Juergen Rudolph Interview

Stephen: This is an interview with with Juergen Rudolph. And it’s January 8th, 2014.

Juergen: Excellent. Well so so first of all I feel very honoured that you have agreed to to talking to me. I’ve sent you a little bit of my interview guide, but of course we should feel very free to to deviate from it because it’s just a just a rough guide we don’t have to go through though every question.

Stephen: Sure.

Juergen: So well you’re you’re obviously one of the people who are are very close to the creation of the of the first MOOC together with George Siemens. So you have obviously observed very closely the creation and the further history of the MOOCs. And I’m still exploring your website. It is unbelievably generous. So I just started to look at some of your presentations they are awesome. And very rich so (laughs) I don’t think my thesis will be able to add anything much to the phenomenon. so so I guess you you may have something like an like an hour of your of your time?

Stephen: I’ve got an hour, yes.

Juergen:  Great excellent. So perhaps you can just  tell me what are your thoughts you know on the MOOC phenomenon. And I’m also aware that there are the cMOOCs and the xMOOCs and they they seem to be fairly different but maybe you could just give me your take?

Stephen: Sure. A lot of the emphasis on the MOOCs recently has been on the massive aspect but I think that the massive aspect of online courses has been established well before MOOCs. In my own mind, what’s really significant about MOOCs is that they are open online learning, and I often refer to the phenomenon in my own writing as open online learning rather than simply MOOCs. And it’s this openness that’s really creating a change in the industry over the last few years. Because previously learning tended to be institution-based and took place behind the subscription walls or pay-walls, or tuition walls, and that has really changed a lot. You know, not just with MOOCs, but with the with the open access movement in general, which is has been working the last 10 years or so towards this. So to me that is a significant thing. To me that’s where a lot of the importance of online learning in general has been shown and I think we’re entering a period now of significant transition overall.

Juergen: I’ve not been so fortunate to be to be part of of one of the MOOCs that you’ve been conducting. I’ve I’ve I’ve taken a Coursera course you know, just to check it out (laughs).

Stephen: Yeah.

Juergen: And also a little bit of edX. So, what what is your take on these xMOOCs?

Stephen: Well, the xMOOCs really are intended to replicate traditional university courses in an open online format. So it’s good that they are in an open online format. A lot of people will challenge their openness. They looked and say "Terms of Use" for something like Coursera, it’s really not open. But you know, you’re able to take one from anywhere in the world if you have an internet connection and access materials for free. So it’s definitely open in some important sense, I must say, though just simply replicating the university course and it and in an open online environment.

I think the course aspect is important in another way, because with a beginning point, a few weeks, and an end point, the level of commitment required to undertake one of these is less than, say, joining an entire university program or or joining a long-term community or something like that. So there’s more movement. There’s more interaction, there’s more fluidity in a course kind of environment, and as a consequence more serendipity. But, I would like to think of MOOCs as less centred on curricular aspects. Less centred on the instructional content and more centred on a domain or doing things or engaged in activities that sort of thing. Does that make sense?

Juergen: Oh yeah! That that makes a a lot of sense. I guess the theoretical underpinning of what you’re saying is really connectivism. I mean personally I’m also very interested in knowledge. I teach a little course which is on knowledge and organisational learning. So yeah this idea that knowledge is really only created meaningfully in networks you know, connecting lots of different people from different walks of life together, and then stumbling along together and and creating something exciting, that is also very attractive to me. And I guess in the in the xMOOCs this is not really happening a lot much because it’s very traditional drill and grill sage on the stage kind of practice?

Stephen: I mean there were there there is a phenomenon of self-organising committees springing up around some of the xMOOCs courses. I’m not sure how widespread the phenomenon is, but I can certainly attest the fact that it exists. So to some degree, the connectivist aspect is beginning to show itself even in the xMOOCs. And I think if somebody did an ethnographic study of university students or has done in the past, they would find that that this sort of activity exists on campus as well, I mean back to my old logic courses for example, it was always you know, an informal network of people just interested in solving the problems, understanding the content, etc. And I know that’s true just about any university course.

But these informal groups tend not to be course-based so much, except in particular instances of interaction. They they tend to be more loosely organised around the discipline, and the interesting thing to me about a university environment is that you see a lot of these communities and interactions happening outside the course context. You know there are all the different clubs and activities and events etc. that forms a significant part of a person’s learning in university. It’s one of these intangibles that people always talked about. But this intangible, I think, is as important as a part of learning as actual content curriculum. So I think the MOOCs certainly the MOOCs are creating, are attempting to capture that aspect of learning more so than even simple course content.

There’s one thing too. You characterise them as people you know get get together and muddle along muddle along together for awhile. They’re not necessarily together in the group and they’re not necessarily muddling along together in that sense. I mean, the picture you drew sort of gave me this this literal impression of of this group of people wandering down the road with a really clear idea (of where they want to go). And I think I think a better model would be something like a town square where you have a lot of people in the same area, and there is an organisation apparent, but and and there’s a lot of interaction and it looks like the group, but if you analyse the behaviour of each person is acting independently and autonomously, and they’re not acting without purpose. They have a sense of what they are trying to do and what their goals are. There is no common or a shared purpose or none that is obvious except by perhaps, analysing emergant properties but certainly not a common or shared purpose that is intentionally followed by the individual actors in the square. And and that’s more the kind of picture of have of a MOOC. It’s not a group of people trying to reach some destination together. It’s a place where individuals pursuing their own interest and objectives can interact in a way that mutually supports each other. And that I think is characteristic of these informal activities I’ve just described in the university environment as well, and and even in the informal environments that spring up around the Coursera courses or the xMOOC courses.

Juergen: Yeah! that that makes a lot of sense. If I may ask the question in a very general way, and well it’ll probably may take kind of two different answers and looking at the cMOOCs and the xMOOCs, what would you say, generally speaking, are are are some of the benefits and where where do you see that that are some of the challenges?

Stephen: Sure. I mean, the big benefit to me is especially with the cMOOCs with even with the xMOOCs to some degree people who never got access to anything like this level of learning now have access to it. They can see it, they can visualise it, they can picture it in their mind. Even if they don’t take the whole course, even if they just quickly look at one of these online course, they can come away from that and say, “okay, that’s a university course, I get that!” and for many people, that simply wasn’t an opportunity.

I mean, you couldn’t, it’s like (chuckles) you didn’t even have keys to the club in the past, much less you know, to a part full of activities. So so now they get keys to the club. they have a sense of the type of people sort of discourse that happens. You know, just kind of a mental image of what is it like to get an education, what is it like to be educated? And I understate the importance of this. I think that for a lot of people, certainly people coming from a non-academic background - and like myself, I came from a non-academic background - it’s a big shock when you get to university. And you know the way you’re seeing the world is different. People coming from academic backgrounds you know from homes that value books and learning and and to have complete a university education there’s less of a jump because people have grown up in that culture. But for people who haven’t grown up in that culture there is this significant jump.

This opens that door. This lets you look at that culture. And then you can decide for yourself whether you want to do it or not, right? You can decide for yourself you you might want to be that sort of person to whom postmodernism as important. Do I wanna be the sort of person who uses the word “whom” in a sentence? A lot of people say that all of that is perfectly fine. That’s good. I have no problem with that. But before, the opportunity wasn’t there. We couldn’t study postmodernism unless we were at university. It wasn’t even a thing, unless you went into a university environment.

So, and that’s the big deal to me, right now, most people would take advantage of this are not surprisingly people who grew up in this university environment.

Juergen: Mmm.

Stephen: So you’re you’re look at this study and most people who take MOOCs are are university people. Big surprise! You know, university people like university courses, big surprise.

Juergen: (laughs).

Stephen: Over time, as this culture remains open, this culture will shift because it will experience more impact from outside, and then I think it will become more widely accessible and and more widely interesting to the population as a whole, as opposed to people who have a very specialised interest in an academic environment. But I mean so that’s the big advantage.

The big disadvantage is it’s still kind of out there. You know, people say (and they’re not wrong) that you need a certain set of skills in order to get in order to derive the maximum advantage from open online learning. And that’s true. You need a certain set of skills to derive an advantage from any kind of learning. The type of skills that you need for traditional education are things like basic literacy, basic mathematics and basic science - they say it’s STEM right? Science, technology engineering, mathematics - but what’s more, I would say, basic science in the sense of having a sense of the the empirical and experimental methodology, the idea of coming to conclusions through reason. These are essential for traditional education. If you don’t have these, you’re not going to succeed.

That’s also true with MOOCs. but the forms of these basic literacies change. You need, for example,  not simply basic literacy anymore. You need to able to access (should I say the word?) multiple literacies. It may be a bit wrong to say it exactly like that. But the the the scope of literacy is broader and not as specifically language based in the wider online environment as it is on a traditional educational environment.

For example, grammar, syntax, semantics, meaning and pragmatics would be sufficient for a basis of literacy in a traditional environment. In an online environment, the context becomes a lot more important. Context well beyond the normal range of pragmatics as well. Generalised pattern recognition becomes important for communication forms in non-linguistic forms such as the memes, the images, the map that you see, in a very visual and animated environment.

An understanding of change becomes more important, and the processes and ways of recognising change. In the classroom, things are pretty static. The content is the content. Online, the content in week one is different from the content in what in week 12 because the online world changes in those 12 weeks. It may have changed really significantly. and and so you’ll need to be able to understand the chaotic flow of things. These are hard literacies, you know. Mathematics even: before online, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, these are the important mathematics. After online, now, you’re getting into computability and decidability, Turing machines and things like that. They’re they’re not even concepts in traditional mathematics - I mean, they were advanced form of mathematics, but now they’re basic literacies. The idea of computability is a basic literacy. It’s not what you can do with computers, it’s what you can do with the concept of computing.

So it’s hard for people who don’t have these literacies to access online media, and even more importantly, online community and online interaction. That’s why it’s really difficult, in my view, for people who are older to get as much from the internet as people who are younger. And and I know there’s this whole debate about digital divide and things like that digital divide ah digital generation etc.

Juergen: Umhmm.

Stephen: And  the concept is generally been debunked, yeah, I get that. But, the literacies in the online world are different from the literacies in an offline world. And to a certain degree, people who had practiced in an online world, which generally includes the young, are more likely to have gained some semblance of these literacies. But eventually, these literacies will have to be the sort of thing we recognise, understand and build into our curriculum. And we need to reshape our curriculum so that it takes advantage of these literacies in order to foster the kind of educational environment that works best online. So there’s there’s a ramping up challenge. It’s not just digital digital divide, it’s not just literacy and capability, it’s not just motivation, self-starting, not just this communications capacity, but it’s that (as well). It’s a range of these things that make it difficult for the average person to be able to to access online learning. But, back to the advantage. Before the internet, all of these things were still necessary to function in high society, right? You needed these things, you still need them. But now there’s the possibility that you can get them and that’s what’s changed.

Juergen: that’s that’s all really fascinating. so so what you’re saying is basically there are some 21st century literacies and I I think you’ve done a great job in listing some of them. And provided you have them, then there’s basically a whole world out there which is much more accessible than it than it used to be say, 20 years ago.

Stephen: That’s a very good summation, yea. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

Juergen: Thank you. So another point which which I thought was very well made is that  it doesn’t really start with the MOOCs, you know that that whole idea of open educational resources OERs, but there’s a history before that which which I think is fairly well documented. by by now.

Stephen: Yeah.

Juergen: And I completely agree that the the MOOCs is not coming out of nowhere and certainly not the xMOOCs coming out of nowhere (laughter) although some of these guys seem to (laughs) believe that. But it’s but it’s obviously not true. You and I know that. So so how do you see the relationship between the MOOCs and traditional education? Do you believe that universities are still going to be around? Is it some symbiotic relationship? Will will they be forced to become better, the traditional universities, especially when it comes to the teaching and learning experience?

Stephen: Yea, it’s funny because there’s of course the famous prediction by Sebastian Thrun that there will only be 10 universities in 10 years. which we know is ridiculous.

Juergen: (Laughs).

Stephen: And interestingly, and I never gave it any thought when he made that prediction, fair and I think reasonably so. But thinking about it I think that he is not simply wrong, he’s exactly wrong and that the the flow would be in the opposite direction.

Juergen: Mmm.

Stephen: Today, there’s a limited number of a few thousand universities but this kind of technology may result, will probably result, in a proliferation of universities, because the infrastructure you need to get one of these off the ground is now substantially less. Pick one thing that a world class universities needs still at the present moment - a world class library, say. You know, we’re just a few years away from everybody having access to a world class library, as the trend of open content continues, we near that goal.

If there’s very little content that’s going back into closed, once it was open, not that publishers haven’s been trying, and it’s not an inevitable progression. but if the trend so far continued, then you know we all have access to a world class university library. And there’s a big huge part of the overhead, of running a university right away.

The need for a cam a campus infrastructure - you know I can run through the things like in order to start a university and one by one we can find alternative means of doing these. And interestingly too,  we can and will find alternative ways of sourcing even the non-online components of it. Take for example, a physics laboratory. Before, if you wanted a physics laboratory you went through university. That’s where physics laboratories were. But as open online learning becomes widespread, this creates a generic demand for a free standing physics laboratory to open up access to it. And you do your physics experiments with Bunsen burners or whatever and then you go back to your online course and report your results. This might be a bad example, but we can imagine similar sorts of facilities. So you can access academic facilities, there’s a way today you access gyms or swimming pools, or ice rinks or you know what else. Can you access carpentry tools? I guess all universities can rent tools, do you know what I mean?

Juergen: Mmm.

Stephens: So so it’s possible to pull together a lot of these components of universities from different suppliers. Meeting rooms, right? You know, just generic meeting rooms. Before, that’s a facility a university provided. And after, that becomes something that you source locally in the community and there becomes an industry in providing meeting rooms, more so in the large cities than small. So draw that picture right? So where where where does MOOCs fit in? Or where is MOOC in this kind of picture? It is the content and communication infrastructure that supports the organisation of the teachers and especially the students in some kind of academic or learning venture. And the neat thing about the MOOCs is that it creates that event that you coalesce around locally. And the event comes, you coalesce around it, you go through it together, and when the event is over, you each move on in your separate path. Right? And so, in any given community, people will access one or more of these over time. Just like today they access what’s a good example they they access Breaking Bad

Juergen: (laughs).

Stephen:  or or you know I mean that’s not a really good example because the phenomenon of Breaking Bad is much more widespread than the phenomenon of a university course in in a community of 10,000 people. you might have 4 or 5,000 of them watching Breaking Bad. It’s just crazy right? In a community with 10,000 people you might have 10 or a 100 of them taking that particular course, you know what I mean?

Juergen: Yeah.

Stephen: So the numbers are totally different. But the concept is the same where where people can coalesce around these things. So the university becomes kind of the mega structure which provides a lot of these resources and provides certain educational support services. It is the the institution that puts on the MOOC. Then there’s a local intermediate layer of community facilities in that and then there’s the participants who use the local area, work with that to access this MOOCs and this MOOCs and that MOOC. And then surrounding all of that and possibly separate from the university is the assessment credentialing infrastructure. So it’s a picture of education that moves from being very institutionally focused, where you belonged to this university or that university and you attended that for a period of years, to an environment which is much less structured. In a sense it is much more structured because it’s much more finely grained structured. It’s a very densely knitted network structure but it’s less segmented than than the previous learning environment. And MOOCs or MOOCs technology (because they probably won’t end up being the same over time) provides all the infrastructure lets you just make that happen.

Just as an aside my my current work is focused on distributed personal learning networks. And the idea here is to create the technology and the infrastructure that allows one person to access multiple streams of learning and to organise and manage their own learning in their own personal learning environment.

Juergen: That’s fascinating.

Stephen: And and and I see MOOCs feeding into that as if a MOOC is one stream of multiple streams into a personal learning environment.

Juergen: Excellent. That’s really interesting. Thanks for sharing that. So when you reflect, I mean, let’s take the best case example. Let’s take one of your courses on connectivism and connected knowledge. How would you assess the the general quality of the teaching and learning experience? Would you be saying it’s of a of a high quality? Well I would guess so.

Stephen: (laughs).

Juergen: When you compare it to to a good traditional education. I mean are are there are there gaps or are there even advantages vis-a-vis?

Stephen: Yeah. there’s always dangers of being the first one out of the gate and that’s likely get a lot of things wrong. And you know quality is so much in the eye of the beholder.

Juergen: Mmm.

Stephen: And we’ve got to be careful what we when we talk about that who understands what. we had around 2,200 people in CCK08, and we had therefore 2,200 different sets of metrics of quality. I would say CCK08 really really worked for a certain number of them. and it was kind of interesting for a bunch of them and was whatever for probably hundreds of them.

Juergen: (chuckles).

Stephen: So this to me is a perfectly acceptable result, and I would find that if it was not really interesting for any of them then I would certainly be worried - but then I wouldn’t be worried because they all would have left and I wouldn’t have to do all that work and I would have gone on to something else. Right, so even that’s an okay result. I don’t mind that kind of result, it doesn’t bother me. Also when we are talking about quality we need to understand that there are different metrics based on what you’re trying to do. If you asked, what was the quality of teaching, it’s easy to throw away the first reaction “it was horrible!”

Juergen: (laughs).

Stephen: horrible awful!

Juergen: (laughs).

Stephen: I know I mean by by any measure we were terrible instructors. We had no curriculum, we had no course objectives.

Juergen: (coughs).

Stephen:  I was going to say we did not scaffold prior practice but that’s not really true. We did scaffold practice, but not in any sort of content area. So our tests were indifferent and random. The assessments and comments and and contributions were based on no criteria whatsoever. But as Dave Cormier would say, “it was just like life!”

Juergen: (laughs).

Stephen:  I’ve often said this in the past: how should university courses be evaluated? By random individuals based on no criteria on an arbitrary and unfair fashion. Just like the rest of the world. Okay I’m being facetious. But, there’s something very very artificial about course objectives and rubrics and standardised assessment and all the rest of it. And it’s this artificiality that we are attempting to escape and and to circumvent in CCK08.

Here’s another way of how would you assess the course: look at the environment that we created there. That was world class. Now again, we used Grsshopper. Grsshopper from a certain technological perspective is really lousy software. It is not commercial grade. I’m just lucky enough that it is secure enough that it works for our purposes. But but you know, I wouldn’t dare try to sell it. Maybe I would in the future, it’s getting better over time, but back then especially there were software errors and I spent a lot of time during CCK 2008 and also 2009 and also 2011 working on the software, adding features, trying to make it better while all the course was going. It’s not really best practice but, but the reason why we used such software there was no similar environment. No other system in the world could do what we were doing with that software. So it was world class.

Juergen: Mmm.

Stephen: So people who were really engage and were getting into CCK08 were getting a world class learning experience. But not according to certain metrics. But that’s okay because we weren’t trying to satisfy those metrics. So that’s how I would I would assess it. 

Juergen: Yea.

Stephen: Yea. Was it the best it could be even by those metrics? No. I mean CCK 2009 was better than CCK 2008. But 2008 somehow had the really big impact but that’s because it was first.

Juregen: Oh that that makes a lot of sense to me. One of the the kind of slightly controversial issues is assessment. I mean because if you’re if you’re looking at you know a typical university course it is assessed by by a couple of means you know. Normally there’s an exam and things like that and maybe you need to write some essay, maybe you need to give some presentation. So may I ask how your, how your course was assessed and what are your thoughts on assessment?

Stephen: Yea. CCK08 and other courses had some students who were given traditional assessments, that was all done by George.

Juergen: All right.

Stephen: I didn’t care about it.

Juergen: (laughs).

Stephen: The the non-traditional students, the students who were the vast majority of them, like 99.9% of them,  were not assessed formally. And that’s fine with me.

Juergen: Absolutely.

Stephen: And you know, anytime somebody raises the question of assessment I always want to, as they say, go meta. Because, let’s take as a prima facie fact that assessment is important. Let’s analyse what aspects of assessment are important. We look at what purposes assessment assessments are being put to. Generally, it’s in terms of qualification or entrance to employment or into a professional society or into particular types of occupations or or you know, some sort of thing like that, right? And the level of assessment that these requirements have is not course-based, typically. So we need to distinguish between the need internally for assessment to a lot of progression through courses in a university program and external assessment where people are determining your qualification for employment position or whatever. In the external assessment they’re basically looking at the degree,  the capstone, and possibly your overall GPA (although I think that’s a lot rarer than people suppose because every everybody knows you can be a C average and become president, so the C average is probably gonna be okay). And they will probably look at the institution that you came from. I think that’s even more important than your average.

Juergen: Certainly.

Stephen: Nobody cares if you’re a C average if you’re a Harvard graduate

Juergen: Absolutely.

Stephen: because in the end you’re a Harvard graduate. So what doesn’t show up here is whether he has an A or B in philosophy 101, right?

So let’s ask what is assessment? How do we know say, that a person is a university level philosopher? How do we know that a person is say capable of assuming a task or a responsibility in philosophy? Well, we know, we know this for a fact that it’s not going to be based on the results of some kind of testing process.

Juergen: Mmm.

Stephen:  I mean that at a certain basic level. But but even driving, we have a driver’s test. But it’s not a test where like you fill a form. Sure, there’s the written test. But they would never let you on the road based on the written test, right? Doctors complete years of learning! But they have to go through an internship program first before they let you practice in a hospital. So it’s not the test and assignments and the essays. And this is important because, at the base of it, what determines whether or not we graduate a person that ultimately becomes a phenomenon of somebody who’s already an expert recognising it.

Now I use that word in a fairly precise sentence. Recognising that the person has satisfied the criteria. And in in all these these disciplines, there’s some kind of recognition process that has to happen in order for a person to succeed in getting their credential in getting their licence to practice. In a driver’s exam, for example, the examiner will sit there ticking off things as you do your driving. But it’s not the ticking of things ultimately that determines whether the examiner thinks you can drive right? And the ticking off things will be a rationalisation for that call. But it’s a rationalisation after the fact.

In in normal academic practice with seminars, papers and things like that, at the higher years, you know, 3rd year and especially 4th year, now you’re interacting personally with the professor. It’s your interactions that would shape your grade, as much as if not more than the actual work that you submit. And this is clearest in the case of of professions where a high degree of skill is essential. You need to be recognised by a doctor as a as a doctor. you need to be recognised as a pilot by another pilot. You have to put your timing in the seat and fly a plane while somebody watches you fly the plane before they’ll let you fly a plane, you know what I mean?

Juergen: Yeah.

Stephen: So so there’s a whole structure of internal assessments but these internal assessments, the grade and the course, the grade and the test, the grade and an essay are not part of the assessment that the external world values. So, first thing I ask is, why do we have this internal assessment at all? Do we really need it?

Juergen: Umhmm.

Stephen: Really what we need is the recognition process, not the testing and assessment infrastructure. Well, if we could build a recognition process, that allows a person to interact with the community and become progressively recognised by more and more capable in people in the field, that functions just as well in many ways better than a testing and assessment infrastructure. Well how do you create recognition process? Well this is

Juergen: Would would that be something like LinkedIn?

Stephen:  exactly

Juergen: You know, where where people endorse your skills and they write testimonials about you?

Stephen: Well that’s a crude attempt to do that. There have been a few crude attempts, Technorati back when it existed. They had a thing called what did they call it Technorati oh I forgot what they call it but but it was something. It it wasn’t Klout but I had a Klout ranking, but Technorati but it was a measure of importance or influence or or whatever, I have to find it. Klout had the Klout scale, still has the cloud scale. Alexa measures what size according to traffic statistics LinkedIn is attempting to build the the professional reputation thing. Ebay has buyer and seller reputation.

Juergen: Oh yea.

Stephen: In the same way, things are evaluated. Firefly (which was built in 1998 which was eventually acquired by Microsoft) allowed you to assess things like movies and books and and songs and then you as an assessor would gradually gain reputation. Slashdot and and Reddit and all other community systems all had reputation-based systems built in especially for commenting and especially for the purpose of promoting or demoting articles.

So, all of these are attempts to get at the idea of what are the things, what are the strengths, the unique strengths of a network kind of organisation is the capacity to recognise. And that’s what neural networks do. That’s what the human brain does. That is, in my opinion, the basis for validation of cognition and knowledge. It’s not our capacity to make inferences as though we are a machine computing an algorithm. It’s the capacity to recognise and place phenomena into a frame and then within that frame, you’re able to draw you’re able to activate a wider set of related concepts and expectancies etc. It’s exactly the same process. It is the same process logically, computationally, neurologically. It’s exactly the same process when you watch a bunch of people getting off a train, you recognise your son, your wife, your daughter whatever. You recognise the person you know not like running through an algorithm in your head. You just see them and you go “ahh! Gord!” that’s so and so. And and that’s how we recognise what a doctor is, what a what an architect is and each individual in the community has more or less a capacity to recognise that and the community as a whole has an excellent capacity to recognise, you know providing this openness of information and sharing of information etc as an excellent capacity to recognise is the person an expert. So, the concept of MOOCs is open online learning in a networks kind of infrastructure. This is not simply a teaching mechanism. This is a social perceptual mechanism. A MOOC is a perceptual device for recognising whether a person is capable and competent in that subject area. And that’s how I know I’ve been a bit long winded but that’s how I answer the question of assessment.

Juergen: No that makes a lot of sense. Thanks for that. Well, you already made some very interesting comments on the on the future of the universities, for example, that you see the possibility of there being more universities rather than fewer (chuckles). So where where do you see the MOOCs going? Do you do you do you do you think they will continue to play a very exciting role? I mean it’s a very young phenomenon.

Stephen: Open online learning is here and is a fact that it is not going away. Open online event based activities like MOOCs, again, are not going away. Whether they’ll be called MOOCs, marketed as MOOCs well, you know the nature of fads can turn the concept. They rise they fall. That will happen right?

Juergen: Mmm.

Stephen: But, the underlying concepts of a MOOC I think are closer to a permanent change in our educational infrastructure. I don’t think openness is going to go away. I don’t think courses are going away probably, so called, butI think university programmes will change dramatically.

Juergen: Yea. That that that makes sense. You know there’s this concept by Clayton Christenson, disruptive innovation. I mean - you you prefer to use the term open online learning right? - so would you regard this as a disruptive innovation? What do you see is is like the possibility of open online learning or the MOOCs to to really provide access to developing countries, you know, where there are lots of poor people. Because all that seems to take well is is a computer and an internet connection which is, which is reasonable, but then of course there are also those literacies that you discussed before well which are which are not quite so easy to provide. so so do you see some opportunity there for well disadvantaged poor people?

Stephen: The short answer is “yes”.

Juergen: Mmm.

Stephen:  And you know I mean it’s just his idea of having access to a world class libraries.

Juergen: Mmm.

Stephen: One case in point. In the developing world, a book is a valuable commodity. 10 books is pretty good. A full library with all of the classics say is most people just don’t have access to them. But now you should you should get that kind of library well I have one on my keychain.

Juergen: (laughs).

Stephen: ‘Cos I want you to see this, right? So this is . 64 gigs it’s kinda hard to see because it’s very small.

Juergen: No. I can see it. Wow.

Stephen: 64 gigabytes, it would plug into any USB enabled computer. And 64 gigabytes is enough to but I think probably all the literature up until I don’t know 1965 or something like that.

Juergen: That’s incredible.

Stephen: But all of it is literature, not not just most of it, not just the stuff that is important but everything we’ve got.

Juergen: (laughs).

Stephen: I would probably swap some of that out and put more recent stuff in there too, and probably include some other media. You can include anything - the entire sound library thing, the speeches through the world. And people say well you know, a book is cheaper than a computer, we should be focusing on books in the developing world. This is 10,000 books or whatever. And you know, it’s simply impossible to have that in the developing world. Not not in a small town, but I can make you a copy of this on my computer and take maybe 5 minutes or so because it’s not fast. And this thing this memory device cost less than a 100 dollars. And again, you think that 100 dollars is a lot of money for somebody in the developing world. Well yea. But a 100 dollars for an entire library of books, not so much right?

Juergen: (laughs).

Stephen: So you know, there’s there’s a lot of issues that come up that are in play with world development, and access to learning is just one of them. But if we can produce a two times order in magnitude reduction in cost for access to to learning content. By that I mean any content that help you to learn. Two times order of magnitude. So if it was a 10 dollar book you should now get it for like 10 cents. you know if it was a a 300 dollar course you should now get it for 3 dollars. I should say 3 dollars. 3 dollars is still a lot in the developing world, right. And so and and and you you have to have a computer just like you need other infrastructure. But even if you had a computer, 300 dollars now gets you a decent computer. So you know, and and the real issues in the developing world to my observation are mostly of connectivity in most communities and then in third world communities, electrification itself.

Juergen: Mmm.

Stephen: you know. And but these are independently addressable, right. You know that.

Juergen: Mmm.

Stephen: And the world, you know the developing world needs electrification, needs connectivity. Once it gets electrification, connectivity will follow very very rapidly. So if we can get the cost of learning down to two times order of magnitude lower than it was, it doesn’t solve everything but it solves so much that it makes everything else that much easier to do. And so yeah it has this significant huge impact on world development. Look at India. India has a technology industry. It’s not a small one. It has a significant one. Look at East Asia, the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea which I don’t think we even think of as the the the developing world anymore.

Juergen: No.

Stephen: Electrification and connectivity basically gave them world class information technology industries.

Juergen: Mmm.

Stephen: So it doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen right away. But, it does happen, if other things happen, if they can stay at peace, if they can keep income equity somewhat reasonable if they have access to, and control over, their natural resources. Things like that are pretty important. And and education can only mitigate these and not solve them. But given these things, then access to education that everybody in the society can afford is rather more than a smaller leap. It’s a game changer. And that’s why I’m in this field, to achieve that kind of outcome. That’s the only reason I’m in this field.

Juergen: Mmm this is this is really great. I think the we’re probably close to being out of time and I wouldn’t want to stand between you and your lunch. But can I just quote from from your book? I was I was browsing through them quite a bit. It’s really great stuff. So so in your book 'Free Learning: Essays on open educational resources and copyright', I think it’s in your preface. “I want and visualize and aspire towards a system of society and learning where each person is able to rise to his or her fullest potential without social or financial encumbrance where they may express themselves fully and without reservation through art, writing, athletics and invention ” and so on. So this vision of openness which you so admirably practice also on your website, that one could say is really your, your motivation for what you’re doing what you’re doing and and I must say this is completely admirable in my opinion and I think you are really shining light when it comes to being a pioneer for this movement of of open education. So it’s been it’s been wonderful talking to you. Thank you so much. Do you have any final thoughts?

Stephen: No. I mean I think you you summarised what would be my final thoughts.
Juergen: (chuckles)

Stephen:  I mean that quotation that you’ve read has been n my website for many many years. It actually comes out of an interview just much like this. It’s interesting because to me the existence of that quotation is itself an example of the philosophy it espouses because if I did not do that interview, I would not have phrased that concept in that way and I wouldn’t have a nice clearly articulated statement of my own vision. So my own vision is a result of practicing openly and sharing what I know and and so to me it sort of it reflects back to me its own truth.


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