Digital Democratization of Universities

Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksens speech at Transatlantic Science Week 2013, seminar ”The Digital Democratization of Universities” at the Norwegian Embassy in Washington 12. November 2013.

Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksens speech at Transatlantic Science Week 2013, seminar ”The Digital Democratization of Universities” at the Norwegian Embassy in Washington 12. November 2013.

 
(- There is no doubt that MOOCs gives us great opportunities for change. Foto: KD)

 

Transatlantic Science Week is about how the US, Canada and Norway can advance in research and education through cooperating. With this as our goal it is only natural that we use science week to discuss research and educational policy. These days an obvious topic is the rapidly growing MOOCs. These online courses challenge our traditional ways of thinking about both education and internationalization.

(As I mentioned this morning, a year ago the New York declared 2012 the year of the MOOC. I’m not quite sure what this year have been named yet, but judging from Norwegian – and American – media “the year of the fox” has some pretty good odds)

Jokes aside, MOOCs fully deserved its own year for the attention it has attracted on higher education. Allready the time when MOOCs were breaking news is over. Time has now come to find how we should best make use of them.

Global perspective

There is no doubt that MOOCs gives us great opportunities for change. One example is the potential that MOOCs seem to hold for making education more accessible to people all over the world, also the parts were the current level of education is low.  Still this doesn’t mean that we can relay on MOOCs to do the hard work for us. Today, as far as we know, there are still no African or South American institutions that have established partnerships with the Major MOOCs platforms. While we hope for the best, we must be aware that MOOCs could also increase the global, and individual, differences in education. It can lead to a Matthew effect where those who already have a high level of education get more, while those are not already highly educated are left out. My first question is - How do we make sure that MOOCs becomes a change for good? 

It is easy to get carried away by impressive new technology, but lets not forget the fact that technology alone is no solution. Of course, in some cases technology really does change the game.  Today farmers in Kenya can check grain-prices on the international market on their cell-phones and accordingly can plan their farming better. This is the technological success-story. 

On the other hand there are many cases where we have placed too much faith in the change technology can bring about. When the Arabic spring started in the Middle East press all over the world wrote about how social media would bring an end to suppression.  If we look at for example Egypt or Syria today it is clear that while social media sparked the uprising, it has not made the actual struggle any easier. Technology remains the tools that we use and not a goal in itself. When we talk about MOOCs we have to remember that the greater goal is high quality education. 

 

National perspective – So what’s in it for us?

Higher education is key to secure Norway’s future competiveness.  Further than bachelor and master programs, Norway also needs to improve our opportunities for continued education and professional development. Here I believe MOOCs can prove to be a good tool for making these kinds of education more easily available, flexible and varied.

 

Final remarks

There are many things we still don’t know about MOOCs. That’s why we need to start with what we have – questions. 

I myself find one of the most complicated questions to be how we can assure that a MOOC lives up to its promised quality. Let me give a simplistic example: A brand like coca cola produces soda all over the world. We all have a specific expectation to how it should taste. To live up to this coca cola needs to make sure that every production they run ends up with the same well tasting result. How do we secure the same kind of quality control on a MOOC? How do we assure that a MOOC lives up to the quality in learning outcome that the George Mason University or University of Bergen name promises? 

As you hear, I don’t believe that MOOCs will fix our challenges for us, but I also see that some change is inevitable. Whatever the future of the MOOC is, it is certainly worth discussing how we can use it to make our educations even better.