JOE BURNS: Good afternoon. I'm Joe Burns. I'm the dean of the university faculty. I'd like to welcome you to this first faculty forum. We plan to hold one such form each semester in order to involve and educate the faculty about topics that are vital to Cornell's missions of research and teaching. Today, for our first topic, we will explore MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses. Many of our purest institutions have rushed in into such educational ventures in the past few months, but Cornell has not yet acted.
Today's session will describe what such courses are and what they can be so that we faculty can better understand the potential of MOOCs that some believe will be revolutionizing higher education for the next decade and beyond. We faculty can thus participate in decisions about what our universities should be doing in this realm. As an experiment, this first faculty forum is open to the entire community. Well, I see very few others have come. So we can tell all the faculty jokes. Anyways, but its primary purpose is to deepen the understanding of the professor who will accordingly have priority in the question and answer period that follows the presentations.
Our program starts with an introduction to the subject, followed with presentations via live video by the heads of edX and Coursera. We'll then return to the local experts for their perspective. The forum will close with an expanded panel who will respond to your questions and comments. MOOcs will be introduced by David Easley, the Scarborough professor of social sciences who's just stepped down as Chair of the Department of Economics, and Eva Tardos, a Jacob Gould Schurman professor in computer science who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. You're in charge.
DAVID EASLEY: Great. Thanks, Joe. So I don't really want to start by [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: We can't hear you.
AUDIENCE: Mic on?
DAVID EASLEY: It's not on. Now it's on. OK. So actually, Eva and I aren't experts on MOOCs. We [INAUDIBLE] in the sense that neither of us have ever taught a MOOC. We're really here more as members of the faculty who've been following the evolution of MOOCs for a while, who are actually interested in teaching one ourselves, and who think that this is a really important issue for Cornell and for the Cornell faculty. So that's really why we agreed to do this.
We view this as an informational forum rather than something where we're going to try to tell you what our point of view is and convince you of it, although I suspect you'll be able to detect our point of view as we go along. What we're going to do is just provide an introduction to what MOOCs are, where they came from, why they're happening now, and a little bit of discussion about costs and benefits of MOOCs. Largely we want to do is set the stage for you to listen to representatives from Coursera and edX who are going to come in remotely and talk about what they do. And then after they've talked, we'll have some further discussion.
Let's see here. So I'm going to start by talking about what MOOCs are. First, they're online, open, and massive. Those categories are not mutually exclusive, certainly. And in fact, in the things you'll see up here on this slide, things roughly fit. Online courses have been around for a long time. They grew, in some sense, out of distance education, which was by mail at some point, and now is much more online. And there are a variety of online efforts. There are universities that are primarily online.
AUDIENCE: Can you make it louder?
DAVID EASLEY: I don't know if I can make it louder. I can get closer. So there are a whole variety of efforts that are online, including efforts by many universities, and including, of course, Cornell, as Cornell has eCornell. Some of these efforts have been successful. Some efforts have found a niche where they have worked. Other efforts have not been successful. So I don't want to try to say that everything online is going to be good or succeed, because that's certainly not the case.
Fathom, an effort that Columbia led that started in roughly 2000, went for several years, included several universities, and was shut down after a few years. Fathom is a bit like the current MOOCs, not the same, but definitely related. So it's not the case that everything is necessarily going to succeed.
Part of what's happening here is that these courses are open. And if you look at my list here of open courses, actually, most of those things aren't really courses. MIT's OpenCourseWare is course material rather than courses. It's a bunch of resources that you can use, in fact, I suspect many of us do use. But they're not really courses. The Khan Academy videos, the TED Talks videos, of course, also are not courses. They're just educational videos.
But several individual faculty members in several universities have created open online courses, and they've been going on for a while. So that in itself is not entirely new. What's really new is the massive element. The first truly massive open online course is very recent. We're talking about the fall of 2011.
This was a course by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig out of Stanford where they had a course in artificial intelligence that had an initial enrollment of 160,000 students. It's not true that 160,000 people actually completed that course. The estimates are that about 20,000 completed that course. But even at 20,000, that's a massive course. And massive at that level raises all kinds of interesting issues about how you provide feedback for students, in addition to, obviously, how you provide the course material.
That leads us to think about what's new. One thing that's new in that example of the artificial intelligence course at Stanford is a good one, is that this is a faculty-driven effort. This is not coming from institutions. It's coming from faculty. It's coming from faculty at top universities. Stanford and MIT are particular leaders in this. And it's coming from leading faculty at those top universities.
It uses online delivery, which is also not entirely new. But it's really interesting to take a look at some of what people are doing in these online courses. They're creating, for the most part, very short videos. They're YouTube-like videos. The quality of those videos varies enormously. Some of them are videos of someone writing on a blackboard. Others are very high-quality videos, just as you see on Youtube-- in terms of quality, vary enormously. But they typically are short.
The other thing that's happening is that there's online questions and answers by the students and by the faculty in terms of answering. There are online exams, problem sets, quizzes. And there are really interesting issues about scalability when you run a course at this size. How do you take what we know how to do and scale it up?
One thing that's happening with online questions and answers is that students are answering other students' questions in some of these classes. Some of us, of course, use this kind of material here on campus now. I mean, Eva and I have used in the past Piazza as a site where students can answer other students' questions. And it's worked well for us. You see a lot of this in the online courses. There is-- ah.
Hello. I can still see the slides on the monitors, but unfortunately, you might have a hard time. There's also online grading. Some of that's mechanical grading. Other parts of it are really interesting experiments with students--
AUDIENCE: When you talk, could you put the mic closer [INAUDIBLE]?
DAVID EASLEY: I don't think I can get a whole lot closer. The other parts of it are interesting experiments with students grading other students' answers and using crowdsourcing techniques try to reinforce high-quality efforts by those students as a group. Finally, there's a mix of for-profit and nonprofit operations here. Some of the operations are run explicitly to make a profit. Others are not.
They're all, at the moment, providing free access to the courses. Students do not need to be enrolled in any university to take them. The courses, at the moment, don't provide credit. Some of them provide a certificate at the end. Sometimes that certificate is free for students who complete the course successfully. Other times there's a small fee.
One thing that's really not settled here-- it's not on the slide, but it's obvious about this mix of for-profit and nonprofit-- is that the revenue model's not settled, right? Exactly how anybody's going to make enough revenue to support the operation that's nonprofit or to make a profit is unclear. But remember, these courses are attracting a massive number of participants. There's experience online with what happens in some cases when you contract a massive number of participants in terms of making a profit where it wasn't obvious how you would initially make a profit.
Let me just point out Google. When Google got started, it wasn't clear-- at least to me-- how they were going to make a profit. It wasn't clear to most people. They succeeded in making a profit, right? Last year, they had a profit of approximately $10 billion, even though initially it wasn't clear how you would generate any revenue, really significant revenue from what they were doing.
Let me briefly mention what Stanford is doing. They're a nice example here. Stanford has 16, at the moment, free online courses. This is a list of current and near-future online courses at Stanford that are free. They cover a variety of areas, although they're very heavily tech and CS oriented as you might expect since it's Stanford and the effort was led by Stanford CS faculty. Maybe more interesting is that Stanford is doing this over three different platforms, two that are on campus at Stanford, Class2Go and Venture Labs, and one, Coursera, which is something we're going to talk more about today. So now Eva's going to take over and talk a little bit more about what Coursera does.
EVA TARDOS: So we were hoping to give you a sense of the variety of courses going on. And I guess I understand that this is probably not big enough for you to really read. More the message that I think is understandable at this level and I hope to convey is that many universities, especially Stanford leading this, is just experimenting with things. The philosophy is that there is some amazing opportunities here. And I think there are two speakers I'm sure will both say this. And we just need to figure out what to do with it.
So I think it's not just the income model that's unclear. It's the educational model that's unclear, the effect on campus that's also unclear. The right platform of how to get cooperation is all unclear. And what Stanford is doing, at least as well as any other school, I think, is experimenting with this. And they're offering three different platforms. I wanted to tell you a little bit more about Coursera and edX, in particular because those are the two speakers that we have here each presenting for 15 minutes each.
So Coursera is a for-profit in the-- they have the biggest share of the marketplace right now. Their service to universities who sign up for Coursera. So far, it seems to be growing. The sign-up, of course, have short-term agreements with Coursera. But so far, they appear to renew them regularly. Again, I understand the print here is small and I didn't mean for you to do read through exactly which are the universities, but some very good universities-- Princeton, UPenn, and, of course, Stanford are all Coursera customers.
They offer a range of courses. So I guess in particular, currently-- currently here means fall, so the trimester schools-- that means this course will start in a week, not that it's currently running. They have 195 courses that are full courses, either running right now or will run very shortly. They group them-- because 195 is a lot-- in two different ways. You can look by university or by category. There are 18 categories. Again, just before-- it's more on the technology side, but there are interesting things going on not only on the technology side.
For example, I actually put up a few courses on the humanities and social science categories. There are, in total, 31 courses running. Again, in our courses, currently four courses. In humanities and social science categories, this is my sample. And I don't know. I just wanted to choose a range.
Again, there's 31 courses. And they're trying to just make it as huge as possible. UPenn particularly has been good or more involved in putting on social science and humanities courses. Princeton's better. Stanford, as you have seen, is actually less good at this.
OK, so this is my quick Coursera introduction. In the Coursera model, universities are in charge of putting up courses. Coursera likes thinking of himself-- or themselves as you think of YouTube. You create the video. They just put it up, the same model for Coursera. Universities create the courses, and they just post it.
The other company or group we're gong to hear from is edX. EdX originally was announced as a joint venture between MIT and Harvard. And more recently, Berkeley joined it. EdX is going much slower in the developments given. They're currently offering exactly the seven courses I listed up there. I color-coded them. And they actually have this more university orientation. They call it like MITx, HarvardX, and BerkeleyX.
They spend more effort and energy in developing the courses, but they're going on a smaller scale. They're nonprofit. So Coursera is all for-profit, venture capital invested. And they're figuring out how to make money. EdX is a nonprofit. How they operate today-- they don't defer so much, in the sense that the education is free on either side. Then they're charging for certificates. EdX being nonprofit still means they have to recover their costs. And there are nontrivial costs here in both developing courses and running courses.
There are a couple other interesting course options out there. Again, I guess the list is more technology and CS oriented, though they do offer-- Harvard offers a house in numbers that's a public house course. And they certainly have plans to order other courses.
I actually put up one other company that I thought was important or interesting to talk about. Again, there are a couple other options out there. Udacity is the original Sebastian Thrun company-- remember Sebastian Thrun?-- and Peter Norvig were the first to do these courses. It was an artificial intelligence course. And Sebastian actually quit Stanford. He is no longer a Stanford faculty member. Instead, he is running Udacity.
Udacity has some courses. And in some way, I think-- again, I'm not an expert actually. I should have seconded what David said. Despite the introduction, I think it's important that the Cornell thinks about what to do in this space. And in particular, I find it interesting. But I'm very far from being an expert.
Udacity is the most aggressive in trying to think about what this space might offer. And they offer a lot. They group their courses into beginning, intermediate, and advanced. And I gave you how many courses they offer. Their courses are exclusively maths, physics, technology, so STEM courses, at the moment what they're offering. And the one, two, three, four is on the screen as a little picture of what they are offering you, which is-- I think, again, they may be more aggressively thinking about the future than the other companies.
One, I guess you think about-- think about what you want to learn. And you choose a course, two. You engage in this massively online education where you're learning from your peers more than you're learning from the instructor. There are videos and there are questions and there are tests online, but you communicate with your peers and run things online.
Three, they're offering you a certificate. And interestingly, four, they think they're going to try to help you find a job given the skill they think you learned at level number three. That's their plan. Before we bring in the-- oh, I guess we want to do this afterwards, right?
DAVID EASLEY: No, this is--
EVA TARDOS: This is still before?
DAVID EASLEY: Yeah, just keep going.
EVA TARDOS: OK, one more. So before we bring in the two experts-- so m the plan is here to have Anant Agarwal from MITx or edX and Daphne Koller for Coursera talk We could have brought in more people. I guess the general feeling was that two different fuses may be the right balance here.
We need to think about, at Cornell and generally every other school, of what exactly we want to do and what is good to do in this space. Some schools jumped into this very fast and experimenting. And other schools are holding back and forming committees or thinking about it. And yet other schools claim that maybe this is not a space they want to be-- they're interested in. We definitely need to explore what we want to do at Cornell.
And a couple reasons why we will-- what we should think about and why it might be a good thing to do this. Certainly, it aligns very well with the university's educational mission. What these courses do is that you get people who don't have the means or ability to show up on campus. They might not have the education-- the means or ability because they're high school kids. They might not have it because they're middle-aged.
They already had an education and they just want to enhance their education or they're doing a job right now that doesn't actually perfectly line up with the original major, the education they got. Or because they're far away in India or China or some other part of the world, or many other reasons. It reaches to a lot of people that we don't normally reach. And it meshes well with our land-grant mission.
Eric Schmidt talked about, in his Harvard lecture that he gave a couple days ago, actually, in the STEM room, about what technology can provide and how it can make world a better place for all of us. And this, I think, meshes very well. I hope or expect that the speakers will both tell you that it can make the environment better for our students on campus, that this can change how we teach the courses, it can provide materials that our students can use and benefit from, and improve our courses, our course environment on campus.
This is an ongoing experiment. Some universities are more actively thinking about it. We just had someone come from Princeton and tell us about what Princeton is doing in this space. I think they are actually very advanced. MIT-- I expect Anant Agarwal to tell you what he has done in his course, engaging students on campus while they also benefit from such a massive online course.
But whatever you really think about it, I strongly believe that the revolution is happening in education. And if you don't think about and participate and experiment with this revolution, then that's too bad for us. I don't know what the outcome of this revolution will be, but I certainly want to explore it and want to know what-- want to think about how to take advantage of it. And this is the kind of thing that you learn by doing or trying.
I personally think it's very important for us to be part of this and have our faculty experiment. And I guess I don't mean this in the traditional way of telling you that you're supposed to use slides in your lectures or you're supposed to use iClickers in your lecture. I just think some of our faculty experiment with this, we all become a richer and broader place. I'm not asking anyone to do anything. I'm hoping the university will make it possible, for the faculty would like to experiment-- to experiment, and then the other faculty nearby will hear about this and understand or maybe see the benefit.
And actually, maybe last and not least, it enormously impacts recruiting. I heard this from engineering recruiting. So I mean, undergraduates or high school kids, when we try to recruit them to come to Cornell, they certainly view that this is where the world is going. They want to join one of those modern universities that offer this. They ask the high school recruiting people, where are the open online courses? What can I watch Cornell do? They're interested. They want it. And I think it's important that we participate in this.
JOE BURNS: Anyway, what our plan is is to have a short panel. We will shoot to wrap up in about 15 minutes. We have three additional people who are here-- Ted Dodds, who's the chief information technology officer here at Cornell. He came here about 18 months ago. And he's in the midst of rejuvenating Cornell's IT infrastructure. Would you come up and sit down please, Ted?
And we got Chris Proulx, who's the CEO of eCornell. Over the last seven or eight years, he substantially improved both the educational outreach of that organization as well as its profitability. Why don't you come up and join? And then finally, Steve Strogatz, the Schurman professor of applied mathematics, has a developed a chaos course through the Teaching Company, not a MOOC, but a course and a set of lectures. Every Monday, you can find his online op-ed about mathematics in the New York Times.
So experts in different aspects. And I wanted to give the three new people a couple of minutes to just say their impressions, what they think are the issues, and then maybe we'll have a discussion here or even include some of you in that. So if we could start, maybe, with Steve on the far end.
STEVE STROGATZ: What was the question?
JOE BURNS: Just what is your perspective on this? What do you think are the issues for MOOCs? We can start on the other end of the line.
STEVE STROGATZ: Yeah, let's start on the other end.
JOE BURNS: Ted, you want to go?
TED DODDS: Sure, OK. I guess I'm just going to-- I know that we're really short on time, so I'll just-- can you hear me OK?
AUDIENCE: Put the mic next to your mouth.
TED DODDS: OK, so there we go. All right. I'll use my outside voice. I'm just going to make a couple of very quick points because I know we are short on time. One is just to acknowledge, first of all, that one of my big goals, objectives is to reallocate as much of our scarce IT investments away from utility services through going more and more to the Cloud so that we can reallocate more of that investment directly toward academic technologies.
I think we've seen, even in our experience today-- and I'm sure that the crew here has done a great job. But we really need a greater level of investment in higher-order IT skills that will allow us to have an experience like this one in a seamless and straightforward and standard way. There's a lot of complexity going on. And I don't know how we ran into these problems. I know that there was a lot of work done in preparation for it. But you can see that it's not necessarily an easy path.
One of the ways in which we're investing in academic technologies is through purposeful pilots with things like eTextbooks. We want to bring a proposal for it to the capital planning process to improve basic technology in all classrooms so that any scheduled classroom has a consistent experience for faculty and for students. So there's a number of ways in which we're trying to do that.
The second point that I would make is that whatever path Cornell chooses for online learning, whether we join a consortium, whether we do something different, whichever consortium it might be, is-- in my view, has to be a faculty-driven direction, a faculty-driven path. I see IT's role as being a contributor to various aspects of that. And as I'm sure Chris will discuss, my academic technologies organization that has a decade or so of experience working with many of the people in this room helping to translate the in-class pedagogy into an online world and for a number of courses is partnering with Chris and his organization to hopefully develop a methodology that will allow us to scale up quickly, reduce the cost of course creation and scale up quickly through a lightweight methodology and participate and be prepared to participate in the online world, again, whatever path forward Cornell might choose. So that's all I really had to say. You want this, or-- OK.
CHRIS PROULX: Yeah, I think I'll just pick up a little bit where Ted left off. And I think I'm going to refer back to something that I think David and Eva mentioned really well in their opening, which is a number of the elements that are present in how MOOCs are developed and delivered have actually been around for some time, and in a variety of different kinds of online education formats and higher Ed and actually in other aspects of the educational spectrum. But there are three game changers which are really interesting now about what's happening with MOOCs that I think we need to consider here at Cornell.
The first is, as Eva mentioned, the top-ranked faculty that are engaged in this and engaged in it at scale. So I think when you look at the number of courses that are involved, say, for example at Coursera, basically that number times one equals the number of faculty that are engaged. And that number is increasing at a very dramatic rate. And so I think that level of engagement is creating a whole bunch of-- a lot of energy and new ideas around education and teaching at a very rapid rate right now.
The second is the social learning, and combined with scale. So online education, for some time, has been doing a lot with social learning and peer learning and trying to figure how to adapt in the online environment. The difference is, when you now start to do that across tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of students, for the construction of peer knowledge-- and I think we saw a couple of examples today, and I think you can go even deeper in terms of how I start to think about how courses themselves become smarter when you figure out how to build tools and capabilities to take advantage of this scalable social learning.
And the last is the big data applications that really are not talked about a little bit. And those big data applications are not only going to be limited to looking at a particular course, but then you can be looking at courses across disciplines, disciplines across institutions, institutions, students across various regions. And then the real implications become for faculty and for universities is, what do you do with that information? And how do we use it in a way that helps education and teaching?
So as Ted said, we're looking to collaborate with his team more and identify ways that we've got our capabilities for what we've done over the last decade or so with what his team has done. Because specifically, organizations like Coursera and edX are providing a great platform for MOOCs. But depending on how Cornell wants to go, there's going to be a lot of localization, in a sense, of that expertise in terms of integrating that, and not only to a MOOC course, but curriculum, whether that be on-ground curriculum, blended curriculum, or online curriculum. And I think it's going to take capabilities and resources here at Cornell to work with each of you to integrate those innovations into the curriculum. Steve.
STEVE STROGATZ: Just one thought, which is I was really struck, as a person who doesn't know much about any of this, by the social learning aspect and how powerful it seems. I'm someone who really likes lecturing. And maybe some of you are, too. And I find that my students don't learn very much even though I love being up there and try to give them a smooth lecture and get a high rating by the end the course.
But in fact, the education that happens is not very good. I'm always disappointed every year when I give my students their final exams at how little most of them have learned. And so anything that could improve that situation is of interest. I mean, I really think we could be doing much, much better. If our goal was really to teach-- or let's put it this way. If our goal was really to have our students learn, I feel like we could do it a lot better than we're doing right now. I'm not sure how, but these experiments seem very interesting.
JOE BURNS: Thank you all. Is there a comment or question or two from the audience? Andy Rowena.
AUDIENCE: Should I go grab the phone?
JOE BURNS: Yes, please.
AUDIENCE: I'm guessing that the-- can you hear me, or--
JOE BURNS: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: I'm guessing that the faculty as a whole does not have an objection to small experiments in this direction. But if Cornell wants to go in a big way or not a big way or exactly what, maybe people could argue about. But let's just say, starting today, if some people here or other people want to channel their energy in this direction, where do they go at Cornell? What resources are available? What person is there who would organize those resources?
Just starting right now, how do people channel their energies? And if there's no simple answer, I guess my request to you as dean of the faculty or to the people at CIT is just to set up those channels so that, say, this spring, people could-- some experiments in this direction, people could be working on them rather than this just being an academic discussion.
EVA TARDOS: So let me try to answer that. In some way, we don't have a good answer. But in the slide above me is a committee that Joe Burns and folks just formed. These people agreed, as of this morning, that they're going to be part of this committee and they're going to think about what Cornell should do in the MOOC direction. This means a committee I haven't met yet. So we are thinking about this. There are also some resources, and they certainly should approach either Ted or Chris.
I do believe Cornell is doing something in this space. And Chris and Ted are trying to line up the institutions or the organizations to help us do it. So while we don't have as good an answer as we should, the person to approach here directly, I think, is either Chris or Ted. And I guess I should take the opportunity that given the committee has been formed, any suggestions, proposals, send it either to Joe or the site that is set up for this meeting. Or you can email it to people on the committee.
JOE BURNS: Yes, we do. And we are putting in a blog site. In fact, it should be online now. And I'd say, in addition-- it still is not online? OK, we turned it on, another technology problem. We're going to get this fixed right.
And I should also say there seems to be great interest in this on the part of the provost. Kent Fuchs is sitting in the back here. He certainly is saying, tell me what-- my impression-- tell me what to do. I'm happy to do this experiment, but I need to know what to do. And that's our job. Another comment or question? That's perfect. It's 6 o'clock, exactly when we're supposed to end.
As I say, there soon will be a blog coming up. And there is also some, I think, cheese and chips and things like that outside if you want to stick around and just chat with your colleagues a bit about this topic. Thanks very much for coming. Thank the participants, and also the staff who put all this together.
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MOOCs -- Massive Open Online Courses -- are not the usual sort of online learning. A typical course may have thousands of students enrolled all over the world. Cornell must decide whether or not to join other leading universities in offering such courses.
Cornell professors David Easley and Eva Tardos spoke at a faculty forum on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) September 27, 2012, which included presentations by Anant Agarwal, director of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and president of EdX, and Daphne Koller, professor of computer science at Stanford and a co-founder of Coursera, both via videoconferencing.