Collaboration as The Key to Learning

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This photo shows students in an Internet cafe in Ghana
taking part in a NovoEd MOOC. One of Dr. Saberi’s
colleagues shot the photo by chance while there.

For Dr. Amin Saberi of Stanford University, online learning is really about getting students to collaborate in order to learn more and more effectively. To that end, he and his partners have started a company and developed NovoEd, the first truly collaborative platform for colleges to use in offering online education or MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).

The platform, which started as Venturelab at Stanford is now going ahead and gathering steam. A recent NovoEd MOOC in Spanish saw 80,000 participants and a current course is looking to sign up 50,000 students by the time it starts on July 8th. But why so much momentum? Saberi said this is because the NovoEd courses, “Shift the spotlight back onto the student and unlock their own creative power.” How? By stressing the four Cs: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking.

This differs from traditional “mastery” learning that generally consists of lectures, tests and assignments that repeat until a students shows mastery of the subject matter. “That’s only part of the education,” said Saberi. His approach is project-based, “It’s designed with teamwork in mind,” he added. “We think that’s what leads to higher engagement and higher retention.”

Saberi said NovoEd came about in 2012 after a colleague approached him to help create an online course about entrepreneurship that required the students to work together on projects. Over 80,000 students in more than 150 countries participated in that first course, so he obviously had found a winning combination. In fact, several student groups got the chance to pitch their final ideas to Silicon Valley angel investor groups after the course ended. After he developed the platform, more courses came online and it now looks like more colleges are interested too, with an official announcement coming in August.

But the actual coursework is only part of the equation. Using a social networking model, Saberi thinks, “People you get to know, the networks you create,” will prove to be a huge asset even after the course ends. “Education is what you take with you when you forget the content,” he said, indicating that skills like networking, collaboration, team building, and so on, are the true goals.

And what comes next for what many are calling the next evolutionary step in higher education? “We are investing heavily to make the social and collaborative aspect stronger,” said Saberi.  “Creating an environment for students to do their own thing,” is what he truly wants to do.

He made the point that because MOOC students come from all over the world, the final projects that they create will end up very different and reflect their unique needs and experiences. This is opposite from a traditional course where many final projects are very similar. The key is to make the learning work in the context that the student, no matter the location or society, can put into practice.

One other thing that sets these courses apart is that early MOOCs were basically just recorded lectures that were put online. These courses feature a great deal of live and interactive content and that will likely grow more as things evolve. Another future plan is to have more classes in Spanish including one that is currently being taught just in English called Design Thinking Action Lab. The teacher is a native Spanish speaker and may give the course in Spanish at a later date. If you’d like to learn more about NovoEd, have a look at their website.

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