MIXED BAG: MOOCs, eBooks, Circa, and Bulldozers

January 14, 2014, 7:45 pm

Our spring semester begins next week. It’s always a shock to the system when the students return to campus. This is especially exaggerated in a small town like Blacksburg where they account for over half of the population.

I have several blog posts in the pipeline, but today I wanted to tie a few loose ends together.

There is a commentary in the Chronicle today about MOOCs. This sums it up:

 “Instead of 2014 being the year when talk of disruption in higher education ends, why not make it the year when pioneering ideas converge?”

The MOOC narrative has changed so rapidly. The Hype Cycle piece combined with Fast Company’s bubble bursting piece has taken us from 2013 being The Year of the MOOC to the death of the MOOC in twelve short months.

I’m very curious to see what happens next. This topic came up at a recent ASERL meeting and there were two conversation threads that stuck with me.

First  – it isn’t about content or credentials at all. It is about scale. It is about building a global audience that tunes in frequently. Hundreds of thousands of people (millions even) logging into a site several times a week adds up to a very large advertising potential! Think about that. What’s the real motivation? Education for the masses is all good, but is that the pitch that keeps bringing in millions of dollars from venture capital?

 Secondly – we can’t focus on the MOOC platform itself; it is more about the byproduct. NASA is a good example. They clearly have a space mission but along the way they have also developed many spinoff products.

MOOCs will probably have a similar impact. They will help move online learning forward, but they will also create new industries—perhaps around training or shared interest groups, etc.

Personally I’m more interested in MOOPs—Massively Open Online Projects. Let’s get people from around the country (or world?) working together on common problems or ideas. Massively open assignments are very intriguing.

Ebooks & eJournals
My last post generated a lot discussion (and spam) on what is a book. Most particularly—are eBooks books? That’s actually a very old conversation that I’m surprised we’re still having. I want to share an observation though.

Back in the late 1990’s there was a big distinction between journals (print) and eJournals or online journals. Even into the 2000’s I remember students being required to use real journals as in not the one’s found online. Even if the content was identical, the digital versions were not to be trusted – and not to be cited.


This is the amount of current print journals and periodicals that remain in the main library at Virginia Tech.

This has changed. Today when we say “journal” there is no discrimination. In fact, it is probably assumed outright that a journal is online. I’d actually be suspicious if it didn’t have a digital counterpart.

That’s all I want to say about books vs. eBooks for right now.

Circa App Recommendation
08-followStoryMy favorite app right now is Circa. Obviously there are many news and alert tools out there, but I particularly like the ability to “follow” a story. This free app pushes out paragraph length updates as they occur. It’s great for getting quick blurbs related to big news stories and prevents you from rereading the same story over and over again. Save the time of the reader!

Bulldozers: A Vision Statement
I was reading a book to my son about Bulldozers. Most of the content was along the lines of “bulldozers push dirt.” But there was one page that struck me:

Bulldozers change the shape of the land.

 bulldozersThat’s a powerful positive attitude. You could just be grinding it out or you could be changing the world around you. Let’s call that my motivational perspective for 2014.

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