The conference, titled “Realizing the Dream: Education Becoming Available to All. Will the World Take Advantage?” explored a variety of technological innovations in education, and included discussions on the impact of massive open online courses (MOOCs) on universities and communities worldwide.
The plenary sessions began on June 17 with a group of four keynote addresses titled “Four Perspectives on MOOCs,” presented by Anant Agarwal, president of edX; Sir John Daniel, former president of the Open University (UK) and of the Commonwealth of Learning; Sanjay Sarma, director of MITx and the MIT Office of Digital Learning; and Tony Bates, research associate with Contact North, Ontario’s Distance Education & Training Network. Sarma focused on the “magic beyond the MOOCs,” looking at the types of opportunities that MOOCs could potentially enable, including in the context of the residential higher education experience.
“Online education fundamentally enhances the ‘magic’ of a campus,” Sarma said. He also differentiated between MITx and edX, explaining that MITx is more of a content provider, while edX provides the platform for users.
Agarwal explained how MOOCs not only “flip the classroom,” but also might in some ways “flip the funnel” — meaning that although a very small portion of applicants to a top US university will be accepted and many of these matriculated students will graduate, essentially anyone can participate in MOOCs and a small segment of these participants will fully complete the course.
Conference speakers provided perspectives from their own technology-enabled education programs around the world, highlighting some of the universal challenges and opportunities, as well as detailing those unique to their countries and programs. The second day of the conference featured a session on BLOSSOMS (MIT Blended Learning Open-Source Science or Math Studies), which included talks by project managers for BLOSSOMS-Saudi Arabia and BLOSSOMS-Malaysia.
The final day of the conference included “Technology-Enabled Learning at MIT: The Students’ Perspective,” in which Cody Coleman SB ’13 (EECS), Sam Shames DMSE ’14 and Ethan Solomon SB '12 (BCS) shared their thoughts on online educational opportunities. Solomon described some of his own experiences using MOOCs, including what seems to work well, such as the “surprisingly addicting little green checkmarks” that one sees when answering a question correctly. He also noted the need for constructive feedback for MOOCs as a means of generating improvement.
Coleman described how education “opened a world of possibility” in his own life, and said that those working in the realm of online education need to “M.I.T.: Motivate, Inspire, and Teach.”