Nearly everyone who uses the Internet has heard of Wikipedia and likely used it at least once. Wikipedia has often been held up as the poster child for the way that the Internet enables people all over the globe to collaborate with each other and produce an incredibly valuable result.
While Wikipedia itself has had some growing pains – or is it maturity pains? – there have been other more recent examples of virtual collaboration.
One of my favorites – and a potential successor to Wikipedia as the poster child for virtual collaboration – is Zooniverse (https://www.zooniverse.org/ ). Recently, Zooniverse passed the 1,000,000 mark – that is more than a million people have registered to help out.
This is a large number that is even more impressive when you consider that Zooniverse is not a fan site or a fantasy sports site, but is all about the participation of “everyday people” in science.
Their projects range from analyzing data collected in space to biology, nature and the environment. They even have room for what might be considered scientific analyses applied to the humanities.
Unlike Wikipedia whose users vastly outnumber its contributors and whose rules specifically exclude original research, Zooniverse is intended to make everyone a volunteer and to create new science.
It’s a very ambitious goal, one that seems to be working well under the leadership of the Citizens Science Alliance (CSA). CSA describes itself as:
“a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop, manage and utilise internet-based citizen science projects in order to further science itself, and the public understanding of both science and of the scientific process. These projects use the time, abilities and energies of a distributed community of citizen scientists who are our collaborators.”
It’s exactly this kind of project that provides hope for the positive value of the Internet as an unprecedented tool of the knowledge age.
And it also should raise the awareness of public officials about their citizens’ thirst for participation of all kinds.
© 2014 Norman Jacknis
There have been recent articles featuring primarily Sebastian Thrun, the earlier leader of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and founder of the company, Udacity, which specializes in developing and delivering MOOCs.
The first was a piece in Fast Company about how Thrun has been disappointed by the experience of MOOCs. This was followed by a more positive piece in the New York Times about changes in MOOCs that are being considered in order to address their failures. The failures turn out to be the small percentage of people who actually attend the full course and the fact that most of them already have degrees.
However, the discussion might be misleading. It not so much whether online courses are good or bad, but how it is very difficult to succeed with a new innovation by casting it as a minor modification of something that already exists. In this case, the idea that online learning should be very much like a typical college course, but just online, may not have been an innovative enough idea. For example, the Khan Academy, which packages learning into ten minute videos that anyone can access, is a much greater change from convention and has also been much more successful.
Indeed, the fact that many in the MOOCs already have degrees maybe should make MOOC developers reconsider their target. Perhaps MOOCs will be much more appealing as a cost-effective means of lifelong learning for those who cannot afford the time or additional money to attend college than for those who would be college students.
In a knowledge age, the biggest challenge is how to provide learning opportunities for all adults – all of whom need to continue to learn.
(Disclosure: While this blog has had previous posts on higher education, it is now more relevant since I was recently appointed to the board of the Westchester Community College. Of course, my views do not represent those of the College now, or as it may turn out, even in the future 😉
© 2014 Norman Jacknis
Although there has been lots of news this year about online education – such as massively open online courses (MOOCs) – as a proportion of overall spending on education these efforts are still quite small. What will accelerate reforms like these and other, perhaps even better, changes to the ways that people can learn?
It has struck me that before this acceleration of innovation can occur, we must cut the Gordian Knot of education – the fact that, in general, the same institutions that offer education are also the ones who certify that a student has mastered the material.
If we could break that combination, people will be free to learn in the ways that are best for each of them individually. Instead of one size fits all, each person could use one or more of these approaches: MOOCs, classroom, peer-to-peer, self-teaching, online video, hands-on or other ways that may be invented. Then an authoritative independent organization can certify whether or not the person has mastered the material.
So it was interesting to read in the New York Times, a few weeks ago, that:
“Working with Mozilla, the MacArthur Foundation and a consortium interested in virtual learning, former President Bill Clinton announced a project on Thursday to expand the use of Open Badges — online credentials that employers or universities can use in hiring, admissions, promotions or awarding credit. The badges serve as credentials that can help self-taught computer programmers, veterans returning to civilian life and others show skills they learned outside a classroom. ”
It remains to be seen how widely this particular initiative will go, but this or something like it – sooner or later – will provide that independent credentialing system that is needed for disruptive innovation in education to start happening.
© 2013 Norman Jacknis