mercredi 19 juin 2013

Towards pMOOC

Portfolio MOOC for competencies based learning

By combining MOOC and digital portfolio based on competencies repository, the portfolio MOOC or pMOOC is the technological foundation upon which to build competency-based learning using MOOC [Coulombe 2013]. More specifically, we are talking about portfolios that put « competencies assessment » at the heart of the learning process [PAQUETTE 2002a], [RAYNAULD et al. 2011], [RAYNAULD et al. 2012].

Digital portfolios

In education, digital portfolios (or eportfolios) are already used for student projects in order to provide documents and artifacts often accompanied by a description of the steps of the project. Digital portfolios can be used for many purposes: for personal resume, for job seach, for learning by providing tools for formative and summative evaluations and self-reflection, for the assessment of competencies and even the certification by demonstrating the satisfaction of standards. The digital portfolios can be used for many purposes: to present yourself (kind of digital resume), for job search, to improve learning by providing tools for formative and summative evaluations and also self-reflection, for the assessment of competencies and even to certify competencies by demonstrating the satisfaction of standards.

The pMOOC is an hybrid!

The pMOOC is an hybrid in the sense that it is part of the normal evolution of the xMOOC platforms based on knowledge transfer (with the "x" in reference to the EdX initiative) whose teaching is centered on the teacher but borrowing elements to cMOOC (c for « connectivism ») where the teaching is more focused on the generation and sharing of knowledge by the participants according to the nomenclature proposed by Stephen Downes and published on the blog of George Siemens [SIEMENS 2012]. However, we are well aware of the uncertainty associated with these definitions.

The purpose of a portfolio-MOOC is to expand from « à la carte » individual courses to the broader approach of studies program, involving multiple courses, which aims a complete training based on competencies acquisition.

In terms of content, the pMOOC is based on structured content like xMOOC but the syllabus and the assessments are based entirely on a competencies repository [RAYNAULD 2011].

Available at any time on computer or mobile platform, the pMOOCs appear to be the ideal support for competency-based learning, for their assessment, then monitor learning progress, the achievement of competencies and in order to set the criterias of the competencies certification [GERBÉ & al. 2012].

Assessments are everywhere in pMOOC

Current MOOCs are well adapted to students who are mostly digital natives but at the same time are inadequate in the context of organized and efficient learning, especially in a competency-based approach.

Given the massive nature of MOOCs, the only types of evaluation that can be performed « automatically » are rather superficial. Basically, four types of evaluation are proposed. 1) Short multiple-choice questions are directly embedded in each educational videoclips which should be answered immediately to ensure that students have well followed and have paid sufficient attention to educational content according to a pedagogy called « mastery learning » [Wikipédia 2013]. 2) Assessments at the end of each module in the form of more elaborate questionnaires. 3) Programming exercises that can be subjected to automatic evaluation. 4) Finally homeworks or short essays to be peer reviewed. In the peer review, one can introduce a reputation score to identify the best evaluators and encourage ethical behavior [JOSANG et al. 2007].

But precisely, competency-based digital portfolios are characterized by a wealth of assessment tools involving multiple agents: automatic assessments, self-assessments, peer assessments and assesment scenarios with tutors, teachers, internship responsibles, laboratory instructors, practical work instructors which may also involve committees and juries [RAYNAULD et al. 2012].

The pMOOC viewed as an integrator element

In many situations MOOCs can be used for so-called « flipped classrooms » where students go online to consult educational contents and do exercises before going to class. Thus, the regular class becomes the place where to discuss difficulties, go deeper into certain subjects, achieve richer and interactive learning activities such as workshops or laboratories. [HOPKINS 2012].

This is a great opportunity to add value for students in attendance (with discussions, Q/R sessions, examples, case studies, role plays, etc.) who will pay a premium for these privileges (of course!). One thinks of the contributions of simulations and serious games that mobilize other forms of learning, but do not replace practical experience.

We also saw that many disciplines taught at the university require practice with simulations, case studies, internships and laboratories.

Here again, a portfolio-MOOC is particularly well suited because it plays the role of an integrator element and ensures the monitoring and coordination of the various learning activities and assessments by computer and teaching staff.

Competencies repository, the core element of pMOOCs

Competency-based learning requires that lessons be broken down into competencies of different levels that can be assessed using well defined operational observables [TARDIF 2006]. All these modeled and computable informations are contained in a digital competencies repository. The competencies repository is therefore the core element of portfolio-MOOC.

The use of a competencies repository allows the design of modular courses where students can follow different learning paths depending on their needs and interests. Competencies can then be combined according to different learning scenarios depending of students and their learning objectives.

Support to the learning processes

Another key element of pMOOC is their support to learning. While in conventional MOOCs like xMOOCs the user's support is mainly based on the use of discussion forums, then individual blogs and wikis in the case of cMOOC, for their part the pMOOCs are characterized by a multi-stakeholders approach and structured pedagogical scenarios with integration of social networks to support users [FILIPPI et al. 2012].

Conclusion and future

The MOOCs will evoluate in many directions. The use of MOOCs in combination with digital portfolios for competency-based learning is an important and predictable evolution.

Le billet original en français

[COULOMBE 2013] Coulombe C., Vers les CLOM-p - Les CLOM portfolios pour l'agrément des compétences, Journée MATI Montréal 2013, L’innovation dans les modèles, méthodes et outils pour l’apprentissage et le développement des compétences, Montréal, 1er mai 2013. Diapos de la présentation - consulté en 2013 Vidéo de la présentation - consulté en 2013
[RAYNAULD et al. 2012] Raynauld, J., Martel, C., Gerbé, O. et Coulombe, C. Les portfolios d'évaluation : un dispositif intégré reposant sur l'évaluation des compétences dans le cadre de situations pédagogiques variées, Actes du Colloque de l'Association internationale de pédagogie universitaire, 14 au 18 mai 2012, Trois-Rivières, Québec, p.634-641.
[SIEMENS 2012] Siemens, G., What Is the Theory That Underpins Our Moocs?, Blogue. Elearnspace, 3 juin 2012. - consulté en 2013
[RAYNAULD 2011] Raynauld, J., Référentiels de compétences : des besoins exprimés à la mise en oeuvre, GTN - Québec: journée d'étude sur le développement et la diffusion des ressources numériques d'apprentissage, 29 novembre 2011 , Montréal, Québec.
[GERBÉ & al. 2012] Gerbé, O., Coulombe, C. et Raynauld, J. Zone Cours Mobile : toutes les informations à caractère pédagogique pour les apprenants nomades, 2ème journée de MATI Montréal dans le cadre du colloque scientifique international sur les TIC en éducation, 3 au 4 mai 2012, Montréal, Québec.
[Wikipédia 2013] Wikipédia, Mastery learning. In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 24 février 2013, - consulté en 2013
[JOSANG et al 2007] Josang A., Ismail R., Boyd C., A Survey of Trust and Reputation Systems for Online Service Provision, Decision Support Systems, vol. 43, no 2, Elsevier, mars 2007, p. 618-644.
[HOPKINS 2012] Hopkins, C, Future U: Fear and Loathing in Academia. Ars Technica, June 10, 2012. - consulté en 2013
[FILIPPI et al. 2012] Filippi, L., Cantaroglou, F., Gerbé, O. et Raynauld, J. Du portefeuille de formation au portfolio de compétences : valoriser les communautés professionnelles pour favoriser l'accès à l'emploi, Actes du colloque 508 sur les systèmes pédagogiques intégrés, ACFAS 2012, 7 mai 2012 Montréal, Québec.
[RAYNAULD et al. 2011] Raynauld, J., Martel, C., Gerbé, O. et Coulombe, C. « Assessment Portfolios: An Integrated Model-Based Approach Supporting The Needs And Scenarios Across Users, ePic 2011 », Proceedings of the ePIC2011 ePortfolio & Identity Conference, 11 au 13 juillet 2011, London, England, p.162-167.

lundi 20 mai 2013

Turning the competencies corner with the MOOCs

The current MOOCs have a fragmented vision of training with courses « à la carte », very punctual and the lack of program or long-term training. This is probably due to their youth, since very little content has been published on these platforms for now. In addition, MOOCs would provide little guidance nor any educational support to less motivated or less autonomous students [ROSENTHAL 2013]. Many of the disciplines taught at the university such as medicine, dentistry, engineering, biology, chemistry, physics and arts require practical training with internships, studios or laboratories which are not provided by the current MOOCs.

Most importantly, MOOCs are confined in the transmission of knowledge, as we called xMOOC, and neglect the much needed shift towards competencies as urged by Thomas L. Friedman, the celebrated New York Times columnist, in an article evocatively titled « The Professor's Big Stage » whose we highlight few passages [FRIEDMAN 2013].

The world only cares, and will only pay for, what you can do with what you know. … We’re moving to a more competency-based world where there will be less interest in how you acquired the competency — in an online course, at a four-year-college or in a company-administered class — and more demand to prove that you mastered the competency. - Thomas L. Friedman, New-York Times – 6 mars 2013

Friedman shares this point of view with Gilbert Paquette, researcher at Téluq and former minister of sciebce who enjoined Quebecers in 2002 « to meet the challenge of the knowledge society » by developing learning platforms to improve skills [PAQUETTE 2002b].

What is a competency-based approach?

The competency-based approach of learning which is born from the encounter between the pragmatism of business and the teaching by objectives is a logical step towards training customization, student's empowerment and self-reflection. In that vision, the competency-based learning approach also includes the project-based approach and the internships monitoring.

First conceived in a behavioural approach, the competency is now understood in a more systemic and global approach. We will draw on the definition of « competency » as articulated by Jacques Tardif, a renowned Québec's expert of the competency-based approach [TARDIF 2006].

A competency is a complex set of « knowing how to act » bearing on the effective mobilization and combination of a variety of internal and external resources within a family of situations.

We find that the phrase « knowing how to act » has replaced the term « know-how », the word « resource » has replaced the word « knowledge » and we acknowledge that external resources may be crucial in mobilization of expertise.

The competency-based approach also meets the growing needs upon « professionalization » of academic training by the professional associations which often deliver accreditation to the university training programs.

Another aspect relates to the acquisition of competencies and maintaining these competencies through a program of lifelong learning or continuous education [PAQUETTE 2002a].

Turning the competencies corner

With the increasing demand for diversification of learning means by digital natives, the mobility of labor and the competition from emerging internet superpowers such as MOOCs, Google, LinkedIn and other digital badges givers, competencies development is becoming a major strategic challenge for traditional universities that should establish clearly the « value of the diplomas » issued [COULOMBE 2013a]. Some even argue that competency-based learning will be the catalyst for change in the economic model of higher education [MORRISON 2012].

Furthermore, in a world where multiply plagiarisms, misrepresentations, digital badges and certificates of dubious value, recruiters will build their confidence on the results of activities that demonstrate the actual competencies of candidates [COULOMBE 2012].

Assessment at the heart of the competency-based approach

At the heart of the competency-based approach are found a practice of frequent assesments in order to track, monitor and document the learning process of competencies [TARDIF 2006]. We can even see the importance given to the "measurement" in competency-based learning as a characteristic of the transition from pedagogical crafting to a true pedagogical engineering.

The competency-based approach is also a logical step towards student performance support, the accreditation (or certification) of operational knowledge and / or competencies and the accreditation of courses and programs by professional associations. This is an opportunity for recognized educational institutions to distinguish themselves by the certification in using electronic signatures, not only for diplomas but also to a more granular level for each competency.

Competency-based learning requires monitoring and control framework that is rather unpopular in the academic context, but may be supported by appropriate technological solutions.

In a future post we will present software tools to be added to the MOOCs in order to better support the competency-based approach.

Le billet original en français

[ROSENTHAL 2013] Rosenthal, A. The Trouble With Online College, Article de journal, The New York Times, 18 février 2013, sec. Opinion. - consulté en 2013
[FRIEDMAN 2013] Friedman, T. L., The Professors’ Big Stage, Article de journal, New York Times, 6 mars 2013. - consulté en 2013
[PAQUETTE 2002b] Paquette, G.. Modélisation des connaissances et des compétences. Presses de l’Université du Québec, 2002. Québec, Québec, p. 66
[TARDIF 2006] Tardif, J. L’évaluation des compétences. Chenelière Éducation, 2006, p.
[COULOMBE 2013a] Coulombe, C. Réinventer l’université québécoise à l’Âge du numérique Blogue. La rhétorique de l’Homme de Java, 12 janvier 2013. - consulté en 2013
[MORRISON 2012] Morrison, Debbie. The Next Big Disruptor - Competency-based Learning. Blog. Online Learning Insights, June 12, 2012. - consulté en 2013
[COULOMBE 2012] Coulombe C., L'infonuagique éducative : promesses et défis!, Colloque international sur les TIC en éducation, 3 et 4 mai 2012, Montréal, Québec.
[PAQUETTE 2002a]Paquette, G., L’ingénierie pédagogique. Presses de l’Université du Québec, 2002, Québec, Québec, p. 62

jeudi 2 mai 2013

MOOC - Towards a new economic model for the higher education and professional training

The current MOOCs do not issue diplomas nor course credits, but only small course's completion certificates, without even ensuring that students have done their work themselves. One can even imagine situations in which students pay someone external to do their homeworks or exams (i.e. outsource their homeworks) . They can also open and use many fictitious accounts to better succeed [ANDERS 2012]. The present MOOcs are the realm of plagiarism!

With time, things evolve, we will eventually find way to ensure that students did not cheat and they deserved the credits or diplomas that could be potentially awarded to them by MOOCs [SCHMIDT 2012].

In the short term, the best way to achieve this is by using controlled exams. There exist specialized test centers where after being duly identified, the student is evaluated in a controlled environment (isolated workstation, surveillance camera, no internet access, sometimes even a Faraday cage which is preventing to communicate using radio-frequency). Moreover EdX and Udacity, two of the three main MOOCs from USA have signed agreements with Pearson VUE, which operates some 4,000 test centers in 170 countries [UDACITY 2012], [KOLOWICH 2013]. Online monitoring systems based on the analysis of student behavior, analysis of student's typing style and eye tracking using a personal webcam have been announced recently [EISENBERG 2013].

Meanwhile in parallel is emerging a vast ecosystem for allocation of digital badges and peer recommendations which compete with established educational institutions, but more for short and one-time courses [CAREY 2012a].

The economic model that is looming on the horizon is the following: Education and all educational contents will be free and accessible to all people, but this is the certification process by passing exams that will be for profit [CAREY 2012b]. Here we recognize a strategy of "loss leader" (or freemium), we attract the customer through the « free stuff » and then we sell him the critical complement, in our case, the certification.

In a future post we will see how the emergence of this new business model entails a shift towards learning according to competency-based approach.

Le billet original en français

[ANDERS 2012] Anders, G. How Would You Like A Graduate Degree For $100?, Magazine, Forbes, 5 juin 2012. - consulté en 2013
[SCHMIDT 2012] Schmidt, D. C. Massively Open Online Courses, Baladodiffusion Software Engineering Radio, 7 janvier 2013, Vol. 191. - consulté en 2013
[UDACITY 2012] Udacity, Udacity in Partnership with Pearson VUE Announces Testing Centers, Blogue. Udacity Blog, 1 juin 2012, - consulté en 2013
[KOLOWICH 2013] Kolowich, S., How EdX Plans to Earn, and Share, Revenue From Its Free Online Courses, Article de journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 21 février 2013, sec. Technology. - consulté en 2013
[EISENBERG 2013] Eisenberg, A., Keeping an Eye on Online Test-Takers, Article de journal, The New York Times, 2 mars 2013, sec. Technology. - consulté en 2013
[CAREY 2012a] Carey, K., A Future Full of Badges, Article de journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 avril 2012, sec. Commentary. - consulté en 2013
[CAREY 2012b] Carey, K.. Into the Future With MOOC’s, Article de journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 3 septembre 2012, sec. Commentary. - consulté en 2013

jeudi 7 mars 2013

The secret ingredient of MOOC unveiled...

The meteoric entrance of MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) was certainly the dominant event in the world of higher education in 2012, at least in the United States, where the New York Times described 2012 as the « The Year of the MOOC » [1]. It even mentions the « MOOC Mania » [2], [3], [4].

We will try to understand why we are witnessing not a fad but rather the beginning of an industrial revolution in education.

That said, we can read that MOOCs will finally give little change in current education. These articles highlight its shortcomings and warns against too much enthusiasm [5], [6], [7].

Many convince themselves quibbling on the high dropout rate among users of MOOCs, in the order of 90% [8], [9], or on their simplistic pedagogy, either ensure that the MOOCs are downright ineffective or even dangerous for weak or poorly supported students [10]. In all these youthful errors, they see evidence that the MOOCs are not here to stay or they are just a fad that once past the excitement of novelty leave behind them very low adoption.

Moving quickly on criticism based on the high dropout rate, since it takes only a few clicks to be registered for a course on a MOOC platform. Therefore, the MOOCs attract a large number of lurkers and many enroll in courses for which they do not have the prerequisites. It is in the nature of the MOOCs to give a chance to the greatest number of people to sign up and try.

For the rest, many of the criticisms come from the eternal « resistance to change » or from the imperfect knowledge of the possibilities of Big Data and Machine Learning technologies.

The MOOCs represent a true revolution in progress for four reasons: firstly, their low cost, secondly, their convenience since they are particularly well suited to the digital natives, thirdly, their intrinsic qualities and fourthly, above all their almost unlimited potential to improve and evolve..

Cost advantage

The economic question is at the heart of the MOOC revolution, new technologies challenge the very economy of education by their low cost [11], since free is a hard to beat prices!

Practical advantage

Beyond the mediatic's hype, the first MOOCs are eminently practical as best suited to the needs of the digital natives who are mobile and constantly connected.

Anyone, at anytime and anywhere in the world will have access to courses, insofar he or she has a device connected to the Internet with a browser and enough bandwidth to watch a video online [12].

The vision of small groups of 20 people in a dynamic face to face interaction with their professor is far from the reality of most students. Instead, this romantic vision gives way to that of a large auditorium of 200 places with a teaching assistant a little bit lost on a platform that gives a three hours long lecture to students who half-listen, surf the Web, tweet, write text SMS or chat. Also, very few students, the ones more extroverted and the more motivated, are engaged in a two-way discussion with the instructor or raise their hands to ask questions [12].

In addition, the lack of attention and the typical multitasking behavior of digital natives require that we chopped up the lecture in short clips of 10 to 20 minutes duration, which is a common practice for the first generation of MOOC.

We see the same adequacy of MOOCs for continuing education which is the natural pool of users for the first generation of MOOCs [13].

Another use of MOOCs is called the « Flipped Classrooms » where the students have access to online content and perform exercises before going to class. Then, the real classroom becomes the place where to discuss difficulties and to go deeper into certain subjects [14].

Quality advantage

That said the first generation of MOOCs is already a pragmatic answer able to meet some of the needs of people learning online. Just enough, not too less, not too much. Good engineering practice!

This is the famous pragmatism of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, the same one which gave birth to the iPhone that everybody wants today but the first Apple computer in its plywood casing was built in the garage of Steve Jobs parents.

The quality of teachers, contents and pedagogy of the current MOOCs is often better than for traditional courses. Let's be honest, in many ways short video clips accompanied by exercises which are automatically evaluated to check the understanding of students in an active learning strategy described as « Mastery Learning » [15] represent a significant improvement over many courses currently taught in auditorium.

The capacity to improve itself

MOOCs have a huge potential for further development in the future and in several directions, including management, monitoring and certification of competencies. This is also a direction in which I am personally involved.

Indeed, the first generation of MOOCs is still primitive compared to more sophisticated systems such as intelligent tutoring systems and other computer-assisted instruction systems which are far remained confined to laboratories.

This is only the first step. The invisible part of MOOCs is the massive collection of data on the behavior of students. We are talking about Big Data and the results will be used to improve the next generation of MOOCs [16]. We recognize there a common practice of Web 2.0 « the Google like process » of exploiting the data of its millions of users to improve the results of its search engine. Here, user data is a goldmine. There is no free lunch. When the use is free is that the user is the product.

Also, precisely because of their massive nature, the ability of MOOCs to improve and evolve is almost unlimited. In fact, it is hard to believe, but it is quite possible to offer quality education like individual tutoring to a large number of students using Big Data technologies.

In order to improve its course, it is not easy for a teacher to find the sources of confusion and less effective pedagogical approaches from the small samples of data collected with a class of 20 students. At the contrary, a MOOC with its thousands of students can use statistical methods to detect problems and improve teaching. You can also use machine learning to discover situations (or patterns) where students have common problems, in order to present evidence or explanations to help them. Compared to human, a computer is always patient, he never gets angry and he is always ready to resume its explanations, making it ideal teaching tutor. Thus, we will therefore see directly emerging from data fine grained improvements in order to customize education for each student in a way that was simply not possible, because we had neither the time nor the means to do [12]. This is the promise from MOOCs of second and third generation.

One of the biggest blockers toward a wider adoption of MOOCs today is that they do not issue diplomas neither course credits [17]. For this, we should ensure that students are doing their work themselves. One can even imagine situations where students will pay others (outsourcing) to do their homework or exams. But with time, things will evolve and we'll find a way to ensure that students did not cheat and deserved the credits or diplomas that could potentially be awarded to them [18].

In the short term, the best way to avoid cheating is to perform controlled examination (onsite exams). There are test centers where after being duly identified, the student is evaluated in a controlled environment (isolated post, surveillance camera, no internet access, sometimes even rf-shielded room or Faraday cage which prevent using radio frequency waves to communicate). Thus Udacity, one of the three top MOOC providers has signed an agreement with Pearson VUE, which operates some 4,000 test centers in 170 countries [19]. It has even been announced for soon, online surveillance systems based on the analysis of student behavior and eventually their eye movements (eye tracking) from images taken by a small webcam [20]

Obviously, there is a great demand for tools to detect plagiarism. For homeworks, there are technologies to detect fraud based on text analysis, lexicometry, stylistics, statistical analysis and comparison with texts harvested from the Internet and specifically indexed for this purpose. This is a very active R&D subject that is expanding at a remarkable rate.

Again, due to the accumulation of data about students, using statistical analysis and Big Data technologies we will be able to improve plagiarism detection tools and ensure that students do themselves their work.

The two founders of Coursera Mr Ng and Ms Koller are experts in Machine Learning and Big Data and both professors at Stanford the same for Sebastian Thrun the guy behind the Google car who is started Udacity a year ago. Without a doubt, the « big heads » in Machine Learning behind Udacity and Coursera will not stop there. They will use all the data collected about students to build the second generation of MOOCs, then the third...

A disruptive innovation

The ability of MOOCs, to be constantly improved, is the signature of a disruptive innovation. The idea of ​​disruptive innovation has been first stated by Professor Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School in his book « The Innovators Dilemma » [21].

Perhaps the word « disruptive » was a bit hackneyed about MOOCs. But the word « disruptive » has a specific meaning when it comes to « disruptive innovation » and MOOCs exhibit the essential characteristics of a « disruptive innovation ».

According to Prof. Chistensen's definition, « A disruptive innovation is an innovation that first established itself in simple or "low end" applications, then moves inexorably towards the "high end", to eventually dislodge the established competitors » [22]. A major advantage of disruptive innovation is to pass relatively unnoticed, as judged somewhat menacing in its infancy by established competitors, until it is too late [23], [24], [25]. Precisely, the first generation of MOOCs is a pragmatic and cheap answer already able to meet many of the needs of people who learn online. It's good engineering! Just enough, not too less, not too much. So nothing to worry...

So we saw the potential for evolution and continuous improvement of MOOCs mainly due to Big Data, the secret ingredient of MOOCs.


I could be wrong, but MOOCs have the potential to be a disruptive innovation. This would have huge implications!

In a futuristic and somewhat utopian video, but which has the merit to shake the belief, the EPIC 2020 group says education in the world will dramatically change over the next decade [26].

Assuming that this will not be really the case, we can trust that MOOCs will minimally force higher education institutions to invest in distance learning.

[1] Pappano, L. (2012, November 2). The Year of the MOOC - Massive Open Online Courses Are Multiplying at a Rapid Pace. The New York Times.
[2] Davidson, C. N. (2012, October 1). MOOC Mania. reblogged from the Chronicle of Higher Ed. Blog,
[3] Vardi, M. Y. (2012). Will MOOCs destroy academia? Communications of the ACM, 55(11), 5–5. doi:10.1145/2366316.2366317
[4] Martin, F. G. (2012). Will massive open online courses change how we teach? Communications of the ACM, 55(8), 26. doi:10.1145/2240236.2240246
[5] Boullier, D. (2013, February 20). Mooc : la standardisation ou l’innovation ? «
[6] Greatrix, P. (2012, October 8). MOOCS: 12 Reasons for universities not to panic. Registrarism. Blog.
[7] Greatrix, P. (2013, February 15). Why MOOCs won’t kill universities. Registrarism, Blog
[8] Balch, T. (2013, January 27). MOOC Student Demographics. the augmented trader. Blog.
[9] Guzdial, M. (2012, April 20). Udacity’s CS101: Who are you talking to? Computing Education Blog. Blog.
[10] Rosenthal, A. (2013, February 18). The Trouble With Online College. The New York Times.
[11] Guillaud, H. (2012, October 17). L’innovation éducative : une question économique ?
[12] Schmidt, D. C. (2013, January 7). Episode 191: Massively Open Online Courses, Software Engineering Radio episode 191,
[13] Webley, K. (n.d.). MOOC Brigade: Who Is Taking Massive Open Online Courses, And Why? Time.
[14] Hopkins, C. (n.d.). Future U: fear and loathing in academia | Ars Technica.
[15] Mastery learning. (2013, February 24). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
[16] Daphne Koller: What we’re learning from online education | Video on (2012).
[17] Anders, G. (2012, June 5). How Would You Like A Graduate Degree For $100? - Forbes. Forbes.
[18] Bates, T. (2012, October 29). MOOCs move into credit-based higher education. online learning and distance education resources.
[19] Udacity. (2012, June 1). Udacity Blog: Udacity in partnership with Pearson VUE announces testing centers. Blog.
[20] Eisenberg, A. (2013, March 2). Keeping an Eye on Online Test-Takers - New Technologies Aim to Foil Online Course Cheating. The New York Times.
The companies: ProctorU and Software Secure
[21] Christensen, C. M. (1997). The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. Harvard Business Press.
[22] Bass, R. (2012, March 1). Disrupting Ourselves: The Problem of Learning in Higher Education (EDUCAUSE Review) | EDUCAUSE. Educause. Educause Review Magazine, Volume47, Number 2, March/April 2012.
[23] Vidéo d'une présentation du professeur Clayton Christensen sur l'impact l'innovation de rupture que représente les CLOM devant un comité du sénat de l'État de Utah « Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee » aux États-Unis. Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, disruptive innovation and higher education. (2012).
[24] Schubarth, C. (2013, February 13). Disruption guru Christensen: Why Apple, Tesla, VCs, academia may die. Silicon Valley Business Journal. newspaper.
[25] Michael Horn, & Christensen, C. M. (2013, February 20). Beyond the Buzz, Where Are MOOCs Really Going? | Wired Opinion | Wired Opinion. Magazine.
[26] Bill Sams, Marshall, N., Kelvin, M., & Hanlin, M. (2012, June 4). EPIC 2020 | Higher Education Reform. EPIC 2020 | Higher Education Reform.

jeudi 21 février 2013

Welcome to McGillX, the future MOOC of the McGill University

On the eve of the « Sommet sur l'enseignement supérieur », McGill University shows that it is seriously entering in the new era of MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) by announcing today (February 21 2013) that it has joined the consortium EdX [1], [2], [3], under the name McGillX [4].

As mentioned in a previous blog post, the EdX platform promoted by a consortium formed by Harvard University, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and the University of Berkeley, was launched in May 2012 [5].

The main advantages of the EdX MOOC platform are firstly to be a platform strictly under institutional control and secondly to be a platform entirely based on open source software [6].

Thus, the universities, which participate in the consortium EdX, have full control on their MOOC platform both technically and economically, unrelated with private companies as with Coursera [7] or Udacity [8] which have their own goals and interests.

At first glance, EdX is a good choice, but is not a panacea. According to well informed sources, EdX requires a significant financial contribution to be part of the consortium, sort of Select Club or Old Boys' Club. Moreover, Coursera could be more open and its business model could be mostly compatible with the mission of universities. We should also check the consortiums from Europe or from the Francophonie which are emerging or eventually a « Consortium Québécois » that could rally the expertises of our universities and institutions such as Téluq, CRIM and RISQ.

After the launch of the initiative EdLib [9] by HEC Montréal, the pioneer of MOOC in Québec, now fully operational, then we can welcome the announcement of the McGill University which shows that its leaders have a vision for the future of their university at the Digital Age.

Hope that the initiative of McGill University, even if it looks a bit outsider, has the merit of putting MOOC on the agenda of the « Sommet sur l'enseignement supérieur » or at least in the hallway chats or informal schmoozing.

[3] [4]
[6] Darrow, B. (2012, May 2). MIT and Harvard say open-source edX can educate a billion people. GigaOM.

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lundi 18 février 2013

How much does it cost to deploy a course on a MOOC?

That's free for the students for sure! But how much does it cost for a university to adapt and deploy a course on a MOOC? A simple question to which I will try to answer.

Since few months, we are witness of the rising of an industrial revolution in education, with the rapid emergence of MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses). Some of the top American universities, like Stanford, Harvard and the MIT, use MOOC as a powerful leverage in the globalization of their activities.

Without being an economist, I would like to discuss the economic aspects of MOOC. These aspects are fundamental because beyond the MOOC's technology revolution, the principal upheaval for universities stands in the new economic model on which MOOC are based.

In addition, borrowing the language of accounting, I secretly nourished the hope to attract the attention of the participants to the upcoming « Sommet sur l'éducation supérieure du Québec », where people should discuss about the future of Québec's universities, but who seem to live in a world of columns of numbers. Well, it reminds me the movie "The Matrix" ;)

Indeed, the main promise of MOOC is the prospect of a university with no walls and totally free! We speak about annual costs per user which start from few cents to few dollars at most.

To convince us, some basic arithmetic ...

Here, we will use the figures published by Google at the HICSS Conference held in January 2013 [1] and on the experience of Scott E. Page, a MOOC's pioneer [2] which taught two times the course «Thinking Model » on the Coursera [3].

For the Coursera's version of his course which he calls himself « Garage Band Version », Mr. Page used a $ 20 camera, a 100 $ microphone and the studio was in a room of his home. Moreover, Mr. Page felt he had took between 6 to 8 hours of work for each hour of class to adapt the content to the Coursera format.

So a 45-hour course represents between 270 and 360 hours of work for a plain product without animated graphics, music or special effects. With an hourly rate of $ 55 (about $ 100 000 per year) which is far from the minimum wage in Québec, it results to a cost for the adaptation from 15 000 to $ 20 000. But it is well known that our teachers earn less... Moreover, these expenses are non-recurring, you do the work only once and after you can replay the course as many times as you want, even you should retype or update few bits.

To this, we must add around one hundred hours for the course's animation (10 hours per week during 10 weeks) that which gives $ 5 500. Now, look at the costs of massive online diffusion of your course. Well, with today's web technology called cloud computing, it would cost less than $ 10 000 per year to serve 150 000 students. More precisely, around $ 20 per day to serve 150 000 students using the Google AppEngine cloud technology [1].

Jumping over a lengthy arithmetic development (!), which we leave to the « real accountants », we arrive to under 25 cents per student per year. Some people must now understand why Web giants give us free gigabytes on their web 2.0 sites and allowed us to record anything we want on their video sharing sites.

Obviously, we are talking of a course which is already prepared, then we are not starting from scratch. Our small evaluation also excludes software costs since there are now several open software platforms for MOOC which are available. Finally, we must consider part-time work of a handful of skilled IT professionals to deploy and maintain a platform in the cloud that can support not only one but several hundred online courses.

It will be objected that we can foresee deluxe scenarios using $ 100,000 camera, with many teams of pre-production, production and post-production and armies of overpaid consultants. We let the accountants and auditors consider these unfortunate scenarios which are called cost overruns.

But this is another debate ...

[1] D. Russell M. (2013, January 7). Overview of MOOCs at Google. January 7, 2013. MOOC Symposium, 46 HICSS (Hawaii International Conference On System Sciences), Maui, HI, Usa

[2] Roche, G. (2013, January 22). Thoughts from a MOOC Pioneer - Academic Technology. Retrieved February 13, 2013, from


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