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MOOC-sourcing for Social Good

Engaging communities of learners in massively open online courses to use their knowledge—and numbers—for good.

Everyone’s talking about massively open online courses (MOOCs) these days. Just before the New York Times named 2012 the year of the MOOCTime magazine dedicated its October Issue, titled “Reinventing College,” to an analysis of the role that MOOCs could play in repairing our higher education system—a system that is becoming more expensive while failing to prepare a growing pool of students to succeed in the workforce.

To me, the most compelling part of the issue’s feature article was the story of an 11-year-old girl from Pakistan named Khadijah Niazi. She started a challenging college-level physics course on Udacity in late 2012 when the Pakistani government decided to block access to YouTube. However, her peers—other students from around the world—were determined to help her succeed. They banded together to ensure that Khadijah could access course lectures and assignments by sending her links to materials posted on private servers. She eventually finished the course with the highest distinction.

An article in early November in the Guardian told another story, this one about a Mongolian boy, Batthushig, who received a perfect score in edX’s offering of Circuits and Electronics through MIT. For some, this was no surprise. Looking back to the Fall 2011 Stanford artificial intelligence course that launched the MOOC revolution, the instructors found that the top 400 performers in the course weren’t Stanford students.

These stories reveal the most powerful attribute of MOOCs: their ability to open up channels to some of the most intelligent, motivated people around the world in the name of knowledge dissemination. But while using these channels simply to help spread knowledge is exciting, using them to facilitate new content creation could be revolutionary. How can we engage the talented, passionate, and often educationally disenfranchised students in MOOCs to help solve real-world problems?

The notion of connecting with large bodies of people to address outstanding challenges is not without precedent. Crowdsourcing has gained popularity over the past decade as a means of leveraging access to millions of people with diverse backgrounds to solve real-world problems. Platforms such as Innocentive,ChallengePost, and Kaggle, to name a few, have used crowdsourcing models to address problems across disciplines, in both industry and academia.

But MOOCs are particularly well positioned to encourage and benefit from crowdsourced problem-solving. In fact, educational theories highlight numerous benefits to real-world collaborations. Social constructivism emphasizes the importance of student interaction with peers to maximize learning outcomes. Activity theory supports the notion that students from different cultures may look at the same problem and come up with different solutions, each valid in its own right. Situated cognition argues that for educational content to truly sink in, it cannot be separated from its domain of application. Using MOOCs to facilitate real-world problem solving offers benefits to organizations that have problems; it can also help learners gain the skills and confidence they need to be productive members of society.

Stanford’s Venture Lab is already bringing together teams of students from different countries to envision new products. But there’s something to be said about integrating students into a web of existing challenges and asking them to innovate. We could enable students in a data science MOOC to share insights into how a resource-strapped nonprofit could improve its services, or empower those taking an artistic programming course to create infographics that help NGOs communicate their social impact to donors. The possibilities are endless. There’s no telling what motivated, passionate students with unique cultural perspectives can accomplish if they believe that what they create can change the world.

I’m excited to explore real-world problem solving in MOOCs through my master’s dissertation this year. Professor Michael Lenox at the University of Virginia and I are piloting this idea to see how students in his business strategy MOOC may provide recommendations to small-enterprises and nonprofits on their strategic direction. Over the next few months, I’ll be working on a team to scale this approach through the development of Coursolve, a platform that connects organizations with courses to empower students to solve real-world problems.

In a world where resources are scarce and education systems often struggle to prepare students for the future, it makes sense to empower students to address real challenges. Let’s use MOOCs to promote learning from the world, for the world.

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KERRY GLASGOWIS HUMANITY'S LAST BEST CHANCE - Join search for Sustainaabilty's Curricula

2021 afore ye go to glasgow cop26-

please map how and why - more than 3 in 4 scots earn their livelihoods worldwide not in our homeland- that requires hi-trust as well as hi-tech to try to love all cultures and nature's diversity- until mcdonalds you could use MAC OR MC TO identify our community engaging networks THAT SCALED ROUND STARTING UP THE AGE OF HUMANS AND MACHINES OF GKASGOW UNI 1760 1 2 3 - and the microfranchises they aimed to sustain  locally around each next child born - these days scots hall of fame started in 1760s around   adam smith and james watt and 195 years later glasgow engineering BA fazle abed - we hope biden unites his irish community building though cop26 -ditto we hope kamalA values gandhi- public service - but understand if he or she is too busy iN DC 2021 with covid or finding which democrats or republicans or american people speak bottom-up sustainable goals teachers and enrrepreneurs -zoom with if you are curious - fanily foundation of the economist's norman macrae- explorer of whether 100 times more tehc every decade since 1945 would end poverty or prove orwell's-big brother trumps -fears correct est1984 or the economist's entreprenerialrevolutionstarted up 1976 with italy/franciscan romano prodi

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