MOOCs explained (by Stephen Downes)

Stephen Downes, the Canadian MOOC-pioneer (Massive Open Online Courses), delivered a talk in Armenia and as usual he generously shares the recording and the slides.

My own MOOC-experiences started in 2008 with CCK08, facilitated by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Back then we lived in full euphoria about the power of virtual communities and I participated with a group of Second Life residents. It was a bewildering experience and when it was all over, I had far more questions than answers. These days I must admit it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life as a learner.

In the slides you’ll see how Downes makes the distinction between community-based – “connectivist” or “cMOOCs”  such as CCK08ds106 and ConnectedCourses on the one hand and more institutionally based MOOCs (xMOOCs) on the other such as the Stanford branch, with companies offering open learning such as Udacity, Coursera en edX. This for the scene in Canada and the US, nowadays there are a number of emerging platforms in other countries as well.

Downes says that communities are about sharing while institutions are about consuming. “Open” does not just mean “put it for free on the internet”. cMOOCs are about harmony through diversity, about unstated and multiple learning objectives versus concrete and stated objectives.

Audio on the Stephen Downes’ site. I also recommend his OLDaily-newsletter.

For my own experiences and opinion about online learning: I’ll come to that in a next post.

Understanding Google, embeddable content and MOOCs

googlecourseWhat makes mobile so transformative? Why is Google a revolutionary company? These are questions asked and answered in the Coursera course
Understanding Media by Understanding Google. Professor Owen R. Youngman (Northwestern University) focuses during six weeks on Google and what makes it so important, not just for media people but for all of us. If you use a smartphone or a social network, you should know why these technologies are so much more than gadgets. The course offers the typical talking head videos but professor Youngman also adds his talent as a curator by selecting half a dozen books and many press articles dealing with fundamental aspects of Google – and of course both highly critical and more jubilant commentators are being discussed.

MOOCs and embeddable content

This is a second run for this course. Of course, it would be interesting to ask the question What Would Google Do (title of a book by Jeff Jarvis) about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as they are organized by Coursera. In an interview by Youngman, professor Jeff Jarvis promotes the idea of the ’embeddable article’. Just like Google makes YouTube-videos embeddable, media companies could do the same for their news articles (incorporating their brand and ads in the embeddable content and adding a link back to their site). Wouldn’t this be a great idea for parts of the Coursera-content – or not really? Maybe this is less a problem for more connectivist-styled MOOCs such as Connected Courses – ultimately it boils down to choices about the business model (or lack of such a model).

Inventing a New University

One of the courses I really enjoyed these last few months was History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, by professor Cathy N. Davidson (Duke University) on the Coursera platform. The final assignment was the invention of a new institution of higher education. This was my answer, and yes, I did mention virtual environments… I called the thing Peeragogy University, named after a project facilitated by Howard Rheingold,


It’s a pleasure and an honor to present our Peeragogy University. We firmly believe that we live in an epoch of exponential change. The old industrial ways of thinking do no longer apply for learning and teaching (see our Duke U course). We want to help our students to become Change Masters, or rather, we want them to help each other (peer-to-peer) to become Change Masters. 

What is our Mission Statement? There are three crucial skills we want our graduates to acquire:
1) The deep understanding of the fact that this education is not about them. It’s about what they can do for humanity.
2) The deep understanding and the skill of connecting to others in order to realize our dreams. During the program students will discover how connected the big issues of our time are, and how necessary it is to break out of academic silos to work together, to celebrate diversity in our teams. “Diversity” also means that we involve people from outside the institution and from outside academia. We use the wisdom and creativity of artists to facilitate this (see Duke U course).
3) The deep understanding and the skill of learning how to learn and adapt to emerging technologies in the broadest sense of the word ‘technologies’. So the crucial skill and value here is the eagerness to learn, and to learn how to learn throughout their lives (content vs. learning, Duke U course). 

What is the structure of our institution? 
Every student gets a preliminary course during about ten weeks. Leading experts will present major breakthroughs in information technologies, biotech, management (including new ways to launch a project or a business), healthcare, robotics, nanotechnology, energy systems and the makers industries (3D printing, DIY drones etc). These are the competence clusters which form the basic structure of Peeragogy University. 

The students will actually experiment (learning by  making, see Duke U course) with bio-hacking, programming, robotics, genetic engineering, management principles… These weeks will be inspired by what the Singularity University is already doing in California. What we add: we’ll help the students to explicitly build a personal learning environment, making use of their social connections online and/or on campus and of the affordances of the internet (blogs, wikis, social bookmarks, forums, crap detection and information dashboards). See also the Digital Literacies as discussed in the Duke U course. 

After these ten weeks students will have to decide what their Major Project will be for the next years (we have a 4 year program in place). This project must make a difference for humanity (see Mission statement). Maybe something which can affect the lives of millions of people? Typically,this project will make it necessary to acquire an advanced knowledge and skill-level in several subjects. 

However, not everybody who has some healthcare project as his Major Project will need to become a surgeon. Maybe it’s more interesting to become a robotics-specialist in order to contribute to a breakthrough (think exoskeletons for paraplegics). Becoming a robotics specialist probably implies great skill in programming and algorithms. Someone else in the team will become an expert in capital markets in order to find ways to get financing and to develop a financial plan. A third person can contribute because of special knowledge regarding patient psychology and sociology (see Mission Statement aboutconnecting). For each special skill the faculty experts will not teach as Sages on a Stage, but as facilitators of project based peer-to-peer learning. 

As these students try to change the world, they will have to reflect on what they’re doing (Mission statement: meta-learning). They will discuss on an academic level, using the resources of philosophy, logical thinking and using art as a way to mobilize more people for their projects and diversify their teams. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Who are the teachers? All students are also teachers. They work in project teams, and we’ll also organize contacts between the teams. We do havefaculty: there are recognized experts in their fields, from academia but also from outside academia. They will be facilitators of the learning. 
Who are the students? We do not require specific diplomas. We do run an Introductory MOOC (3 months), and achievements during that MOOC will be an important element for admission on the online or physical campus for the full four year program. 

Where do we meet? Our Campus is situated in Portland, Oregon, right next to some famous beer micro-breweries. However, we run an international Introductory MOOC (three months) and a Companion MOOC which runs on a permanent basis. We make heavily use of virtual environments to create an interesting online alternative for the physical campus. 

Who pays and how much? 
Peeragogy University found some generous sponsors, but nevertheless we have to ask a fee for the physical campus experience: $80,000 for one year, housing, tuition and food included. There is a considerable discount for tuition-only students. 
The Companion MOOC-version is free, except for those students who want a formal assessment of their work ($5,000 on a yearly basis). The Introductory MOOC is free, except for those who want an assessment in order to gain access to the 4 year program ($100). 
Students who have financial difficulties can apply for special sponsoring. Students will learn during the Introductory MOOC how to finance their studies (alternative financing techniques). 

Peeragogy University organizes short term programs for companies and government institutions, These programs help financing the Peeragogy University. 

Assessments and Certificates: the assessments are based on the performance during the year – compare it to assessments for company and government workers. Important elements are creativity, how people collaborate, how they learn, how impressive their skills are. We have a completion diploma, but more important even are the Peeragogy Badges (see Duke U course) which reflect the skills of the student. Important to realize: the Major Projects can become companies or institutions outside of Peeragogy University. Students learn to inform venture capitalists, government and social profit players about their Major Projects…

The Augmentationist: MOOCs, Stacks, Tech Intellectuals and a New Course

logoThe Augmentationist with links about MOOCs, the new class of Tech Intellectuals, the survival of RSS and a new course by Howard Rheingold. You can read The Augmentationist here and subscribe at the right-hand side of this site.

RSS not dead?

Emil Portalinski reports on The Next Web that Google has added back a feed delivery option to its Google Alerts service. You can once again receive alerts for Web search results via RSS, rather than just email. This is quite remarkable, as I thought the Big Stacks were slowly but systematically killing RSS.

Tech Intellectuals

A long, thought-provoking post by Henry Farrell in Democracy Journal about Tech Intellectuals.How do the famous tech/society pundits earn their living and reputation? What constraints does their position in society impose on their discourse and thinking? I don’t always agree (I’m far more positive about Jeff Jarvis for instance) but his analysis makes one think critically about this new professional class of tech opinion makers.

A YouTube For MOOCs

EdX, the online education nonprofit backed by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is teaming up with Google on a new website that will offer tools for educators and the public to create their own digital courses, Geoffrey A. Fowler reports on Digits (WSJ). goes live in the first half of 2014, you can contact them now.

This is how Stephen Downes looks at it: “Mostly, it’s a case of the big organizations staking their turf (and trampling. The danger for them is that MOOCs will be (a) something that don’t really resemble videos, and instead resemble RSS readers, and (b) something created by learners for each other, rather than by publishers to be sold as consumables. Imagine what YouTube would look like without any user-created videos. That’s what a YouTube of MOOCs will look like, unless something significant changes.”

How to Organize a MOOC (in 147 slides)

Stephen Downes again: a superb set of slides explaining the thinking behind connectivist MOOCs, old and new media practices etc. For audio and more, see

(hat tip to Susan Bainbridge who runs a great Connectivism

Howard Rheingold Class At Stanford

You can join his Social Media Issues class, read the blogs, comment on the blogs, and participate in the Fishbowl Forum. Read the texts and follow along online! You can register an account for the forum a t  and the entire syllabus, blogs can be found at

The Augmentationist Weekly: innovate or be left behind

logoThis week’s newsletter contains links to great articles and videos about education, journalism and the Commons. You can read it here and/or subscribe in the right-handside column of the site.

Friday, August 23, 2013

What this newsletter is about

A group of co-learners, inspired by Howard Rheingold, studies how information technology can augment human intellect. Our discussions are dispersed through various social media and closed online venues. In this newsletter I try to give an overview of the discussions in our network. I also include brief comments on related stuff elsewhere.

The importance of Ivan Illich

David Bollier analyzes the quiet realization of Ivan Illich’s ideas in the contemporary Commons movement. Howard Rheingold comments on Scoop.It:

“Elinor Ostrom won her economics Nobel Prize for her work on “governing the commons” — demonstrating that “tragedy” was not inevitable when groups of people are faced with managing common pool resources. She also pointed out that neither socialism-style State ownership nor unregulated privatization were necessarily the only or best routes to well-managed commons. David Bollier has done a service by making this argument, and for reminding us of the pioneering work of Ivan Illich, who was mentor to California governor Jerry Brown, Stewart Brand, and many others.”

A culture war about information and authority?

I’m not sure ‘culture war’ is the right label for the stream of events and articles about Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, but it sure is an interesting perspective. Quinn Norton discussesBradley Manning and the Two Americas on Medium.

Reminding me of the discussions we had during previous Rheingold courses about surveillance and sousveillance: on GigaOM Om Malik interviewed Phil Zimmermann, the man who invented Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), the email encryption software.

A MOOC about the Future of Storytelling

Berlin-based iversity organizes a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) about the Future of Storytelling. The course starts on October 25. They’ll focus on fiction formats and discuss stuff such as

– storytelling basics
– serial formats (on the TV, web and beyond)
– storytelling in role-playing games
– interactive storytelling in video games
– transmedia storytelling
– alternate-reality gaming
– augmented reality and location-based storytelling
– the role of tools, interfaces and information architectures in current storytelling.

Living on the edge in Italy

For those interested in peer2peer learning, and exploring new ways of doing things not only in education but also in society at large, this might be an interesting gathering: Living On The Edge(#LOTE) meets from October 29 through November 3 in a spectacular place in southern Italy. Maybe some people of our Peeragogy community will attend.

Creating an online learning environment

series of videos featuring Howard Rheingold and Jim Groom about using WordPress, MediaWiki and other open source stuff to build an online learning environment. Useful for teachers, students, and the learners of this century.

Connected learners

student-produced book: Connected Learners: A step-by-step guide to creating a global classroom.  They introduce each chapter with a video.

Innovate or be left behind

As a journalist I’m very interested in journalism education. Things are changing so very rapidly in my profession, and journalism education is struggling to keep up with the change, hence the need for peer2peer education.

Anyway, John Wihbey posted a great reading list about changes in journalism and journalism education. Even if you’re not into these professions, it’s at least an interesting case. Consider this quote: “Those who don’t innovate in the classroom will be left behind. Just like those who chose not to innovate in the newsroom.” (Poynter Institute’s Aug. 8 survey and report)

Twitter and IFTTT

For those using the web automation service If This Then That there is good news, The Next Web reports: you can use the service with Twitter again.

Digital Game Based Learning MOOCs: Join in September!

So nice. We already had the connectivist Massive Open Online Courses – based on learner-centric, distributed activities using a syndication engine to connect the various events. Then came the xMOOCs – more top-down like massive courses, experimenting with auto-grading systems. Now I learned about gMOOCs – game-based MOOCs.


Have a look at this very rich presentation by Sherry Jones and Kate Caruso (great videos!):

A MOOC with a trailer:

rgMOOC 2 will run between September 2, 2013 to November 10, 2013. In fact, this is already a second round, and the course will explore the rhetoric of first person games and the immersive sandbox game Minecraft. You can find the registration form here.

Interesting: they’ll explore Minecraft as sandbox game. Second Life is still quite huge, but sooo unfashionable, even among academics, so it seems. Or is it too wild and libertarian for educational use (unless you invest heavily in some closed island) – and what about OpenSim?

I think I’ll participate or at least lurk in this rgMOOC. So many themes are relevant for all content creators, not only game-producers: I’m sure journalists and bloggers will learn a lot during this course.

A newsletter: The Augmentationist Weekly


A group of co-learners, inspired by Howard Rheingold, studies how information technology can augment human intellect. Our discussions are dispersed through various social media and closed online venues. I’ll publish a weekly newsletter (as from next week on Friday) to give an overview of the discussions in our network. I also include brief comments on related stuff elsewhere.

Here’s the content of the first newsletter – subscription details at the end or in the column at the right-handside of this site:

What this newsletter is about

A group of co-learners, inspired by Howard Rheingold, studies how information technology canaugment human intellect. Our discussions are dispersed through various social media and closed online venues. In this newsletter I try to give an overview of the discussions in our network. I also include brief comments on related stuff elsewhere.

Collective Intelligence 2014

“This interdisciplinary conference seeks to bring together researchers from a variety of fields relevant to understanding and designing collective intelligence of many types.” This conference seems to be very interesting: from digital sweatshops to social computing and crowdsourcing….

(via Howard Rheingold on Scoop.It!)

Thinking the Unthinkable

Speaking about augmentation: a friend of mine sent me this video about Media for Thinking the Unthinkable, a presentation by Bret Victor. who tries to invent the medium and representations in which scientists, engineers, and artists will understand and create systems. The content of his illustrations is very geeky, but try to see beyond that and try to grasp what he’s trying to invent.

The Next Big Opportunity: Tools that cure our short attention spans

A venture investor looks at the opportunities and obstacles in trying to create new tools to help people deal with information distraction online.

(via Howard Rheingold on Scoop.It!)


Mentioned on our Twitter feed #thinkknow: Baratunde Thurston left the internet for 25 days. You should try this too, but read the article at FastCompany for some useful tips.

Working with TheBrain

During the latest Think-Know course facilitated by Howard Rheingold we’ve been using TheBrain, a kind of database/mindmap for your thoughts and thought-clusters. Some students tried out TeamBrain, which allows for collaboration. Imagine a group of bloggers developing ideas in TeamBrain, discovering unexpected relationships between ideas and thoughts, which eventually lead to more inspiring blogposts.

Of course one could try to do this also with other collaborative mindmaps, but TheBrain is one of the most sophisticated tools out there.

One of our TheBrain and mindmap-specialists mentioned some interesting research about the use of mindmap-like structures in dialogue mapping. Read McGee’s Musings about the book Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems by Jeff Conklin.

Cooking as Augmentation

In our Alumni-social bookmarks I found this gem on Brainpickings, a link to a review of Michael Pollan’s book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. The book looks at cooking as a significant tool (thinking augmentation) that changed our ways of thinking and had a significant impact on culture.

Peeragogy in Spanish is a handbook for those who want to launch a peer2peer-learning project. A very international group of contributors create the handbook (the book is never ‘really’ finished), and now it seems the project gains quite some traction in the Spanish-speaking world.  A teacher in Uruguay launched a Google+ community for the Spanish speaking community.

The Spanish short version of the handbook will be published by the UOC Press in October in a book called EDUCACIÓN, MEDIOS DIGITALES Y CULTURA DE LA PARTICIPACIÓN (Education, Digital Media and Participatory Culture). A Spanish group runs a very interesting cooperative project called ‘hybrid learning’  that we can include in the handbook.

The Peeragogy-folks also have a thriving Google+-community, it’s not too late to join!


Digital Game Based Learning MOOCs: Join in September!

So nice. We already had the connectivist Massive Open Online Courses – based on learner-centric, distributed activities using a syndication engine to connect the various events. Then came the xMOOCs – more top-down like massive courses, experimenting with auto-grading systems. Now I learned about gMOOCs – game-based MOOCs.



Read online. updated

Connectivist Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) specialist Stephen Downes updated the MOOC.casite a bit and made it easier to submit MOOC and to find them. Of most importance is the new Submit MOOC page, an easy way to enter information about your MOOC and have it listed on the MOOC.CA website and also mentioned in the newsletter (which has more than 5,000 subscribers).

Newspapers and MOOCs

Kevin Werbach is a Wharton-professor who gave a very interesting MOOC about gamification (and author of a book about this art, For the Win, How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business). He sent out an interesting tweet about Jeff Bezos buying The Washington Post: “Bezos should convert the Washington Post into a MOOC.”

Exactly: could we consider the newspaper as a potential Massive Online Open Course? With distributed discussions – the people formerly known as ‘the audience’ discussing and co-publishing with journalists on various platforms?

The HRU Knowmads

I finished the latest Think-know Tools course organized by Howard Rheingold about the theoretical-historical background of intellect augmentation and the practical skills of personal knowledge management. I’m becoming quite a veteran of his courses, and I continue meeting co-learners via the HRU Alumni network.

These meetings are very webby – completely dispersed over various platforms and tools.

Read online.

Subscription form:

ds106 for digital storytelling

Let’s try another MOOC. A real one, along connectivist principles: ds106 for digital storytelling. This is what it’s about, and also why I like it – because it’s free, it’s adaptable to my needs, and I’m sure there will be serendipitous encounters along the way:

Digital Storytelling (also affectionately known as ds106) is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington… but you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need. This course is free to anyone who wants to take it, and the only requirements are a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and all the creativity you can muster.

Looking at the examples of the co-learners there, I feel a bit intimidated – these people create out of the box, and toy around with digital affordances like digital natives should. But hey, let’s give it a try.

Three courses, three experiences of education and digital cultures

Three courses, three different formats. The first two courses are about education and digital media. It seems the first one is a MOOC along the connectivist ‘tradition’: distributed on various web media, putting the learners in charge of their own experience, facilitated by what is called in this case ‘conspirators’. The second one is organized on the Coursera-platform, which normally means a more classical, top-down learning experience. However, the participants are invited to co-create course content and the organizers want to involve the “wider social web”.

The last course is not necessarily about education, but about literacies of cooperation. The organizer, the virtual communities and digital culture expert Howard Rheingold, does not want this to be a ‘massive’ experience, instead the course is limited to 35 learners (and you’ve to pay a fee). I participated in previous editions, and I can assure you it’s pretty intense.

#etmooc is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) about educational design and media.
Welcome (Jan 13-19): Welcome Event & Orientation to #etmooc
Topic 1 (Jan 20-Feb. 2): Connected Learning – Tools, Processes & Pedagogy
Topic 2 (Feb 3-16): Digital Storytelling – Multimedia, Remixes & Mashups
Topic 3 (Feb 17-Mar 2): Digital Literacy – Information, Memes & Attention
Topic 4 (Mar 3-16): The Open Movement – Open Access, OERs & Future of Ed.
Topic 5 (Mar 17-30): Digital Citizenship – Identity, Footprint, & Social Activism

At Coursera: E-learning and Digital Cultures – Jan 28th 2013 (5 weeks long). This course will explore how digital cultures and learning cultures connect, and what this means for e-learning theory and practice. Follow this course at #edcmooc. This course will consist of viewing short film clips alongside associated readings, as well as discussions and group collaborations amongst participants. Interesting: “E-learning and Digital Cultures will make use of online spaces beyond the Coursera environment, and we want some aspects of participation in this course to involve the wider social web. We hope that participants will share in the creation of course content and assessed work that will be publicly available online.”

Howard Rheingold is convening “Toward a Literacy of Cooperation: Introduction to Cooperation Studies,” January 24 -March 1.
A detailed syllabus: a six week course using asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter to introduce the fundamentals of an interdisciplinary study of cooperation: social dilemmas, institutions for collective action, the commons, evolution of cooperation, technologies of cooperation, and cooperative arrangements in biology from cells to ecosystems.