The “open” in MOOCs

I was part of a debate on the value of MOOCs for higher education during UBC’s Open Access Week, on Oct. 29, 2014.

Here is the description of the event and speaker bios, from the Open UBC 2014 website (not sure how long the link is going to be active, so copied the description here). (The following text is licensed CC-BY)

Debate: Are MOOCs Good for Higher Education?


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are subject to both hype and criticism. In 2012, the New York Times declared it was the year of MOOC, while critics branded 2013 as the year of the anti-MOOC. Today, the debate about the impact that MOOCs are having, and will have, on higher education continues and the topic of MOOCs often dominates conversations and questions about how changes in technologies, pedagogies, learning analytics, economics, student demographics, and open education will impact student learning. Many universities, including UBC, are experimenting with MOOCs in different ways – from trying to understand how to scale learning to how to best use MOOC resources on campus.
This session will explore different types of MOOCs, the possible role for MOOCs in higher education, and their benefits and drawbacks.

Speaker Bios.

Angela Redish (moderator) is the University of British Columbia’s Vice Provost and Associate Vice President for Enrollment and Academic Facilities. Dr. Redish served as a professor in the Department of Economics in the Faculty of Arts at UBC for nearly 30 years. She received her PhD in Economics from the University of Western Ontario, and her subsequent research studied the evolution of the European and North American monetary and banking systems. She served as Special Adviser at the Bank of Canada in 2000-2001, and continues to be active in monetary policy debates. Her teaching has been mainly in the areas of economic history, monetary and macro-economies.

Jon Beasley-Murray is an Associate Professor of Latin American Studies at the University of British Columbia. He has taught a wide range of courses, from Spanish Language to Latin American literature surveys and seminars on topics ranging from “The Latin American Dictator Novel” to “Mexican Film.” His  use of Wikipedia in the classroom has led to press coverage in multiple languages across the globe.

Jon is a vocal critic of the current model of learning and assessment common in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), especially for the Humanities. He blogs at Posthegemony and is the author of Posthegemony: Political Theory and Latin America. His current book projects include “American Ruins,” on the significance of six ruined sites from Alberta, Canada, to Santiago de Chile. He is also working on a project on “The Latin American Multitude,” which traces the relationships between Caribbean piracy and the Spanish state, and indigenous insurgency and the discourse of Latin American independence.

Gregor Kiczales is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia. Most of his research has focused on programming language design and implementation. He is best known for his work on aspect-oriented programming, and he led the Xerox PARC team that developed aspect-oriented programming and AspectJ. He is a co-author of “The Art of the Metaobject Protocol” and was one of the designers of the Common Lisp Object System (CLOS).  He is also the instructor for the Introduction to Systematic Program Design MOOC at Coursera. His discussion of the benefits of MOOCs can be found on the Digital Learning blog.

Christina Hendricks is a Senior Instructor in Philosophy and Arts One at the University of British Columbia. While on sabbatical during the 2012-2013 academic year, she participated in a number of MOOCs, of different types. Ever since then she has used her MOOC participation as a form of professional development and a way to make connections with other teachers and researchers around the world. She has also been one of the co-facilitators for an open online course (not massive) at Peer 2 Peer University called“Why Open?”, and is a part of a project called Arts One Open that is opening up the Arts One program as much as possible to the public.


For my portion of the debate, I wanted to talk about openness (duh…it was open access week!) and the degree to which what many people think of as MOOCs are open (some of them not very). I talked a bit about OERs (open educational resources) and open textbooks as ways to make MOOCs more open, and also about opening up the curriculum and content to co-creation by participants. This led me to cMOOCs, which could be described as having a more open pedagogy. I briefly touched on the value of cMOOCs for higher education, partly as professional development for faculty and for lifelong learning for students.

Jon Beasley-Murray has posted a copy of what he said during this debate, on his blog.

I’m told this session was recorded and the recording will be posted on YouTube, but I don’t think it’s there yet. In the meantime, here are my slides from the debate. I just had 12 minutes max, though I expect I went over time a bit!