My childhood was influenced in some measure by two great icons that no longer exist. The first was Kodak – I adored my Box Brownie and I still have the wonderful grainy black and white pics. The second great icon was larger than Kodak: it was a stack of books known as Encyclopaedia Britannica.
The childhood I experienced was not unusual. For baby boomers, Kodak was our memory collector of choice and Encyclopaedia Britannica the Google of its day. But neither has survived the remorseless advance of the digital economy.
The invention of the internet, the inevitable convergence to a mobile phone or tablet, and the discovery of how to monetise a digital transaction have been death blows to these two icons and to so many others we can all name. And this transformation is far from finished.
Over the last few months most of us who work in higher education, as well as those who watch and comment on what we do have been fascinated by a singular topic: the MOOC.
This abbreviation – for Massive Open Online Course – is a term likely to enter into our common vernacular. A MOOC is a course or unit accessible, usually with no prerequisites, to anyone who wishes to enrol, usually for free, and with self-assessment or peer assessment along the way. Many now are being offered by household name universities who may not give you credit towards a degree, but will often award certificates of participation, or even a grade.
Most MOOCs are now delivered by acknowledged experts and outstanding teachers. They are very new, and no-one yet knows what they will mean or what role they will play. But many already believe that Pandora’s box has been opened.