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.

About Owen Youngman

Professor Emeritus of Journalism and formerly Knight Chair in Digital Media Strategy, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University. Formerly senior vice president/strategy and development and director of interactive media, Chicago Tribune.