A pedagogical experiment conducted by a professor at the University of Zurich upset his institution, many of his students, and Coursera headquarters. The debacle surrounding his tinkering with a Coursera course highlighted important issues surrounding Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that are actually NOT “open;” meaning, NOT providing users with “the freedom to use, customize, improve and redistribute educational resources without constraint….as part of a worldwide effort to make education both more accessible and more effective. (Capetown Open Education Declaration)

The emphasis is mine and used to point out alignment with Coursera’s mission: “We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education. We aim to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.” i.e., accessible and effective.

Those of us committed to open education would argue that such a mission can only be accomplished if education, pedagogy, courses, content, data, etc., are actually and truly “open.”

Meanwhile, back to the MOOC that ran amok.

The professor’s intention was to see if he could get students to migrate to a non-Coursera platform and spur a discussion of the hazards of data-mining in free online courses. Unfortunately, he was not “open” with his students and therefore, many reacted with anger instead of engaging in reflection about the fact that their behavior and Non-open MOOC-cow.jpgemotions in the course’s online forum were being tracked by Coursera, without their consent and for the benefit of Coursera.

Professor Dehaye’s position was described in a Wired Campus blog post:

“The professor (or someone posting in his name) wrote about how he did not want to assist the company in its efforts to collect and monetize student data. He said he had been contacted repeatedly by the company about the data.

‘I feel they are fishing for business models, which I am certainly not going to give them,’ Mr. Dehaye wrote in the post, which was first reported by Inside Higher Ed. ‘I don’t want to tell them how to track you.’ “

George Siemens provides a thoughtful update in a recent blog post congratulating Dehaye for having the courage to “draw attention to Coursera policies and practices around data.” He concludes by saying:

“The MOOC Mystery was about an academic doing what we expect and need academics to do. Unfortunately it was poorly executed and not properly communicated so the message has been largely lost. Regardless, Dehaye has started a conversation, raised a real concern, pushed buttons, and put a spotlight on unfair or opaque practices by organizations who are growing in influence in education. Yes, there are ethical concerns that need to be addressed. But let’s not use those ethical concerns to silence an important concern or isolate a needed narrative around what MOOCs are, how they are impacting higher education and faculty, and how control is being wrested from the people who are vital counter-balancing agents in society’s power structure.”

Paul-Olivier – thanks. Let’s have more of this.

CCK08: Connectivism & Connective KnowledgeA lively exchange of comments follows, and at one point Siemens draws a comparison to analogous experimentation within the first (ever) massive open online course, CCK08,orchestrated by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2008:

“Stephen Downes subscribed all learners to one of the discussion forums during the week on power and control in learning. Learners were understandably outraged. Suddenly their inbox was assaulted with dozens, hundreds, of emails. The point that he was trying to make was on the power that faculty have in a course. Numerous learners swore off the course and were understandably upset. The point was made clearly and concisely and most learners, once they finished deleted their forum notification emails, understood what had happened. Overall it was successful…”

Open Assembly firmly believes that the data that is aggregated on our platform belongs to our users. Users are free to request that data at any time, including its deletion from our databases. That is an important dimension of “open”, as important as the capability of engaging any course or other resource within usage rights defined by David Wiley’s 5Rs framework:


Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)