MOOC Interrupted: Harvard Loses 225TB of Video Data.
(News in Brief – Local – ISSUE 50-42 – Nov 4, 2014)

During the sixth week of the new HarvardX MOOC course, “How To Make a Global Disaster Recovery Quilt,” a “technical malfunction” unwound this popular course. The massive collaborative group project assignments crashed the Harvard servers over the weekend. During the recovery process for the lost video data, it was discovered that the local backups were corrupted. When university administrators went to retrieve the backup tapes from two of the offsite document and record storage facilities hosted by Iron Mountain, the tapes were found to be unreadable. This series of unfortunate events led many university insiders to question why there was not a more comprehensive video archiving infrastructure in place instead of relying on physical backup tapes. The University Librarian, Marian Dustmantelpiece, was quoted as saying she was surprised by the volume of data and was disappointed that the Harvard Library System was not consulted concerning HarvardX’s archiving needs for preserving the university’s intellectual assets. Interestingly, most large-scaled learning relies on video as a main method for disseminating course content. However, most of this video content is not automatically integrated into digital archiving solutions.

Enrollees hoping to receive their online MOOC certification this December with the completion of this course have taken to Twitter and blogs to complain. With some 140,000 students signed up for this particular course, many are left in limbo, prompting critics to wonder if we are seeing the tip of the MOOC divorce proceedings, since the honeymoon has been over for a while now.

UPDATE, Nov. 4, 2014 8:53am:

Justin Reich, Richard L. Menschel HarvardX Research Fellow at Harvard University, responded in an email that he views this minor mess “not as a failure or development oversight but rather as an opportunity to learn and improve things for future development.” Mr. Reich said he is committed to championing a universal video archival initiative and will voice his recommendation that the university invest $10-15 million to tackle this run-away teaching and learning omission over the next five years.


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