The Future of MOOCs: An Interview with “Dr. Chuck” Severance

The Future of MOOCs: An Interview with "Dr. Chuck" Severance

Thought Leader Interviews: Dr. Charles Severance

In the big picture of education, the MOOC movement is still in its early, beginning stages. MOOC providers, students, instructors, and education policy professionals are just testing out the waters, seeing what is working and what is not in the world of online learning. Handfuls of studies are being conducted to collect data about MOOCs, and critics and thought leaders are weighing in – all to help education professionals move forward in this exciting time.

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Dr. Charles Severance (Dr. Chuck) was one of the first instructors to teach a MOOC on Coursera. His courses, taught from the University of Michigan School of Information, have attracted tens of thousands of students so far. Since being involved from the very beginning, Dr. Chuck has gained valuable insight about MOOCs as a disruptive force in education. In his final Thought Leader Interview, Dr. Chuck explains how the MOOC movement fits into the larger picture of education and technology, and why the biggest mistake to make is to not get involved.

“The most important thing that I could share about MOOCs is to ignore all of the negativity that people are talking about,” Dr. Chuck says.

MOOCs continue to see a fair share of criticism, from a number of different fields – educators, finance professionals, politicians, policy makers, and students have all pointed out flaws in the theory and structure of massive open online courses. MOOCs have been talked about as the end of the traditional classroom, but Dr. Chuck urges naysayers to take a step back.

“What we imagine in the first 12 to 18 months of an innovation like the MOOC as what it’s going to have its ultimate impact are completely wrong,” he says.

In fact, Dr. Chuck thinks the most valuable outcome of MOOCs is the only thing people aren’t talking about or focusing on. So what is it?

“I’m going to be a better teacher in two years because of MOOCs.”

MOOCs are teaching teachers, Dr. Chuck says, by helping them to look at their teaching differently. Access to free and open content allows instructors to easily watch others teach, essentially sitting in on their virtual classrooms.

Just as there is observation and collaboration in physical classrooms, MOOC instructors have complete access and ability to borrow ideas and use materials in their own courses. Teachers can emulate course design and structure by looking at another instructor’s syllabi and modules online.

“There has never been, in the history of human existence, a more exciting time to be a teacher and try to improve your teaching,” Dr. Chuck said. “People have lots of negative press and negative messages that would give them an excuse to sit on the sidelines, and whether you’re a teacher or a student, the mistake is to not play, not get involved. This is the time when the whole space is open and we can figure out what the reality of it is.”

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