Over the past several years, the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) and the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT-K) have joined to build massive open online courses (MOOCs). The lead figures from each organization are Dr. Balaji Venkataraman of COL and Prof. TV Prabhakar of IIT-K. They have fused their backgrounds in agriculture and sustainable development, and computer engineering, respectively, to create novel MOOCs that serve purposes far different than those that have been popularized in North America over the last several years.
Led by Balaji and Prabhakar, COL and IIT-K launched their first joint MOOC, Mobiles for Development (M4D) in the fall, 2013. The six-week course aimed to provide participants with an overview of mobile phones as devices that could augment sustainable development through areas such as agriculture, healthcare, communication and teacher education. The course was unique in that it jointly focused content on social and technical aspects. By addressing some of the social issues faced in many parts of the emerging world, participants utilized the content knowledge they acquired to program mobile phones to develop novel applications (Perris, 2013). The course attracted 2,282 learners from 116 countries, of which 1,441 were deemed active. 333 participants, or 23% of active enrolment, earned a certificate of competence or participation, depending on extent of participation (Porter, 2014).
The course is an example of a paradigm being framed as MOOCs for Development. The Commonwealth of Learning has adopted this tagline as part of its mission to widen access to learning by leveraging technology for open and distance learning (MOOC on MOOCs, 2014a). Another example of COL’s involvement in MOOCs for Development occurred in New Delhi in March, 2014, where COL and the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences convened a meeting under the heading, “MOOCs for Capacity Building in Indian Agriculture“. A reflection of broader appeal to this paradigm occurred in April 2014 where the first conference on MOOCs for Development was held and jointly organized by the University of Pennsylvania and UNESCO (University of Pennsylvania, 2014). The themes of the conference centred on MOOCs and associated trends, MOOCs and inclusion, and MOOCs and pointed areas of sustainable development such as health and teacher training. Balaji was one of approximately 60 invited speakers to the conference held in Philadelphia.
The focus of the MOOCs for Development paradigm is diverse. Partnering with mainstream MOOC providers such as Coursera and edX has occurred in Africa (Trucano, 2013; Heinlein, 2014), China (Coursera, 2013; edX, 2013), and elsewhere (Fastcompany, 2014). These advocates are seeking to use MOOCs as one means to meet an unmet demand for higher learning among their domestic populations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India has now famously been quoted for his position on MOOCs. At the BRICS summit in July, 2014, he stated he, “could also consider establishing massive open online courses for making quality education accessible to all,” (India Today, 2014) cited under his slogan for India of Skill, Scale, and Speed (Chaudhari, 2014).
Like the M4D course, the MOOC on MOOCs course, which is the focus of this evaluation report, offers another approach under the MOOCs for Development paradigm. The idea of replicating the university experience to satisfy intellectual curiosity or to pursue a credential is not the focus of these courses. Instead, these MOOCs provide training and skill development with the intent of participants being able to apply knowledge and skill to solve pressing issues primarily in the space of sustainable development.