Same as it Ever Was – The Global Freshman Academy

When will people stop applying the Gartner Hype Cycle to MOOCs?  Wednesday’s announcement of the new ASU/edX partnership, the Global Freshman Academy (#CollegeMyWay), is the freshest coat of lipstick on the acronym.  I won’t get into the details or various criticisms (George Siemens and Jonathan Rees do a stupendous job as always, as does John Warner over at Inside Higher Ed), but suffice it to say, charging more than a community college to take online courses designed for didactic learners or adult learners fails to engage the stated visions of both ASU and edX.

What are the stated visions of ASU and edX? That’s tough to decipher.  From the New York Times:

“Leave your G.P.A., your SATs, your recommendations at home,” said Anant Agarwal, the chief executive of edX. “If you have the will to learn, just bring your Internet connection and yourself, and you can get a year of college credit.”

This is the traditional MOOC bluster:  the technology will set you free from the oppressive agent that has heretofore stopped the average student from succeeding.  Who needs to leave those things at home — those students who the existing system does not provide for.  This narrative is a popular one, and it would be disingenuous to say only VC backed EdTech start-ups employed it — perhaps they do it better than others, but the education as emancipation argument has an incredibly long history on every side and at points through close to 800 years of institutional history.  It is wrong on all sides, it is only that VC backed EdTech start-ups do a better job of marketing on the premise.

What I found interesting was the postmodern approach with which ASU and edX have marketed this product.  There is a link to the research now:  on the edX splash page, they mention the program is geared toward high school students looking for early credit, people returning to college, and the catch-all *lifelong learner* which fits the distance/online scholarship where success is predicated on intrinsic motivation for youth or andragogy/heutagogy principles for adults.  To quote ASU President Michael Crow, “There are many pathways to success, both academically and in life. This is now one of them.”

Ah, but if we look at Crow’s entire quote from the press release:

The Global Freshman Academy will empower students to prepare for college and achieve what they may not have thought they could. There are many pathways to success, both academically and in life. This is now one of them.

When technology is presented as neutral, ahistorical and apolitical, it can be shaped as the tool to allow for that transformation heretofore obstructed by the existing system.  The problem is, the system is but one obstruction; the narrative of education as empowerment and emancipation is just as much of an obstruction, potentially more so.  A system with cultural and instrumental rules and mores has a dictated structure I can at least read, negotiate and potentially resist.  An immaterial promise that shapes our culture and ethos tacitly rather than overtly has no such entry point for negotiation; moreover, if I am unable to succeed it is because of my situation rather than the promised system because the promised system is neutral and there are shining examples the tech system shows me.

This Global Freshman Academy will help some people.  It may make money for both entities.  It may harm community colleges and regional universities offering the same education in-person at the same cost or a slightly higher one.  It will not solve problems of access, equity and emancipation in education, not because it does not ascribe to do so but because the idea of education solving such problems is a lie.  It I do not believe Drs. Crow & Agarwal are nefarious people with nefarious intentions.  Worse, I think they have pure intentions, and they have built their structure on a false promise they believe can be solved by technology and commerce, at the expense of the local initiatives that are the antidote to such false promises.

What We Cannot Learn from the Udacity/GT Partnership

Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education features an article by Steve Kolowich about the potential impact of the Udacity/Georgia Tech/AT&T online master’s program on the future cost of higher education:

The program, which started last winter, pairs MOOC-like course videos and assessments with a support system of course assistants who work directly with students. The goal is to create a low-cost master’s degree that is nonetheless “just as rigorous” as the on-campus equivalent—producing graduates who are “just as good,” to quote one of the new program’s cheerleaders, President Obama. The price: less than $7,000 for the three-year program, a small fraction of the cost of the traditional program.

By understanding what kinds of students are drawn to the new program, Mr. Goodman and his fellow researchers think they can begin to understand what competitors it might threaten.

Bringing down the cost of a professional program is an admirable goal, and this specific success could mean a great deal for the target population of this and other professional, graduate programs.  However, the rhetoric surrounding initiatives such as the Udacity/Georgia Tech/AT&T partnership rarely distinguishes between the target population of a professional program and the population at the heart of the crisis in higher education.

One year ago, Udacity pivoted its approach to online learning away from democratizing education for underrepresented learners and toward professional programs (I wrote about the decision at the time).  This pivot was maligned within scholarly EdTech circles for good reason:  Udacity had set its organizational intention at solving the cost problem of higher education, but its product was unable to adequately serve the population it intended to assist.   Continue reading

The MOOC revolution did not take place.

The din of the MOOC world continues unabated, vacillating between the MOOC continuing its march toward Valhalla and the MOOC as a dying revolution in need of last rites.  The multiple personality disorder of MOOC coverage is most evident in last week’s tech-business articles about MOOC company Udaicty. Upstart Business Journal last week wondered aloud if the MOOC was dying, asking the question whether Sebastian Thrun could save the MOOC.  Here, we learn that Thrun recently left Google to focus full-time on Udacity (similar to the FastCompany report from 11/13 on him leaving Stanford to focus full-time on Udacity), as potentially a last-ditch effort to save the MOOC.  This is echoed in a TechCrunch blog from earlier in September entitled The MOOC Revolution that Wasn’t.  Yet on the same day Upstart ran their open question, both EdSurge and Venture Beat heralded a recent $35M investment in Udacity from venture capital firms such as tech-based Drive Capital.  The tenor of these articles, it should be said, lacks the same globalize and democratize education ballyhoo from articles in 2012 and 2013.  That said, none of these articles have given up on the MOOC as an instrument of educational change.

What about other MOOC providers?  edX’s Anant Agarwal was profiled in Wired Magazine the same week as the Udacity news:

The way [Agarwal] sees it, effective uses of the MOOC model are only beginning to take shape. Enrollment in edX courses has doubled over last year, and he believes we’re on the verge of an era he calls MOOC 2.0. “We’ve been growing as others are throwing in the towel,” he says of edX.

There is lot to take issue with in this quote, and the article in whole.  What MOOC providers are throwing in the towel?  Certainly not Udacity, Coursera, edX or Canvas.  Also, Agarwal’s use of MOOC 2.0 is symptomatic of the ahistorical nature of most EdTech Mavericks; it marks at least the sixth time someone has used MOOC 2.0 to talk about the future, and fails to note that Cathy Sandeen of the American Council on Education invoked MOOC 3.0…15 months ago. Continue reading

A creative writing MOOC to reclaim MOOCs

One of the earliest problems with the MOOC phenomenon was discord:  on one side there were distance/online education scholars devoted to digital learning as a transformative opportunity, on the other AI and Machine Learning mavens (whose models focused on the Tech side of EdTech) who were largely unaware of existing methods and progress and saw EdTech as a mechanism of convenience/ease/economy.  MOOC was a term borne of experimentation and cutting-edge theory, a background it lost once MOOC became synonymous with LMS-based content streams.

One year ago, focused on the disparity between the freedom of the original MOOC and the limitations of the Frankenstein’s Monster MOOC built of venture capital and buttressed institutions, I made a call for scholars to step back from fighting for the MOOC monicker.

Today, I am announcing a course I will lead in collaboration with Canvas network and a slew of writers, educators and scholars, scheduled to launch in January 2015.  It’s a course about establishing tangible and repeatable creative writing practices  (#cwmooc), built around the development and drafting of the written word.  It will look very little like the MOOCs of Udacity/Coursera/edX.  But it is a MOOC.  And I am not shying away from calling it such.

Continue reading

Advocacy of robo-readers hasn’t won the debate — it still misses the main point

Rolin Moe:

From RolinMoe.org; tangential to MOOCs

Originally posted on Rolin Moe:

The Hechinger Report has a recent article out about the potential of software in the realm of robograders.  The title, Robo-readers aren’t as good as human readers — they’re better, is sensationalistic and sacrifices the tenor of the article’s argument for a round of quick clicks.  But the premise of the article is worth testing out — a research study borne of instructional technology use at the New Jersey Institute of Technology showed that robo-readers could be put to good use to help students see problems in their writing, in part because students are more willing to engage their writing over the computer rather than with a human teacher.  The researchers then make efforts to determine why this is so (you can gamify writing via the software, students look at human instructors as punitive and the computer as nonjudgmental, computer feedback can be more individualized than human labor).  Like…

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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