Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Meet the consultants - An interview with Jérémie Sicsic and Yannick Petit

In the midst of the Massive Open Online Courses revolution, institutions are racing to bring their courses online. France has so far been left behind, Unow is a small French startup planning on changing that.
The Good MOOC interviews Unow’s co-founders Jérémie Sicsic (JS) and Yannick Petit (YP).

  • Can you introduce yourselves?

JS: Hi, I’m Jeremie, co-founder of Unow, the first French startup specialized in MOOCs.

YP: And I’m Yannick. We both hold a master degree from EMLYON Business School. We started Unow six months ago to help universities and more generally higher education players to craft the best MOOCs.

  • Can you describe how you first heard about MOOCs?

YP: Sure. Back in 2010, before the main MOOC platforms got started,  I was looking for online resources to learn computer sciences. I quickly discovered OpenCourseWare material and I started the class CS50, which is the introductory computer sciences class at Harvard (and also one of the most popular courses). I was impressed by the quality of the content and it was clearly the best learning experience of my entire education.  How could it be possible such resources were totally open and free, for both students or teachers to use, reuse and remix ?

JS: I guess that’s how we later decided on the subject of our Master thesis : “Open Educational Resources, overview of a nascent revolution”. We wanted to understand the barriers and motivations for higher education actors to join in the movement. Around the same time, Coursera and edX launched and it became clear that MOOC could be the sparkle the Open Education movement needed to expand .

  • Can you explain Unow's business model?

JS: Unow is a service provider for universities and companies, specialized in MOOC conception. We have two areas of expertise : instructional design, which means helping teachers to design the MOOC syllabus, creating the resources and activities, and also animating the class (forum moderation, live video sessions, social networks...) because it’s a key ingredient to the design of “a good MOOC” ! We wrote a white paper on this topic.

Secondly, we provide software solutions to host MOOC on open source platforms such as Canvas LMS. We are really excited with the release of edX, and we aim at becoming a contributor of the project.

  • How far along are you with that?

YP: At the beginning of this year, we’ve worked alongside Rémi Bachelet, professor at Ecole Centrale de Lille, on the first French MOOC on the topic of Project Management: ABC de la Gestion de Projet. Out of 3.600 enrolled learners, more than 1.400 went through the “basic” track and 500 achieved the (very demanding) “advanced” track. More importantly, we collected important data and feedback we will “crunch” this summer to prepare the next session of the MOOC that will take place in September. Major improvements are on the roadmap, so watch out for the enrolments start !

JS: We are currently working on several MOOC projects with partners that will launch this fall. There has been too few MOOC initiatives happening in France this year and we intend to fix that !

  • How do you see MOOCs and higher education going in the future?

YP: the secret 1 Million $ question ! From a pedagogical viewpoint, the typical Coursera MOOC is the Version 0 of the format. Don’t get me wrong, it’s already fantastic but two years from now, it will have evolved a lot. Among other things, we need to understand how to make the MOOC more social, both online and offline. The MOOC Campus project to create a physical campus dedicated to MOOC learning is very promising. Also, it is still unclear how the huge amounts of learning analytics can be leveraged and we are currently exploring this topic at Unow.
From a business viewpoint, I believe MOOCs will find their business models. It’s only a matter of months.

  • Which are you favourite MOOCs and why?

JS: Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society, because it reminded me the time I was in my garage with my dad teaching me how to craft stuff.

YP: We’ve been (not so) patiently waiting for Startup Engineering on Coursera for a couple of months. So far, the content is great and matches perfectly our expectations. Across the board, The secret of life on edX is probably the best MOOC experience I’ve seen. An amazing professor coupled with engaging activities and interactive tools could only result in a fantastic learning experience.

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