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Open Compass: The Latest Evolution Of The MOOC?


The following is a guest piece from Anastas Stoyanovsky, the founder of Open Compass. This is an opinion piece that does not necessarily reflect the views held by our editors.

Open Compass: The Latest Evolution Of The MOOC?

Over the past several years, the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) has emerged as a new structure that seeks to bring traditional models in higher education to the internet. Khan Academy, Udacity, Coursera, and other current major MOOCs all fall into two core categories based on the identity of their content generators.

The first category consists of those that generate their own content internally and privately; Khan Academy is perhaps the premier example of this type.

The second category consists of those that partner with traditional institutions whose content they redistribute, such as edX, which distributes content provided by prestigious universities such as Harvard and MIT.

Thus, all current large MOOCs share the commonality of being organized in a top-down manner and targeting mass consumption of privately chosen content. This goes against the spirit of open online communities by failing to take advantage of the main strengths of the internet: bringing people together and allowing freedom of flow of information, regardless of its source.

Open Compass

Now, a new MOOC platform is emerging, a non-profit called Open Compass, Inc., that does not share the commonality underlying those MOOCs. The educational model of Open Compass is to allow anyone, associated with a university or not, to teach a class online in his or her own style and to streamline the mechanical parts of the educational process by providing the full functionality necessary to do so. Rather than providing fixed content, Open Compass will let members of its community decide for themselves which classes will be taught and how they will be structured. We will provide the platform for the community to grow around and for teachers to make efficient use of.

This is what separates Open Compass from other available MOOCs; we envision truly open education facilitated by a flexible framework and open conversation, rather than as top-down organization and simple mass consumption.

Putting roughly educational frameworks on the internet is not new. Even in the early days of the internet, individuals that wanted to take advantage of the freedom of flow of information available did so in their free time. In fact, the modern internet itself began as a way for researchers to share scientific data and results. We looked at many examples of YouTube tutorials and video lectures hosted on personal sites clearly put together by people that wanted to share their passion with others, and we kept asking ourselves: “Why isn’t this a class? Why isn’t this material being offered as a class to a community of similarly-minded people in an organized, efficient, indexed, and yet free manner?”

We would like to make that possible with Open Compass, and we believe that we can.


How Open Compass Can Help You As A Teacher

Imagine that you, a current or prospective teacher, are passionate about a topic and that you would like to lead an online course. Open Compass will allow you to stream lectures, slides, and/or your desktop to live viewers. Your students will be able to attend your lectures from their computer or from an Android mobile client, and they will be able to ask questions mid-stream by pressing a “raise my hand” button, enabling their webcam if they like. If they are unable view the class live, you will have the option to have your lectures automatically recorded, indexed, and made available for your students to review at any time. You will be able to focus on teaching while our platform automates away the busy work.

On the other hand, perhaps you have already prepared material. You will be able to take advantage of full course management software in order to either host your material and distribute it to your students or to provide them with well organized links to its existing location(s).

Furthermore, you will have access to built-in tools that let you grade assignments, assign teaching assistants, and more. The freedom for the teacher to conduct a class in his or her own style is a core tenet of Open Compass’ vision for open online education.

As a student, you will be able to sign up for whatever classes interest you and participate alongside your peers in an online course, joining real-time discussions with your classmates and with the instructor. Furthermore, if a class on your interest isn’t offered, you will be able to post a public request for a class that will be likely to be fulfilled soon. Compare this with navigating YouTube and Google search results to find a clip on what you are interested in, increasing its play count, and perhaps leaving a comment that may or may not be answered. Open Compass will be a community established on the freedom not only to learn but to directly engage with one’s peers.

A valid question for the reader to ask himself at this point is whether it is possible for such a community to form in what is an essentially laissez-faire environment. The answer is illustrated by the social experiment called the University of Reddit, which began in 2010 as an offshoot of the growing social media community of Reddit.

UReddit allows users to create classes on any subject and provides a minimal interface which serves chiefly as a point of coordination for classes that are conducted off-site. After just over two years, UReddit has more than 75,000 registered users, more than 150 successful classes, and close to 4 million viewers from nearly every country in the world; UReddit has evolved from a social experiment to a proof of concept. (More information about UReddit is available here.)

UReddit demonstrates that the Open Compass’ vision of what online education can and should be is viable and is close to becoming a reality. However, Open Compass needs a boost from the online community to get the prototype of its platform into public beta. If you are interested in learning more about Open Compass and would like to support its development, we invite you to visit our Kickstarter page and help bring Open Compass to life.

3 Examples Of UReddit Content

UReddit provides numerous illustrations of the passionate teaching that comes as a result of what is essentially crowd-sourcing education. Each of the teachers mentioned below went out of their way to teach online in their free time.

  1. Introduction to Photography was one of the earliest UReddit classes. It was taught by Alexandre Buisse, a professional photographer, using the Reddit platform; it consists of a series of 30 written posts and the first class has over 6,000 students. Since the materials for the class were automatically curated online, the class has been conducted twice more, bringing the total number of subscribers to nearly 10,000, with many students sharing their photos with each other as they learn and receiving feedback both from each other and from the instructor.
  2. Arts and Humanities: What does it mean to live well? was taught by Dr. Philip Bishop, who teaches at the University of South Florida. In Fall 2012, he was teaching four sections of an introductory honors college philosophy class; he opted to make a fifth section open to the public as a UReddit class and to have all five sections interact in a single area for discussion. Online students came from dozens of countries around the world and discussions were often started by comments from online users. Everyone, including the USF students, benefitted from this peer-to-peer interaction.
  3. Introduction to Group Theory was taught by Dr. Robert Donley Jr, who has over a decade of teaching experience at the high school, undergraduate, and graduate levels, and has been cited twice as a Most Influential Professor by his students. He taught this course, which is the equivalent of an undergraduate math class, entirely in his own free time and not in association with any university. He actively answers student questions and, in fact, many students use his video (of which there are 700 more on many other topics) to supplement their studies at their universities.

These are just a few examples of teachers that elected to share their passion with others in their own free time and of groups of peers learning together. By providing better tools and a better place for a community to form based on these ideals, Open Compass will encourage others to do the same and help them do so much more easily and effectively.

Open Compass FAQ

What makes Open Compass beneficial for them to all of those people out there that are making ad money off of their tutorials that have X hits?

What makes it beneficial is that, since there is no set protocol or style guide for Open Compass teachers and since everyone retrains intellectual property rights to whatever they create, they can embed or link to your videos and still get the same ad revenue from YouTube. They will benefit from the community of people that they want to share with, as well as the collection of well-integrated, sophisticated tools that we will provide (including an area for general discussion that works much better than YouTube comments).

If that video that has 900,000 hits is also viewable on Open Compass, then how do they negotiate those users differently? How do you stand apart from the common feed of Youtube?

But that’s exactly the beautiful thing. Because there is no style guide, a teacher is free to set up his class however he likes, which could be simply providing links to YouTube videos to supply the material. Again, the strength here is the localization and the formation of a community, and the availability of tools that weren’t available before.

One of the main goals of Open Compass is to streamline the actual process for an educator so that they can provide their curriculum and focus their time on the educational process itself.

If you had all the money in the world, what would Open Compass be?

Right now, we are starting off small; when we get bigger we would have to scale in accordance with a larger userbase – the same growing pains everyone goes through. But the idea is the idea and we are a non-profit being formed to actualize an ideal, so out core tenets aren’t going to change. Obviously, we are going to adapt and polish the platform to what works best as we go along and learn, ourselves, but our ideals will remain unaltered; more funding would just expedite their implementation and allow us to pursue projects we would otherwise have to delay, such as the development of an iOS client for live lecture streaming.

How does the relationship between Open Compass and Reddit make Open Compass make it different from everything else that you could possibly compare it to?

There is no formal connection between these entities, but there is one in spirit. Reddit is a link-sharing website whose biggest strengths include the formation of a community of people commenting and being open to anyone to register and participate, just like Open Compass will be open to anyone to come in and teach a class or sign up for one. In that way, Open Compass is in line with this contemporary paradigm of open communities on the internet. Again, there is no formal business relationship, although Open Compass is the natural progression from the UReddit proof of concept, which did start within the Reddit community.

How do you encourage peer to peer interaction?

This is one place that Open Compass will be very different from Khan Academy and its companions. The nature of the internet and the freedom of flow of information is that one does not necessarily need to encourage something to happen; if one provides a platform for something that people want to do, a community will form. We saw that with UReddit.

We never created an ad for UReddit, we never marketed it, and we never paid for advertising; it grew entirely by word of mouth and from people sharing the link with one another, and yet this community formed just because of the idea and because a platform was available for them to coordinate with one another for classes. Open Compass is going to take that same model and expand it with, for example, an instance of the (open-source) Reddit platform to provide threaded discussion boards. As another example, the course management software will also include live chat with teachers.

The tools will all be available, and we already know, because of UReddit, that a community will form around these ideals, so we are simply going to make it all more accessible and better organized.

When I log in to take a class on Open Compass, will it look just like Reddit?

No, it will not. First of all, it can’t, because it’s going to have much more sophisticated tools available for the entire educational process. Again, this is going to be its own website and it’s going to have its own unique look and feel, though we do indeed plan on using the tried-and-true platform for open discussion that Reddit uses.

What are the incentives for successful instructors? And who would you, ideally, partner with in the future?

The answer to this question is one of the main ideas behind Open Compass. All of us have had a class in which we were discouraged from the material by a teacher who wasn’t truly passionate or who was doing it for a salary, but some of us have been lucky enough to have had a single teacher that had a huge effect on us by virtue of their passion and motivation. Now, there is no monetary incentive here, so the only people teaching are those with that exact passion. Accordingly, the quality of instruction and engagement is going to be, on average, higher.

The only question is, if we don’t pay people, will they actually do this? Again, UReddit illustrated that the answer is, “yes.”

Obviously, teachers won’t come from Coursera, they won’t come from Khan Academy, they will come from YouTube, or maybe some other institution. Why wouldn’t it happen? There are already classes on UReddit using material hosted on Khan Academy. We aren’t competitors. Open Compass will be a public resource in the world of online education.

Image attribution flickr users edyourdon and hackny