This morning in the Chronicle of Higher Education Wired Campus edition, there was a headline indicating that edX and Facebook were teaming up to offer free education in Rwanda. EdX is a MOOC provider founded by Harvard University. On the surface, my response was “How Cool is That?” and “Does Rwanda have good internet access?”. The article goes on to discuss the reach that Facebook has in Rwanda….”Who knew”, but in reading further, I realized that this wasn’t just a financial team up. The goal was to actually create a Facebook integrated mobile teaching app. The international reach of Facebook and the ability to fully integrate a teaching app would be a huge jump in education, and put edX at the top of the pile in access to millions of education consumers. Now I admit, when I first read this article I was excited. It’s fascinating to see a MOOC provider and social media match up to make online education viral. …and then I started thinking about the impact to us in Extension.
The edX classes are coming from big names in education. MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and UT all have MOOCs on edX. Topics range from biology and business, to food and nutrition. Courses are co-taught using an internationally recognized faculty member in the subject area who is teamed up with a educational technology specialist to get things online quickly, and they know upfront that the research supports this structure. The content is research based (“Isn’t that what we do?”, and the delivery is researched based.
This becomes an even bigger question now. How can we develop and build our national reputation in a world that is progressing by leaps and bounds with technology? Was UNL Extension part of the University of Nebraska contract with Coursera? Do we have access to that platform? Did the University hire educational technology specialists that will be there to help us prepare and deliver high quality courses that are developed using research based best practices with online course delivery?
Do we need to rethink how we market ourselves? MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, etc, have all marketed their online MOOC style courses as MITx, Harvardx, Berkeleyx etc. Do we need to be talking about ourselves as UNLx? How can we position ourselves for more market share in the world of informal education? Do we strive to develop delivery methods that are convenient to our clientele? Coursera, another online course provider, has a tagline that says “Coursera empowers people to improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in with education”. Isn’t that what we do?
In Extension we do great things! We have countless farmers, ranchers, businesses, and families that would attest to that. The question, right here and right now is, “How can we scale what we are doing up enough to keep ourselves in the marketplace while maintaining our principles of research based, unbiased information?”