Paying Closer Attention to MOOCs : A Recent Visit and Tour of HarvardX

“It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.”

-Winston Churchill

The Beginning of  a Blog Focused on Futuristic Thinking…

Let me preface this inaugural blog post by stating I used to be a better blogger. One of my first blogs was here, with the ominous title of Cosmic Thoughts. It was a hodge-podge of random thoughts while I was a PhD student trying to finish a dissertation. I created original (“minimalist”) cartoons and posted them, described dreams, and contemplated my punk rock attitudeMy second blog, more professional, started around the same time, as a PhD Student at UT Austin in the Language and Literacy Studies program. Inspired in 2004 by a plenary speech by Colin Lankshear and Michelle Knobel at NRC (now Literacy Research Association), “From Pencilvania to Pixelandia: Mapping the Terrain of New Literacies Research”, I eagerly became a blogger.  Then I quit. I am committing now to becoming a better and more regular blogger.

The title of this blog, Virtual Gadfly comes from both my roots as an undergraduate philosophy major in Southern California and also from being a lifelong question-poser. My own thinking is primarily grounded in Vygotsky, a passion for the study of new literacies, and a desire to make an impact on the ways we teach, learn, and think about knowledge and knowledge-sharing. I am not a knowledge hoarder or a knowledge guardian; instead, I am intentionally a knowledge-sharer, a bringer, and a facilitator. This blog will explore emerging topics and ideas related to the use of technology in higher education, mainly, with further blog posts relating to ideas broadly related to K-12 learning.

Let’s get started….

HarvardX Tour

Harvard. My blogging about my previous trip to Harvard to do historical research at Gutman Library on a fellowship in 2009 can be found by clicking here, but onwards to ideas gleaned from this recent trip.  June 30-July 2, I attend the Learning Analytics Summer Institute (LASI) 2014 at Harvard hosted by SOLAR (Society for Learning Analytics Research). Recently, the Learning Innovations and Networked Knowledge Lab (LINK) was launched at The University of Texas at Arlington where I am an assistant professor of Curriculum and Instruction. In the process of my affiliation with the LINK Lab, with director Laurel Mayo and executive director, George Siemens, I began paying closer attention to George’s Twitter posts where I learned about LASI 2014. (Lesson 1 from the LINK Lab experience–follow highly networked people on Twitter!). At the very end of LASI, there was an optional tour of HarvardX. What is HarvardX? Their website states:

“HarvardX is a bold experiment to push the boundaries of learning through re-imagined teaching, unprecedented research, and cutting-edge technology for Harvard students and learners everywhere.”

Here I share photos of that tour and my thoughts on some of what I saw and learned. Many lessons were learned but here are a few, now that I am back in the Metroplex.

Lesson 1 from HarvardX Tour: Write on the Walls (if you paint them first with IdeaPaint)

Design spaces with IdeaPaint all over the walls are really cool and a good idea. How can we do that at UT Arlington?? Many of the walls at HarvardX are covered with this magnificent, specially installed paint where course designers and others involved with this process can write on the walls. Just today at  the LINK Lab, we were discussing the fabulousness of IdeaPaint and how to do something similar, even if with large white boards. While we spoke I imagined what I would write on the walls. What is it about blank white walls that encourages knowledge sharing? I think it’s an exciting idea and I hope writing ideas on walls happens one day at UT Arlington.

Catching an inside glimpse into HarvardX.
Catching an inside glimpse into HarvardX.

Lesson 2 from HarvardX Tour: One Centralized Video Production Space is a Good Use of Resources

To use an overused phrase, why “reinvent the wheel” in terms of having multiple production spaces when one really really good one can be put in place? I was impressed with the video production space in the ground floor of the Widener Library. Here is the video production studio. I was pleased to hear they use an iPad-based teleprompter app. This year I hope to gain new skills beyond my Do-it-Yourself video production into more professional-looking videos.

Video Production Studio
Video Production Studio

Lesson 3 from HarvardX Tour: The Three R’s are Thought-Provoking

HarvardX has a “Three R” focus: Reach [large numbers of students], Research [studying their own MOOCs and learning from the data], and I believe the third was “Reciprocate for Residential”, meaning that they took what was innovative and effective about the MOOC style of teaching and took it back to the face-to-face classroom (e.g., using video to teach technical points) as ways to innovate in the traditional classroom. I especially liked the last R!

Lesson 4 from HarvardX Tour: A Very Traditional University is Adapting to Emergent Technologies

The pic with the quote below sums up a wise approach to teaching and learning. “Knowledge is…the most important current of the 21st century.” -Drew Faust, President, Harvard University.

HarvardX Quote


That is all for now about HarvardX. Much more was learned! Stay tuned for more blog posts on my journey with the LINK Lab, learning how to use SmartGlasses, wanting to become a cyborg, what I’m reading, my take on EduPunk, and more!


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