October 2014: I wrote a long post about the OU-HistoryChannel course here at this blog, expressing my dismay about the course: Online Courses and Marketing Fluff: What is an immersive history course? Some people from OU contacted me to say they agreed with what I had said, but they also explained that they did not feel comfortable speaking out themselves. Not a good sign. I believe we need a wide-ranging discussion that brings in as many perspectives as possible as OU looks at its investments in online courses and online learning materials. The fact that people are afraid to speak out means we cannot have that discussion. I also had a great email back-and-forth with Mark Carnes of Reacting to the Past as a result, and that was really encouraging: I am always glad to spread the news about RTTP because it is one of the most exciting teaching innovations that I see on the horizon right now.
May 2015: Jennifer Ebbeler's blog post about her online Rome course at UT Austin, The Ruin of Rome, or Something Happened on the Way to the Forum, led to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, When Your Online Course Is Put Up for Adoption, which led to another blog post from Jennifer, Another Funny Thing Happened..... Meanwhile, Jonathan Rees, the most keen observer of the MOOC scene that I know of, wrote up these related posts: Cut the professor a check and walk away and “Would you mind telling me whose brain I did put in?” . So, Colleen Flaherty at Inside Higher Ed read Jonathan's blog, which led her to my blog, and she then contacted me to do a follow-up on the History-Channel-branded course. (I was curious about that, so I did indeed ask her if Jonathan's blog was the link in the chain, and it was.)
I had a long talk with Colleen on the phone, urging her to get in touch with Mark Morvant and John Stewart from our Center for Teaching Excellence and the related (I think) A&E/OU/History Institute, and also to contact Rob Reynolds who is a key person doing great work at NextThought, the developer of our (very expensive) MOOC platform, Janux. Rob is new this year at NextThought, and he is someone who really is trying to take NextThought in some exciting directions; if he succeeds, they would be able to lay claim to some real educational innovation. I was also hoping that Colleen would be able to persuade more faculty in the History department to offer their perspectives. As it turns out, it looks like she found one History faculty member who would speak on the record (Ben Keppel, one of OU's best, IMO), along with one faculty member who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity.
And that is what concerns me most here. I am sure many people at OU would have urged me not to have posted my thoughts in a blog post to begin with. In fact, they would probably urge me not to blog or use Google+ or Twitter or do anything public or even semi-public that could be taken as a criticism of the university. Obviously, I feel differently: I believe that we need as many voices as possible to participate in conversations about the university — students, faculty (both tenure-track and adjuncts like myself), staff, everybody. The future of higher education is really up for grabs right now, with no obvious right or wrong answers; every option has its advantages and disadvantages, and as we weigh all those options, well, the more knowledge and experience we can bring to bear, the better, in my opinion. Plus, OU is a public university, and I believe that the use of blogs and other public spaces is an important part of how we make ourselves accountable to the people of Oklahoma. As our school motto says: Civi et Rei Publicae.
Will we have a public discussion of the History Channel course and our other online course and online content development initiatives? I hope so! Meanwhile, I've commented at the Cable History article at IHE. I hope others will add their thoughts also.
Update: Sadly, no one else from OU commented at the story, so I guess there will be no public discussion. People surely have lots of question, ideas, opinions, fears, hopes, about this partnership and related projects, but they will not be coming together in a public dialogue. I see that as a lost opportunity; I hope there will be some other opportunity again sometime somewhere.
Update updated: Well, maybe there is hope! Audrey Watters included a note about this in her weekly round-up at Hack Education (thank you, Audrey!). Maybe some kind of conversation will take place at IHE after all. :-)
~ ~ ~
... Ouch, this is kind of depressing, but I guess not surprising. I was going to include an image of the university's beautiful seal which shows the University of Oklahoma emblem of the "sower" and that wonderful motto, but when I went to grab a good, clean copy of the image, I found out that the image is trademarked, and I probably am not allowed to use it here in this blog as my blog is far from being an "official University document." So I'll find a nice picture of the sower that is CC-licensed at Flickr instead. :-)
Photo by Majdan at Flickr; cropped.
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)