Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’ pilot MOOC launches

March 27, 2014

by Lika Balenovich

With an ocean between them, connected via Skype, Kris Olds and Susan Robertson have spent the past year discussing the concept for their new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the 'Knowledge Economy.'

Olds, a professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Robertson, a professor of the Sociology of Education at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, launched their first MOOC to learners from around the world this week.

The seven-week free course is the fourth pilot MOOC offered at UW-Madison this year and explores the shifting practices, programs and policies of higher education and research in an increasingly global era.

While content may differ, MOOCs provide access to instructors all over the world by connecting learners through technology, allowing participants to learn wherever they are and whenever they choose. As they discuss, Olds and Robertson's MOOC has an especially global focus.

Q: Recently, people have been paying increasing attention to MOOCs. You also have a blog, GlobalHigherEd that explores the many aspects of MOOCs. What do you feel is the next step or direction for MOOCs in 2014-15?

Kris Olds

Kris Olds

Olds: First, I think we'll be seeing a more realistic discussion about what MOOCs are good and not good for. They are not the solution to the many fiscal and access challenges some had hoped they would be, and yet MOOCs are serving a wide array of expected and unexpected roles in, for example, the transformation of professional development, alumni relations and personal enrichment.

Q: You are the first professor from an international institution to partner with UW-Madison on a pilot MOOC. How has your partnership created new insights or questions?

Robertson: The University of Bristol has, over the years, had a strong engagement with UW-Madison via the World Universities Network. And in fact that is when Kris and I first came together to collaborate on mapping and making sense of dramatic changes taking place in universities as a result of global, regional and national processes. This previous history has been hugely beneficial to working together on this project as we have developed a way of working over distances — through Skype calls, phone calls, sketching out ideas and moving them backward and forward — which also means that we trust each other's judgment.

Q: What has been the most challenging or surprising part of creating and delivering a MOOC?

Susan Robertson

Susan Robertson

Robertson: Perhaps the most challenging, but also most engaging and stimulating for me, is to develop a way of engaging with the students from around the world in an accessible way, but which has a strong sense of the research and scholarship that is informing our analyses. The other has been to try and imagine the student's journey through the ideas, and how to build from one week to the next. Now that is not a new idea when teaching students. That is what a great course does. But we have to put a great deal of thought into the range of exercises that will engage students who themselves will very likely range too in how much they want to put into their learning experience with us.

Olds: We made a decision, from the start, to create the content from scratch. The positive aspect of this decision is that what you see reflects purpose-built content — not some transformed old lecture notes or slides for the digital era. We wanted to see what we could create that is ideal for this platform.

Q: What do you hope that participants take away from your MOOC?

Robertson: We hope that the students will take away a truckload of questions that they did not have when they started, and that they have been on a ride that has been stimulating, provocative, has sometimes tested their comfort zones, and that they think differently about the trends and issues at stake. So much is changing in the higher education sector that deserves a wider and more global discussion and debate. The students insights will matter, and their voices are more likely to be heard, when they can bring with them a more informed view.

To register, click here.