Prof. Randal C. Picker, University of Chicago Law School
August 6, 2015

I am in the middle of a media/education experiment.  I suspect that I am reaching the point of the new parent armed with a cell phone who wants to show you just one more picture of the new baby, but maybe I can persuade you why my new baby really is gorgeous.

Colleges and universities have done versions of online education for a long time now, but over the last few years, there has been enormous interest in the MOOC.  If you don’t speak modern online education, a MOOC is a massive open online course.  Each of those words has meaning: Massive is the idea that these courses are designed to serve thousands of students simultaneously; open in that many of them have a free – no payments – access path and there is no admissions filter so that anyone can participate; online, which is self-explanatory; and then course, which can be just a few hours of material or a full version of a traditional class offered to residential students at a university.  Many “standard” online academic courses are done for students in a single institution, but the MOOC assumes that people will be situated around the planet.

I started planning my MOOC more than a year ago (indeed, as I describe in another post, I took an introduction to filmmaking class last summer at Second City, Chicago’s famed comedy institution).  But we started serious filming of the MOOC in a campus studio in April and we went live on Coursera on July 13.  I am less than four weeks in at this point, but I have more than 3,200 students enrolled from roughly 125 countries.  I don’t know if that is massive, but I typically teach my antitrust class at the University of Chicago Law School to 120 or so students.  Twenty-five years of doing that would be 3,000 students.

Let me focus on the content of the course here.  The course is called Internet Giants: The Law and Economics of Media Platforms.  This is an on-demand course, so you can join at any time (now would be a very good time and I will not be offended if you stop reading and go there now).  The course consists of roughly 20 hours of video, divided into 158 segments, plus links to readings and online quizzes.  And there are discussion groups where students can kick around the ideas in the course.

I have seven weeks of content (though you can go as fast or slow as you want and I do know of students who have binge-watched the full course already).  I think that we should think of media as a broad notion.  I cover computer software (the Microsoft antitrust cases in the United States and Europe); desktop search (Google, which we should clearly think of as a media company); the infrastructure of the emerging mobile media platform; and then network neutrality.  I then spend three weeks drilling down on three particular media forms (video, music, and e-books).  That includes the history of the creation of TV by the FCC in the 1940s and 1950s, but also a look at the early days of recorded music platforms (such as the Victrola and the player piano).  The material cuts across any number of substantive legal areas, such as antitrust, copyright, and patents as well as more traditional media and telecommunications regulation.

If you asked me before launching the MOOC in mid-July what I thought that I had done, I was saying that I had created a video textbook.  That’s a pretty funny phrase in many ways – text is text and video is video and they aren’t the same – but now I am less sure.  I think that that is too static a conception of it, and ironically given the title of the course, insufficiently platform oriented.  I am now starting to figure out next steps in the process and those will reflect the idea that this is – or at least can be – much more of an ongoing, learning community centered on these ideas.  I am, for example, just organizing an online reading group as part of the MOOC (we will be focusing on the new book on the meltdown of the BlackBerry platform).

This is all an experiment, an experiment in media and education.  If any of the topics listed above interest you – or if you have a thing for argyle sweaters (we didn’t film all of the segments in order, so I had to keep a careful wardrobe list to ensure, as the movie people put it, visual continuity) – put in and watch a little.  I am told that it can be a little bit addictive, sort of like “Breaking Bad” without all of the drugs and violence.