How can we recreate and therefore exploit the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial‘ – a powerful, weekly get together between professor and 1 or 2 learners traditionally used in the collegiate universities of Oxford and Cambridge, England, in a Massive Open Online Course? (MOOC).
Outrageously ambitious, audacious and naive I have been wondering of the qualities of the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’ could be taken online and made ‘massive’ – i.e. delivered to 1,000, or 10,000 or more at a time. Putting this thought to an academic while discussing their ‘poster’ on a paper they had published I was pointed towards an online course on Coursera; Business Model Canvas. Overnight I did a week’s worth of modules and have no posted my challenge.
I’ve had the extraordinary privilege to recently meet two people in person under whom I have only studied online (or in a book): Barb Oakley of ‘Learning How to Learn’ ‘fame’ and Gilly Salmon who coined the terms ‘e-tivities’ and ‘e-mentors’. Things they both said, or revealed has me wondering if this challenge I have set is counterproductive or even irrelevant: that these ‘elites’ such as Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford are by their nature exclusive and therefore too daunting and off putting to ever be ‘massive’.
Barb Oakley’s MOOC has had more students than ALL the students who have ever done all of the Harvard MOOCs combined! Gilly Salmon using a model that suggests a matrix that is or could shift from Education 1.0 (one point zero) to 3.0 considered how much Coursera has achieved so far – I think the prompt from her interviewer was meant to have her waving the orange, blue and white flag of educational revolution, but she didn’t, in fact she felt that as far as e way we learn she felt that ‘Coursera’ we’re so far only getting 1 or 2 things right.
She’s right to be cautious. She knows her history when it comes to innovation and change and may well have studied it and taught it during her tenure at the Open University Business School.
The truth is these MOOCs still look, sound and feel like traditional learning. While the platform will be a ‘Coursera’ and others in the market for MOOCs, and others that are yet to be created – or exist already (don’t forget the power of YouTube), I put my ‘money’ on the ‘little guy’ – the modest, authentic, DIYer who has a skill or putting ideas across in a way that is memorable, makes sense and is academically ‘sound’. I think of Barb Oakley, rather incongruously as a kind of ‘Joan of Arc’ too: followers and gatherers turn their heads when they hear the ‘truth’ spoken from the more unlikely candidate. She’s an engineer, not from education. Let’s have an artist teach anatomy, a business Prof teach poetry, a mathematician teach sports science, a data scientist teach graphic design, a geographer teach Spanish.
Gilly Salmon wants those of us who hanker about teaching online to be ‘e-minators’ (read her books, she loves putting e- in front of things). Pronounce this ’emanator’. By this she is trying to get away from anything that has the teacher as the ‘font of all knowledge’ trying to unzip their head and pour the content into your head, the old paradigm of ‘knowledge transfer’. Rather educators should be enablers or catalysts. Let students do and find out more for themselves in their own way.
Returning therefore to this concept of the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial‘ – the 5,000 ‘elite’ educators in the world, if there are so many, cannot go 1 to 1, or even 1 to 3 with the 80m or more hankering after a university education. We have to compromise and expand to include ‘associate lecturers’ or ‘teaching assistants’ as well as ‘mentors’ even ‘learning buddies’. Creating an Artificial Intelligence ‘AI’ professor is surely not the solution either: it won’t turn out like that just as we don’t see robot mechanics looking like men assembling cars in automated factories. Maybe they’ll be a voice and then thought activated implant in our brains? Or might a tutor try to run a huge ‘stable’ of students by using data capture, grading metrics and the like from a hub, like a Grand Master in chess playing 27 simultaneous games our ‘blog-jockey prof’ running as many tutorials simultaneously around the world as their students wake up, go online and share a thought. Might typed text in these interactions be ‘data mined’ and analysed automatically to some degree?