The next miracle (v11.1): Owen Youngman

Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy, Medill / Northwestern

Owen YoungmanOwen YoungmanOwen Youngman

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 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
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

The MOOC springs back to life

Today’s Wall Street Journal brings a “Journal Report” on “six crucial issues” in technology . . . though your mileage will vary on just how “crucial” they might be: After all, they range from “Should Broadband Internet Access Be Regulated as a Public Utility?” to “Is Now the Time to Buy a 4K Television?”

Somewhere along that continuum we find, as the print edition would have it, “What Role Will Large Online Courses Play in the Future of Higher Education?” The Journal saves the usual acronym for the subhead: “Three experts debate whether MOOCs will create two separate but unequal college experiences,” perhaps because “large” is actually a way better adjective than “massive.”

Large or massive, MOOCs continue to generate a lot of data, a fair amount of media attention (or maybe not), and more than a few chances for professors to try to interpret their data. To that end, what was I up to after the MOOC, while not posting to this blog? Well, let’s see.


Kept wondering if the undergraduates in “American Media through the Lens of Google,” might have preferred to take the Coursera version instead of walking over to Fisk Hall at 9 a.m. Why, you ask?

Well, here are the morning low temperatures in Evanston on seven of the first ten class days: minus 1, zero, minus 5, minus 12, plus 9, plus 2, minus 5. (And this omits the first scheduled session, when the morning low of minus 13 meant the university canceled all classes–that, plus the 12 inches of snow that had fallen on the weekend.) Continue reading

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