The strange birth of #economooc #ds106 #mooc

So there I was last night, reflecting on Luke Fernandez’ post about the tension between what Jim Groom was saying and what Josh Jarrett was saying in their back-to-back keynotes at #opened11 . As Luke says, some of the language about this tension framed the debate in terms of antagonism but to do so misses the point. We should be grateful that open education is – well – open enough to encompass two clearly articulated and useful conceptualisations.

The danger comes when the two conceptualisations don’t treat each other with mutual respect. As my wife rather elegantly put it, it can just get like breadheads vs hippies all over again. The “open learning” hippies just see a watering down of key “open concepts” into business benefits and analytic data, the “open learning” breadheads just see a load of wishful thinking and very little actual learning. But there are strengths in moderate positions, we need to be careful not to become so entrenched that we miss out on the benefits.

At the very least, the hippies need (so the argument goes) to teach something that’s not just about education and digital life, probably using a MOOC-type approach. And make the experience scalable, because as Giulia Forsythe put it, critical reflection should be scalable – and what is higher education but critical reflection?

Enter the EconoMOOC. Although not quite enter, because at the moment all we have is a hashtag. And the #ds106 assignment library. And the sum of human knowledge on the internet. We don’t have a way for you to sign up. We don’t have a professor. 


Like many of the finest things in life, #economooc began in a twitter discussion with Giulia Forsythe. Both of us are enjoying the creativity and peer learning that ds106 exemplifies. And both of us want to learn more about economics, this crazy collection of academic theories which seems to run the world and could lead either to utopia or apocalypse. We’re both happy with self-directed learning, but would appreciate peer support and expert or non-expert comments.

The first liberating step was admitting (as in the WSJ mash-up above) that we don’t know what we are talking about. The next was admitting (as in this triple troll) that when we do know what we are talking about, we are likely to be wrong.


(identify the image, and also the source of quote, the citation has nothing to do with either).

Actually the quotation above neatly summarises “why Economics” – and why we need to feel comfortable in playing with these ideas in order to deal with the constant assumption-ridden and uncritical econo-theory onslaught from news channels. I happened to read Adam Curtis’ blog post on the left’s reluctance to express ideas about how society should be organising for fear of the power of mass-media co-option, and the influence of Marcuse on this mindset.

The step after that is to begin to create artefacts outlining key economic concepts – because what is an assignment if not the creation of an artefact that demonstrates knowledge or understanding we have gained through learning. Here, Giulia is ahead of me illustrating her growing understanding of Monetarism via an animated gif.

But what happened next is amazing. An actual real economist, Steve Greenlaw, comments and beautifully explains monetarism in a single paragraph. And sparks a number of new conceptual hares running for us #economooc types to chase. Me, I want to define money to my satisfaction, given what I’m beginning to learn. 

And this is the thing – it’s a proper subject, we’re learning, we’re MOOCing and we’re having fun and we have no overheads (other than our free time). Where’s the problem?

This post represents my opinions and not those of my employers. It is available under a CC-BY license, excepting the photograph which is available under CC-BY-SA, and the WSJ screengrab which is presented here with a claim of “fair dealing” but may not be reused.

5 thoughts on “The strange birth of #economooc #ds106 #mooc”

  1. The image is of Milton Friedman, the father of Monetarism. The quotation is from John Maynard Keynes. Quite ironic, since the ideas of the Keynesians and the Monetarists were at odds for some years.Actually, my participation is not amazing. I find economics fascinating and I’m happy to help anyone who shows interest in the topic.

  2. Okay, wow, we’re gaining momentum! There are so many resources I feel like the entire Internet has become the #econoMOOC. We need some direction. I don’t even know where to begin although I LOVE the enthusiasm that can be generated from a few tweets :)So, I think the next question I want to tackle is “what is money” based on Steve Greenlaw’s response to my post. I am inclined to do this inquiry-based. I know we don’t exactly know what we don’t know but I’d rather examine the stuff that is based on our own big questions. What do you think?

  3. @Steve – that’s an awesome comment on so many levels. Firstly, it’s truly heartening that you love your subject so much that you would share it with anyone who asked. You have gone a long way to restoring my faith in academia. Also, I’m really intrigued when you say that “the ideas of the Keynesians and the Monetarists *were* at odds” – the serious news media generally presents economics as if this were still the case. I’d really welcome any insight.@Giulia – YESS! we didn’t need to build a MOOC – the MOOC was always there, we just had to join it! Agree that “what is money” would be a great assignment… and we should be totally open about following what interests us in this field. Do you want to use the DS106 assignment bank again, or blog posts, or a blog post illustrated by a DS106 assignment?

  4. Internet time, and many hands, make light work indeed. Really looking forward to all that might be created under the #EconoMOOC banner, as are the kids in my colleague Andrew’s class at school, who will be talking about how they might want to frame their assignments or contributions to the course tomorrow on #ds106radio. For their purposes, I’ve framed the proposition of participation in the MOOC as an extension of their regular day-to-day concepts and mandated outcomes: instead of making notes or assignments to present to their peers and teachers, looking to extend the practice of documenting their learning to include those following the #Economooc hashtag, and along with the Posterous blog (embedded in the class wiki site). It is great to see thing thing breaking into flight so quickly… May the learning commence, and continue.

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