What to Do With a Big Idea?

"Watch out for what you wish for," the old Chinese proverb, comes to mind as we sort our way through our plans for our upcoming MOOC, "What's Your Big Idea?"

With close to 12,000 students registered so far and more than a month to go before launch, my co-teacher Holden Thorp and I are scratching our heads about something we never really planned or thought about: What to do with the presentations -- three minute videos, PowerPoints or "Prezzis" -- that learners can submit to earn a certificate of accomplishment in our course. Like almost everything else about MOOCs, we have more questions than answers. But we are excited about the prospect of a deluge of ideas from all over the world.

How do we find ourselves in this predicament? A month ago, with the help of a team that knows much more about MOOC's than we do, we decided to create two tracks for our class: an assessment-based path involving multiple choice quizzes at the end of every module; and an experiential track for students who actually have a "big idea" and are willing to submit a pitch describing it.

In a meeting about the course with colleagues at Google someone said, "Your big idea is the big idea," and we hope that is correct. During the first version of the class, we plan to test our hypothesis by attempting to answer some fundamental questions:

  • Will we get any video submissions?
  • If we do, will any of them be ideas worth pursuing?
  • What will be the volume of such submissions -- are we talking about hundreds or thousands?
  • Can we reasonably evaluate the quality of the ideas from the submissions?
  • Who will do the evaluation? Ourselves and our assistants, or all of the members of the class that submit an idea?
  • How do we maximize the opportunity for feedback during the class?
  • Will the prospect of receiving feedback and perhaps coaching on an idea increase the likelihood that a student will actually complete the class?
  • Will concerns about protecting the idea from use by others discourage students from posting their idea?
  • Is it feasible to "incubate" a few of the ideas after the class ends and if so, can a virtual incubator achieve some degree of success?
  • Are there other resources other than advice that should be incorporated into a virtual incubator?

The implications of these questions are wide-ranging. If we get encouraging answers, our MOOC can be much more than a class -- it can be an idea engine, the top of a funnel that channels creative opportunities to resources that can help turn them into reality. That prospect raises a whole new set of questions that are even more complex but they are ones Holden and I would be eager to take on.

For now, we need to be prepared to start learning and we hope many others will join in, either to pitch their big idea or to push those ideas along with thoughtful suggestions and coaching.