Want to Launch an Online Courses Business?

online learningHaving spent so many years in education, the idea of trying to launch an online courses business  has never really been on my mind. What would you need to start an online courses business?

I would assume that almost all your concerns and needs would parallel the ones we have in education. It came to mind when I saw a post meant for someone who did want to "Launch a Successful Online Courses Business and offers podcast episodes collected about some of those concerns.

In academia, we strive to attract students. A business model would want to attract clients. But most concerns are similar. For example, you would need to create or choose a learning management system. You would need to explore all the online pedagogy that has emerged the past digital decades. For example, online educators have moved towards shorter courses using 
smaller units. One of the podcasts is on Ways You Can Shorten Your Course which includes “chunking.” Chunking means dividing information into small pieces and grouping them together so they can be stored and processed more easily by learners. That is the kind of design and pedagogy that has come from studying how online learners process information. The way the brain observes and processes information is limited by our working memory's limited ability to process large amounts of data at the same time.

Having spent twenty years launching online courses in higher education, I don't envy anyone starting an online business, but you can certainly build on the work that has been done and have an easier time of it.

Checking Accesibility

designLast week, I wrote about a ruling against a university by the Department of Justice for not making its free content online fully accessible. I thought that today I should share some resources you can use to evaluate web materials for accessibility.
You might maintain web pages, including things like blogs and online course materials, and if you're not concerned about making sure they’re accessible for everyone, including people with disabilities, you should.
One easy to use accessibility-checking tool is a browser-based one called the WAVE Accessibility Extension. It is available for Firefox and for Chrome at WAVE Chrome Extension. There is also a WAVE Help site.
The ProfHacker blog has done some interesting posts on accessibility topics, from general ones like User-Friendly Advice for Accessible Web Design and How to Evaluate Your Web Pages for Accessibility to one that I think is a good test to try out with students if you're discussing this topic - To Test for Accessibility, Try Navigating Without Your Mouse.   

Why Create and Use Open Educational Resources?

open textbooksI'm currently working on redesigning courses to use only Open Educational Resources (OER). Ever since I have worked in higher ed, whenever I have discussed open resources that are offered for free some faculty will always ask "Why do people create these things for no money?"
Most of us do our work and create our "intellectual property" (some of which is called that isn't really IP) in order to make money, and in academia to gain promotion and tenure too.
Some of the main motivations for creating OER are the same as the reasons for using OER. In my current project at a community college, we are trying to create course that save students money. Ideally, the course has no cost after students pay their tuition. The biggest cost is almost always textbooks, so using free, open textbooks is important.
I feel that too much course design is based on the textbook used, so OER redesign offers an opportunity for real course redesign. 
On the pedagogical side, open textbooks solve the problem of students simply not buying the book and trying to get by without it. I taught in secondary school for years and all the textbooks were free and I will always say that a free book does not solve the problem of students who do not read the books.
We also know through many studies that students who are strapped for money often choose courses when possible based on low or no cost for textbooks.
Students get annoyed when a professor only uses a small part of the textbook. Using open textbooks allows us to select the sections that we really want to use. Many OER courses use portions of several texts - a few chapters from one and a few from another.
If you not totally happy with the content in an truly open textbook, you can edit it yourself. You can add your own content, add your own images. Of course, in most cases those edits also have to be made open to others to use. I think of an open textbook as a starting point.
Which brings us to the point that creating an OER course takes work. Finding resources is very time-consuming. Editing them is work. If you do it, you do it for your students, for education and for a love of learning that you want to share with the world.
OER creators don't usually make money from their efforts, although there are platforms that offer resources in printed formats for a price. But creators can get recognition and exposure for their efforts and that can sometimes help in the job-hunting and promotion and tenure processes.

Making Educational Content Accessible

disability symbols
You might have read earlier this year that the University of California, Berkeley started removing more than 20,000 video and audio lectures from public view that they had made freely available online. Why? It was the result of a Justice Department accessibility order requiring them to make the educational content accessible to people with disabilities.
UC Berkeley was one of the colleges in the forefront of posting to YouTube, iTunes U and their own webcast.berkeley.edu site. Accessibility for people with a wide variety of disabilities has been an issue with online courses for many years. Mostly, schools have "gotten away with it" when it comes to following requirements that largely came into focus primarily after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990.
It's curious that the Justice Department’s investigation did not look at how Berkeley actually serves students with disabilities, but only the accessibility of content it offers to the public. As a result of this order the university will also require users sign in with University of California credentials to view or listen to them.
This is a scary ruling for other institutions who have been "getting away with it" and now may have to do the same as UC. 
All it took was complaints from two employees of Gallaudet University, the world's only university designed to be barrier-free for deaf and hard of hearing students. The employees said that Berkeley’s free online educational content was inaccessible to blind and deaf people because of a lack of captions, screen reader compatibility and other issues.
Unfortunately, to remedy these issues any university would need to implement measures that are very expensive to continue to make these resources available to the public. Since they were offered for free, there is really no business model that applies here other than charity. So, the immediate solution was to make them "inaccessible" to everyone by removing them. 
Berkeley can continue to offer massive open online courses on edX. They also plan to create new public content that is accessible.
One concern that many educators have is that this ruling will result in the disappearance of much Open Educational Resources.

Don't Fire the Humans Yet

human intelligence
AI is the thing everyone wants to use. Social media is in love with artificial intelligence. Of course, much as the cry went up when computers first appeared, some people say that "AI will take our jobs."
Facebook has almost 2 billion users. Those users post a lot of content. Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear that live video is a big part of the future of Facebook. But the company has come in for a lot of criticism for violent video posted this year, including murder and suicide.
How does Facebook (and other social media companies) decide what content violates its community standards? They all are desperately implementing and experimenting with AI, but they still rely mostly on humans.
Facebook announced recently that it is using an AI system designed to identify users contemplating suicide or self-harm. How? By using pattern recognition to determine if a post and its comments resemble previous posts identified as being about self-harm. Facebook is also including clearer options for reporting posts that appear to indicate self-harm. It is people reporting to people who determine inappropriateness.
AI-based image-recognition tools that users can use are assisting human moderators now. Can the 54,000 potential cases of sexually related extortion and revenge porn reportedly posted each month can be found and deleted by AI? Not yet. 
Did you see the film Hidden Figures ? In the early 1960s, the mathematicians working at NASA were called "computers" - people who did computations. But those human computers also saw the entry of IBM mainframes into NASA that were better  computers. They realized they would need to become the humans who could program those electronic computers if they wanted to keep working. Take note Facebook and other companies - and anyone who wants to work for those companies: AI requires human intelligence. 
After 2 murders were broadcast live on Facebook in April. Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company would add 3000 employees to the already 4500 employees who work on their Community team reviewing reports on videos. Live video is growing rapidly online, and Facebook Live is a service with 1.9 billion monthly users to broadcast video. Lawmakers in Germany and the UK have also been pressuring social networks to better remove illegal hate speech and clamp down on fake news. The 3000 new workers will monitor all Facebook content not just live videos. This team would operate around the world and will most likely be virtual contract employees.
Just last week, Facebook's "leaked" guidelines for dealing with these types of situations became public that hopefully can make a big difference in preventing suicide and other life-threatening situations.  


"Rather than build its own brick-and-mortar branch campuses, the University of Arizona is embarking on a plan to open more than 25 “microcampuses” at international partner universities over the next three years, creating a network that it hopes will be capable of educating more than 25,000 students around the globe. Arizona’s plan is for each of the microcampuses to offer at least one, and in most cases several, dual-degree programs in which degrees are conferred by both Arizona and a partner university. Each microcampus will be housed at the partner university, which agrees to provide classrooms and a UA-branded space. announcing its next 11 planned microcampuses, where it hopes to begin offering dual-degree programs with its partner universities in 2018." 

Read full article at https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/05/23/arizona-embarks-plan-develop-25-global-microcampuses