Online Education Club Proposal


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Original proposal for Online Education Club-- Created December 2012.

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Online Education Club Proposal

  1. 1. Online Education Club Accessible Online Education Online Education Club provides accessible online education, one class at a time. Online Education Club solves the biggest problem with online education‟s capability to educate the world: Despite its low costs, few can access it because of lower educational standards and English skills. Why? We believe every person has the right to have the same quality education wherever they live in the world and should have the opportunity to learn as much as he or she is willing. How? We use innovative educational technology to create learning communities within the developing world. What? A tutoring service that makes online education accessible to every person across the world. The Online Education Club (OEC) organizes learning and teaching communities to bring the world‟s best universities, classes, and professors to Azerbaijan. The past year has seen unprecedented advancements in the quality and affordability of online education with the mass production of MOOCs—Massive Open Online Courses. MOOCs are singular classes that are not tied to any degree or certificate. Their online status makes them open to a potentially unlimited number of students and some classes had had over 100,000 students sign up. Three organizations, Coursera, Education X, and Udacity are the pioneers of this second wave of online educational innovations but the field of online course providers is growing daily.1 It will not be a stretch to say that an Ivy League education will soon be available for free, online. These classes are available for free to anyone who has access to internet. The motivations of universities offering these classes include a genuine desire to extend educational access throughout the world, experimentation in improving the education on their own campuses (through the „flipped‟ classroom model), and the strategic need to maintain (or increase) their global reputation. Regardless of motivation, Coursera has grown from partnering with 4 universities and offering 20 classes in the spring of 2012 to currently offering over 200 classes from 33 universities. Education X, originally a partnership between MIT and Harvard now includes the University of California at Berkley, the Texas University System, Wellesley College, and has partnerships with several community colleges. Its spring offering includes 15 classes and class selection is set to grow in 2013. Udacity offers nineteen courses and has focused on mathematical sciences, entrepreneurship and computer science. All this means that anyone in Azerbaijan with internet access and advanced English skills has a whole new world of education available to them. Unfortunately, all of the classes are in English, limiting the number of beneficiaries to those with relatively high-level English skills—quite a small percentage of the population in most developing countries including Azerbaijan. 1 Other MOOC sites in various stages of development: Canvas Network-- Coursersites-- Desire2learn-- I Tunes U-- and of course Khan Acadamy-
  2. 2. Those using MOOCs in the developing world may be simultaneously amazed by their potential and pessimistic about their actual impact. These MOOC platforms are amazing tools, but they must be combined with on the ground interventions in order to make them relevant beyond the highest educated members of society. The biggest problem with online education‟s capability to educate the world is language, lower overall educational standards, and the lack of support for students and professionals who want to improve themselves. For example, El Salvadorian professor of electronics Carlos Martinez, who began using EdX‟s Circuits and Electronics class to teach students after taking the class himself, blogged, “I am fearing MOOC will have a very little impact in developing countries” ( The university administration has thus far not been supportive of his attempts to introduce online education into the classroom. So how does Online Education Club help? The goal of Online Education Club is to make online education accessible to diverse populations outside of the English-speaking world. OEC adds in-person meetings and class facilitation to make education accessible for many more people—anyone with a desire to learn and above intermediate English knowledge. By building learning communities and facilitating classes with class leaders, OEC helps overcome many of the problems of language and motivation. 1. Facilitation OEC will develop a group of tutors who are interested in leading classes. Here we stress lead because a common concern is that the person needs to be an expert in the subject to teach. Based on experience, the ability to understand all of the material and the time spent preparing for lessons will be more than enough to lead discussion with all levels of learners. Tutors will have to prepare material such as study guides, power points, or discussion questions prior to the lessons to aid understanding. This requires a serious time commitment, somewhere between 10-15 hours per week. Not many people have that much free time, so tutors will work in groups of two or even three to prepare classes. Not only will they have more fun preparing classes with their friends, colleagues, or that professor who they always wanted to work with, but the class will be richer for having multiple perspectives. Tutors also do not have to be experts in the subject. The most important qualifications is their belief in the mission of open education, English language ability, and previous experience with coursework in Europe and the U.S. They will take the course alongside the students—they are students and tutors at the same time. The main responsibility of the tutors is to organize meetings at least once a week, provide materials such as study guides and notes to help understanding, and to lead discussions. Each class is the initiative of the tutors who sign up to lead it. While minimum quality standards will be upheld, we expect tutors to put in the extra effort. This can mean anything from organizing peer grading of quizzes and exams (in addition to the grading occurring online) to even undertaking group projects utilizing principles from the class. 2. Institutionalization Institutionalization would significantly help the project for several reasons: reputability, scale, innovation, motivation. 2
  3. 3. Reputability and Branding: Organizations such as the Baku American Center, U.S. Embassy, Education USA, IREX, AAA, the CRRC, and others legitimize the project in the eyes of students. These organizations have deep reach in terms of recruiting both the first wave of potential learners and class tutors and have a long history of providing educational resources and preparing students for study abroad. Legitimacy helps improve student motivation because they feel that the work they put into the classes confer some sort of recognition and future benefit. With 10 students and one facilitator the class feels like it is on an island and it is hard to connect the class to its future impact. The knowledge that there are three, six, ten other courses happening at the same time, seeing other people‟s posts on Facebook or their leftover notes on the white board will positively impact motivation for both tutors and learners. Scale: The more people involved in the project and carrying its message, the faster we will be able to find willing tutors and the faster the club will grow. As the number of tutors in the pool grow, the more flexible they can be. Some people will not want to teach class after class so we need to have more than two tutors for each class we want the project to be sustainable in the long run. Scale also creates the possibility for innovation. Again, with a class of 10 it is difficult to do any translations. But if five facilitators are interested in the same class, and they each have 10-15 students, all of the sudden it becomes easy to create Azeri language subtitles for the course videos, possibly make outlines of the readings in Azeri, or add examples, projects, and information that is more relevant to Azerbaijan. This material can be gathered on an open Facebook page or free Moodle platform and made available to any professor in Azerbaijan. Scale and innovation are also intricately linked to the future growth of the project. Through an agreement with Cousera and the Universities involved, OEC could conceivably offer its own certificates for these courses or proctor Coursera exams in Azerbaijan, allowing Coursera and the universities involved to more confidently give class credit for these MOOCs. OEC could set up a system where it gives certificates for taking a semester‟s worth (four) or a year‟s worth (8) of classes, not only giving learners something to strive for, but adding a practical payoff for sticking with the classes. For example, taking four classes, passing the exam administered by the OEC, and receiving Coursera certificates could be marketed as the equivalent of a semester of study abroad. Students can then be sent to the BEIC, where they would need minimal help in applying to oversees programs on their own while professionals could have something for their resume. Professionals could also be connected to trainings or resources on how to make a professional resume. The legitimacy afforded by reputable institutions, the connections created through a community of learners, and the increased offerings available due to scale serve to increase motivation for students to stick with the classes and put in serious effort. This also increases motivation of the tutors. With increased motivation and a sense that the OEC delivers real benefits, OEC can start thinking about revenue generation and sustainability. Tutors should be compensated, the organization can be developed in terms of agreements with MOOC providers and Universities, and classes can be moved into universities and expanded outside of Baku. In the future, MOOCs can be adapted into Azeri to make them truly accessible to the entire population. Just as MOOC providers such as Coursera are currently searching for revenue generating strategies, OEC will also have to come up with a way of making money while maintaining affordable access for all students. Making money off free, open source content requires negotiations with the MOOC providers, but the OEC could foreseeably become self-sustaining, even make money. Can anyone say social entrepreneurship? Market
  4. 4. Whereas, currently online education is only available to the very advanced English speaker (in reality probably much fewer than 2% of the population) OEC makes online education available to not just Advanced but Intermediate English speakers: Total Age: 18-35 Higher than Secondary education Advanced 2 Intermediate 7 Beginner 14 None 76 3 7 12 18 21 34 64 39 English Language Knowledge: 2011 Caucasus Barometer from CRRC That is an increase from 2% of the population to 9% and from 3% of people between 18 to 35 to 15%. That‟s between a 450% and 500% increase in potential beneficiaries. Sustainability Sustainability is a central goal of any project. Though this can be debated, we would like to start with volunteer tutors at first for several reasons. Volunteers are people passionate about the project, people that it can be built around. We want to identify them, draw them in, have them grow the project, and give them a sense of accomplishment and meaning that they may not find in their day jobs. Secondly, the beauty of this project and with social entrepreneurship in general, is the concept of doing less with more. OEC requires no investment in technology—the online platforms including discussion forums, videos, curriculums, readings have already been created. It requires no investment in developing courses—the courses have already been made by some of the world‟s best professors and formatted and posted through hours of hard work by others. It doesn‟t even technically require a set classroom, though a central location would help. With volunteer tutors, the cumulative gross burn (expenses, assuming zero revenue) would be zero. On the other hand, gaining a staring grant would allow us to provide stipends to tutors, possibly very important to getting the project off the ground. The question would be how much would be enough to really motivate tutors and what would be the relationship between the grantee and OEC. Ideally, the organizations involved, whether partners or donors, would have a very close relationship with OEC, contributing not only money but also actively working themselves to ensure its success. A fear with receiving donor funds is that organizations may feel like they have contributed and become less involved with contributing ideas and manpower to the project. We believe that the main input needed at this stage is the work of dedicated individuals who share the belief that the same quality education should be accessible to everyone in the world. The real test of this project is whether enough of these people can be found. Work Plan 1. Start with getting the word out to all of your friends and acquaintances—whoever you think would be interested. 2. Lets plan a meeting organized by CRRC, AAA, and the Embassy to bring together foreign educated alumni, interested international NGOs and multilateral organizations, and teachers and academics to present the project idea and sign up those interested to teach classes.
  5. 5. 3. Depending on the success of the meeting, we can make further presentations to AUKAA, AAA, OSI alum, and other possible tutors, as well as present the ideas to students at different universities across Baku. 4. By January we should plan to have a group of 12 tutors who have committed to teach 6 classes starting in January. We will hold an orientation to get input and provide more information on what to expect and how to prepare. 5. Over thirty classes are starting January, meet-ups will be held in either the University of Language‟s American Center, or the CRRC for classes related to public policy. 6. Recruitment of new tutors and students will continue using resources of all the organizations brought on board. 7. Partner organizations should create a management group for OEC to lead coordination of classes, PR efforts, and further development of the organization.