CC BY 2.0 by Alan Levine

Everything Schools Discussion Boards on Pedagogy

Facebook Schools MOOCs on Engagement.”  That’s a provocative title.  It’s also beyond hollow.

The research at the heart of this EdSurge buzz, coming out of Penn State, looked at three Coursera MOOCs and their supplemental faculty-run Facebook pages.  In each MOOC, students who engaged with the Facebook page remained engaged for longer than those who used the Coursera discussion boards.  This makes sense; the discussion board is not unique to Coursera but rather has a history dating back decades, while the architecture of Facebook does take from Friendster and MySpace to an extent but offers something unique to social media.  There are problems with the research (see Mike Caulfield’s blog on the topic and a subsequent Twitter conversation), in part because the research makes much ado of what is fairly straightforward understanding of discussion boards versus social media engagement in online spaces. People who have logged into Facebook are going to do Facebook things there because Facebook is designed for Facebook things.  Facebook does Facebook Things Better Than Coursera.  That’s a truthful title but it misses the point of the MOOC exchange.  Students who engage external teacher-driven social media networks are happier in those external teacher-driven social media networks than they are using the LMS-provided discussion fora.  Awkward as a title, but it also does not push promises of solutionism onto the Facebook platform.

This is not an attack on Facebook, but we should not be annointing Facebook as pedagogical powerhouses simply because they aren’t an awful Coursera discussion board.  This is also not a knock on Coursera; you could name any learning management system and substitute in their particular discussion board and you’d have the same problems, because the discussion forum is not an ideal place for developing community or collaboration or continuity in an online course.  Example example.  Discussion boards are not low-hanging fruit; they are fruit that fell from the tree weeks ago and is the cause of that unpleasant odor you found upon arrival. Facebook Wins by Providing Any Option Other than Discussion Board.

My problem is in the presentation of the research, and what impressions of the path of MOOCs (or Distance Ed or Online Learning) the EdSurge (or Campus Technology) summary promotes.   Continue reading

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Donald Trump Invented the MOOC

I wrote a MOOC history in 2014.  I also wrote about Donald Trump and MOOCs in 2013.  Prior to my blog, no one had linked MOOCs and Trump, and my link was tangential.  Honestly, the only way I could further imagine a link from Trump to MOOCs is if he promoted my history.

This history is beautiful.  I know words; this history has the best words. People read this history, and they love it.  I hear from people who read it, everyone who read it said, ‘That’s a good history.’ They look over it and everyone is impressed at how much beautiful history there is.  My researchers have looked at it and they love it.  The Canadians, the distance education people, the educationals…big supporters.

Looking at the upload numbers, it’s doing well with everyone.  It wins with cMOOCs.  It wins with xMOOCs.  It wins with people who mix up online learning and MOOCs.  We love people who mix up online learning and MOOCs. And it’s taking off.  It’s a movement.  Have you seen the downloads? We’re going to publish it Open, and we’re going to make the publishing companies pay for it! Remember that. #makeonlinelearninghistorygreatagain

Was I, the MOOC history guy, wrong?   Continue reading

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There is no Open in MOOC

Coursera’s announcement to add Specializations to its roster of educational packages comes with a new price in many cases, as noted in Carl Straumsheim’s 1/29 piece at Inside Higher Ed.

To sign up for Michigan State University’s How to Start Your Own Business, for example, budding entrepreneurs have to pay $79 up front for the first of five courses in the Specialization or prepay $474 for the entire program.

When enrolling in a MOOC on Coursera, learners are normally met with a box asking them if they would like to take it free — giving them access to all the course materials but not awarding a certificate upon completion — or pay $49 for an identity-verified course certificate provided upon completion. Learners can first pick the free option but change their minds later, however.

The question the article asks — how does charging for access fit the mission of access to world’s best education — is a variation on a question that’s been asked for 4+ years now, ever since Coursera, Udacity, edX and others became the go-to mainstream voices on EdTech expertise — what makes these providers the world’s best education besides a mission statement and a platform for PR?  David Wiley’s quote from 2013 is the touchstone I remember from that period — MOOC as a concept, to him, was out of the barn and the acronym rather stood for Massively Obfuscated Opportunities for Cash. Continue reading

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX A503

wow. look at that.

Yesterday, Coursera announced another steaming option, this time watching their contents on Apple TV.  This reminded me of the 1980s-1990s Annenberg-funded World of Chemistry. In high school, I loved World of Chemistry.

The video only plays the cold open for the show; to access the contents requires going to Annenberg Learner where you can watch and share but not embed; Annenberg has requested no embedding. C’mob Annenberg, let’s do better!

World of Chemistry has the feel of public-access or syndication TV from the 1980s, from the cheesy MOOG synth open to the 256 color palate of the media.  It suffered from most educational media materials of that time:  sound hiccups, video skips, flat camera angles.  But it understood how to use moving image, juxtaposition, sound and captivating humans in concert to create a worthwhile and reusable media resource.   Continue reading

Avoiding the Mediocre Middle

From rolinmoe.org:

The spate of US Presidential debates over the past months has reminded me of the dialogue and rhetorical tricks my partners and I used to employ as headstrong high schoolers through the National Forensics League. The goal of a debate tournament was not to present good policy, but to either defend or attack a policy better than the opposition. This resulted in a great deal of fiat, the ability to create without effort and enact without requisite jurisdiction. Fiat allowed us to focus our conversations on the issues and the policies rather than the governance or the political capital; it was a pragmatic solution to an ideological conundrum.

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The Udacity of Audacity (or “Education for Uber”)

Try again. Fail again. Better again. Or better worse. Fail worse again. Still worse again. Till sick for good. Throw up for good.

– Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho (1983)

When I quote this passage from Worstward Ho, the somewhat obscure yet recently rejuvenated Samuel Beckett novella, the meaning of the famous lines in the preceding paragraph, those on the forearm of Stan Wawrinka and on the lips of Richard Branson, Elon Musk and other entrepreneurs, change entirely.

Ever tried.  Ever failed.  No matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.

Beckett was not promising a modern Valhalla through x quick changes to everyday life; for him there was no Valhalla, no simple fixes or quick changes or solutions, but only masks on the essence of the human condition.  How this message ever ended up the stuff of motivational posters could be considered an abomination of Beckett, but Beckett probably would have found the wanton misinterpretation ironic, amusing and evidence of the failure of the human condition to adequately express itself in form.

What Beckett holds is cultural authority; his name is recognizable regardless of any context of his work or contribution to society or culture.  The same is true for Sebastian Thrun, the pater familius of CS 271, the 2011 Stanford Computer Science course in which over 160,000 students registered for a free online version of the course that became the flagship for what we today call a MOOC. Continue reading

Photo: Muppets & Cast "Sesame Street"; Season 39; on-set TV production photographed: Monday, February 4, 2008;  9:00 AM at Kaufman-Astoria Studios, Astoria, New York: © 2008 Richard Termine. PHOTO CREDIT - Richard Termine hosts Sesame Street  and Gordon shows Elmo how to read the paper Season 39.  For TV WEEK  Sesame Workshop

What the Researchers Got Wrong About Their ‘Sesame Street’ Education Study

Last week, Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland & Phil Levine of Wellesley College received a great deal of media attention for their in-process paper Early Childhood Education by MOOC:  Lessons from Sesame Street.  Asserting that research on Sesame Street & educational efficacy is lacking and has failed to engage beyond the immediate or short-term results, Kearney & Levine designed an apparatus in an attempt to find a correlation between exposure to Sesame Street and longitudinal outcomes such as high school graduation or post-school labor gains.  While their instrument did show statistically significant outcomes in the immediate and short-term for those with better access to Sesame Street, the instrument failed to note any significance beyond (the researchers note this as inconclusive, though the only inconclusive aspect is whether the failure was on the part of the instrument or if the findings are in fact insignificant).

What does this have to do with MOOCs?  Not a whole lot as per the research.  But the invocation of MOOCs is indicative of an ahistoricism that permeates this work-under-review. Saying Sesame Street is ostensibly the first MOOC shows a fundamental flaw in Kearney & Levine’s historical literature review on the subject, a flaw Audrey Watters notes and critiques in an excellent response to the paper and subsequent media furor.   Continue reading