Blog 4 – Tech & Innovation in Higher Ed

For the Preparing Future Professoriate 5104 course at Virginia Tech we were assigned the task of finding an infographic or article about how faculty (higher education) are using and/or reacting to social media, MOOCs, and/or other “disruptive” technologies. My reference, an article in EducauseReview, is primarily concerned with the implementation and subsequent strategies of MOOCs at Stanford University.

The notion that utilizing MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) is disruptive is very interesting. As the article states, “faculty are portrayed either as passive bystanders or recalcitrant barriers to change”. Certainly MOOCs are diametrically opposed in many ways to the age-old, tried and true methods of approaching higher education. Any time the status quo is confronted with change the face of fear arises. MOOCs are probably one of the most drastic changes in higher education that have ever occurred. Yet when embraced by faculty MOOCs offer an unprecedented methodology for openness in education… a factor that many institutions theoretically seek.

The article states, “MOOCs can be a catalyst — instead of an all-consuming disruptive force — for faculty to engage in a wide variety of digital learning activities, but this process requires space for experimentation and exploration instead of prescription.” An awareness of the requirements in any given situation is, to me, highly preferable to acting from the position of a formula, the latter of which is the approach utilized in many of the traditional classrooms. MOOCs demand that educators be open to new possibilities. Such an openness is then created both within the institutions, with faculty, administrators, and IT departments, as well as outside the institution in creating a new type of student.

After some preliminary testing, the Stanford President/Provost found the initiative worthwhile and announced the formation of the Office for the Vice Provost of Online Learning and began securing funding for the programs. Interestingly, after becoming engaged with their particular MOOCs, the faculty involved were quite excited about the new possibilities. Since there were thousands of applicants for the MOOCs it was clear to see that such programs greatly expanded the reach of educators. Not only were they becoming involved at a different level in the education of on-campus students but also with a wide variety of business, corporate, and independent participants outside the campus.

As the article mentions, MOOCs can be expensive. Setting up IT and other logistical systems to handle the influx of requirements of these non-traditional programs can require creativity and openness to change as well. I would imagine that the initial costs of implementation will be reduced as these MOOC-based programs develop.

Overall, though the initial reactions of faculty in higher education to MOOCs may have generally been one of resistance, it appears that forward thinking educators who have embraced and utilized MOOCs are viewing them as new and exciting expansions of current educational practice. They are seen as a golden opportunity. Certainly, the needs of todays students are quite different than those of previous generations. With ubiquitous social media there has been a dynamic and quite sudden shift in the manner in which human beings communicate. Where could communication be a more important factor than in education? Therefore educators must rise and embrace new forms of the exchange and development of knowledge or they will face extinction.

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