Students from the global south embrace open online courses

In conversation with Matt McGarrity, Senior Lecturer in the Communication Department at the University of Washington, whose Intro to Public Speaking course is one of the most popular MOOC’s. (Photo by Ranak Martin)
Think of all of the stress you might suffer applying to get into an Ivy League school — and all the money you’d spend to actually attend one.
Well believe it or not, these days the courses offered by these Ivy League universities are available free of cost in few clicks. These online courses have been hailed for “democratizing” higher education.
A typical MOOC — shorthand for “Massive Open Online Course”  — uses a blend of technologies like virtual classrooms, discussion forums, online texts and libraries, video lectures, wikis and web videos.
Leading platforms for online learning include Udacity and Khan Academy, as well as newcomers Coursera and edx.
From my home in Nepal, I took “Introduction to Sociology” with Princeton Professor Mitchell Duneier in 2012, and was eventually invited to visit Princeton University (in person) because of my active participation in the online course. Ever since then, MOOCs have been a subject of great interest to me. I’ve taken more than a few MOOCs myself and always enjoyed them.
But I wondered about the experience of other students from the global South.
How did they find out about the courses? What motivated them to take the course, and to stick with it? What platform did they use for the course? What struggles did they face while taking the course?
“I read about it in the news and then decided to go for it,” says Ankur Jhunjhunwala, 25, a student of Faculty of Management Studies (FMS) at Delhi University, in India explaining how he first found out about MOOCs. “I took the course before joining MBA because I had free time; I take the courses today because I can add them to my CV.”
Jhunjhunwala has completed three courses on Coursera: “Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory of Relativity,” “Introduction to Philosophy” and “What Managers can Learn from Great Philosophers”
Referring to the wide range of the availability of the courses Jhunjhunwala adds, “Why should I have any confusion in tapping the opportunity to learn world class content residing in the third world?”
However, not everyone who signs up completes their courses — not by a long shot.
“I signed up for 15 courses and completed five courses,” says Tara Ballav Adhikari, a government employee from Nepal.
“I completed one of the courses on economics and I was not motivated to complete the coursework in second course because I took this course out of curiosity,” says Dikshya Dhakal, a student of Economics at North Seattle College.
“I would be more serious about the course if I would get the credit for it,” Dhakal adds with a faint smile. “I would be even more serious if I had to pay for it.”
Dhakal’s subtle humor reminded me of Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX talking about “active learning” — where a learner has the control of the learning pace and constantly interacts with the content — in the Harvard Edcast: edX Marks the Spot.
I wondered how educators like Agarwal will be able to meet the aspiration of students like Dhakal.
Coursera, one of the leading MOOCs providers. (Photo by Saifullah Muhammad)

Coursera, one of the leading MOOCs providers. (Photo by Saifullah Muhammad)
A recent Coursera blog claims to have 7.5 million learners from 190 countries on its website and offers courses from more than 100 renowned educational institutions.
Another platform, edX has several courses offered by prominent universities ranging from the computer sciences to law and literature. The user base of the platform has increased to over 1.6 million.
But a study done by Harvard and MIT earlier this year showed that only five percent (43,196) of the total signups in the first 17 courses offered by edX actually earned the certificate by completing the coursework.
This horrifying statistic has forced many people to consider MOOCs a failure. But on the other hand, with so many students signing up, even that low completion rate is yielding huge numbers of certified students who might otherwise never get an opportunity to learn that material.
“Comparing a small classroom with MOOCs is wrong!” says Matt McGarrity, senior lecturer in the communication department at the University of Washington who has reached over 300,000 people with his public speaking MOOCs on both Coursera and edX. “It is like comparing a novel with a movie adapted from that very novel. Novel is a different genre and the movie is different. Standards from one can inform the critique of the other but should not dictate it.”
But Adhikari says no matter what the critique are, he will continue taking the MOOCs.
“Despite the poor internet service and 16 hours of power cut every day, having the access to world-class courses free of cost gives me a sense of privilege.”
(This article originally appeared in www.Seattleglobalist.com on August 6, 2014)

MOOCs for global audiences

The Year 2012 was the year of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Several leading platforms for learning, including Coursera, Udacity and EdX Online launched their services during February to April 2013. With these three startups in the technology market, education has somehow been “democratized.” The course content that was available to a handful of people is now available to the global audience.

Today, Coursera has a user base of more than 2.8 million and offers 313 courses from 62 different universities from around the globe while Udacity offers 22 courses in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and EdX offers 32 different courses from universities like Harvard and MIT. Also, EdX on its blog on March 3, 2013 announced that its system will be available open source to ease the usage of technology for education from June 1, 2013. 

These MOOCs can be very beneficial to all those who seek to learn in the true sense. A few courses do offer the certificate of completion; however, most of the courses don’t provide the credentials. The contents that are delivered through these sites are outstanding and the discussion forums and quizzes aid the learning process. In a normal course, students from more than 150 countries sign up and express their opinions over the forums, and these virtual study groups give a unique sense of learning and expand the horizon of the applicability of the contents.

Over the last 11 months, universities in the US have been heavily debating on the new trend of education. At one end of the world, technology is growing rapidly and the debate is on whether the courses should be open and free while, unfortunately, guess papers and guidebooks are all sold out in the market as exams approach.
There are countless points which could be discussed and scrutinized to see how outdated a teaching/learning mechanism we have. Even when we compare the two leading universities of the country, Tribhuvan University (TU) and Kathmandu University (KU), there is huge gap between their teaching and learning methodologies.
All universities, professors and students must feel the urgency of sensing the global educational trends. Everybody cannot afford Ivy Leagues but they can afford to sit in front of a computer and taste the way teaching/learning is done.

However, initiatives from universities alone are not capable enough for the change that we want to see. Students should also, at least, try the subjects of their interest. Since these courses are generally shorter in length, students can give it a try.

There are also constraints to this new option. With only 19% of Nepal’s population having access to Internet, language and with other barriers, it might seem difficult to attend the virtual classrooms. However, a few measures can be taken to give this new taste not only to students, colleges or universities but to all those who opt for broadening their horizon.

The government’s Youth Information Centers (YIC) and Information Centers at the VDC level could also be used as strategic learning centers for many young people. This could foster the rural learners’ accessibility to the world-class education. Furthermore, different learning centers and libraries established by several organizations in the country can be established as strategic learning centers and attract students to use their resources to learn.

Colleges and universities can arrange a learning environment for their students in their respective colleges and universities. This will provide platforms to students who don’t regularly access computer and Internet. In addition, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can also be encouraged to provide access to these learning portals at subsidized rates.

It’s never too late to start. It has not even been a year but these MOOCs are booming. You can start your own learning experience at www.coursera.org, www.udacity.com or www.edx.org today.

Republica

अनलाइन आइकन

प्रदीप बस्याल 

पाँच महिनाअघि दीपेन्द्र केसी, २३, अमेरिकाको पि्रन्स्टन युनिभर्सिटीमा थिए। त्यहाँका डिनले एउटा सामूहिक बहसको मध्यस्थता गररिहेका थिए। बहसका लागि युनिभर्सिटीका प्राध्यापक, अनलाइन अध्ययन वेबसाइट कोर्सेराडटओआरजीका सहसंस्थापक र त्यहीँ

का एक विद्यार्थीसँगै दीपेन्द्रलाई निम्त्याइएको थियो।

विश्वविद्यालयका थुप्रै प्राध्यापक, टिचिङ् एसिस्टेन्ट (अध्यापन सहयोगी) एवं विद्यार्थीहरूले त्यो बहस निकै चाख लिएर सुने, प्रश्न-प्रतिप्रश्नहरू गरे। खासमा त्यो बहस ‘अनलाइन लर्निङ्’बारे थियो । एक उत्कृष्ट विद्यार्थीका हैसियतले काठमाडौँदेखि अमेरिकाको न्युजर्सीसम्म दीपेन्द्रको यात्रा तय भएको थियो।

नेपालबाटै ‘भर्चुअल’ कक्षा लिइरहेका उनले पि्रन्स्टनका केही कक्षामा प्रत्यक्ष सहभागी हुने अवसर मात्र पाएनन्, प्राध्यापककै आग्रहमा एउटा कक्षामा आफ्नो अनुभवसमेत सुनाए।

 एक वर्षअघि त्रिचन्द्र कलेजमा समाजशास्त्रमा स्नातक दोस्रो वर्ष अध्ययन गररिहेका दीपेन्द्रलाई कसैले अनलाइन कोर्सबारे सुनाएका रहेछन् । त्यसैले जन्माएको उत्सुकता अनुरूप कोर्सेराडटओआरजीमा पि्रन्स्टन युनिभर्सिटीको ‘समाजशास्त्रको परचिय’ अध्ययन सुरु गरिहाले।

विश्वका चर्चित विश्वविद्यालयले यस्ता थुप्रै कोर्स जोकोहीले निःशुल्क पढ्न मिल्ने गरी राख्छन्। केही विश्वविद्यालयले कोर्स सफलतापूर्वक सक्नेलाई प्रमाणपत्रसमेत दिन्छन्। भन्छन्, “धेरै हदसम्म यो आफ्ना लागि चाहिने ज्ञानका लागि हुन्छ।”

त्यो कोर्समा विश्वभरबाट ४० हजार विद्यार्थीले अध्ययन गररिहेका थिए। साताको कुनै एक दिन प्राध्यापकले अध्ययन सामग्री दिन्थे भने अर्को दिन भिडियो लेक्चर। त्यसबाहेक तिनै विद्यार्थीबीच चौबीसै घन्टा विभिन्न समूह बनाएर बहस चलिरहन्थ्यो, जसलाई विश्वविद्यालयको अध्यापन सहयोगीहरूले सघाउँथे।

एक दिन प्राध्यापकले आफूसँग सीधा सम्पर्कमा रहेर छलफल गर्ने अवसर सार्वजनिक गरे। इच्छुकले सहभागिताको कारणसहित इमेल लेख्नुपथ्र्यो। त्यसअघिको सक्रियताले पनि अवसरको सुनिश्चितता निर्धारण गथ्र्यो। ६ साताका लागि डिजाइन गरएिको उक्त अध्ययनमा ‘गुगल प्लस ह्याङ्आउट’ सुविधामार्फत विश्वभरका प्राध्यापकसहित ६ जना सहभागी हुन मिल्थ्यो। र, सहभागीहरू पनि तयारी र उत्सुकताका आधारमा सातैपिच्छे फेरिन्थे। दीपेन्द्र भाग्यमानी निस्के। उनले लगातार पढ्ने मौका पाए। भन्छन्, “त्यहाँ हामीले समाजशास्त्रलाई स्थानीय परिवेशका आधारमा छलफल गथ्र्यौं।” कोर्स सकिएपछि प्राध्यापकले उनलाई उत्कृष्ट विद्यार्थीका रूपमा अमेरिका जाने अवसर प्रदान गरे।

नेपालजस्तो विकासोन्मुख मुलुक, जहाँ दिनको आधा समय बिजुली हुँदैन, इन्टरनेटमा १३ प्रतिशतको मात्र पहुँच छ, त्यसमाथि इन्टरनेटको गति निकै सुस्त। यस्तो ठाउँबाट अनलाइन कोर्स पढेर दीपेन्द्र सफलताको त्यो हदसम्म पुगेको देखेर सबै दंग परे। विश्वविद्यालयले उनलाई उपहार स्वरूप अझै पढ्ने माहोल बनोस् भनेर आइप्याड उपहार दियो। उनलाई उद्धृत गर्दै अमेरिकी सञ्चारमाध्यमहरू दी न्युयोर्क टाइम्स र सीएनएनले समेत सामग्री तयार पारे।

अहिलेसम्म उनले त्यसबाहेक ‘सोसल नेटवर्क एनलाइसिस’, ‘इकोनोमिक फर म्यानेजर्स’, ‘मोडल थिंकिङ्’जस्ता कोर्स अनलाइनमै पढेर सकेका छन्। “विश्वका शीर्ष विश्वविद्यालयमा पढ्न चाहने सबैको इच्छा पूरा नहुन सक्छ तर अब त्यहाँको शैक्षिक सामग्रीबाट भने वञ्चित भइँदैन,” दीपेन्द्र सुनाउँछन्, “त्यसरी नै पढ्नेहरूको स-साना भर्चुअल गु्रपमा सहभागी भएर समेत कलेजको जस्तै अनुभव लिन सकिन्छ।”

पि्रन्स्टनमा गएसँगै उनको चर्चा भर्चुअल विद्यार्थीमाझ चुलिएको छ। विभिन्न देशका भर्चुअल गु्रपमा उनी अतिथि वक्ताका रूपमा निम्त्याइन्छन्। भन्छन्, “सम्बन्धलाई परिभाषित गर्ने मेरो सोचाइमा अहिले परविर्तन आइसकेको छ।”

कलेजमै पनि समाजशास्त्रलाई उनी स्वयंले हेर्ने शैली बदलेका छन्। “हामी सधैँ एकोहोरो सैद्धान्तिक कुराकै पछाडि लाग्छौँ तर समाजशास्त्रलाई निकै कम स्थानीयकरण गरेर हेर्छौं,” उनी भन्छन्, “दाङको थारू बस्ती र काठमाडौँको सम्पन्न बस्तीलाई एउटै सामाजिक संरचनामा हेरेर समाजशास्त्र बुझिँदैन।”

नेपाल साप्ताहिक