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 →
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 Chemistryhas 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 →
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.
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.
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 →
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 →
This sort of ahistoric bluster is nothing new. My favorite example is from edX CEO Anant Agarwal from 2014, which came from a keynote at Campus Technology’s 2014 conference. Agarwal had a photo of a 1950s MIT classroom as a slide, and accompanied it with this quote:
In the interest of full disclosure, this was not the picture from Dr. Agarwal’s presentation. I know this because a 1950s picture of a MIT lecture hall would not have nearly that many female students. In 1955, the Ad Hoc Committee on the Place of Women at MIT believed women were not successful undergraduates, a position contrary to the attitude of Chancellor Julius Stratton but evidenced by the low enrollment of female students. It would taken 10 more years for attitudes to change at MIT, and nearly a generation after that before levels of gender equity would fall more in line with similar universities.
Education changed 300 years ago, and 200 years ago, and 100 years ago, and 70 years ago and 60 years ago and 50 years ago and so forth. Even in the past 3.5 years, since the MOOC monolith, education has changed…what has not changed is the ahistoric narrative sold by MOOC developers.
The history of edutainment, a mid-20th Century portmanteau used to describe the mix of broadcast contents with an educational context, is a fascinating field, and Audrey Watters’ Story of The Learning Channel is an important addition to a critical reader on the relationship of broadcast media, ownership rights and the education superstructure. Noting how the current state of The Learning Channel TLC evokes responses of, “Remember when it was called The Learning Channel,” Audrey presents the history of the infrastructure which created what was a public-public partnership between government agencies to provide satellite-based educational television (conceptualized in the 1960s, partnered with more public agencies and enacted in the early 1970s), and how public-public became public-private became private became a host of barrel-scraping reality TV fare. It is an excellent read.
The article ends with questions to consider when engaging broadcast television, education, edutainment and the other terms and subfields that inhabit this realm:
Who owns the “pipes”? Who owns the means by which content is transmitted? Who owns the satellites? Who owns the spectrum? Who owns the cables? Who owns the network?
What do we mean by “educational content”? In particular, how has our definition of “documentary” changed over the last few decades? How does this shape what media – in form and in content – enters the classroom?
How have regional educational agencies and distance education providers – particularly those offering for-credit classes – been affected by the commercialization of content and delivery?
How has education become increasingly commercialized? How might education on the Internet and via various computer technologies be following down that very path taken by education on cable TV?
This topic intersects with my emerging research; I am thankful to Audrey for this discussion and the energy behind it. I would like to join the conversation as part of an emergent discussion.