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Graduate and Professional Student Involvement in the MOOC Experience

24 Jun

Graduate and Professional Student Involvement in the MOOC Experience

At the University of Minnesota, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA) has discussed various ways in which MOOCs and other emerging technologies are transforming higher education. It is still unclear how these changes may affect the future of academics and researchers. MOOCs exemplify how a rapid change can  substantially impact a system and raise new questions. To discuss the impact of emerging technologies, GAPSA held an Open Space Technology event, trained in the practice by staff from the University-wide Center for Integrative Leadership, on April 17th, 2013, with Provost Karen Hanson. Students at the Open Space discussed various topics including:

  1. the generational differences between faculty and students,
  2. the inevitability of technological change,
  3. the differences between face to face and online environments,
  4. methods to measure student improvement and student motivation,
  5. intellectual property concerns,
  6. and the fear and possibilities brought by these changes.

Since then GAPSA has been in discussion with various organizations such as the Center for Integrative Leadership, TEDxUMN, OIT, and Extension, about developing a unique MOOC platform. The idea is to help students learn more about the components of a MOOC and how they are or may affect learning in many spaces. In this post, we discuss our current outline for a an interdisciplinary problem-solving MOOC, other GAPSA MOOC-related projects, and invite other graduate and professional students to join us in this project. This is an overview of a project that has been evolving over the past months, and involves a series of collaborative relationships across the University. It will continue to change and grow, and may look quite different from what is outlined in this article, in the final product(s).

Creating More Interdisciplinary Problem-Solving Spaces Through MOOCs

MOOCs provide new possibilities for how “massive” environments develop; how “open” content can increase the availability of resources; how “online” environments help students to learn remotely and effectively about any subject; and how “courses” can vary in structure. With cMOOCs starting in 2008, and xMOOCs starting in 2011, it is likely that other types of MOOCs will be available to students in the near future. One of the ways by which to expand the MOOCs typology can is developing action-oriented MOOCs that address grand challenges or wicked problems. We also seek to create hybrid learning environments that incorporate some of the best elements of a face to face environment with an online environment.

GAPSA hopes to provide a virtual space to host discussions that are of current relevance to the university community. Every year new topics may be selected to address pressing issues. While these discussions are currently taking place at the University of Minnesota these spaces are usually limited to 50 or less participants. As open courses, MOOCs can allow for greater participation and for crowd-accelerated innovation.

Instead of developing a specific xMOOC or a cMOOC, GAPSA would create a MOOC framework that can be utilized for multiple topics. These topics will be framed through a broad lens so that seemingly unrelated stakeholders feel included in the discussion, and see potential opportunities to engage. These MOOCs will be short or mini-MOOCs lasting from 4-6 weeks. By the end of the MOOC, participants will ideally be invited to further develop specific projects from ideas generated in the session and apply for funding in order to move the conversation to action.

As online spaces, these problem-solving MOOCs will allow for asynchronous conversations, and extend the time available for discussion. Providing financial incentives for the best projects or ideas that are developed at the end of the course will hopefully increase participation.  We believe the idea of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, merged with online learning and civic dialogue about polarizing issues has great potential. In these MOOCs, an issue will be first discussed by subject experts via online videos or a live webinar to help frame the discussion then participants will gain access to shared readings and course materials, before participating in different group problem-solving activities.

Through the use of various Art of Hosting techniques including circles, appreciative inquiry, world cafe, open space technology, collective mind mapping, pro-action cafe, collective story harvesting, action learning, polarization mapping, idea generation, journaling, consensus decision-making, chaordic stepping stones, design thinking, and other group-based practices we hope to help participants collaborate in action-oriented groups to address a specific societal problems. Many of these techniques will be modified to meet the objective of the MOOC environment.

These MOOCs will be framed with a broad lense to encourage greater participation. These MOOCs will only last a few weeks yet have the potential to impact the university community, the broader conversation around the subject, and provide students with the opportunity to participate as panelists, participants, or as moderators throughout the project. These MOOCs will also benefit from the potential that a university network and a network of students can provide.

This MOOC platform includes the following characteristics:

  • Organic: ability to address societal and community problems soon after they become relevant
  • Experiential: ability for students to participate in different roles throughout the process.
  • Asynchronous: transferring elements of civic engagement & interdisciplinary courses at the U to an online platform
  • Idea Generating: Partner individuals in groups to address challenges from different angles
  • Inter-Disciplinary: Increase collaboration between academic units
  • Concise: Develop a MOOC that lasts only a few weeks with a clear objective
  • Current: Include presenters and area experts via presentations
  • Massive: By being larger than a regular course, better project ideas may be developed
  • Entrepreneurial: By obtaining funding for project it hopes to promote an entrepreneurial spirit

Interested in Joining to GAPSA MOOCs Work Group?

In moving forward with this idea, GAPSA is interested in recruiting various graduate and professional students who would benefit from working in this project, starting with development and testing in Fall 2013. These MOOCs will provide students with the opportunity to learn more about MOOC development, and to participate as subject area experts. In addition to this project, GAPSA is also developing various projects to provide students which additional opportunities to use emerging technologies in ways that may benefit their future careers. GAPSA MOOC team members will help to design a unique MOOC environment that encourages the use of crowdsourcing, and novel ways in which to have a constructive online conversation. The team will also work with TEDx in organizing one short course or workshop per semester. Participating in this project will provide for research opportunities, the possibility of being part of an innovative project, and to become more involved with GAPSA and the University community, while working to address graduate and professional student concerns. These MOOCs will discuss topics such as the cost of higher education, mental health in higher education, and other complex subjects.

Position Responsibilities:

  1. Work closely with the GAPSA Executive Board
  2. Transfer various face to face methods to an online environment
  3. Contact students and faculty members who participate as area experts
  4. Work closely with TEDxUMN, Center for Teaching and Learning, and the UMN Libraries
  5. Collaborate with other student and administrative groups in the university.
  6. Planning multiple events in collaboration with CIL and TEDxUMN
  7. Research projects and analysis

Estimated time commitment: 5 hours or more per week.

To join this conversation and help us move this idea forward, feel free to email us at gapsa@umn.edu. Thank you! Alfonso Sintjago and Brittany Edwards

Meeting Challenges and Offering Opportunities

In addition to developing a unique MOOC platform, GAPSA is also committed to promoting “openness” in multiple ways at the University of Minnesota. By promoting openness, we hope to help reduce the cost of education and increase the diversity of education resources available to faculty and students. As GAPSA is experimenting with what is possible through MOOCs, we encourage others to also experiment, and consider ways in which MOOCs can be of benefit to their organizations. A MOOC should not be limited only to an xMOOCs or cMOOCs but as there are many types of university courses emphasizing different student learning experiences, so too should educators consider others ways in which MOOCs and “openness” can help improve education.

Promoting greater “openness,” GAPSA has collaborated with the UMN libraries and other bodies to increase awareness of Open Educational Resources (OER), Open Access Journals (OAJ), and the potential of open textbooks. There are also many other ways in which openness can benefit the University of Minnesota and its students, including through Open Innovation, Open Science, and Open Hardware. GAPSA is also promoting a new system of Open Governance. Through increasing awareness by promoting legislation at the state level, discussing the benefits of openness with faculty, and helping to organize an awareness campaign, GAPSA has and will continue to promote openness.

Another way in which GAPSA is promoting emerging technologies is through a partnership with TEDxUMN

 to offer two video workshops where students will have the opportunity to learn how to deliver a TED Talk and use videos to share their ideas. Sharing ideas via video is a powerful way through which to reach a broader audience. By partnering with TEDxUMN students who may not feel ready to deliver a TED Talk can practice the different elements to improve their video presentations. Videos can be an effective way to reduce social distance and are a key MOOC element helping students access and revisit recorded lectures at their convenience. In addition to creating a MOOC platform we believe that it is important for students to learn how different MOOC ingredients such as online videos, and peer-grading can be useful to them as students and future professionals and instructors.

Brittany Edwards, HHH Alum, OLPD Grad Student, GAPSA President

Leah Lundquist, HHH Alum, CIL Program Manager

Alfonso Sintjago, PhD Candidate CIDE, GAPSA Executive VP

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