The next miracle (v11.1): Owen Youngman

Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy, Medill / Northwestern

Owen YoungmanOwen YoungmanOwen Youngman

The third time, but the first time too

On Monday, October 6, the classroom doors will swing open for the third session of my Coursera MOOC, “Understanding Media by Understanding Google.” I was just comparing the syllabi for this session and the first one, which launched in September of 2013, for a reality check on whether I’ve been keeping it current. Out of 70 links to videos, news articles, and blog posts in the weekly readings, 23 hadn’t yet been published when we began Session One (and the other two-thirds still are really, really good!).

That was part of the strategy for this course all along, of course. By relying on the readings for the very latest developments,  the video lectures have been relatively straightforward to update because they focus heavily on the six books around which the course is built. (For better or worse, I just didn’t receive the newest round of relevant books in time to make any wholesale changes; the newest, Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg’s “How Google Works,” came out last week, and Nicholas Carr’s new “The Glass Cage” is supposed to arrive this week. They’ll be fair game for the next on-campus version of the class, I daresay.)

With a week to go to the launch, enrollment is running somewhat behind the first two sessions, which the Coursera folks tell me is par for the course, not least because the overall number of classes on platform continues to grow even as they drift a little bit farther off most people’s radar. Today, in an excerpt from his forthcoming bookMOOC U: Who Is Getting the Most Out of Online Education and Why,” contributing editor Jeffrey Selingo of The Chronicle of Higher Education posits that “the primary players—Coursera, edX, and their college sponsors—need to answer three fundamental questions about the position of MOOCs in the academic ecosystem if the technology is ever to deliver on some of its promises”:

  • What role should MOOCs play at traditional colleges and universities?
  • How do colleges make open online courses actually open?
  • How can the quality and success of MOOCs be measured?

One of his essential points, with which there can be little argument, is that “we should eventually expect more from MOOCs given the time and money colleges have spent developing and offering” them. While I disagree with him that here at Northwestern we “still view free online courses through the lens of the traditional, on-campus students they are accustomed to teaching,” there is a real imperative in figuring out how they fit into a university’s overall approach to all of its constituencies. This was among the themes of the material I wrote during and after the first session, in case you didn’t see any of it.

At any rate, there’s still room for you in the front row of the new session. As I have said before, with a cheerful nod to the Firesign Theatre: Line up, sign up, and re-enlist today.

We celebrate the book, and sing the e-book

IMG_2369 IMG_2362IMG_2371Looking at Julia Keller’s new e-short story: My Kindle Fire, Kindle DX, and Nexus 7. Admittedly, none of this hardware is of recent vintage…

This Saturday (June 7), I’ll be returning to the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest for the first time in a couple of years. It’s the 30th anniversary of an event that was called the Printers Row Book Fair when we acquired it from the Near South Planning Board a dozen years ago. My longtime colleague and Tribune literary editor Elizabeth Taylor invited me back for a panel called “The Digital Revolution,” its general topic being “the many digital developments that are transforming the publishing industry.” (Event details at the end of this post.)

As it happens, the first thing that Liz and I worked on together was itself a “digital development”—a standalone Web site for the Tribune books section called “Chicago Books,” developed for us by Jimmy Guterman and which launched in August of 1997 even though only a fraction of the section’s readers were yet even online — and when, according to my files, a week of 30,000 Books page views was a big deal. (If you want to re-enter that version of the world, check out this piece by Donna Seaman from that month: “Learning to Crawl: Book Lovers Go On-Line.”)

Also as it happens, this is also the week in my Coursera MOOC “Understanding Media by Understanding Google” where one of the two topics being discussed is the impact of the Web in general, and Google in particular, on the book business (the other is the news business). One of the ideas I have put out for agreement or disagreement is taken from Steven Levy’s In the Plex, in which he quotes librarian John Wilkin of the University of Michigan: “Twenty years from now, interaction with a physical book will be rare. Most of that interaction will be in the study of books as artifacts.”

Does my worldwide student body agree? Continue reading

Is it a Google, Google, Google, Google world?

Worldwide visitors to "The next miracle"

This Jetpack heat map shows the 152 countries from which users have visited owenyoungman.com since I began teaching through Coursera.

For me the most fascinating part of teaching a massively open online course is coming into contact with so many motivated learners from around the world — or, more properly, interacting with them as they share their perspectives on the questions raised in the readings, video lectures, and forums.

As the second session of “Understanding Media by Understanding Google” got underway with (so far) about 31,000 students from 168 countries, I presented this question in the Coursera discussion forums as part of beginning the group exploration:

Early in Siva Vaidhyanathan’s book, The Googlization of Everything, he notes that skepticism and suspicion of Google’s motives seems higher in Europe and other parts of the world than in the United States. What do you find to be true in your own country?

The comments that follow, culled from the first 165 that were posted in response, have been lightly edited for concision. Continue reading

Still massive, but not so mysterious

We’ll have more MOOC veterans this time around (data updated 5/25/14; percentages rounded).

It stands to reason that, as time goes on and the number of people who have taken massively open online courses through Coursera has increased to more than 7 million, the composition and goals of the student body for any individual course would evolve. I’m certainly seeing that as I review data from my optional pre-course surveys in advance of launching Session 2 of “Understanding Media by Understanding Google” on May 26. For example, the chart above shows that the students this time will have more experience with MOOCs. The number of enrolled students who never before have taken a MOOC has dropped from about half to about a third, and a handful of respondents reported having taken more than 50 (I lumped everyone at or above 10 into a single group). It obviously follows that curiosity about the concept is shrinking in importance, but the table that follows shows some other interesting changes too. These numbers are those who said a given factor was “very” or “quite” important in their decision to enroll, the top two boxes out of 5 possible answers:

Relative importance, Session 1 vs. Session 2

How important was the following factor when you chose to enroll?
Session 2: n=1,770
Session 1: n= 3,000
I'm curious about online courses24.3%40.4%
The subject is relevant to my academic field
33.2%35.2%
I want to earn a credential for my CV / résumé29.9%43.5%
It's offered by a prestigious university33.0%42.0%
The class teaches ideas that will help my job / career62.0%69.6%
I want a different perspective on a subject I'm interested in69.4%75.1%
Continue reading

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