Beyond MOOCs: 5 digital initiatives that make sense for every college

Lynn Russo Whylly's picture

Today’s education seems to be broken down into “MOOCs” and “things that are not MOOCs”—in other words, everything else, which includes what goes on in the classrooms. We need to be reminded that there is more out there than MOOCs and that, whether MOOCs are successful or not, we need to continue to innovate in other ways. Here are five non-MOOC ideas:


  1. Using creative funds to encourage professors to try new things. You’ve heard the expression, “I’m all for progress, it’s change I cannot stand.” That captures most of my colleagues who are professors. Professors want a chance to innovate and try new things, but they don’t have to be large, worldly things. It can be something that costs a few thousand dollars. Just a small fund to try just one thing they haven’t tried before. In exchange, they should promise to do, for example, a brown bag lunch presentation and a blog post about it afterward. We need to think about how can we encourage them to do that.
  2. NACC (Not another Columbia committee). You don’t need a committee to bring people together. We simply have lunch together once a month. We invite anyone on campus who has an interest in online learning. In this type of forum, the head of our business school technology group gets to meet the junior-most person in the school of continuing ed who is working in online technology. That is so important. I encourage you to have these kinds of cross-level, cross-departmental conversations. That type of convening is critical to getting new ideas out. And there’s no formal group or chairman to report to. We just informally bring people together.
  3. Looking at LMSs, which have MOOC DNA, in a different way. Coursera offers the ability to take its platform and use it for internal purposes. No LMS is perfect but I would love to see us all trying new things with different LMSs. There was a time when everyone was on Blackboard, then they shifted to something else. Now the hot new thing is Canvas, which a lot of business schools and others are using. I’m not saying that’s the solution, I’m saying we should all be trying new things.
  4. Use MOOCs to learn something you can use elsewhere. Michael Collins, who teaches a natural language program class, has learned the importance of the discussion forum. That’s a 20- or 30-year old technology. But he’s using discussion forums in a more concentrated way and optimizing them so students can’t hide below the radar. By seeing how often they’re posting, commenting, reading, rewinding, all of those things will have an effect, and it makes it impossible for a student to hide.
  5. Empower students with more information up front. Coursera and other MOOCs force professors to release two weeks of material to their students in advance. That was good because it gave students more information about the class. That’s powerful information. I would settle for a syllabus of every class on Columbia’s campus. We all know how difficult that is to obtain. But I have this dream to shoot 3,100 one-hour trailers of every class at Columbia, so you have a way to tell what the class is about and decide whether you want to go for it. So look at ways you can use digital media to empower your students with more information.


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