"Our fine arts were developed, their types and usages were established, in times very different from the present, by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with ours... In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power... We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even brining about an amazing change in our very notion of art."
The Conquest of Ubiquity Pièces sur l'art, Paris, 1934, p. 103-104 (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Tome II, 1960, P 1284)
This quotation from a short essay by French writer Paul Valéry appears as the epigraph of Walter Benjamin's groundbreaking text: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Authored in the 1930s by two men of letters, their writings constitute a visionary interrogation on the status of the work of art at a time when technology rendered it reproducible ad infinitum. Walter Benjamin's interest in the question did not arise haphazardly. His was passionate about photography. For him, photography is a form of art but unlike the other arts it allows for a multiplicity of prints remaining "identical" to the original. As technology permits large-scale reproduction of a work of art, Benjamin asked a key question: In what respect do we have to reconsider the relation between originals and copies since unlike for paintings we can no longer "authentically" distinguish the original form the copy? What becomes of art in a world of untethered reproduction?
As art amateurs we do have an intuitive answer. Indeed, we do experience a great difference between observing the Chartres cathedral stained-glass windows in the church itself and a print reproduction of the same stained-glasses. When we are inside the cathedral, we can feel the presence of thousands of pilgrims who prayed in front of the stained-glasses. The luminous contemplation of the famous Chartres blue is a direct link to them. The stained-glasses do not stand alone: they are wrapped into what Benjamin calls an aura. In that sense, Chartres stained-glass windows are truly authentic. And, this is precisely this aura that vanishes in the mechanical reproduction. This loss is not a full loss though. As Walter Benjamin put it:
"...by permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced."
Some eighty years later, the questions raised by Walter Benjamin and Paul Valéry are strikingly echoed in the domain of pedagogy, which is being thrown into upheaval by the emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), of which the best-known avatars are Coursera (www.coursera.org), Udacity (www.udacity.com), FutureLearn (www.futurelearn.com), EdX (www.edx.org) and OCEAN (http://www.ocean-flots.org/) Having previously escaped the digital tsunami that has wrought havoc on industry, academic institutions are now in the eye of the storm.
In a nutshell, MOOCs are courses to which millions of students throughout the world have free access via the web. Outfitted with a pronounced community dimension, the classes are neither walled off nor subject to geographical boundaries. Generally speaking, as is the case with Coursera, they are drawn up from colleges and universities such as Stanford, Yale or Princeton. The recent popularity of extra-mural pedagogy is nothing short of phenomenal; over the same lapse of time, student enrollment in Coursera has increased far more rapidly than member registration in Facebook or Twitter! As of now, Coursera counts more than four million students scattered around the world. Needless to say, e-learning and distance learning came into being prior to MOOCs, but neither of them has been able to attain comparable quantity (number of enrollees, countries and universities involved) or quality (worldwide learning communities, dissolution of the focal point of pedagogical authority). Michel Serres, the French veteran philosopher, Stanford professor and eternal optimist, is hardly worried by the shape of things to come:
"Far from disappearing, the class is plugging itself into the network and restructuring itself following an open and participatory model. It was previously formatted following the model of the page of a book: The teacher was in front of his class and held the position of the author, of the person who knows and transmits to those who are not in the know. Nowadays this model is falling to pieces. »
The shattering of the model is tantamount to the loss of the aura of the original, namely professor's lectures in an amphitheater. The master lecture is inherently theatrical. It brings together the actors in a classic unity of time, place and action. It is built around a focal point, the podium, the Power Point in the original sense of the word.
This short-lived unity, which is anchored in long-standing academic tradition, endows the lecture with an aura that is dissipated by MOOCs and the new technologies. A MOOC is initially a large-scale copy of the original, a copy rendered possible by the technological resources of the Web. And yet, it is far more than that; it is a reworked copy that Benjamin might have termed "reactivated". It is a copy which trumpets its infidelity with respect to the original.
This shattering could not help but vitally interest me for at least two reasons. The first is my passion for teaching. I taught economics and finance for more than fifteen years. This is an activity that I more than happily go back to when I am offered the opportunity. The second reason relates to Cyberlibris (www.cyberlibris.com), the firm which I co-founded fifteen years ago. Cyberlibris, whose digital libraries are used by millions of students worldwide, is a response to what we call the tyranny of the single, authoritative manual. Like it or not, the book has entered the age of digital reproduction. Similarly to MOOCs, which emancipate pedagogy from the enclosed space of the classroom, the digital book separates its content from its former "Gutenberg" container. The art of discovering and reading books is overhauled as a result. When a student reads a copy he is no longer depriving the other learners. Queuing up and rationing are becoming a thing of the past. As a digital community library dedicated to business schools, ScholarVox (www.scholarvox.com) epitomizes for instance this pedagogical emancipation. Day in and day out, several hundreds of thousands of students, professors and librarians converge towards a digital location where they can share their readings and manage, by design and community-based serendipity, to discover works they would surely never have otherwise known.
Needless to add, the library is anything but a new idea. On the other hand, the emancipated and emancipating library without walls is new indeed. Goodbye to the linear model of the appraised and validated, purportedly authoritative text; hello to a model of reading that is profoundly organic, literally natural. Mother Nature proceeds tentatively and uncertainly, by trial and error. That's how new species emerge, prosper or disappear. Mother Nature constantly make mistakes, and it is that what allows it to move forward in its untold wealth and multifarious diversity? In the digital library, students practice the same serendipitous "tatônnement" hopping from one book to next. They are a library away from their next book, a book away from their next library.
Given my digital library background and my passion for teaching , I could not help but ask myself questions on MOOCs and their repercussions on the arts of learning and teaching and, more plainly, on education and the institutions with which it has been associated.
Beyond Benjamin's interrogations, there are at least two reasons why this type of examination is indispensable at a time when MOOCs are becoming mainstream. The first of them is put forward in the highly pragmatic words of Sir Kevin Robinson:
« I mean, I always think this: Kids who start school this year in Australia in primary school will be retiring round about 2070. You know, nobody has a clue what the world will look like this time next year, let alone 2070. So, yes, parents are concerned and they're right to be concerned. I'm concerned. I've got two kids. But I'm concerned that they get an education which is tailored to these circumstances rather than the ones that obtained 150 years ago. »
Our educational model is derived from a long-standing tradition dating back to ancient Greece and the Gutenberg printing press. It was late in 19th century that presently existing compulsory education systems came into being. Since that time, their overall design has undergone hardly any genuine change. It remains permeated with a model derived from the master ironworkers of yesteryear. That's why it is high time to voice some concern. From this standpoint, MOOCs serve as active catalysts. The second reason for challenging the current model is that the diploma = employment equation that functioned so effectively for a number of decades has broken down. As underlined by Sir Kevin Robinson, the very notion of a degree is being trivialized:
« More and more people are now going to college and getting degrees. There are two reasons for this expansion. The first is population growth. In the last 30 years the world population doubled from 3 billion to 6 billion. The second reason is the growth of the knowledge economy and the growing demand for intellectual labor. The combined result is that in the next 30 years, more people will qualify, through formal education and training around the world, than since the beginning of history. This is an historic change in the demand for education, and it has huge implications for the nature of it. »
How Creativity, Education and the Arts Shape a Modern Economy, April 2005
My personal conviction is that MOOCs are providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to comprehensively review and revise our thinking on education, pedagogy and the institutions through which they are administered.
With MOOCs, one moves from an economy of pedagogical perspiration (the campus, the walls, the classrooms, the faculty...) in which pedagogical returns are decreasing (once the classroom is filled with students, you have to have a new one to accommodate more students) to an economy of pedagogical inspiration where economies of scale are legion, where returns are increasing to scale and where serendipity is maximized. Who knows if among all these online African or Haitian students we won't find entrepreneurs, scientists whose discoveries will one day shake the world? MOOCs give long range wings to ideas. Ideas are freed from their traditional containers. They can travel faster and further away. Moreover, ideas are not like standard goods. The fact that you use Pythagora's theorem does not preclude me from using it at the same time as you. Academic institutions, which have been for so long the tabernacle of ideas, have now an opportunity to take advantage of these increasing returns to scale. But, this will require a great sense of adaptation from them. Mark Twain was so skeptical about this capacity for self-reform of academic establishments as to state:
"College is a place where a professor's lecture notes go straight to the students' lecture notes, without passing through the brains of either. "
Knowledge has become boundless, and MOOCs are avatars of today's overabundance. Knowledge is no longer a rare commodity; more precisely, it is no longer confined to campuses, which in Michel Serres's terms have become similar to the camps of the Roman army. Students can now play hooky and off the walls cherry-pick the courses they are most interested in.
Amidst the expansive portfolio of Coursera courses, the student may wish to take but a single course, for example the one given by Franklin Allen of the Columbia Business School. He is no longer required to tackle the whole Columbia curriculum after having been allowed to indulge his passion for finance. The freedom offered by the MOOCs is total: No curriculum is imposed. Each students can build his hooky playlist. For free! This worldwide hooky playlist game is not synonymous of lost revenues for schools and universities though. Scrutiny of the Coursera's geographical data shows that many registered students reside in emerging or underdeveloped countries. They undoubtedly are students who could not immediately have afforded the onerous tuition fees for Yale or Stanford. This means that these universities are not on the face of it losing any money at all.
This being said, two scenarios may be imagined. The first is based on the notion of filtering. By taking and passing the course units they have chosen, the students directly signal their value and interest to the universities involved and can easily be identified; when appropriate, they could be offered scholarships enabling them to accede to degree courses. The second scenario is inscribed in the same perspective. A student who one day was allowed to discover the source of his passion is unlikely to forget a decisive turning point in his life. It may even be presumed that when the time comes, he will decide to register in the university of which one of the on-line courses functioned as a revelatory foretaste. He will receive credit for the course.
The free-of-charge model is of course hardly new. This is the model on which radio is predicated. Radio is free; it can broadcast because third-party payers agree to substitute for the end user. It is easy to imagine that many third parties, particularly potential employers, will show interest in the data whose collection will be effectively facilitated by MOOCs. One can also suppose that companies will agree to finance and sponsor courses so as to derive benefit from information likely to serve the purposes of their selection and recruitment units.
This is indeed the strategy that is financially backed by numerous venture capital firms, particularly in Silicon Valley. Digital reproduction does not come cheap and this explain the Silicon Valley activism. The difficulty lies in the fact that once an initial investment is made (A quality MOOC is costly to put together), the marginal cost per supplementary unit is low. Advancing from two hundred to twenty thousand students poses no major problem. Everyone has access to the same MOOC. As a result, and in accordance with the teachings of microeconomics, it becomes difficult to charge a price for the supplementary units higher than the close to zero marginal cost and thereby generate sustainable income.
The monetary opportunity lies on the other side of the coin. It consists in the increasing returns offered by MOOCs. Co-founder of Coursera, Daphné Koller once mentioned that at Stanford, the "Machine Learning" course given by Andrew Ng, the other co-founder of Coursera, draws 400 students. On the Coursera website, however, more than 100,000 students take Ng's course. In order to achieve an identical result, on the Stanford facilities Andrew Ng would need to offer that course for one quarter of a millennium! Moreover, success breeds success. The more a course boasts a favorably inclined audience, the more candidates and the more students it attracts, and the more its franchise is reinforced. The fundamental question then consists in how to reconcile increasing returns to scale and the capacity to sustain a price higher than the marginal cost, that is to create a rent. In the minds of venture capitalists, the equation is simple enough. The option on that future rent has got to be captured through the injection of tons of money. One day, in one way or another, the option will be "monetized" as I carries lots of potential.
When one looks at this buoyant digital activity, it is hard not to be a trifle appalled when comparing a photographed classroom in 1900 and a photographed classroom in our time. Little or nothing has changed. Blackboards, tables, stools, podium are still in the same place. Only the uniforms have disappeared. However, as Benjamin was aware, the student no longer goes to class, to the original. The class, the copy of it, comes to the student. This inversion of the pedagogical path is fascinating and prompts me to take the risk of drawing an inventory of potential consequences.
The fact that MOOCs open the door to course granularity is crucial. The notion of curriculum established by the empowered academic authorities is still in almost all cases the dominant model. A student must fit in and meet its demands. If not, he runs the risk of failing to be awarded the coveted diploma. The curriculum contains a beginning, an end, and programmed progression. It is in some sense linear. MOOCs, on the other hand, are highly non linear: The student builds his own learning portfolio, grain by grain, according to his wishes and to his tastes. He does so outside the usual institutional boundaries. A finance-based comparison illustrates the repercussions of this very valuable non-linearity. It is inspired by the derivative markets. Any option trader knows that an option portfolio is of more value than an option on a portfolio. As regards the latter, any possible gain is binary: either the option is or is not in the money. As concerns the option portfolio, on the other hand, possible gains are decidedly more varied: each option may or may not contribute to the final gain. A greater number of lucrative possibilities consequently exist. It is preferable to dispose of a large number of "small" options on different assets rather than a "large" option on a single asset portfolio. This is somehow what trial and error is all about, a string of options which allows mistakes and rebound. You try something out, you are mistaken you try again. Since the trial is limited in scope and deleterious eventualities, the damage is minimal. MOOCs encourage this type of "tinkering" in which Mother Nature is indeed an expert. Otherwise we would not be here! They offer flexibility allowing the learner to "goof up" and enabling him to make one attempt after another, and to achieve self-discovery through experimentation. Far from stigmatizing error, they encourage him to learn from his mistakes and to wind up finding the right match for his needs. The learner thereby engages in "convex tinkering" recommended by Nassim Taleb and becomes "antifragile".
Bumbling, fumbling and stumbling are at once desirable and beneficial. And they are by no means detrimental to academic institutions, which derive benefit from this 1/N strategy by enlarging the pool of talents knocking on their doors. This is a crucial point: whether from the learner's or the establishment's standpoint, pedagogy has got to be convex. It has got to be not the locus of a single possibility, but rather the meeting point of everything and anything possible. This is the best way to address and respect the wide variety of the cognitive abilities presented in human beings.
Are diplomas yesterday's papers?
This spatial / temporal granularity and this non-linearity of education has radical repercussions on the very notion of a diploma. It is highly likely, if not a safe bet, that the notion of a diploma, taken as the ultimate validation of a finished industrial product, is bound to disappear. We will have to get used to attending fewer formal graduation ceremonies replete with their commencement addresses and caps and gowns. Is this really a loss? Paul Valéry was unsparing in his condemnation of the diploma:
"I do not hesitate to declare ; the diploma is the mortal enemy of culture. The greater the importance diplomas have been given in life (and their importance has steadily grown due to the economic circumstances), the lower the yield of teaching. The more prevalent the exams being given, the poorer the results. Poor in terms of their effects on public spirit and the spirit in general. Poor because they create hopes and illusions of acquired rights. Poor on account of the multiple stratagems and subterfuges they imply, the strategic preparations and, all in all, the use of all the expedients needed to cross the redoubtable threshold".
If one nonetheless wishes to conserve the term, the diploma will be the business of a lifetime. Each one of us will build the curriculum that suits him or her the best. The "diplomas" and itineraries will be as numerous as the learners. The diploma will no longer be a piece of parchment paper issued by a particular institution. There will rather be personalized sampling of the courses given by a large number of institutions. The constraints of time and geography will have gone with the wind. A diploma will no longer be the threshold detested by Paul Valéry. It will be a permanent individual and group building effort.
The virtues of syndication
How will this granularity affect existing institutions? There is a high likelihood of creation of granular models of "coopetition", which means models in which educational institutions agree to cooperate while competing with one another. This is already happening in Europe in the framework of the Erasmus exchanges and the ECTS scheme. MOOC technology will render it systematic and, crucially, planetary. One may imagine Harvard "labeling" a MOOC originating in Yale and integrating it to one of its degree-granting programs. Just like EdX and Udacity, Coursera will surely be called upon to become a MOOC syndication platform. Syndication will enable it to institutionally monetize the MOOCs available on its platform and by doing so, to generate income while remunerating the universities rightholders.
A wealthier ecosystem
Coursera and the other educational technology companies herald the arrival of pure players whose talent will consist in selecting among the dedicated portals the relevant MOOC "bricks". One may imagine a group of reputed professors building a platform containing their own MOOCs combined with those having been syndicated around, say, Coursera. The platform's validity will be premised on the professors' reputations and the originality of their proposals. This is where free-of-charge access takes on its full meaning. Indeed, it paves the way to setting the prices of syndication. The most popular free courses will, once syndicated, become the most expensive. It is also clear that academic institutions with a poor reputation will be called into question, as is made crystal clear by Professor Timothy Devinney:
"Having been at the top and bottom of the academic food chain (being both at U. Chicago and now in Australia at what is dominantly a teaching factory) I have seen the differences. The students at Chicago get knowledge at the coal face by people who understand what is both leading edge and sophisticated. Students here get commoditized information delivered by individuals who only know what they read because they are not leading edge scholars. Indeed, where the MOOC Tsunami will hit is on this commoditized end of the business."
Timothy Devinney, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/cde6163c-7f4a-11e2-97f6-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2QABQsuIB
Research: 1 point; Pedagogy: 1 point
The above remark by Timothy Devinney calls for a commentary. It may be considered as elitist insofar as the perfection of an academic institution would mainly reside in the quality of its professors' publications. We will not take sides in a debate as to what determines the scientific value of an article. This is neither the time, nor the place. On the other hand, Devinney's emphasis on the importance of scientific research spurs us to ask questions on the reasons for its omnipotence. One of them has to do with digital visibility, which reaches its peak in businesses or institutions such as Elsevier, SSRN and ArXiv. The articles and their authors are visible. They are digitally accessible. Up until recently, however, pedagogy and the pedagogues were not exactly in plain view. More precisely, they were visible within but not outside the walls of academia. Research carried the day for want of a visible opponent.
Emergence of the MOOCs represents a new deal. The pedagogues become highly visible. We can henceforth take it as a given that the promotion of professors will no longer exclusively depend on their research. It will also hinge on their pedagogical savvy and savoir-faire. In this respect, the filtering mentioned above will not involve the learners alone. It will also involve pedagogues, whose pedagogy will at long last be seen in the light of day. Learners will filter with the rigor and vigor that the Net encourages. Academic institutions will strive to hire the best pedagogues in order to endow their portfolios with the richest, most widely varied and relevant, not to mention the most audacious MOOCs.
Going off the (re)beaten tracks
At this time, MOOCs are still anchored to the curricula of academic institutions. In their seminal phase, it is par for the course that they rely on existing infrastructure. However, the audaciousness of the offer consists in their emancipation from existing forms. Teachers will have the opportunity to experiment with courses outside the tried-and-true taxonomies. More broadly speaking, a recovery of pedagogical liberty will be given impetus by an open invitation to take risks and engage in pedagogical tinkering. MOOCs will to an ever lesser extent be homothetic to a preexisting frame. They will rather devolve into a privileged field for large-scale experimentation and collection of data efficaciously contributing to the understanding of learner behavior. New subjects will emerge, and they will flout the usual disciplinarily specialized pigeon holes and compartments.
The art of conversation or the art of exposing oneself to risk
MOOCs restore prominence to the art of conversation that Michel de Montaigne held so dear as to prefer a brain well-formed to a brain well-filled. Today's classrooms remain hierarchical organizations in which pedagogy is aimed at filling heads up. However, it is obvious to any visitor in these precincts that heads are no longer content to be docilely "crammed". Quite on the contrary, they converse, they chat either physically or virtually. Only distractedly do they hearken to what's being professed on the podium. They are free because they know that the connected place providing access to the stock of knowledge is right before their eyes: the laptop, the tablet, the smart phone are screens that screen out the academic monologue. And new heads require new rules of engagement compatible with the tools they are helping to fashion. The "knower" (the professor) finds himself amidst the "knowing" (the students) as primus inter pares, first among equals. He has no choice but to run the risk of casual, informal conversation. He has no choice but to lay down his arms as an authority figure and to recognize that far from being the sole driver, he is himself a passenger. The knower and the knowing form an enigmatic couple that brings to mind the hedgehog and the fox, of whom the first recorded mention dates back to the 7th century before Christ. In a stand-alone verse of the poet Archilochis, as cited by Isaiah Berlin, we may read:
« The fox knows many little things. The hedgehog knows one big thing."
In more recent words, "The hedgehog always remains at the same place, stalking the prey within its reach. As for the fox, he is ever on the move, hunting for a wide variety of game." (Irène Tamba (2012)).
The professor, or the hedgehog, the porcupine, symbolizes centripetal force. The student, or the fox, symbolizes centrifugal force. If a classroom wishes to have a ghost of a chance of renewing its "aura", it must mutate into a space of sharing, of invention, of assumed orality. But that alone cannot suffice. The site where the rejuvenated class will provide new food for thought shall have to be re-conceived. Its architecture should not survive in a form inspired by "power point" pedagogy. Its libraries must not remain storage zones. Its territory has got to be transformed into an agora where silence is the exception, and not the rule. All told, campus architecture will need to be reviewed to as to emancipate itself from the "Roman camp" model castigated by Michel Serres.
The digital "trivializes" pedagogy, rendering it reproducible. By contrast, the physical pedagogical site cannot and must not be trivial. It has got to be difficultly reproducible, it has got to make the seeker of knowledge desire to enter. After all, it is a site made for meetings of minds, and that is the way it has got to be thought out. It has got to be unique, and equal to the challenges posed by the encounters, the "hic et nunc" exchanges between human beings who will never be wholly reproducible.
To whom does knowledge belong?
A MOOC is structured around one or several professors, who hold positions in academic institutions. How are we to define intellectual property when knowledge is disseminated via a MOOC? Let us imagine for illustrative purposes that a Yale professor, author of a successful MOOC, leaves his university for Harvard. Is he the proprietor of his MOOC, or has he ceded the copyright to the university of which he is now an employee? Once employed in his new university, can he bring into being a similar MOOC without being considered as an intellectual hacker? The intellectual property issue is far from negligible, and it shall need to be treated with vigilance and diligence by the universities intending to utilize MOOCs. One may imagine that a system similar to the one governing the economy of books will be put into place. While the professor will take on the role of the author, the university will assume the role of the publisher. The publisher will agree with the professor on contractual terms, operate the MOOC of which the professor is the author, and remunerate him according to the sales recorded by the MOOC.
How to evaluate, to certify, to accredit?
Traditionally, an educational system hinges in the notion of grade or mark, of an evaluation given by instances the legitimacy of whose authority cannot be called into question. With regard to MOOCs, on the other hand, observers have noted some trending towards peer evaluation, which is no longer wholly vertical, but also and significantly horizontal. On this subject, a method has been set up in Coursera (http://help.coursera.org/customer/portal/articles/1163294-how-do-peer-assessments-work-, https://www.coursera.org/about/pedagogy ).
This assessment is premised on the community-based dynamics constituting one of the guiding principles of the MOOCs. A student can draw support from a widespread network of other students registered for the same MOOC. Horizontal pedagogy both complements and supplements vertical pedagogy. Mutual pedagogical assistance brings together students who up until the moment before were total strangers. Digital solidarity is a common phenomenon on the Web; question & and answer forums are but one example. As concerns MOOCs, it is of paramount importance. In fact, digital solidarity is their alpha and omega, and it is no surprise to find it present in the assessment process.
What happens to confidentiality?
This is a recurrent preoccupation on the Web. Whether voluntarily or involuntarily, Internet users leave behind a number of tracks and traces that pique the interest of businesses. MOOCs can hardly be immune from ongoing debates on protection of private data. It is all too easy to imagine the hunger of companies for the academic records of MOOC users, which are essentially open for inspection! This is by no means an unreasonable concern. Data are a strong currency, and we shall not leave them in the hands of digital speculators. That much said, it must not lead to obliteration of the collective intelligence that aggregation of individual information allows to emerge. This is a fine line, but as always the devil lies in the details.
In praise of Babel : What is to happen to public education authorities?
MOOCs are a homage to the Tower of Babel. Persons from hundreds of countries converge towards the MOOCs, which are derived from similarly multifarious professors and universities. Their diversity is an undeniable source of wealth. However, it just as undeniably raises questions concerning the supervisory authorities in public education and their mission consisting in the recognition of diplomas. Once degrees have become granular or gone so far as to disappear, what role shall national ministries of education and higher learning have to assume? What will be their missions in a geographical perspective dispensing with boundaries between nations?
At the end of 19th century, Ferdinand Buisson, a French General Controller of the Ministry of Education , tried to make "play hooky" part of the official instruction process through a method he called "the intuitive method":
"Sirs, the intuitive method is the one that tells the teacher: your task is heavier by the day. It is getting more complex. To get it done, you need to be helped. By whom? By good books, good tools, good programs? Yes, of course but even more by the student himself. He is your most reliable auxiliary, your most efficient co-worker. Make sure that instruction is not imposed on him. Make sure he takes full part in it and your problems will be solved. Instead of pulling him to make him advance, he will happily walk with you."
The core of the game has not changed that much! MOOCS are play hooky at its best. Play hooky has always been viewed as a bad habit. It is considered futile musing. But kids playing hooky are close to real life, playing with insects, looking at flowers and trees, gazing at the clouds, listening to bird songs. Their get a lot through their musings. They just need someone to give them some perspective to fully learn from their escapades. That's what MOOCs do at the end of the day. In his best seller "A Whole New Mind"; American author Daniel Pink writes:
"When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact."
So it goes with pedagogical contents. When they become so available, so abundant and accessible in so little time, they take on less importance. On the other hand, the ability to put them in context and provide them with emotional impact is perhaps what matters most.
Today's upheavals are particularly captivating insofar as they are likely to call upon our cognitive processes in many more ways than one. Subsequent to the works of Professor Roger W. Sperry, winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, we now know that the two hemispheres of our brain fulfill different yet complementary functions. The left hemisphere is the site of sequential thinking; the right hemisphere is the site of simultaneous, holistic thinking. Daniel Pink sums up the duality as he writes:
"The left hemisphere specializes in text; the right hemisphere specializes in context."
To summarize by once again citing the celebrated fox/hedgehog aphorism dating back to the 7th century before Jesus Christ, the left part of the brain assumes the role of the hedgehog, while the right part is reminiscent of the fox.
MOOCs favor learning through tinkering. They enable us to learn many things. What matters now is to endow this sequential tinkering with meaning and to arrive at a synthesis, what Daniel Pink calls right-brain thinking. Classroom pedagogy, which has so often been premised on left-brain thinking (an almost cult-like status), is challenged to capitalize on right-brain thinking. A pedagogue has to place himself at risk: he has to ignite his faculties of emotion, of esthetics, of context, of synthesis, of overview. Excepting the initial conception of MOOC, he is no longer the pope of left-brain thinking. In his pedagogical art, he has got to transform himself into an apostle of right-brain thinking. The architecture of the campuses in which right-brain thinking is called upon as likewise got to be comprehensively transformed.
Today's campus architecture, which is built around "Power Points", corresponds to a situation where hedgehogs try to train foxes. The future architecture of campuses shall have to develop in such a way that foxes and hedgehogs can switch roles in the same space.
In his Essays, Montaigne wrote that he preferred a well-made to a well-filled head. A full head is inclined towards left-brained rather than right-brained thinking. As of now, one shall not have one without the other. When push comes to shove, a well-made head is an hybrid one that details and connects; neither function systematically wins out over the other.
In an age of technical and digital reproducibility, pedagogy has to rise to the challenge of facilitating the flourishing of well-made heads that do play hooky!