Beware the MOOC Erdrutsch!

You have heard of the MOOC, right? That stands for “Massive Open On-line Course,” truly the great Internet innovation of 2012. No less than on-line guru Clay Shirky has suggested that MOOCs – offered through sites such as Coursera, edX, Udacity and others, and surely more on the way – threaten to be to universities what Napster was to music.

For now, though, they simply offer fantastic (and free) on-line higher education opportunities (but beware, the required time commitment is usually considerable). Whether YOU are aware of these or not, rest assured that the Germans now are as well, after an article provocatively entitled Harvard For All appeared first in the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel and then, more significantly, on the website of Germany’s leading intellectual weekly, Die Zeit. The lede:

Study for free with the country’s most famous professors: The on-line courses of the US’ elite universities makes that possible. Only who will finance this hoard?

Well, financing for now is somebody else’s problem. This should really set off the landslide (GE: Erdrutsch) of German students into these MOOCs, for their capabilities in English are often excellent. I know that Coursera courses (of which I have taken/am taking a few) routinely attract students in the tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, but I bet this article alone will be responsible for at least a couple thousand more on an ongoing basis. Then again, these MOOCs are explicitly built to scale, so that should not cause any new problems in particular – the course’s discussion forum might just be a bit more crowded with student comment and response.

Also, there have already been some MOOC efforts in Germany. This article mentions an on-line IT course now being taught for the second time by an Institute at the University of Potsdam (seems to be in German) – but also (nota bene!) the course in English on “Ideal City [sic] of the 21st Century” given by the Leuphana Digital School of the Universit√§t L√ľneberg – free, of course, unless you want a paper certificate sent to you at the end – that will begin registration in a few days on January 9. Note that taking this course will involve being assigned to a workgroup of about seven fellow-students from all over the world within which you will be expected to collaborate to complete group assignments; if those turn out to be evaluated as the best, so that your team comes in as #1 in the course, you’ll win an expenses-paid trip to Berlin to meet your fellow group members in the flesh!

Finally, Iversity is a Berlin-based start-up (subsidized by German government funding, yet its site and most of its courses are in English) making a beginning in this MOOC space while also branching out to research groups and conferences.

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