The Centre Virchow-Villermé for Public Health Paris-Berlin has been launched last April, 15. Its roadmap specified the creation of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) platform. The challenge was to develop a platform dedicated to public and global health education. The German-French collaboration between Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin and Sorbonne Paris Cité contacted Inria (French public institute for research in computer sciences and mathematics). This brilliant research institution had ranked the development of a MOOC platform among its top priorities for 2013. French government was simultaneously considering supporting a national platform, as a better strategy than spreading its scarce resources in multiple local initiatives. It came to select Inria as the most relevant project for the purpose of all public universities in the country. The next step remains to convince the European commission to support this initiative on an issue which is quite strategic for European higher education. Should we keep on bowing down to the American hegemony with regards with MOOCs, or can European have a concerted strong and rapid response? One of the US major platforms exhibits today about 5.4 million registrations… In other fields such as aircraft manufacturing, Europe had found an early response, setting up an alliance which eventually created a worldwide leadership. Higher education represents today a key sector of activities in our societies and in our economies. MOOCs participate to this momentum and cannot be longer ignored here.
Technological options made by Inria were pragma driven. Not to reinvent the wheel and to run as fast as possible where the two pillars of their strategy. They started from considering existing available tools, provided they were open source softwares (meaning free for use and modifiable). That allowed to spare precious time of development. As many Airbus aircrafts today fly with General Electric motorisation, the French MOOC platform (baptised FUN for France Université Numérique) runs with Open-edX, an open-source engine which equips already the non for profit consortium between MIT and Harvard). Thanks to these first choices, which are obviously debated within the French community, end users such as Centre Virchow-Villermé benefit from the most recent developments delivering an up to date and high-tech platform. Furthermore this option allows the community of developers to improve the platform, not starting from scratch. We may have saved at least 2 years of fastidious development (and cost), and we can now align our standards on the top available resources in the field without any delay. There is no doubt, in addition, that the current FUN platform as it is today will rapidly become obsolete, either in the next 6 months, or 10 years. We will see the same obsocelence, as for our old mobile phones facing new smartphones. For that reason, an institution such as Inria is particularly appropriate for collaborating with, since it is a research institution well known in their IT high-tech developments. MOOC developments are more to be seen as a research program than a purely technical tool deliverable.
On the 28th of October, 2013, France embedded within its centralized tradition coming from Colbert an de Gaulle roots, was a bit looking like the Liberty leading the People (a Delacroix painting), when it pretended to launch its platform in direct competition with the American successful ones (which succeeded to attract many European top universities…). Some will see Gallic arrogance coming back. Other will complain about first bugs and breakdown which will undoubtly occur at its beginning. However, if thanks to these efforts, Europe can eventually take a leadership position in this raging worldwide battle for higher education, then we may remember that this approach may continue to make sense in our globalised economies, provided it is appropriately proposed. Of course, the ultimate goal is not to propose a franco-française MOOC platform. If so, we will be definitely wrong. The Franco-German initiative Virchow-Villermé for Public Health is dedicated to Europe, and will also serve, hopefully, global health purpose. We should not ignore however that there are not so many education materials on line in French (as in Arabic, Russian or Chinese languages), when there are much more already available in English.
So, dear reader, either you are directly interested in the very subject of our MOOCs, or because you are personnally supporting such an initiative, or just because you are curious about this MOOC initiative, or may be more pompously you may want to participate to what we consider an historical event, we strongly invite you to register now! Please register in one (or more) of the first four 5 to 6 week courses we are launching at the Centre Virchow-Villermé. They will start next January. We aim to deliver during the folowing months up to 70 courses from the best faculty in the world of public and global health. These first courses will be taught in French, with subtitles in French, English and German (as well as slides shown in videos).
Centre Virchow-Villermé Berlin
10117 Berlin – Germany
Centre Virchow-Villermé Paris
Université de Paris Descartes
12 rue de l’École de Médecine
75006 Paris – France