A Practical (and Real) Question About CC-NC

The oer-community list is still buzzing about whether CC-NC is a good thing for openness or not. I thought I might ask a question that gives the conversation context and actually is a question that I am truly considering at this moment.


I’ve been interested in hybrid MOOC/F2F designs for a long while. Initially I thought I’d use Coursera courses, wrap some face to face instruction and project-based learning around them, and see how students liked it.

It turned out that you’re not not allowed to do that with Coursera courses. And while other MOOC providers may be marginally better on this front, on the whole current corporate xMOOCs are what Wiley used to call anti-BOGO — when you Buy One (even when you buy it by selling Coursera your eyeballs), you don’t *really* Get One. You’re not free to make the modifications you need to make to make it useful to your institution, or even your personal context.

The reason these rights (for example, the right to base a face-to-face class around a MOOC, or the students right to use an xMOOC as part of a class) are not granted by Coursera is likely that Coursera wants to charge non-profit institutions for these rights. So Coursera, in this model, becomes sort of like a textbook publisher, selling services to universities. And we get the same BOGO problem we had with textbooks, except now it’s embedded even deeper into our model.


Ultimately, though, this is a solvable problem. The same way we have a OpenCourseWare Consortium today, we could form an OpenCourse Consortium — a group of universities and colleges committed to making our own damn xMOOCs. Ones that obey open principles, and allow other institutions to build and innovate on them at no charge. Thus we avoid the meet-the-new-boss-same-as-the-old-boss silliness that we seem to be headed toward where we replace a destructive dependence on textbook publishers with a destructive dependence on Coursera, and this opens up a new age of online course innovation, one that happens not just in for-profit companies, but on every campus that decides to remix an open xMOOC architecture and make something brilliant.

The way I am seeing these are as course architectures — a Common Cartridge export of videos, questions, assessments, activities and discussions that anyone can import into an LMS and run an xMOOC.

Great. Now, question: What license do we put on these Open xMOOC things (isn’t it sad we need that redundancy? “Open” xMOOC?).

So, should they be CC-BY-SA? Or CC-NC-SA?

My initial thoughts

I was going to write my initial thoughts here, but in thinking about it, I realize how fast it gets complex. So let me just say that I gravitate to the NC for one main reason.

Say Coursera is offering 300 courses. And let’s say my tiny band of rabble-rousers puts together 50 courses.

Here’s what I’d do if I was Coursera — I’d say thanks very much, we’ll add those 50 courses to our collection, and now we have everything you have, plus 300 more courses of our own. What’s more, I’d say (again, as Coursera) we’re licensing these under the same anti-BOGO terms.

So the more successful we are at developing truly open xMOOCs, the bigger Coursera’s catalog gets. And when institutions decide whether they are going to use truly open materials or go with Coursera — they are going to go with Coursera purely on breadth of offering.

Eventually my consortium crumbles, because people notice that none of our stuff is getting used except through Coursera, so why the heck are we not getting a cut of the Coursera money? And people fold up their Open xMOOC projects, and sign contracts with Coursera. And the free option dies.

OK, so tell me — why am I wrong here?

A Perfect Term Paper Assignment from Kurt Vonnegut

Today, Slate republished a term paper assignment Kurt Vonnegut gave his students. Ds106ers and long-time cMOOCers will immediately note that his assignment style (assignments were were done as letters to his students) mimics elements of course blogging. Others will just be reminded of how much they miss his prose voice and the sort of sensitive cynicism he projected, that mix that so many people after him have just not got right (wit tends to put us above this world, looking down — Vonnegut’s wit sunk us deeper into it, begged us to embrace the fragility of the real).

All of those things, yes. But I think the thing I notice professionally is the wonderful balance the assignment strikes between the authentic and the contrived, between expression and assessment.

But enough me, here’s Kurt:


This course began as Form and Theory of Fiction, became Form of Fiction, then Form and Texture of Fiction, then Surface Criticism, or How to Talk out of the Corner of Your Mouth Like a Real Tough Pro. It will probably be Animal Husbandry 108 by the time Black February rolls around. As was said to me years ago by a dear, dear friend, “Keep your hat on. We may end up miles from here.”

As for your term papers, I should like them to be both cynical and religious. I want you to adore the Universe, to be easily delighted, but to be prompt as well with impatience with those artists who offend your own deep notions of what the Universe is or should be. “This above all …”

I invite you to read the fifteen tales in Masters of the Modern Short Story (W. Havighurst, editor, 1955, Harcourt, Brace, $14.95 in paperback). Read them for pleasure and satisfaction, beginning each as though, only seven minutes before, you had swallowed two ounces of very good booze. “Except ye be as little children …”

Then reproduce on a single sheet of clean, white paper the table of contents of the book, omitting the page numbers, and substituting for each number a grade from A to F. The grades should be childishly selfish and impudent measures of your own joy or lack of it. I don’t care what grades you give. I do insist that you like some stories better than others.

Proceed next to the hallucination that you are a minor but useful editor on a good literary magazine not connected with a university. Take three stories that please you most and three that please you least, six in all, and pretend that they have been offered for publication. Write a report on each to be submitted to a wise, respected, witty and world-weary superior.

Do not do so as an academic critic, nor as a person drunk on art, nor as a barbarian in the literary market place. Do so as a sensitive person who has a few practical hunches about how stories can succeed or fail. Praise or damn as you please, but do so rather flatly, pragmatically, with cunning attention to annoying or gratifying details. Be yourself. Be unique. Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.

Since there are eighty of you, and since I do not wish to go blind or kill somebody, about twenty pages from each of you should do neatly. Do not bubble. Do not spin your wheels. Use words I know.


I can’t really top that, so I’ll end here.

Introducing the Feed-Forward xMOOC (Intro Psych Edition)

Flickr: Gamma Man

What is the Feed-forward xMOOC? 

The Feed-forward xMOOC is a pretty simple concept. Take existing OER and OCW. Put it in an LMS framework, adding small quizzes, in-video questions, reading assignments, discussion questions, peer assessments. Set it up on a schedule, serialized week-to-week like an ordinary course.

Then let people use it, for whatever they want, however they want.

Is this an idea or a real thing? 

It’s a real thing. We are halfway done building a Feed-Forward xMOOC for Intro Psych, based on some older Yale OpenCourseWare.

Check it out. [Seriously, check it out]

What do you do with a Feed-forward xMOOC?  

The Feed-forward xMOOC is not considered to be a complete product. It is there waiting for you — the professor, student, expert, or coder — to extend it. Unlike most xMOOCs on the “market” you are encouraged to do the following:

  • Wrap a face-to-face experience around it. Create a class around the xMOOC. Have students take it, and meet them in the seminar room once a week to talk about  it. Or via Google Hangout. Or build a project-based learning experience that uses the xMOOC to handle fundamentals that are reinforced through authentic, campus based tasks.
  • Wrap a cMOOC around it. The most likely future of the xMOOC is to become the chewy center of the cMOOC. You can wait for the xMOOC providers to figure that out, or you can do it today, yourself. (Could you wrap a ds106 around it, too? I think so. Try it!)
  • Run your own competing MOOC. Honestly. I use phrases like “back-of-the-envelope solution” and talk about “VCRs” in class discussions. I get so dorkily into interesting statistical problems that many students believe I must be high. In other words, there’s a lot of people out there that do a better job of connecting with 18 and 19 year old students than I do. If I’m running a MOOC and you can run a better MOOC with my stuff, you should.
  • Export it out, and experiment on your lonesome. Seriously. It’s built in Canvas, so you can import directly into another Canvas installation or account, and edit away. Even more importantly, it exports to Common Cartridge, and while there are some oddities of transfer, all content in it can be ported out. Just drop it in a class and use it on your own as a big learning object. It’s all good.
  • Blend it with another subject. Take our Intro Psych xMOOC. Slash it down to basics and drop it into your behavioral economics course. Share it back out, and make the world a better place.

I think you get the point.

Can’t I already do this with existing xMOOCs?  

Nope, you can’t. Here’s Coursera on the question of MOOC-wrapping:

You may not take any Online Course offered by Coursera or use any Letter of Completion as part of any tuition-based or for-credit certification or program for any college, university, or other academic institution without the express written permission from Coursera. Such use of an Online Course or Letter of Completion is a violation of these Terms of Use.

You can wrap it — if you like lawsuits. Here’s Udacity on reuse of their “open” course:

All content or other material available on the Class Sites or through the Online Courses, including but not limited to on-line lectures, speeches, video lessons, quizzes, presentation materials, homework assignments, programming assignments, programs, code, and other images, text, layouts, arrangements, displays, illustrations, documents, materials, audio and video clips, HTML and files (collectively, the “Content”), are the property of Udacity and/or its affiliates or licensors and are protected by copyright, patent and/or other proprietary intellectual property rights under United States and foreign law.

Again, “openness” here is the freedom to take their course at no cost, provided you don’t use it in ways they don’t like. It’s no more “open” than Gmail or LinkedIn.

I won’t go into my standard rant here, but this shift is the big story people are missing about xMOOCs — how a decade of progress in open education is being enclosed, and leaving us with an inferior product with a broken conception of openness.

The Feed-forward xMOOC is an attempt to fix this.

OK, I get why this is important now. But is this more Caulfield vaporware? Like the Open-source Simulations of 2009? 

Nope. Again: check this out — a band of people and I are about halfway through constructing a beta Intro to Psychology course out of Open Yale Courses video and elbow grease. We have booked Dr. Larry Welkowitz to teach it Summer 2013 for Keene State. But if you wanted to use it for Spring semester, it’s looking like it will be ready in a couple weeks. You should use it!

Also, the Open-source simulations would have been awesome.

What’s the Roadmap/Schedule for this thing look like? 

Here’s the tentative schedule for the Intro Psychology course.

0.1 All videos chopped up into smaller 5-15 min segments, modularized, embedded and arranged in Canvas.  (Done as of today)

0.2 All video quizzes added, some content gaps addressed (Nov. 30)

0.3 Readings and reading quizzes integrated (Dec. 8)

0.4 Summative assessments and projects added, most content gaps addressed (Dec. 15)

0.5-0.99 Beta-testing (feature complete, ready for class use by the adventurous) (Jan 2013)

1.0 Full release (Build-your-own peer version) (Summer 2013)

2.0 Peer integration? (Or maybe not — maybe this stays the piece you provide?)

Right now we are working towards 0.2.

We are also working on another course on the psychology and economics of food and food policy (based on lectures by Food Fight author Kelley Brownell). More on that later.

What do you want from me? 

We can get this done ourselves, but we’d love some help. Right now we need

  • Instructional design type people to write fairly simple in-video quizzes
  • Instructional design type people to read the Intro Psych readings and develop simple reading quizzes.
  • Psychology faculty to help us to develop additional formative and summative assessments.

The idea is many hands make light work. Volunteer an hour or two, get assigned specific tasks on a specific module, get listed on the credits, help keep the MOOC revolution open.  Or just do us the honor of using it when we roll it out — that would be the biggest help of all.

If you want to help, email mc2@outlook.com.  I’ll find something for you to do.

Residential Online is the Future of Your Institution (2tor Edition)

Although, I think we might start calling it “campus-based” online. In any case:

A group of 10 highly selective colleges has formed a consortium to offer online courses that students enrolled at any of the campuses can take for credit.

The group, which includes Wake Forest and Brandeis Universities, will offer semester-long online courses using software from 2U, an education-technology company formerly called 2tor. Students already attending the institutions can earn credit from any college in the group, while students who are not enrolled at those colleges can apply to take the courses.

Increasingly, the ability to offer residential (and commuter) students a blend of face-to-face and online classes in a traditional degree program is seen as key to recruitment and retention efforts. The future of education that people actually want is this sort of blend — we should be doing more of this on all levels (although the cynic in me has to ask if we really need 2tor to do it for us?).

Clay Shirky says xMOOCs = OCW + Cohorts

From a Clay Shirky comment on his post on xMOOCs:

The thing that seems to me to differentiate MOOCs from iTunes U and other ‘Access to the lecture’ platforms is the linking of the idea of a course that takes place at a certain time (including ending at a certain time), certification of the results, and, of course, massive scale.

I don’t think we’ve thought through the implications of this, namely that xMOOCs are relatively easy to make out of existing OER materials.

We continue to treat these platforms as if there is some super secret technology at work in them. In reality , it’s OCW in an LMS wrapper, serialized and made available to a large class. There’s some peer-grading involved, yes, but we were doing this stuff anyway.

You can go and reuse existing OCW and put together an xMOOC in a week, in a platform like Canvas.net or Class2Go. If I understand the Open Yale Courses license correctly, you can go get a bunch of OYC videos and string them together with quizzes and a short peer-reviewed paper and you are done. It’s the cohort that makes the difference, not the twiddly bits and the machine that goes “ping”.

OER and Iterative Improvement

Talk about being misunderstood. The above worksheet, on which students were asked to assign certain activities to different genders, made the Facebook rounds recently, providing both liberals and teacher-bashers with their necessary Two Minutes Hate.

Obviously, the worksheet is a poorly executed entry point into a discussion about the ridiculousness of many gender roles, and the forwarding of it by otherwise intelligent readers is a good example of the need for critical reading in the networked age (Reading question one is always “What is the greater context of which this utterance was a part?” — don’t forward until you can answer that) .

But the point Downes makes cannot be over-emphasized — why is a teacher approaching such a difficult and touchy subject with what is clearly a worksheet designed at the last minute? Why don’t people that teach issues like this pool their knowledge on how to design this activity in a way that meets the lesson objectives without forcing students that already get it to fake failure?

There’s a lot of talk nowadays about tying OER to analytics and data, and using that information to iteratively improve OER. I think that’s a good discussion. But I’m reminded of how much benefit sharing can give that doesn’t even reach to that level analysis. Massive failure of educational resources is pretty normal — unclear multiple choice questions, wrongly worded or unclear instructions, activities where students get hung up on step one.  You don’t need analytics to find that out — you just need a community of practice around the OER to spot potential pitfalls and work corrections in over time.

Coursera praises MOOC-wrapping as they attempt to ban it

If believe that OER reuse could save education, and  you’re looking for a reason for your institution to NOT sign up with Coursera, I guess it’s this, from their terms of use:

You may not take any Online Course offered by Coursera,” stipulate the terms, “or use any Letter of Completion as part of any tuition-based or for-credit certification or program for any college, university, or other academic institution without the express written permission from Coursera”.”

In other words, institutional reuse — even by non-profits — is banned.

These terms of service come to light as Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller pens a Forbes article praising a professor that wrapped another course in Udacity a face-to-face course around the original Stanford MOOC, and promotes the model of institutional reuse. Neglecting, of course, to mention that she will charge you for it, and that she is using her entire column in Forbes to essentially sell a product.

We now understand the endgame here. We now get the business model. The idea is not “send your students to us!”. The idea is to become yet another online vendor of services to higher ed.

It gets tiresome, this.

Even so, this might not be a problem except that, contrary to popular opinion, xMOOCs are an evolution of OER, not online education, and decisions like this do not just affect the bottom line of Coursera, but the future of the movement that made Coursera possible. As a matter of fact, many Coursera courses consist largely of materials formerly made available as freely licensed OpenCourseWare, making the move to ban reuse of them a particularly pernicious form of enclosure, which endangers the maintenance and production of truly open resources.

I am a pragmatist. I don’t mind corporations, corporate software, or corporate people. There are many days I miss working in the private sector. I think the private sector does do many things better. I believe people should profit from their work, and I think a certain level personal risk and investment should be rewarded.

But I have to shake my head at any institution who can look at the Coursera terms of service  — and look at it with a full knowledge of how hard-won our victories in OER have been — and sign us back into the dark ages.

Luckily, there are other options if you want to run an xMOOC. You can run your course on the Canvas Network, under your own terms — and you’ll have a framework that is superior to Coursera’s in many ways. You can download and run Stanford’s truly open platform Class2Go. And if you want to move from xMOOC to cMOOC, of course, the world is your oyster.

Or you can sign up with Coursera. Just don’t go telling people you did it to “give back” to the world. Building a fence around tax-funded materials does not constitute giving back, and is to be looked upon with derision, not praise.

How Coursera Could Walk the Talk About MOOC-wrapping

Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera, wrote an article in Forbes this week about the possibility of MOOC-wrapping and mixed models of online/traditional delivery that incorporate free globally offered online courses. I’m glad they are looking at this. I’ve been talking about this option quite a bit on this blog for quite a while, and I’m currently engaged in trying to put a wrapping project together here at Keene State around the Coursera-offered Passion-Driven Statistics course.

There are, however, a lot of obstacles to the MOOC-wrapping paradigm, most of them created by the manner in which Coursera chooses to offer courses. I will list some of the challenges we have faced in trying to do this here in the hope that if Coursera is truly serious about pursuing this they can address them.

  • No class preview. I want to pitch a class to a faculty member as a potential for a wrapped experience. The faculty member, quite rightly, wants to review the structure and the content of the course before committing, both so that they can adequately structure the wrapper and so that they feel comfortable with the content and approach. But there is no way to do that six months out from a class. We get maybe a video or a blurb. It’s very hard to sell faculty on blindly trusting the course. The solution would be to post OCW style materials well before the course — syllabus, reading list, a sample lecture.
  • Semester-unaware scheduling. For a direct to consumer product, the staggered start times are probably a plus — there’s always a new class starting at Coursera, right? For people trying to integrate these into a semester it is a slice of hell. About 90% of the catalog is unusable in a traditional semester course due to start time or end time issues. And yes, I know — the world has different start times, there are schools that are on the quarter system or trimesters. But a good portion of the world starts first semester courses around September and ends around December, and starts second semester courses in January and ends beginning of May. There could be more accomodation of that.
  • No regular offerings, few hard dates in advance. I’m taking an Obesity Economics Coursera course. While there have been some glitches, the content has been great, and I can see this course being embedded in several other courses we offer at Keene State. But when is it being offered again? I don’t have a clue. I understand Coursera wants the flexibilty to not re-run low-enrolled courses. But we have to finalize our semester schedule as much as eight months before running a course, and have to start planning well before that.

That said, there are some things Coursera is doing that help, and could be further advanced:

  • One to two credit courses are wonderful. Keep it up. The Obesity Economics course, a one credit equivalent experience, is a wonderful example of how many ways a low credit experience could be utilized in a class. We have four credit courses here, and they are supposed to be integrative. So you can imagine taking a standard 3 credit economics course and combining it with the 1 credit equivalent Obesity Econ course. Instant integration of econ with policy. Likewise, the Passion-Driven Statistics course we are working on is a “quarter” course, starting mid-semester. Here the small one credit nature of it allows us to run it as a two-credit course where one credit comes from the MOOC, and one credit comes from the wrapper.
  • Courses with a project also work well. Passion-Driven Statistics has students work on a project, and this has turned out to be a great help to our design of the wrapper. We assume that students are coming out of the MOOC with some sort of project, and we can use the wrapper to engage in student-teacher and student-student evaluation of that project in ways that are difficult in the MOOC. In coding terms, I tend to think of the project as the “return variable” from the MOOC subroutine. The MOOC kicks that back up to us, and we dig in to the result.
  • Drilling on Content is OK. Coursera has gotten some flack for the content-focus in some MOOCs. One interesting piece of MOOC-wrapping is that since a lot of the higher-order skills can be exercised in the wrapper portion of the class, the use of MOOC time to reinforce more lower-order stuff is less problematic. In fact, it’s a bit of a blessing if the MOOC is dealing with some of the entry-level stuff that the F2F instructor doesn’t want to spend class time on.

That’s probably enough now, although as we work on our project over here, I’m sure many other things will come to mind. So brace yourself for Part II…

Who is accountable at Coursera?

Coursera wants to be the Google of the education world. You can’t complain about your email if the email is free, right? And the same thing holds true with their courses.

So when things like this happen in the course I am taking, where the exact answers to pass the final are revealed by mistake during the process of taking the final, it’s just a bug. These things happen, right?

But think this through in light of the “let’s transfer MOOC credit in” model that schools like Antioch are looking at.

Think about Antioch’s options. They could transfer in this course, only to find out that passing it was trivially easy, and demonstrated no real aptitude in economics.

In that case, the Antioch brand is damaged. A credit transfer system is only as strong as its weakest link.

Alternatively, Antioch could hear about the snafu, and refuse to transfer this credit in. But in that case a bunch of students took a class for four weeks expecting to get credit only to find out that they are not going to get any credit because Coursera made a technical error. Four weeks of work down the drain.

The only thing that Coursera is offering that extends much beyond straight up OCW is an assessment framework. If they can’t guarantee that  — or if they don’t at least freak out about its failures — why would you ever transfer in MOOC credit without additional assessment?

And yes, this is partially an argument for why all xMOOC credit should be wrapped in a layer of authentic institutional assessment, if only to protect the value of your degree.

But it’s also a straight up question — who at Coursera is accountable? And to whom?

Unbundling vs. Embedding: Approaches to reuse of integrated course objects

For a long time we have talked about the great unbundling. Roughly stated, a college course consists of content, some activity around that content, and some credit/assessment. Using terms from Matheos and Siemens we can talk about Content, Interaction, and Accreditation (I understand that the terms there are applied at the broader institutional level, but they work on the micro-level too):


Many people talking about the future of education (myself included) assumed through much of the aughts the future of education would be more or less “unbundled”. Your content might be OCW. Your accreditation would be done by WGU or Straighter Line. Your interaction might be a cMOOC.

With these multiple providers you (or an education integrator) could assemble the content, interaction, and accreditation parts separately, from separate vendors.  Efficiencies of specialization and scale would kick in. And conflicts of interest would be reduced: you didn’t have to get your car inspected at the place that did your engine work, and so on. Freedom!

Of course, the future didn’t quite co-operate. As Martin Weller expressed it a while back:

[A]fter a decade of OERs, it’s interesting that we’re coming back to educator constructed courses. The vision might have been of learners constructing their own personalised courses from the vast array of content out there. And while this does happen to an extent, and social tools will help it happen more, it’s also the case that one of the core functions the educator provides is to structure content into a sequence that learners can follow and have trust in. The bargain they make is this – if I do the course you have constructed then I will come out with a certain understanding of the topic.

Initially I felt a little down about this. But thinking it through over the past couple years, I’ve realized that there are major problems with severing assessment from content, content from interaction, and so on. If you don’t believe me, hop on down to your kid’s school on standardized assessment day. The problem is that the core offering of any educational institution is integration and coherence. To some extent it’s just Wiley’s Reusability Paradox writ large: modularity requires decontextualization for reuse in multiple contexts, but education is a process of contextualization. The perfectly decontextualized objects you would need to accomplish unbundling do not serve the integrative needs of the classroom.

So the future is increasingly looking somewhat more bundled than it was three years ago.

But then how does reuse and repurposing happen? I’d like to propose an alternative model which I’m calling embedding (and which I’m sure a commenter will tell me already exists and goes by name X, but that’s why I blog things like this — to find out that stuff).

In an embedded model, there is no unbundling. Instead there is “wrapping”. So for instance, a reuse case might look like this:

  • Students take an xMOOC on nutrition, which contains its own internal content, accreditation, and assessment. It is the credit equivalent of 1 to 2 credits.
  • Around that experience we wrap a 1 to 2 credit face-to-face class that recontextualizes the xMOOC. For instance, one F2F wrapper of the nutrition class might be  12th grade class engaged in a project-based assessment of the healthiness of their cafeteria food.  A college economics seminar might wrap the xMOOC with the intention of publishing research on the effect of economics on healthy eating, and so on. A dietetics class might wrap the course minimally, but use the face-to-face time to build group cohesion, provide better quality feedback than the MOOC, and assign additional topics. Again, the second layer of wrapping is not unbundled from the first, but provides a layer of local contextualization for the xMOOC.
  • Finally, there is engagement of all these separate classes in a Community of Inquiry around the subject of dietetics, but unlike the internal xMOOC conversations that deal with knowledge duplication, the CoI is involved with the multiple repurposings of the class — the college class is seeing what the 12th graders are doing and so on. Just as the face-to-face class contextualizes the xMOOC locally, the CoI places the F2F in the broader context of the multiple imaginings of that class.

In other words, rather than “unbundling”, it looks a little like this:

Thoughts? What is this? A dsMOOC? A cMOOC where individuals are replaced with classes? A Community of Inquiry that takes an xMOOC as its content instead of a text? (It also reminds me of the days at CogArts where we’d wrap an entire class in a SCORM wrapper with a single complete/non-complete flag, and call it a BFLO. I’ll let you older folks figure that one out…)

Whatever it is, I like it, and I think it’s the future of place-based education.