.

The Illusion of MOOC’s Declining Numbers

The above critiques and those noted in Debbie’s review point to the alleged failure of MOOCs as an educational tool.  As Seery notes in his review “The MOOC run-up has already run its course.”

  • Yet in the most recent issue of LAS News (Fall 2016) I received in the mail this week from my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), I read “Illinois Education is becoming more accessible thanks to new offerings via massively open online courses . . . These include the Department of Statistics, a partner in Illinois’ new Masters of Computer Science in Data Science degree offered through online education company Coursera.  And Cary Nelson, Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts & Sciences and emeritus professor of English is teaching the campus’ first lecture-based MOOC in American Poetry on Coursera.”
  • A review of the catalog shows that at UIUC alone over 50 instructors ( from Lecturers to Full Professors) are offering 70 MOOC courses in 2016 Fall semester.
  • The MOOC aggregator Class Central notes that the “total number of students who signed up for at least one MOOC course has crossed 35 million—up from an estimated 16-18 million last year.”

A review of available resources demonstrates that MOOCs have in fact not already run their course.  Seemingly, major universities throughout the world are jumping more on the MOOC bandwagon as Carey notes.

The Illusion of MOOCs as a Failure

Critics allege MOOCs are failures for a host of reasons.

  • The completion rate for most courses is reasonably low – I am not certain how completion rate equates to success or failure.  I have started perhaps 20 MOOCs over the past few years and completed 25% of them. (I have a much smaller completion rate for films I start to watch on Netflix, but the streaming video business seems to be thriving.)  Have MOOCs failed me or vice versa?  I think not.  When filling in a MOOC course registration survey, one is typically asked if they plan to complete the readings, quizzes and so forth.  As a well-trained student and believer that I must finish whatever I start, in the past I always checked the ‘plan to complete everything’ box and was disappointed if I didn’t.  Then I had an interesting experience about one year ago.  I registered for a course only because I wanted to listen to the lectures from one week of the six-week course – I had no intention of finishing the course, or completing any of the assignments.  I am more mindful when completing these surveys today.  Now I view registering for MOOCs similar to checking out a book in the bookstore.  Most books that I pick up, I don’t end up buying or reading.  I review the table of contents, read the Intro (often on-line) and then I will commit or not to the entire book.  As Carey (p.154) notes, if only 2% of the world took one MOOC course annually at $74.00 that small enrollment will create 10 billion dollars in revenue.
  • Critics argue that the primary users of MOOCs are male with advanced degrees – or perhaps that is the demographic filling out the evaluation surveys on same since the data are largely based on enrollee responses to surveys – that might be an interesting study in itself.  Yet the table below (Table 2 of linked article)  suggests that the greatest number of folks completing the courses are actually high school students!  Debbie Morrison posted a while ago an interesting piece on the role MOOCs can play in high school student decision-making on future careers.
Course Auditing Completing Disengaging Sampling
High school 6% 27% 29% 39%
Undergraduate 6% 8% 12% 74%
Graduate 9% 5% 6% 80%

MOOCs as a Supplement to Higher Education Offerings

A few years ago I posted a blog about the writing deficiency of many of my graduate student advisees.  I found that MOOC and other free-on line offerings of value to my students to obtain training in writing and other areas not available in their degree programs.

For example, a student with a career focus in cultural heritage administration was able to supplement her regular course-work with Build Essential Skills for the Workplace a ten-course specialization from taught by faculty from the University of California at Irvine.  The cost for the approximately 60 hours of course instruction and capstone project was $323.00 with credentials (or at no cost to audit).  Of importance, when I asked the student after completing the specialization “Was it worth it?  Did you get anything out of it you could not have gotten from your degree coursework?” they responded with an emphatic yes.

This semester a student dramatically improved their weak writing skills through a free English composition course I recommended at

In both of the above examples, the MOOCs provided offerings that were not available in the students formal coursework, they found the MOOCs of value, and they demonstrated increased skills as a result of the MOOC.  How is this not a good thing?

Takeaways from the End of College

Kevin Carey’s book, in a reasoned, linear, and well-organized approach and addresses several of the challenges facing higher education today.  Contrary to what his more adamant critics allege, I don’t think Carey believes he has received a mountain top divine revelation on this subject.  Rather, he provides a sober assessment, contextualized within an historic perspective, of the state of undergraduate education today.  MOOCs may very well be the Friendster of higher education replaced in the near future by a more effective tool.  I don’t think Mr. Carey will take issue with that point either.  However what Carey clearly lays out, and I completely concur, is that undergraduate education does not work well today.  Although some academicians present reasoned discussion on this issue, such as Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan College in his review of Carey’s book, there appears an overall polarization on MOOCs, like much else in the US today.

I often remark that if academicians think that they can just hold their collective breath and wait for things to go back to the “good old days” of funding, they will all die of asphyxiation and higher education as we know it will go the way of Kodak and daily newspapers.  Discussions of the real problems and viable solutions need to be put forward, particularly for undergraduate education.  It is just plain silly to rant about the low completion rates for MOOCs yet not address the similar decline in completion rates for Undergraduate degrees at bricks and mortar institutions.

I leave with:

Coursera currently hosts 1259 free courses on an incredible diversity of subjects taught by faculty at accredited university’s across the globe.  How is that not a good thing?

In my former academic department, the required graduate seminar on Research Design is taught once every two years.  Students often need portions of the coursework sooner to conduct their graduate research projects.  Coursera offers a Questionnaire Design for Social Surveys course by  Frederick Conrad, Ph.D., Research Professor, Survey Methodology at the University of Michigan.  Students can audit the course for free or register for $69.00.  Or they can register for the entire seven-course Survey Data Collection and Analytics Specialization, audit for free or register for 423.00.  How is having this option available as a supplement to their formal coursework not a good thing?

Finally, how does this relate to Archaeology, Museums, and Outreach?  Stay tuned.

Online Training as an Essential Tool for Small Museums

fenceAs the Director of a small museum and through my work with similarly small-sized nonprofits, I wear many hats and need to know a little bit about a lot of things.  This need is particularly true in the area of digital technology and social media where I have come to rely on resources such as Heather Mansfield’s Nonprofit Tech for Good website and her books that I have reviewed.

In addition to developing a social media strategy, I also need the skills necessary to implement the plan. I tend to get this type of technical support by Googling the need.  I am often frustrated to find instructions that assume starting skills beyond my level of expertise.  I value a step-by-step approach that assumes little substantive prior knowledge of the process.  This week, I found two resources that are excellent examples of that type of instruction. 

The Hour of Code

I know nothing about computer programming, but have always thought I should.  As blog creation and other digital processes become more drag and drop, that need is less pronounced, but I do find situations where knowing code or language is either necessary or at least very helpful.  For example, on another blog I write/manage, The Ancash Advocate, posts are bilingual and require inserting anchor points to jump between the Spanish and English translations.  This process requires entering the text editor and inserting html code.  A colleague performed this task initially.  For the past year, I simply copied the bit of code they created and inserted the different titles into my subsequent posts.  I did not know the meaning of what I copied but simply played around with it until I got it to work.

When I have Googled and looked for training, I found an html for Dummies book.  At over 1000 pages the book was a lot more than I wanted.  But last week I got an email from Khan Academy marketing their participation in the global Hour of Code project.  The idea is that if you invest one hour in the process you will learn something about coding.  On the Hour of Code webpage tab one could “Learn how to make webpages with HTML tags and CSS, finishing up by making your very own greeting card.” The age grade for the hour was listed as 8 and up, so I figured I would understand the presentation.  Through instructional video and real-time input, within one hour, the code I used for the bilingual anchors on the Ancash Advocate blog was explained.  I learned the meaning of the html coding I had done by rote.  Further, at the end of the one hour exercise I was linked to another Kahn Academy page for more training on html and related css coding, if I so desired.

Here is the bottom line on this experience.  For a cost of $0.00 (although donations to Kahn Academy are certainly accepted – which I recommend) and one hour of my time, I learned more about html coding than in my previous efforts over the years.  In a very straight forward approach, mysteries about coding were resolved.  The 8 year plus age-grade proved ideal for me.  This experience reminded me of the brick wall I hit when taking genetics in a Biology for Majors class during my undergraduate days.  I overcame that problem by reviewing the All About Book on Heredity that my mother bought me when I was in grade school.  Starting with the very basics proved essential then and now.


Photoshop Basics

A second example of implementing technical skills is a Photoshop tutorial I came across this week.  The 10-point tutorial covered many of the Photoshop skills that my students or staff who are often just getting their feet wet in the software typically need to know.  The tutorial also links to the Marketers Crash Course in Visual Content Creation download – a very useful introduction to best practices in the visuals of website and digital content creation.

The Good and the Bad of Quick Intros

The perspective offered by individuals such as Andrew Keen in his book The Cult of The Amateur likely think little of the types of resources I discuss above.  Their objection is that these simple resources provide folks with the basic tools to edit code, work with photos and so forth without a rigorous and complete training in the area, thus letting the amateurs run amok.  And fair enough, a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous, but also useful.  Part of the learning process is knowing the limitations that a bit knowledge brings.

Having taken the Kahn Hour of Code, I am anxious to complete the rest of the introductory course on html and css coding.  In addition to understanding the anchor points I create for bilingual posts, I also see how several formatting issues that have bedeviled me for years on this blog are readily resolved with some simple html code adjustments.  In this regard, I come back to my opening statement for this post – as the Director of a small museum, I wear many hats and need to perform a diversity of tasks that in larger institutions might be the responsibility of an IT or social media specialist.  I do not have that luxury or the funds to outsource the work.  Kahn Academy and other training discussed in this post form a valuable part of my small museum toolkit  that allows me to function efficiently and effectively with limited resources.

What online training helps you to do your job?


Wikipedia as a Scholarly Resource

By User:Husky and h3m3ls, Mischa de Muynck and Niels [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Over the past couple of weeks, students in my Museum Practices graduate seminar presented their semester projects.  An Egyptology Art History graduate student, Chris Stelter, presented on the 66 short biographies he created for the renovation of the American Legacy exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum here in Memphis.  He used Wikipedia as a primary resource in the project noting that “. . . using Wikipedia as a main source has helped me make a new mental connection between the available information, what I myself, as a museum professional, want to present, and what a visitor would want to take in.  Since I am providing information for the public and Wikipedia is made by the public, it provides an interesting connection between scholarly research and public intake.”

In discussion after his presentation, Chris noted a certain trepidation at using Wikipedia for a “scholarly” project.  When asked what he would use if he were creating similar biographies for a group of Egyptologists Chris suggested the Who Was Who in Egyptology volume – arguably even less inclusive than Wikipedia.

Regardless of the specific merits in using Wikipedia to collect the Civil Rights leaders mini-bio information, which I find wholly appropriate, I found the class discussion interesting on another level.  As I reflected before in this blog, the very mention of a virtual museum or Wikipedia as a scholarly resource caused audible gasps from seminar students five years ago.  This year after Chris’ presentation the class was able to have a reasoned discussion, while still noting that Wikipedia was loathed by the vast majority of their professors.

I have posted before on Wikipedia as a research tool and specific applications in museums.  Six months down the road from those posts, the potential of Wikipedia as a research and information tool continues to grow.  A mid-year review of the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums with Wikipedia (GLAM) points to this evolving direction. Also, consider the following links:

  • Michigan Wikipedians as “The first student group of its kind in the country, Michigan Wikipedians support the use of Wikipedia on campus for purposes of education. Similar to the Open.Michigan initiative, Michigan Wikipedians foster the development of educational content that can be used globally under open licenses. The club is open to all students and faculty of the University of Michigan, as well as community members who are interested in Wikipedia.”
  • The very entry for Museums in Wikipedia is a 7000 word article with 45 “scholarly” references.  The article covers everything from the etymology of the word to virtual museums.  Were the essay written as an undergraduate honors thesis, the student would be given an A and a strong letter of recommendation.
  • This Wikipedian in Residence link lists the intent, function and experience of individuals who have taken up such assignments at a range of institutional types as essential collaborators, builders, and promoters of Wikipedia.  Scroll to the bottom of the linked page to view projects that the Wikipedians have piloted.

I was reading Debbie Morrison’s most recent post on her Online Learning Insights blog and was a bit overwhelmed when reflecting on the general reluctance of higher education to embrace these potentials, choosing instead to hunker down in their silos.  Then I got to the paragraph heading “Personal Learning Network” in Debbie’s post and it started making a good bit more sense. She wrote about the importance of personal motivation in accepting the new technology. I thought of how in 1994 while finishing my PhD I taught a course back in my hometown titled “Anthropology and the Internet” in a department of eight faculty of whom only three even had email accounts.  One faculty member that year proudly refused the computer the University had offered him choosing instead to continue typing his manuscripts on an IBM Selectric typewriter. However, when he realized he could get the daily Mexican newspapers where he did his research online, he became a convert overnight to the wonders of the digital age.  Based in part on pressure from students in that class, the next year the department had a computer lab set-up.  Can a reasoned and objective assessment of the scholarly applications of Wikipedia be far behind?

How do you use Wikipedia as a tool in your scholarly work?

An Evaluation of Coursera as Public Outreach

Shaker rattle from Uganda

I have posted several times lately about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) such as offered through  In those posts I stuck to a general discussion of MOOCs, holding off on evaluative statements until I completed a course.  So, yesterday I took the final exam for my first MOOC: Listening to World Music taught by Professor Carol Muller at the University of Pennsylvania.  Here are some thoughts:

The academic level for the course was on a junior/senior undergraduate level.  I spent 4 – 8 hours per week watching video lectures, YouTube clips, searching for internet resources, writing essays, and taking quizzes.  Based on the grading scheme, I will end up with a B+ or so, a reasonable grade for the effort I expended.  I could have earned an A except I blew off the 100 question multiple guess final exam by not reviewing any of my notes to refresh my memory on what is a hocket, who employs them, whether an event happened in 1996 or 1998 etc.

  • Overall, the lecture content was quite good.  I learned a lot.  As an anthropologist, I was disappointed by what I perceived as some rather convoluted statements on cultural development, notions of authenticity, and so forth.  But I know ethnomusicologists are equally disappointed in my inability to distinguish between polyphonic and heterophonic textures.
  • But . . . my disappointment is precisely where the class discussion forums provided an outstanding opportunity to engage.  For example, on the concept of authenticity, I had excellent discussions with students and “staff” for the course.  I was particularly impressed with the diversity of  responses as the majority of students were from outside the United States.  Although data were not published for the Listening to World Music class, for another coursera offering on Gamification, U.S. participation was one-third of the student body.  As a general statement, the level and quality of engagement in the discussion forums was in line with first year graduate level seminars.  I was quite pleased with this aspect of the course.
  • Each week participants chose one of four questions/topics and submitted a 700 – 1000 word essay on same.  The essays required synthesizing lecture content, built sequentially throughout the 7-week course, and drew on personal experiences.  In this regard, the student diversity was particularly insightful.
  • Based on my Listening to World Music experience and reviewing the requirements of other offerings, I dropped a couple of courses for which I had previously registered.  Simply the quality and effort required for these MOOC courses is considerably more than I originally imagined.  I note that the course descriptions at now include an estimated time commitment per week.  I really cannot manage taking more than one course at a time.  Fortunately, the schedule of courses and breadth of offerings is such that at the present rate, I will be kept busy for quite a while before I run through all the courses that interest me or will be helpful in my career.

Here is what I found did not work in the Listening to World Music course:

  • The peer review of the weekly essays was perhaps the weakest part of the experience.  This finding is consistent with other MOOC reviews I have read.  The evaluations ranged from the silly (requirement of 2 -3 paragraphs of up to 1000 words, but having points deducted when the evaluator counted a block quote as a separate paragraph making the total 4 even though word count was under 800) to the unhelpful (“very good but I would like to have seen more”).  Ultimately, I followed the solution of other folks who posted portions of their essays in the discussion forums to meaningfully engage.
  • Anonymity on two levels was problematic.  First, for essay evaluations peer review anonymity is problematic simply because there is not an opportunity for further discussion with the writer one is evaluating.  There were several essays I evaluated where I would have liked following up with the writer on some of their insightful comments.  Second, in the discussion forums, students can post anonymously.  Consistently, folks who posted inflammatory or troll-like responses did so anonymously.  In the instances where posters were questioned on their anonymity, they explained anonymity as their right, blah, blah, blah. Signing as Anonymous relegates comments to the great “they said” of discussions and seems completely out of place.  I hope will deal with this issue.
  • The professors and graduate assistants taking the leap into teaching these courses are to be congratulated for their pioneering efforts.  I expect that technical issues will improve, such as Prof Muller’s problems with pointing out locations on digital maps.  The graduate assistant discussions needed work as they sometimes mumbled through important course information, looking down at their notes/iPads while speaking, greatly reducing the effectiveness of delivery.  Perhaps coursera should offer a coursera course on how to deliver a coursera course presentation?

So what has any of this got to do with public outreach for archaeology or museums:

  • The demographic data of the Gamification course offering are quite interesting.  Sixty percent of the participants took the course because of “interest in the subject matter, without a particular educational/business rationale”  Only 15% took the course because “it relates to my educational program.”  MOOCs also offer opportunities for those yet to find a place at the higher education table.  This MOOC reality is contrary to the “sky is falling” concerns expressed by some in higher education.  I am hopeful that coursera will make public such data as they start rolling in from completed courses.
  • Although the MOOC concept will inevitably, and rightly so, find its place within the formal structure of  higher education, as the coursera founders note, taking over all of the 30 seat lecture classes is not there intent.  I don’t really see a hidden agenda here.  Peter Norvig, a pioneer in MOOCs argues that coursera is about the democratization of knowledge and addressing the needs of lifelong learners.
  • In this capacity, think of the opportunities for a MOOC offering on the Introduction to Archaeology as a resource for those with an “interest in the subject matter, without a particular educational/business rationale.”  Or we can abstain from such mass opportunities and leave it to the American Digger.  The same is true for a MOOC offering on the Introduction to Museum Practices.  Would the American Alliance of Museums (until two weeks ago the 100-year-old American Association of Museums) be well served in its decade old campaign of Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums to consider such a form of outreach?

How do you envision that MOOC-like opportunities can be effectively used in your public outreach efforts?

A response to A Practical Response to Massive Open Online Courses

This past week I attended the webinar A Practical Response to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS).  The webinar defined MOOCS as everything from iTunes U to the edX initiative of Harvard and MIT.  Here are a webinar resource list and a link that compare the range of MOOCs.  Seven Things You Should Know About MOOCs provides the basics that can be ingested in 5 minutes.  Also, I previously blogged about MOOCs.

The webinar title suggests a less than favorable overall assessment of MOOCS.  The 60 minute webinar bore out that expectation.  I won’t expend much figuritive ink on the bias except to note a couple of points.  The moderator’s near fanaticism in noting that “elite” institutions led MOOC initiatives was overkill.  The same was true for references to the “hype” around MOOCs.   The moderator’s comparison of MOOCs to the Oprah Book Club suggested the webinar would be as “fair and balanced” as Fox News.

Here are a few things the webinar coupled with my MOOC experience got me to thinking about:

Who are MOOCs for?  The obvious answer is potentially everyone with internet access.  As of June 2010 this means 77% of the United States population with no state at less than 60%.  A tremendous potential of MOOCs is the ability to engage in informal, free-choice, and lifelong learning, concepts today in the forefront of museum discussions.  Outstanding reports from the Center for the Future of Museums are available on these topics.  Academic sponsorship of MOOCs responds to this social need.  A good bit of the critique of MOOCs rests in their perceived impact on traditional academic degree models.  The perception is greatly inflated.  Coursera is one of the more successful MOOCs at this time.  Their home page notes that you can “Improve your resume, advance your career, expand your knowledge, and gain confidence by successfully completing one of our challenging university courses.”  All of that is true.  I believe that making such coursework available to all citizens, in their homes/libraries leads to increased civic engagement.  For academia to argue otherwise is self-serving.

What About MOOC content?  The criticism of MOOC content is difficult to take seriously.  For MOOC courses taught by tenured professors at Princeton, Harvard, or any other institution, one might reasonably assume that the content will reflect those very credentials.  I did not complete the Human Computer Interaction course I previously blogged about specifically because of the course content.  As opposed to alleged comparability to the Oprah Book Club, I dropped the course because I could not keep up with assignments that  required peer-interaction and review.  The course was more about the subject than I wanted.  I do look forward to other courses I have registered for that are more relevant to my research and career interests.

How can MOOCs be sustained economically?  The panelists were surprised that the biggest reason webinar respondents gave for liking MOOCs was that the offerings were open or free, causing one panelist to ponder “perhaps” we should be examining the cost of higher education.  As I often argue in my blogs, when our institutions demonstrate their relevance to the public that they serve, that relevance will be translated into economic support.  For example, in the case of the C.H. Nash Museum, over the past five years, we have moved from a position of extracting resources to inserting resources into the community in consultation with the community based on their expressed interests and needs.  When it comes time for the public of our community to demand of the elected officials support for programs, we are now in a much better position to receive that support.  I don’t see this as opportunism, rather, as living into our mission as an institution created to serve the public.

MOOCs, whether manifested as iTunes U,, edX, Ted talks, or the Oprah Book Club, ultimately operate from the same starting point.  In his book Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky (2010:98) writes “Interpretations that focus on technology miss the point: technology enables those behaviors, but it doesn’t cause them . . . no one want e-mail for itself, any more than anyone wants electricity for itself; rather, we want the things electricity enables.”   In the same way MOOCs is a technology that enables the publics desire for Massive Online Open Courses.  If this is wrong, then MOOCs or whatever they evolve into, will fail.  If the behavior is real, then all the hand-wringing and excuses will not stop them from succeeding.

What are your thoughts on MOOCs?

Summer Online Courses and Outreach

Summer is the time we typically pull out those books unread during the rest of the year for a lack of time.  However, this year, let me suggest an alternative consideration – register for an open online course.

Everyone except the hyper-Luddites of the world accept that online education can be a  quality alternative to the traditional bricks and mortar approach.  At the University of Memphis, the History Department’s online M.A. program is an excellent example a quality online offering.  Within my own disciplines of Museum Studies and Applied Anthropology institutions such as Johns Hopkins, the University of Leicester, the University of North Texas, and the University of Oklahoma have demonstrated the potential of online graduate programs.

But what about all of those “free” online higher education options that are now cropping up?  There is iTunes U which at this point is primarily a one-way lecture based experience.  Then there are the newer breed of open source free online courses that are completely interactive.  Jennifer Carey blogs quite a bit about new online resources, such as the edX ventures by Harvard and MIT that will offer extensive open online courses, along with current offerings from YaleStanford and iTunes U.  The Do It Yourself Scholar blog is a great source for keeping up on this discussion.  Check Dara’s Best Free Courses and Lectures link a the site.

I have registered for several courses through a consortium of Stanford, Princeton, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania.  The courses I registered for range in length from 5 to 12 weeks and have staggered starting dates from May through September.  The coursera offerings cover a subject spectrum including mathematics, health care, computer science, the humanities and social sciences.

I registered for a 6-week Intro to Statistics course as I still consider myself more-or-less a mathematical illiterate and need to get beyond means, medians and standard deviations in my work; Listening to World Music because I am intrigued by how the course might prove useful in thinking about our Drumming Across Cultures Program at the C.H. Nash Museum; and a social media course because I am fascinated by this work.

I also enrolled in the course Human Computer Interaction because the description seems like a good way for me to think about prototyping and evaluating museum and visitor interactions that we are moving into at Chucalissa.  The course is taught by Scott Klemmer an Associate Professor in Computer Science at Stanford and consists of video lectures, assignments, quizzes and discussion forums. I will receive a grade for the course but no credit hours from Stanford.

I am one week into the course and totally engaged.  The lectures are interesting.  I take notes.  The quizzes are basic.  The assignments are real, require effort, but the learning payoff is fantastic.  To succeed in the course, I estimate that my weekly input will need to be about 4-5 hours.  The course seems to be set at an upper class undergraduate level and will give me a platform for a solid introduction to an area of interest that will be applicable to my daily work.  It’s irrelevant to me whether I have a degree to show that I successfully completed the course.  However, the edX offerings envisioned by Harvard and MIT will offer certificates of completion for those needing documentation.

I am confident that these courses will continue to expand.  In conversation the other day with a Doubting Thomas about, he asked – What is the business model for this?  My immediate one word response was – Relevance.  Besides a shift from the bricks and mortar approach to education, open online courses are a way for higher education to be relevant to the public who through their tax dollars provide support.  This approach seems to be an outstanding demonstration of community outreach.  Naysayers will focus on all of things that open online courses are not.  Unfortunately, they will miss the opportunities that open online courses bring to the table.  Think of this.  You have a 45-minute commute to work each day.  You are interested in Anthropology.  You go to iTunes U and find that you can listen to the 28-lecture course offered by Terrence W. Deacon’s at Berkeley.  How can that not be a good and great thing?

How can we apply the open online approach to our museums and cultural heritage institutions today?