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h1. July 2013 : MOOC in Europe


MOOC are a main subject in an increasing number of conferences, seminars and symposia; various academic associations (EUA LERU, ...) take or will take a position about this new method of teaching, its interests and disadvantages. EADTU (European Association of Distance Learning Universities) organized a solemn declaration of the European Community, April 23, OPenupEd \[1\] and provides a gateway to point to different academic MOOC. The first critical reviews are emerging in the United States, and some are beginning to denounce the myth of cheap quality education. The hopes raised by MOOCs follow the famous Gartner’s "hype curve", as any modern technology. The MOOC phenomenon already overpassed the peak and drop towards a more realistic vision. This seems to be confirmed in recent studies by Gartner \[2\] and other experts \[3\].

The perception of the MOOC rapidly evolves. The number of publications increases and the reader may get an idea through reference \[4\]. This document is based on our participation in several conferences and conventions, and, in particular "The summit of MOOC stakeholders” held in Lausanne, EPFL, 6-7 June 2013. This restricted meeting, by invitation, was attended by the most advanced players in Europe with representatives of edX and Coursera. I had the honor of representing EUNIS (European University Information Systems Organization) and UPMC.

h2. MOOC everywhere in Europe
Classical LMS (Moodle, Claroline, Sakai, ...) are not used in massive MOOCs, except marginally Sakai. This arises from several limitations:

\-       * Insufficient load sustainability for all functionalities. LMS (Learning Management Systems) were not build for tens of thousands of students present in the same course and some features simply cease to function.

\-       * Poor or non existant social dimension as needed for MOOC.  New features are needed to work and exchange among peers, to replace teachers evaluation by peer evaluation and get progressive credentials (badges). Conventional LMS faithfully reproduce the classic roles (students, teaching assistants, teachers) and do not to manage peer-to-peer exchanges. This is their greatest miss.

These limitations can be corrected and, in the future, modified LMS could remain good candidates for MOOC platforms.  They may continue to be used for small MOOCs (less than 10 000 students) but, up to now, none is realy present in this new market.

The main actors are:
* EdX \[10\], an American non-for-profit Foundation which has made its source code public

\-       EdX \[10\], an American non-for-profit Foundation which has made its source code public
* Class2go from Stanford, which recently merged with edX

\-       Class2go from Stanford, which recently merged with edX
* Coursera \[11\], the most well-known organization together with edX, a for-profit organization 

\-       Coursera \[11\], the most well-known organization together with edX, a for-profit organization 
* Course Builder \[12\] from Google since this  giant could not miss this new opportunity. The code is publicly available.
* OpenMOOC open code developed for UNED, already cited.

\-       Course Builder \[12\] from Google since this  giant could not miss this new opportunity. The code is publicly available.

\-       OpenMOOC open code developed for UNED, already cited.

This list is not exhaustive, and new open or business initiatives appear every day. Across Europe, Germany, Spain, France and elsewhere new solutions are being announced: an entire field opens for training throughout life. Permanent education being a major business for the 21{^}st^ century, MOOCs represent a new opportunity for platforms developers as well as for education business.   What platforms will prevail is impossible to say today. Among private platforms, no doubt that the major sector players (Blackboard, Instructure, ...) want their share but new players like Google and other companies, leaders in the world of new technologies, are watching, ready to jump.

Among open source platforms, edX is taking the lead with Stanford merging with this solution and the choice of Open Source. Choices for the near future will include the ability of communities to organize themselves and to internationalize. Do not forget, however, that MOOC platforms are newcomers; their educational functionalities remain limited, compared to traditional teaching platforms (Moodle, Sakai, Claroline ...), and their ability to innovate quickly in this area will be a decisive factor. Their main pedagogical innovation, perhaps, is a thinking about puting intelligence in the automatic grading of students in tests and assignments but this is a very controversial subject belonging more to research than education \[13\] . However, we can expect rapid progresses in customizing educational courses to each individual, based on the analysis of student behavior \[14\]. This is one of the most interesting trends today about Learning Analytics \[15\].

The platform  is seen as a temporary choice, not a final one until a "Darwinian process" selects the best platforms. All players are ready to change, depending on the opportunities and developments, also underestimating the cost of this transfer.

h2. Strategic choices, a European policy?

A second use is that of remedial courses for students entering the university or those who failed to pass their examinations. It is the same for the acquisition of basic knowledge necessary for some curricula. So far the only help offered was a bibliography of documents and books and the students were left to themselves. MOOC can be seen as a progress because they do not pretend to replace a classical tutored education but want to be an additonal support.

To differentiate these approaches from the massive U.S. current use, one speaks of SOOC (Small Open Online Course) or TORC (Tiny Online Restricted Course). Coursera, for example, provides two instances: first, private, for internal use, connectable to a university portal, the second to the outside public. The first instance can be seen as a TORC.
h2. MOOC Environment

h3. Structure of MOOCs

# The central teaching support platform, working closely with the software people, in the same organization.
# The local educational support within each university, to help teachers to produce and make courses work.
This means:

# A MOOC course needs a virtual platform in the cloud. This is the only way to support the load changes, at a reasonable cost, depending on the number of users simultaneously connected, larger numbers in the beginning or depending on the day and hour. Otherwise additional servers should be ready to start to contain the peak load, and this is very expensive.
# A MOOC platform requires IT staff to ensure good level operation. Managed in the cloud, these virtual platforms will minimize the number of specialists. The role of the staff is not only to ensure the conditions for a good production but also to open the virtual instances for each course (one course = one instance).
# Pedagogical support staff is required, located in the vicinity of the software specialists, to train and advise the trainers located in each university. This is a fundamental level:  exchange among these persons should help computer specialists to adapt platforms to the needs of the teachers and students. This level must interact remotely with universities and train local trainers.
# ICT specialists (instructional designers, staff for filming and media) are needed in each university to support the teachers.

U.S. consortia (Coursera, edX, ...) provide points 1 and 2, and point 3 up to full realization, against payment, but for a price of up to $ 250,000\!

The business model of MOOCs should not be neglected, even in Europe. Registration fees have nothing to do with those of the United States, but the state financing will necessarily be limited in the coming years, and can not suffice to the needs. The problem of cost is actually shifted from students to schools and the nation but remains unsolved. Are MOOCs a solution to help in this direction to ensure a quality education at a lower cost? Nothing is less sure. People who have already build courses, provide very different figures. The cost of equipment (mostly for video) is negligible and quickly pays for itself with the multiplication of courses. It is not the same for the support staff, both technical and pedagogical as well as for the teachers, who, often so far, are all or partially volunteers and therefore little or no counted. This may be one of the reasons why figures, to build a course, vary from € 20,000 to over € 200,000 plus annual maintenance. When compared to the cost of the classical main lecture approach, some specialists believe that the cost of a MOOC is up to three times more expensive \[20\].  However these figures are not able to take into account the effectiveness of both approaches wich is being discussed.

Responsibles for connectivist MOOCs (c-MOOC), built with the tools available in the cloud  such as youTube, Google docs,  give lower figures but no real study has been made taking into account the difference between x-MMOCs and c-MOOCs.   Moreover c-MOOCs seem to require more involvment from their leaders, to the level of an apostolate\!

The economic study of MOOC remains to be done.

EPFL estimates six months the time between the decision making and the provision of a course. A university may therefore switch only a limited number of courses per year in MOOCs.

The richest European universities, and the most advanced in the field of ICT, can best achieve some MOOCs each year.  The investment, both in terms of staff as well as support, may quickly fizzle most of them. An external support, pooled across institutions, with a special additional funding, would be welcome. If, in addition they must operate a platform for mass access available 24h/24, 7/7, they will run out quickly. It is doubtful that European Higher Education Institutions are able to do better than richly endowed institutions, like Stanford and EPFL, that use external service providers.   

Today, only UK has announced a national consortium. What will it be in other European countries? Depending on national culture and HE organizations, the solutions will be different and we strongly believe that the states have a role to play. Organizations such as TERENA \[21\] EUNIS \[22\] could find their place if they are transnational.

Universities, which want to open MOOCs, must, whatever the consortium, obey a quality charter. It means that they must be aware that they have to aggregate important resources to achieve this goal and to maintain the courses. The MOOC economy is not yet known but a MOOC has a cost and all universities do not have the resources and know how to successfully compete.

The MOOC phenomenon has passed the summit of the Gartner "hype curve". Critics are already emerging in the United States, about both the economic and the pedagogical model. It is possible that, in the fall, a number of American universities tend towards a model that joins the European model. Nevertheless massive courses will retain their importance, both to promote the reputation of the institutions and to widen their recruitment pool

This model could be inspired by that developed by the Virtual University of Bavaria \[23\] where Bavarian universities fetch the courses they do not have the means to organize themselves. But this is another future development.

\[6\] FutureLearn : []

\[7\] Miriada []

\[8\] UNEDCOMA []

\[9\] Iversity : []

\[10\] edX : []

\[11\] Coursera : []

\[12\] Course  Builder : []

\[13\] John Markoff, « Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors a Break »,  NY Times, 4/04/2013

\[14\]  See, for instance, the announcement by Fujistsu and MIT about « Guided Learning Pathways, []

\[15\] UNESCO, Policy Brief « Learning Analytics, November 2012, []

\[15\] UNESCO, Policy Brief « Learning Analytics, November 2012, [][]

\[16\] « European MOOC Stakeholder Summit, [], Lausanne, 6-7 June 2013

\[18\] Mathieu Cisel, « Bienvenue au Far West », Educpros, (in French) 1/07/2013, []

\[19\] Yves Epelboin « MOOC, a European view», décembre 2012, []

\[20\] Tony Bates, « on e-learning from the University of Ottawa » 8/06/2013,

\[21\] TERENA, « The Trans-European Research and Education Networking Association », []

 \[22\] EUNIS, « European University Indormation Systems Organization », []

\[23\] Bavarian virtual university: []