Category Archives: technology

MOOCs: Game-changer in higher education? Or, trouble maker?

November 29, 2012


What are MOOCs?
The acronym “MOOC” stands for “massive open online course.” It’s “massive” because the online courses often enroll hundreds or even thousands of students per course. They are also massively open in terms of enrollment, allowing anyone interested in learning to sign up for free, which makes them openly available.

MOOCs are already a huge hit in rural communities and developing countries where access to traditional schools or education as a whole is limited or nonexistent. MOOCs are letting people educate themselves based on what they want to learn. It provides people all around the world with access to high-quality, community-based online classes without having to travel to a college campus, sit in a classroom, and, most importantly, pay tuition fees. Currently, MOOCs are being created with massive funding from participating universities and private for-profit businesses with the intent to keep the courses free to the learners.

Who likes MOOCs?
MOOCs are attracting stay-at-home parents who want to take real classes according to their own schedule. They help high school students take some college-level courses to stay challenged and business people take MOOCs to stay abreast of developments in their field which ultimately looks good on their resumes.

What do you get from MOOCs?
Some MOOCs offer certificates for course completion and there’s talk that in the near future, MOOC learners may be able to earn an entire online degree for free by completing an approved series of courses. Even employers are beginning to look at MOOCs in their hiring decisions.

Where are MOOCs?
Here’s a list of MOOCs you can check out:

An example of a successful MOOC is Coursera, a company founded by computer science professors Andrew Ngand Daphne Koller from Stanford University.[3] Coursera partners with various universities and makes a few of their courses available online free for a large audience. As of November 2012 more than 1,900,241 students from 196 countries have enrolled in at least one course.

Should we fear MOOCs?
Many academics worry that MOOCS will diminish the traditional face-to-face interactions students have with professors and do away with the classroom experience. They question the adequacy of the learning offered through MOOCs and whether it will take away from the well-rounded liberal arts education provided in undergraduate programs by encouraging students to become more skills-based in their studies. They’re also concerned that this style of learning will create fewer scholars or experienced instructors. And though MOOCs are currently free, it is possible that the very groups which have been creating the courses may begin charging for them once the market for this alternative mode of study has been proven successful. I think the biggest fear with MOOCs is with more people enrolling in these on-line courses, the traditional options of higher education may become fewer and even obsolete.

What do you think?

(For an interesting debate about MOOCs, check out this interview on KCRW’s “To the Point.”)

The Frustrated Evaluator

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Democratizing Higher Education: The Rapidly Changing Face of Online Learning

November 08, 2012

MSc ULOE Wordle

Imagine a world in which the best possible quality in higher education is available to all students, even those in the most remote parts of the planet, and you enter the world of MOOCs. There certainly has been a very intense buzz lately about the efficacy and future potential of MOOCs as the new wave in higher education reform. For those that don’t already know the moniker, MOCCs are “massive open online courses” offered by and in conjunction with some of the highest ranking, most elite universities in the U.S. The rapid rise of these online courses does not diminish the importance of institutions of higher learning, but it surely has begun to shake things up.

Up until now we characterized online learning as “non-traditional” however, there is a paradigm shift happening, as the undemocratic costs of higher learning have reached the breaking point. MOOCs offer a rapidly growing alternative. The trend is overwhelmingly gaining popularity as a way to level the playing field in a world where elite universities have the monopoly on the highest quality education at equally exorbitant prices.

And this is where it gets interesting. Many of the most respected and esteemed universities in the U.S. such as Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, U.C. Berkley and numerous others are involved in collaborative programs with developers to create new web-based interactive learning studies taught by award-winning professors and professionals at top levels in their respective fields. In addition, all of these courses are offered for free or a nominal fraction of the price. Suddenly, the highest quality of education becomes available to students around the globe. With the ability to source free online resources and open-sourced textbooks the price falls even further.

Want credits and a college degree?

Now that we understand the high points of MOOCs we can move onto the controversy surrounding online learning, which has been founded on the fact that although these courses teach an exceptionally high skill set, they do not push students any closer to an academic credential as they receive no official credits for course completion. But, things are changing. The next wave of learning-to- credits is being explored by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Richard DeMillo who is trying to put together a massive, open online seminar in conjunction with other universities, which will actually offer acceptable credits.

An interesting article on MOOCs appeared in September of this year on the website The Chronicle of Higher Education. In it the author Kevin Carey predicted that,”… Some accredited colleges—don’t forget, there are thousands of them—will start accepting MOOC certificates as transfer credit. They’ll see it as a tool for marketing and building enrollment. This is already starting to happen. The nonprofit Saylor Foundation recently struck a deal whereby students completing its free online courses can, for a small fee, take exams to earn credit at Excelsior College, a regionally accredited nonprofit online institution.”

It is interesting to note that Mr. Carey serves as the director of the education-policy program at the New America Foundation, a non-profit public policy institute, which describes itself as,“…New America emphasizes work that is responsive to the changing conditions and problems of our 21st Century information-age economy — an era shaped by transforming innovation and wealth creation, but also by shortened job tenures, longer life spans, mobile capital, financial imbalances and rising inequality.”

Providers such as edX, Coursera, Udacity, Class2Go, Khan Academy and Udemy are exploring how to translate students completed courses into campus credits, by using their earned MOOC credits as a substitute for Advanced Placement. There is also the idea that eventually these online courses will work their way into acceptable credits at universities, which will go towards a final degree. Not unlike the programs in place for transfer credits.

Who makes the money?

And let us not forget that people like profits! But what is fascinating here is that some of the burgeoning startup MOOC providers see eventual profits through creating a database of students who have taken online courses and helping them to get jobs by selling these lists of qualified students to recruiters in their specific geographical areas. Take an MIT course from your home computer in Mumbai and come away with the technical expertise needed to get a job right around the corner!

Connecting directly to these new provider platforms is the very idea that quality education is the most important way to enrich entire communities and to ensure that everyone prospers. This is really nothing new, though it seems to have been pushed to the back of the file drawer. An interesting paper appeared back in March of 2010 published by The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government/ University At Albany –State University of New York, titled A New Paradigm for Economic Development: How Higher Education Institutions Are Working to Revitalize Their Regional and State Economies, by David F. Shaffer and David J. Wright. In it they make the very clear point that,”…The twenty-first century paradigm, in contrast, is shifting toward putting knowledge first. For states, increasingly, that means connecting their higher education systems more closely to their economic development strategies.” For the entire paper see:

What about quality?

While there is no substitute for the valuable teacher-student interaction, many online courses have begun to make use of social platforms, which allow students to have real time chats, discussion boards, and the ability to set up meetings and join groups in their own communities. This might be one way to alleviate the isolation of online learning.

Many of these institutions have “virtual office hours” and specific online forums that enable students to ask and answer thought provoking questions. Compare this to the normal stadium seating-400 student- classrooms, where not everyone is able to ask a question and not everyone is able to follow at the same pace. The structure of these new online courses offered in multiple languages, allow accessibility to information, which is ever available and can always be replayed until it is understood. In addition, many of these courses use teaching assistants to monitor the various discussion boards as well.

Enter Digital Badges.

And finally a system is being developed in which electronic images or Badges would be earned for completed courses of study, which could follow students throughout their lifetimes, be displayed on various digital forums and used for college applications and later as résumés. These would actually serve as portals of information that students can use providing opportunities based on achievements and competency accrued in “earning their badges.” With companies such as Disney-Pixar, Intel and NASA, Carnegie Mellon and the Smithsonian– to name a few, currently working to develop digital badges, there is a good chance that securely acknowledging and crediting learning achievement is just around the corner.

The badges are going to be loaded with metadata which will include; why the badge was awarded, the skill or achievement it carries and which school or institution awarded it, the teacher who verified the badge, and even the score the student received on the final exam. The badges will carry the power to legitimize learning, which is taking place online, all the time, all over the world. It reinforces the fact that collaborative learning in the classroom and especially online, can be a life long pursuit, and there is no turning back the clock.

For more discussions about the changing nature of higher education check out:

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design / E:

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Adversity and Ingenuity: Partners in Creation

October 11, 2012

Human beings have shown amazing ingenuity in fashioning musical instruments, often in less than ideal conditions. Many of these instruments were conceived and designed by people at the bottom of the social spectrum, most of whom were slaves in the Americas. Here are four examples that demonstrate amazing creativity by people who managed to make very distinctive music:

1) Cuba: Claves
The claves, or rounded hardwood sticks, were fashioned from pegs used by slave shipbuilders in Havana and Matanzas. The rapacious Spanish had built so many ships to ferry trade (and slaves) in Seville that their forests were depleted. So they moved the shipbuilding to Havana, where the abundant forests offered superior hardwood. Hardwood supplies guaranteed ample ship production, and during construction pegs from Havana’s forests were used fasten the boat parts together (nails would have rusted and not been strong enough anyway).
Some smart slave workers picked up some pegs, hit them together, and there was the magic sound that has helped fuel the percussion section of great tropical Latin orchestras ever since. All this from discarded scraps left on the ground.









2) Trinidad and Tobago: Steel Drums

A similar phenomenon occurred in Trinidad and Tobago, where the big oil companies would discard large oil drums and let them rust. Sometimes the groups were named after the oil companies; a famous pan orchestra was called the Esso Steel Orchestra.
But the genesis of steel pans actually started long before the industrial revolution mandated the need for and production and distribution of oil. During the French Revolution of 1789–according to Wikipedia’s entry on steel pans–slaves working for French planters in Haiti and Martinique emigrated to Trinidad, before the British arrived. The West African slaves were not allowed to participate in Carnival, so they created their own parallel carnival festival, called canboulay. They used bamboo and other wooden sticks, beating on frying pans, trash can lids or whatever they could find. In 1880 percussion music was banned by the British colonial authorities.
Later, during the 1930s, however, finding discarded oil drums plentiful and cheap, black Trinidadians started using those. Steel bands became famous, a popular Carnival staple, and a magnet for tourists as well.
What is amazing here is that the instrument they crafted from a crude, dirty oil barrel became such a refined and sophisticated instrument. These instruments could play a three octave chromatic western scale. Today steel bands play music by Miles Davis, Beethoven, Brubeck, and Bach. I have recordings of both Handel’s and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, performed by a large orchestra of different-sized drums.
Whoever would have thought scrap metal could produce such a magical sound, one used in carnival celebrations ever since.










3) Brazil: Berimbau

The distinctively Brazilian berimbau actually descended from archers’ bows used by the pygmy hunter-gathers in Eastern Congo. When slaves went from Angola and Congo to Brazil, they re-fashioned these hunter’s bows, attaching a gourd and enlarging them. It is a most distinctive twang, and has been featured in northeastern Brazilian music, in capoeira, the martial arts dance, and the great Baden Powell and poet Vinicius de Moraes wrote a beautiful and famous song named after it.










4) Brazil: Forró: Triangle
I don’t know if the Brazilians in northeastern Brazil knew about the use of the triangle in European orchestras or as an instrument used to summon cowboys to dinner in western movies, but after the British started building railways in the 19th century, they left a lot of scrap iron around. Some enslaved blacksmith (Brazil only ended slavery in 1888, later than any other country) took some of this scrap metal, and beat it, shaped it, tempered and tuned it. The triangle has been used in Brazil ever since, especially in Pernambuco state, forming 1/3 of the rhythm section found in local bands (the other two instruments are the sanfona, or button accordion, and the surdu, or large drum).









These are just four examples of human ingenuity applied to music. There are countless other equally imaginative and remarkable examples in the other arts and sciences. It’s a phenomenon that distinguishes us homo sapiens and an occasion to celebrate our creative intelligence and endless imaginations.

Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Host of music program on radio for KCRW Sundays noon-2 p.m.
Blogs for KCRW
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

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The Voyager Spacecraft: Amazing, Musically & Otherwise, after 35 Years

June 28, 2012

The other night I hosted a dinner party. One of our guests worked at JPL. I brought out my copy of the box set Murmurs of Earth, published by Time Warner about 20 years ago. It’s one of the box sets I saved when moving and downsizing last summer, because it’s rare and amazing. Even the book’s dedication: ”To the Makers of Music—all worlds, all times” is astounding.

The Voyager Spacecraft has fascinated me, not because I have a scientific mind, but because there are so many interesting things about it. Among them are the fact that President Jimmy Carter wrote a letter, put on the time capsule aboard the spacecraft, that implied an awareness that otherworldly civilizations might be out there. Second, that there was a music soundtrack on the time capsule, put together by Carl Sagan and Alan Lomax, that included classical music, jazz, blues, and world music. Third, that Voyager is still out there, 40 million+ miles away, still pinging earth from deep space after 35 years.

Jimmy Carter once saw what he thought was a UFO. Perhaps that was his interest in becoming more involved with not only space exploration but with funding it as well. Whatever the case, The Voyager Spacecraft remains an amazing human feat, parlayed with amazing vision and with vast implications. I hope that extraterrestrials someday discover who we were, what we were made out of, what earth was like, and perhaps even discover a Scott Joplin rag, some Bach or Louis Armstrong, or even some Southern blues by Blind Willie Johnson, all permanently encoded on the gold record in the time capsule aboard the craft.

Voyager Spacecraft Statement by the President.

Jimmy Carter UFO

Here is a link to the contents of the Voyager Golden Record:

Here is Blind Willie Johnson’s song “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” which is now way out in the universe for other beings to enjoy and frame a picture of us earthlings.

Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Host of music program on radio for KCRW Sundays noon-2 p.m.
Blogs for KCRW
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

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1, 2, 3: Delivering information to students around the world

January 20, 2012

Tanzanian Classroom

Billy Wilder used film as a vehicle for raising social awareness in the hilariously acerbic comedy, “One, Two, Three” which took place in Post-War Berlin. Art imitates life full tilt here as the Germans erected the Berlin Wall during filming. Wilder was a bit daring for this time period of extreme social unrest and change on the heels of WWII. Exactly! Making a strong social statement that has the power and potential to reach people and provoke heart-felt reactions is to say the least difficult. It is uncomfortable to see the extreme suffering and inequality in the world 24/7. Where once people could feign innocence by pleading that they had no idea what was going on that is hardly the reality today. In the film, James Cagney’s heel-clicking male secretary Schlemmer, responds to Cagney’s question, “Just between us Schlemmer, what did you do during the war?” Schlemmer responds, “..I had no idea what was going on above ground…”

As an art form, film is an extremely powerful media, and used in a certain way, it has the ability to reach into our hearts and connect us to the very things inside ourselves that can be energized to promote social justice and change. Social media in general and the availability of film on the Internet is an exciting, vital and instantaneous result of the digital media revolution. It offers a chance to address one of the biggest dilemmas facing education; how can we deliver information on an equal and just level to all students around the world, around countries, states, cities a villages? How can we engage students and keep them excited and enthusiastic about learning? The way I see it is not quite as simple as 1, 2, 3, but that might be a good device with which to get started.

1. Bring History into the Present

A beautiful example of this was the newly released Black Power Mixtape a fascinating and revealing documentary of the Black Power Movement in America, from 1967-1975. The footage was created by Swedish journalists and edited together after having been recently found in the basement of a Swedish television station.

The history of that seminal movement may be new to some, but the subject matter is not. Martin Luther King Jr. day just passed, and it is still hard to reconcile the fact that racial and gender discrimination are both sadly alive and well. On a recent show on KPFK’s Democracy Now, Amy Goodman held a discussion on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. day to discuss the mass Incarceration of Black Americans. She quoted Michelle Alexander who revealed a startling fact, “…there are more African Americans percentage-wise imprisoned in the United States, more black people, than were at the height of apartheid South Africa.” How could I not know this fact?

I grew up in California, and was extremely fortunate to receive the best possible education while attending public school. Mind you, it was in Beverly Hills, so that sort of removes it from comparison to any other public educational institutions. My first year in High School, 1970, was the first year of busing for the school. In my high school, of course it was one-way busing. I’ll explain. Busing, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, was the forced busing of students from one part a city to another, as a means to de-segregate schools, and was a direct result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. All over America the cities themselves were and to a great degree, and still are, racially segregated. School districts lines were intentionally created to segregate schools and were often, (see Jim Crow laws) conscious efforts to send black and in Los Angeles, Mexican children, to inferior schools. But they did not “bus” the wealthier white kids to the schools in the poorer communities of color, all that way across town. We never talked about that as students; we just went on about our integrated lives while taking courses such as “Black Studies” and “Native American Studies.”

I don’t remember which class it was in, but we were shown the 1955 film Nacht und Nebel (“Night and Fog)” by Alain Resnais. It was an absolutely horrifying experience as a documentary short film about the horrors of the Nazi Concentration Camps. I never forgot those two words.

2.Global Partnership in Technology

If the goal is to educate, truly, and disseminate knowledge and history so relevant to our world today, why not use the technology so readily available, to bring education to everyone? Using digital technology, we have a chance to bring education infused with energy and excitement to, just about everyone! Give students of all ages a chance to learn by doing, and by example. Use film and digital video to break down the inequality in education that exists not only in 3rd world villages, but also in some of the wealthiest communities in the leading countries of the world. A very inspiring and successful example of this is The Bridgeit Program in Tanzania. Educational video content is available via mobile technology to 150 rural primary schools in Tanzania. Classrooms have large computer monitors and from mobile phones, teachers can select from a wide variety of lessons, some of them tailored to fit their local area and address local issues. Nokia, Nokia Siemens Networks, the Vodacom Foundation, and the Pearson Foundations are in partnership with the International Youth Foundation and the Tanzanian Ministry of Education, to make this advanced technology possible. There you go. If that can happen in Tanzania, there is no reason whatsoever that cannot happen everywhere.

3. Get Corporations Involved

Now that we have the media attention, why not get creative and come up with ways that global corporations might participate, and clean up their image a bit? The International Youth Foundation has partnered again with, believe it or not, Starbucks TM. Starbucks TM has created The Starbucks TM Youth Action Grants Program, which makes funding available with grants of approx. $10,000 each. These grants directly support the efforts of young people around the world, enabling and encouraging them to become innovators and increase their skills in order to improve their lives, communities and expand their ability to make a difference on a global scale. Take Plan B, Kenya, one of the 2011 grant recipients. They are using video art to energize active interest among students on college campuses in Kenya, surrounding the issues in the 2012 elections.

Perhaps the joy and delight I have found in learning new things has its basis in my early educational years. The excitement of traveling the highways of our minds, finding ourselves stimulated and enriched while on a voyage of discovery–– is a gift that should be given to all children, to people of all ages and all walks of life. Only by becoming fully aware can we hope to be engaged participants in our own lives and in the world. What a wonderful thing to help children find their own path, and have the courage and self-esteem to walk on it. How different the world would look.

“Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” ~Malcolm Forbes

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design / E:

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