Wednesday Mar 12, 2014

5 Tips From a MOOC Producer

It was the second Google Hangout On Air broadcast for the “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education.” Professors and students at three universities—Duke, Stanford, and the University of California at Santa Barbara—were engaged in conversation while dozens of viewers watched, asking questions in the Google Hangout and in the MOOC forums and live-tweeting the session. Seven minutes in, without warning, Google Hangout stopped recording and broadcasting. Viewers were left with blank screens, and there was no way to show the session later … and the seconds were ticking past. A quick Google search offered no solutions, and the interface was not responding. What to do?

This was precisely my situation four weeks ago. Here’s what I did. First, the audience: I posted to the Google Hangout page that we were having technical difficulties. Two students started posting updates in Twitter and the forums. Google Hangout would not restart the broadcast, but I could save the recording. I retrieved a video camera, a tripod, a microphone, and a pile of extension cords. In less than five minutes, we were recording. Although we couldn’t broadcast, we could at least let the audience know that we would publish the video later.

At that moment, I realized that producing a MOOC could be just as educational as participating in one. Here are some of the things I’ve learned as the producer of “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education”:

  • There is always a work-around. The malfunction of the Google Hangout wasn’t the first time we had to improvise during the production of the MOOC. It’s easy to get hung up on technology glitches and problems that will inevitably occur. Rather than focusing on the tools and methods, focus on what you need to accomplish. There are always multiple ways to get there, even if not all of the solutions are perfect.
  • You can never have too many cords. It’s easy to take a studio for granted, even if it is in an office. There are plenty of power outlets, and the lights, sounds, and backgrounds are easily managed. The first two weeks of MOOC filming required merely a webcam, a USB microphone, and some extra lighting. When we decided to go on a field trip to Washington, D.C., things got more complicated. Our entire in-the-field setup consisted of a camcorder with a 20-minute battery and a 48-inch power cord, a single-mic lavalier microphone, and three filming lamps.The problem was that we had no flexibility outside a studio. So three days before the trip, I express-ordered a 15-foot power cord, a power strip, three more microphones, XLR extension cords with special converters, lots of extra batteries, and an invaluable cord-organizer case. For less than $100, I was able to shoot interviews on top of clock towers, in food-court atriums, and in people’s homes. Cords gave me the ability to bring my equipment to the action.
  • When in doubt, press all the buttons. All software and equipment—whether it is a new camcorder, editing equipment, or an online tool or platform—was designed with the user in mind. All of those buttons and tabs and drop-down menus are there because they do something. When you have a problem or you want your system to do something different, then you need to push a different button. You are far more likely to discover a solution to your problem or a new useful feature than you are to “ruin it” or “break” something. Be brave. Be curious. Push the buttons. (Just make sure to save the original document first.)
  • MOOCs are a team sport. When a viewer watches a MOOC, she will see only the professor and other students in the forums. It’s easy to forget that there are dozens of people who help produce it. Similarly, it is easy for MOOC producers to focus on only their own role and forget they are part of a team. In my opening example, the students updated Twitter and the MOOC forums while I set up the video camera. While producing the MOOC, we relied on the assistance of Coursera representatives, professional videographers, numerous guest speakers and their staffs, coordinators for offsite filming locations, and even colleagues who helped set up lighting and hold cue cards. For MOOCs, the team also includes institutional administrators, consultants, accountants, software developers, and web designers. You’re never alone when producing a MOOC. Rely on the expertise of others, and ask for help, even if you don’t think you need it.
  • It’s easier than you think. For the last week of the MOOC, we interviewed Dennis Quaintance, chief executive of Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants & Hotels. His team learned how to do sustainable building online and, together, designed and built the first LEED-Platinum Certified hotel, the Proximity Hotel. Afterward, he commented that “it wasn’t that hard.” And then he added, “And that makes you wonder, if it’s not that hard, why don’t most people try to make a difference?” That applies to producing MOOCs as well. You may have heard that MOOCs take hundreds of hours to produce. That’s true. And there’s a lot to learn to produce a MOOC. When you start out, it seems positively insurmountable. It’s not. Take one thing at a time, pay attention to the details, and make sure to give yourself room to experiment. And, most of all, remember the end you are trying to achieve. If changing higher education is the goal, then a MOOC that engages more than 18,000 people is worth the effort.
  • Article from (

Thursday Sep 05, 2013

Online Learning & Higher Education: Made for each other !?!?

A lot of education industry today is focussed & devoted to the topics of online learning, MOOC’s, Coursera, Udacity, edX, etc., and some might think that the education equivalent of the cure for cancer had been discovered. There are certainly doubts to people who feel that this could damage something very vital to teaching and learning - the core of higher education; the classroom experience and direct interaction with students. But for the most part prevailing opinion seems to be that online learning will take over the world and that higher education will never be the same.

Now I’m sure that since you all know I work for a technology company you think I’m going to come down hard on the side of online learning catalysts. Yes, I do believe that this revolution can and will provide access to massive numbers of individuals that either couldn’t afford a traditional education, and that in some cases the online modality will actually be an improvement over certain traditional forms (such as courses taught by an adjunct or teaching assistant that has no business being a teacher).

But I think several things need immediate attention or we’re likely to get so caught up in the delivery that we miss some of the real issues (and opportunities) around online learning. First and foremost, we’ve got to give some thought to how traditional information systems are going to accommodate thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of individual students each taking courses from many, many different “deliverers” with an expectation that successful completion of these courses will result in credit at many or most institutions. There’s also a huge opportunity to refine the delivery platform (no, LMS is not a commodity when you are talking about online delivery being your sole mode of operation) as well as the course itself by mining all kinds of data from the interactions that the students have with the material each time they take it. Social data analytics tools will be key in achieving this goal. What about accreditation (badging or competencies vs. traditional degrees)? And again, will the information systems in place today adapt to changes in this area fast enough?

The type of scale that this shift in learning could drive has the potential to abruptly overwhelm just about every system in place today in higher education - indicating one of the may inflection points this industry is facing. Infact, ever since I took my current role in Oracle, as an industry lead, I critically feel that automation and online learning are two vehicles that need to be adopted by higher education fraternity sooner or later; infact sooner the better. 

I recently came across an article [1] where one Prof. Mitchell Duneier became a conscientious objector to MOOC as he was worred that his massive open online courses (MOOCs) might lead to legislators cut state-university funds/budgets; and hence he pulled out of the environment.

What does this relate to? Does it point to potential sustainability issues for the companies that champion MOOCs and the institutions that hope to rely on them. What happens when instructors decide to stop teaching their MOOCs, either because of ideological concerns or simply because offering a class to the whole world takes so much work? There are so many questions that are raised, and so many answers that each one of them may carry.

Atleast for now, we must acknowledge that MOOCs and other online teaching methodologies have not 'fully' come of age, and that the adoption still need to be tested in multiple ways.

[1] The Chronicles of Higher Education "A Star MOOC Professor Defects—at Least for Now", dated Sep 3,2013
[2] The Executive Blog "Cole Clark, VP Education Industry"

Mohit Satraj Phogat
Author: Mohit Phogat

This site focuses on Oracle's offerings to higher education in the Indian region. It intends to cover news, reviews, guides, how-to articles, descriptive videos, and podcasts on the trends which should be helpful to customers, prospects and developer community alike.

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