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The greatest MOOC conference in the history of MOOCs

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) continue to receive a steady stream of media attention. The conversation is more nuanced now than it was a few years ago as attention has turned to credit, the impact on faculty, learner success, and related challenges. MOOCs, like personal learning environments and networks (PLE, PLN) from mid-2000′s, are not a specific thing so much as a movement. Personally, I wish they were more of “a thing” – then we could spend time promoting openness of content and teaching, rather than dealing with a degraded version of openness that merely means “access”.

Regardless of personal preferences, MOOCs are significant. They are evolving and improving. And they are not going away anytime soon. The language will change in a few years to something less specific like “digital learning”. Ultimately, though, MOOCs are the internet happening to education and it will take a long time for higher education to digest what that means.

I have been working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the past year on organizing a grant, whitepaper, and conference on MOOCs. Initially, the grant was set at $400,000 and consisted primarily of sub-grants in the $10,000-25,000 range. The strength of early proposals resulted in revisiting the grant total and was raised by the Gates Foundation to a total of $830,000. As I stated in this post, the MOOC Research Initiative does not compete with traditional research approaches, as it fills a gap with early stage research before government granting agencies develop their programs:

The nature of this project, to quickly identify promising research projects and advance the dissemination of early stage MOOC research, required a process that was less bureaucratic. This project is not an attempt to mirror national granting processes. The timelines are too short to allow for the typical research cycle. Instead of years, MRI is focused on months. Ideally, national programs will be developed in the near future that will allow for traditional research practices. Or, from another perspective, perhaps when new areas of research arise as rapidly as MOOCs have, we need to adjust our research models. Like much of the academy, current research models seem better designed for an era where information isn’t developed as rapidly as it is today.

The Conference

As part of this work, we are organizing a conference at University of Texas Arlington December 5-6, 2013: MOOCs and Emerging Educational Models: Policy, Practice, and Learning. Registration is now open. We have a great group of keynote speakers and an outstanding list of successful grantees who will also be presenting.

We have confirmed attendance from many of the pioneers of early MOOCs (way back in 2008) as well as the current MOOC providers (FutureLearn, edX, Coursera). In addition to the list of grantees, a partial attendee list currently includes, and is expanding: Amy Collier & Tanya Joosten (conference program chairs), Bonnie Stewart, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier, Alec Couros, Zach Pardos, Jonathan Rees, Phil Hill, Michael Feldstein, Keith Devlin, Jim Groom, Paul Kim, Rich DeMillo, Rebecca Peterson, and the list goes on. Basically, this conference will be an outstanding opportunity to get a pulse of MOOC trends and trajectories. Most importantly, our goal is to make it a research-oriented event. We want to look at MOOC success, criticism, policy, failure, opportunities, and systemic impact.

In advance of the conference, we will be hosting two open online events: one to provide an overview of MRI and the current state of MOOC literature and the second to introduce a MOOC framework that bridges “what we know about online learning” with current MOOC activities (Oct 22 and Oct 25, both at 11 am Mountain time). If you’d like to attend the online presentations, please join this MOOC Research Group.