Degree of Freedom

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As the Inaugural Visiting Fellow at HarvardX, my mission over the six months while “embedded” with the HX team involves exploring how to maximize the effectiveness of assessments and other student assignments within Harvard’s growing catalog of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

When looking for precedents regarding the symbiosis between technology and education, one could go back to the Protestant Reformation in sixteenth-century Europe when a new communication technology, the printing press, became associated with a theology that stressed personal study of the bible, which the new printing technology made more widely available. This historic combination created the need for a more widely literate public, a need that could be met only by expanding education beyond clerics and aristocrats.

In this volume in the Essential Knowledge series, Jonathan Haber offers an account of MOOCs that avoids both hype and doomsaying. Instead, he provides an engaging, straightforward explanation of a rare phenomenon: an education innovation that captures the imagination of the public while moving at the speed of an Internet startup. Haber explains the origins of MOOCs, what they consist of, the controversies surrounding them, and their possible future role in education.