Dr. Famous is Missing

The hullabaloo regarding #MassiveLearning is a unique example in the MOOC phenomenon — a three-week course on the Coursera platform offered via the University of Zurich’s Paul-Olivier Dehaye which abruptly halted in Week 2, with all course resources deleted and no sign of Dr. Dehaye (save a list of cryptic tweets).  The confusion in the course led to blogs and social media conversation, coupled with a lack of answers from involved parties (Dr. Dehaye, University of Zurich, Coursera) or educational media resulted in a flurry of social media activity on July 7.  Was this similar to the Fundamentals of Online Education MOOC that cancelled in Spring 2013?  Was this an experiment conducted by Dr. Dehaye on his course?  Was this a high-profile AWOL professor situation?

On July 8, the situation seemed solved…the MOOC mystery (Scooby Doo references were plentiful in social media conversation on July 7) the result of a pedagogical experiment to gain a greater participation from users gone wrong.  Coursera says it had no idea this was going to happen, comments backed up from the official words from the University of Zurich.  Dr. Dehaye has yet to comment, leaving his tweets and academic history as ample ground for conspiracy discussion (nod to Kate Bowles for the research).  Jonathan Rees has already written a response to this from the perspective of the student, questioning the quality control of a MOOC provider such as Coursera in terms of the trope that MOOCs provide the best professors to the world.

I do not believe the blame easily lies with Coursera here; this does not seem to me an example of Coursera overreaching for clicks and users.  This is an embarrassment for Coursera, but blame seems an inappropriate reaction.  However, I am interested in the avoidance of blame in a society where people seem out to find a point person to blame.   Continue reading

A Finished Dissertation – MOOC Pasts & Futures

After nearly two years of intense study, scholarship and research, my dissertation The Evolution & Impact of the Massive Open Online Course has been published to ProQuest (though I am sharing it via Scribd, as ProQuest is not always the easiest for open access).  The project, undertaken at the dawn of the meteoric rise of the Year of the MOOC, attempts to pinpoint the MOOC as a phenomenon and said phenomenon within how society views/ed education in 2014.    This included a substantial literature review that utilized critical theory to offer an alternative to the dominant narrative of educational progress:  analysis as well as critique of the dominant narrative of education’s history and historical purpose, a focus on the role of artificial intelligence in the shaping of education systems, and critiques of status quo systems and arguments from the perspective of historically marginalized voices.

The findings in the Delphi study can be viewed in a multitude of fashions; I chose two specifically:  the Likert scale answers to the prompts provided the expert panel, and critical analysis of expert answers looking at the issues behind the answers provided.  From the view of the Likert the results were mixed:  there was consensus on 4 of 12 prompts (faith in learning analytics, distance/online education not void of expertise, MOOCs are not the great solution for democratizing education, MOOCs could allow for tier-based educational opportunities), and a great deal of resistance on many of the remaining eight.  There was surprise in how consensus was achieved; I was not only surprised that experts agreed in the first round about the potential of big data, but was also surprised it took two rounds to agree that the field of distance and online education was a space with expertise.   Continue reading

One Interesting Thing About MOOCs Among the List of 8

At face value, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s 8 Things You Should Know About MOOCs, a data draw from the recent edX release of data, reads more like 8 Things You Already Know About MOOCs:  MOOCs are populated by highly educated individuals, most registrants do not interact, registration is highly Western.  Such tepid information makes the article feel like click-bait; anyone following MOOCs over the last 2.5 years could point to prior evidence of these facts the Chronicle article presents as novel.

What I found most interesting was the graphic relating to the gender distribution fact:  over 3/4 of edX students are male.  Again, this is not novel information; the Penn survey in 2013 noted this, data further elucidated by New Scientist magazine.  But the Chronicle presents the graphic by first showing gender breakdowns across American college campuses, where 57% of students are female.

screen capture from Chronicle of Higher Education

screen capture from Chronicle of Higher Education

It is a pretty stark difference to see a nearly 3 to 2 female to male majority on campus shift to 3 to 1 male to female in the world of MOOCs.  One could argue that fewer women than men participating in MOOCs is not necessarily shocking; there are many articles on record showing the STEM field to be male-dominated (some sensational, others more tempered), so this data could be read to support a largely accepted happenstance.  However, MOOC research (and EdTech research in general) is almost always instrumental by design, a form of A/B testing that abstracts the system from the environment and fails to account for political, cultural or social elements. Continue reading

Why HBX is Just Another MOOC (or a Food Dehydrator)

The Business School, Disrupted article in Sunday’s New York Times goes well out of its way to avoid labeling HBX (the pre-MBA online program preparing for roll-out through Harvard Business School) as a MOOC.  Rather, the article places HBX in contrast to the MOOC, and presents the MOOC in terms of Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation.  According to those quoted in the article (Dean Nitin Noriha, Professor Michael Porter, Professor Jay Lorsch, etc.), the instrumental qualities of a MOOC do not pertain to the HBX model:  there is a cost to enroll ($1,500), the format is not lecture-based, and the program actively discourages lurkers or vacationers in an effort to secure heavily active participants.  In short, HBX defines itself by pointing out its differences from the MOOC model; to paraphrase Baldrick from BBC’s Blackadder, it is a dog because it is not a cat.

The article is a fascinating touchstone of online education-as-phenomenon for reasons outside the MOOC instrument; Geoff Shullenberger discusses much of Clayton Christensen’s article presence over at his blog.  For me, the real power of the article is not in what makes HBX different instrumentally from a MOOC, but how the language of online education as proliferated through MOOC discourse has created a space for brazen discussion of education as branding and consumer-profit relationships.  The language of online education in 2014 (as presented in Useem’s article) not only fails to address the thoughts of research and scholarship in online education prior to Sebastian Thrun’s MOOC, but bolsters a worldview of online education in a manner antithetical to the earliest beliefs and hopes for what inexpensive telecommunication could do to revolutionize the way we learn and communicate.  The world of MOOCs, HBX and Disruptive Innovation look little like the ideals of transformational learning from the perspective of the learner.  From this perspective, HBX might act in a different manner than the MOOCs cited in the NYTimes article, but its purpose and view of why online education exists only solidifies the MOOC perspective. Continue reading

Now With References!

I’ve created a full-blown references page for All MOOCs; this makes up the entirety of my citation list for the dissertation which inspired this blog project.  My earlier bibliography received several shout-outs as congruent to open scholarship, and I think a reference list that can snapshot the MOOC phenomenon not just as a learning system but a mechanism of hype and sociopolitical discourse can serve value.  Browsing through, it’s amazing to see changes in the conversation…first the online education world between 1989 and 2011, followed by the democratization wave and then the reconciliation of the MOOC’s misgivings with they desire for solutionism.  What does the future hold for MOOC rhetoric?

The Problem with The MOOC Problem

My first postdoctoral publication was last week at Hybrid Pedagogy, an article about the lack of agenda or cohesion among educators in a fluctuating higher ed landscape.  In it I call for educators to do a better job both in defining their purpose as educators (similar to what Morozov advocates for as an intellectual agenda) and ask them to better advocate for seats at practical Future of Education discussions, those on organizational and political levels rather than in conference proceedings and in academic journals.  Response was overwhelmingly positive, which while flattering signifies a failure on my part to articulate my purpose.

I do not necessarily believe in actionable outcomes as a prerequisite for position papers or calls to advocacy; there needs to be a space where people can longitudinally engage with content or a premise without a need to place the situation inside a synthesis rubric.  Traditionally, the Hybrid Pedagogy discussion boards foster such teasing and wrestling.  This was not the case in my article, and I wonder if it is because the article was too easy to agree with.  Of course people should better advocate and better articulate, but why are we not doing that right now? I do not believe people wish to be poor advocates for their educational calling nor do I believe people are happy to be outside the conversation, so looking over the article I see too much TED and not enough discord.  Perhaps the article articulates a needed voice and position in the education sector (the idea that we are stuck talking about systems and instruments when the whole EdTech hullabaloo was intended to transcend the issues of systems and instruments).   And perhaps this was a needed first step for a movement to challenge educators, entrepreneurs and politicians to engage with one another in research-grounded actionable programs to better education rather than to solve it.  But without any disagreement for my premise, I feel there is no real place to agree either.

2014: The Year of MOOC Click Bait

The University of Pennsylvania invited several hundred education reporters to a seminar on MOOCs. The school expected 15 to 20 enrollees from media outlets, but as of the catering deadline, only four responded. So the group cancelled the event.

This is the premise under which the Chronicle of Higher Education provided the click-bait headline “2014: The Year the Media Stopped Caring About MOOCs?” The article, written by Steve Kolowich, is only a few hundred words and notes that discussion of the MOOC in mainstream media has not waned…meaning the article headline poses a provocative question that the text of the article not only fails to support but rather disputes. Reading the article does not ask the question Is the media craze for the MOOC dying? but rather makes the tepid statement A University did not get enough registrants for a seminar and decided to cancel it, hardly a front-page story.  If MOOC interest was truly waning, such a non-story would be relegated to the basement of Chronicle operations, accessible only by those empowering search and a desire to read all things MOOC.

Yet the daily Wired Campus Chronicle email blast showcased Kolowich’s article on April 15: Continue reading