My (Short) E-Book: Beyond the MOOC Hype

MOOC_Book_jpgSebastian Thrun wasn’t wearing pants when he recorded the intro video for his first free online course. | The academics who coined the term MOOC can’t stand the style of courses that the acronym is now applied to. | People have been claiming that technology would automate eduction for decades (largely without much success). Those are just a few of the many details I learned researching a short e-book about Massive Open Online Courses. It blends stories and analysis of how free blockbuster online courses could change colleges as we know them. It’s now available on Amazon, published by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I focus on six basic questions:

* What Is a MOOC?
* Where Did MOOCs Come From?
* What Is the Business Model?
* Will MOOCs Change Campus Teaching?
* Why Do Some Educators Object to Free Courses?
* Do MOOCs Work?

I argue that MOOCs are not just another passing fad, but the free courses have touched off a battle over what the future of higher education should look like.

* Adapted Excerpt in Slate: Should Celebrities Teach Online Courses

* Excerpt in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Will MOOCs Change Campus Teaching

* Interview in Education Dive: The Future of MOOCs

* Review by Sir John Daniel, author of Mega-Schools, Technology and Teachers: “his thoughtful commentary on the frenzied phenomenon of MOOCs remains highly relevant to decision makers grappling with its implications for their institutions.”

Fellowship Year. Nieman + Berkman

Nieman_foundationMy latest assignment: Step back from daily deadlines to think more big-picture. I’m grateful for the chance to spend a year at Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow for journalism. My study plan is to look at MOOCs and the future of teaching and learning. Watch this space for updates…

I’m also serving as a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, a diverse gathering of folks exploring the development of cyberspace. If you’re in the Boston/Cambridge area, stop by the Berkman open house on Monday, Sept. 9.

Meet Your New Robot Co-Worker


The next wave of robots could change the meaning of work. I visited a robotics trade show in Chicago to meet some next-generation robots that have ignited a debate about whether automation threatens too many jobs today. This piece is part of a cover package in this week’s Chronicle Review on the New Industrial Revolution.

The Object Formerly Known as the Textbook


Digital products and cost pressures may rewrite the notion of ‘required text.’ A look at the radical ways that textbooks are changing.

Slides for SXSW on Unabomber’s Pen Pal

This session at the upcoming South-by-Southwest Interactive festival is based on on an article I wrote about the Unabomber’s Pen Pal. The subject of that feature, David Skrbina, will talk about “What We Can Learn From the Unabomber,” who he has corresponded with for years. Our panel will include a counterpoint by Peter Ludlow, a philosopher who has long followed technology issues, and who MTV.com has named one of the most influential gamers of all time.

SXSW2013 Presentation – Unabomber debate slides by

The Chronicle’s First E-Book: ‘Rebooting the Academy’

After about five months of work, we’ve published the e-book version of The Chronicle’s Rebooting the Academy. I co-edited the e-book and wrote the introduction. I enjoyed working with the twelve innovators on their essays, and it’s incredible how easy the technology has become to format and distribute a book on popular e-book stores including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

We got a write-up in Digital Book World, and interest from a teaching journal and some libraries.

How an Upstart Company Might Profit From Free Courses

Coursera has been operating for only a few months, but the company has already persuaded some of the world’s best-known universities to offer free courses through its online platform. Colleges that usually move at a glacial pace are rushing into deals with the upstart company. But what exactly have they signed up for? And if the courses are free, how will the company—and the universities involved—make money to sustain them? I obtained the agreement between Coursera and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the first public university to make such a deal, under a Freedom of Information Act request, and wrote this news analysis of what it reveals about the company’s plans to make revenue.

I talked MOOCs with WHYY’s Radio Times, along with Coursera founder Andrew Ng and UVA professor Siva Vaidhyanathan, in an hour-long call-in segment. And I talked with Oregon Public Radio’s Think Out Loud for their segment, “New Approach to Online Learning.”

Interview With Bill Gates On Future of Higher Education

Bill Gates never finished college, but he is one of the single most powerful figures shaping higher education today. That influence comes through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, perhaps the world’s richest philanthropy, which he co-chairs and which has made education one of its key missions. I sat down with him to talk about his vision for how colleges can be transformed through technology. The interview was picked up by MSNBC’s Web site, The Huffington Post, Marketplace’s Mid-Day Update, and Slashdot, among others.

The Unabomber’s Pen Pal

From his cell in a “supermax” prison in Colorado, The Unabomber has been writing what amount to sequels to his anti-tech manifesto. And a philosophy professor at University of Michigan at Dearborn has served as a sort of editor, encourager, and fan. I profiled the professor, David Skrbina, for this week’s cover story in The Chronicle Review. The piece has been featured in The Browser, Byliner, Hacker News, The Wall Street Journal’s Ideas Market blog and their AllThingsD Voices section.

Kojo Nnamdi Show Appearance: Free Online Courses

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University recently announced they’re teaming up to offer free online courses. A handful of other prestigious universities and star professors are doing the same …

I joined the conversation at WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi show this week to talk about the future of online courses.