MOOC 4.No

Putty. Putty. Putty.
Green Putty – Grutty Peen.
Grarmpitutty – Morning!
Pridsummer – Grorning Utty!
Discovery….. Oh.
Putty?….. Armpit?
Armpit….. Putty.
Not even a particularly
Nice shade of green.
As I lick my armpit and shall agree,
That this putty is very well green.

Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning – Grunthos the Flatulent (as recited in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

I have long tracked the absurdity of MOOC developers and pundits assigning version numbers when discussing the MOOC.  The oscillation between MOOC 2.0 and MOOC 3.0 over the last two years was evidence I presented to argue the MOOC is not a tool or instrument or disruptive innovation but rather the acronym from which we discuss a larger sociocultural phenomenon regarding educational technology and solutionism.

Historically, software versioning had meaning for the proprietary sect (starting at 1.0 and changing with various updates) and the open field (building from a 0.x beta to the 1.0 indicating a complete and reliable product).  This has vacillated somewhat, but the meaning behind versioning progress has continued to involve significant changes to a specific product.  The use of versioning when describing the evolution of the MOOC lacks this principled or pragmatic grounding; MOOC 2.0 meant one thing to Sebastian Thrun and Udacity (for-credit courses) and an entirely different thing to NPR’s Marketplace (leadership strategy), while MOOC 3.0 meant one thing to Cathy Sandeen of the American Council on Education (the MOOC in a blended or distributed flip) and another to Anant Agarwal & Michael Crow of the Global Freshman Academy  (adaptive learning in a for-credit environment).  Forget that many of these sound the same (the Udacity MOOC 2.0 is pitched a lot like the Global Freshman Academy MOOC 3.0), and forget that in some cases MOOC 3.0 came before MOOC 2.0…

Actually, don’t forget any of that.  Remember it, because the inanity is the point.  The only reason we can have MOOC 3.0 before MOOC 2.0 (not to mention huge announcements from Coursera and edX at the same time as educational media tell us MOOC hype is over) is because MOOC has little practically defined meaning.  It is immaterial, hype, folderol.  I spent the first part of my educational scholarship life trying to rectify a definition based on both the scholarship of the educational technology field and the textual offerings of EdTech developers, and the result was a very diluted and fairly meaningless definition so inclusive its use offers no pragmatic purpose.

So, then, why does MOOC matter?  We say MOOC because it signifies an era in education and educational technology, a movement, a discussion, what some see as a battle and others see as progress and others yet see as Same Stuff Different Day.  MOOC in and of itself is a simulacrum; invoking it in conversation allows us to engage a very divergent phenomenon with some semblance of a foothold, to share our beliefs/values/ideas in what we hope to be a constructive fashion.

There is nothing constructive about version numbers, however.  They harken to the practical when there is no practical to the MOOC, they assume progress when there is no defined history or pathway, and they tap into an ethos of contradictory solutionism by using parlance of companies dedicated to perpetual upgrades and profit.  When edX and ASU harkened to MOOC 3.0 with the Global Freshman Academy (just six short months after Anant Agarwal said we had finally reached MOOC 2.0, mind you), I feigned disappointment that hype version numbers were still somewhat behind the times.

Ask and ye shall receive!  A Monday night Huffington Post blog by Otto Scharmer, MIT instructor and co-founter of the Presencing Institute, presents a self-described revolution in learning and leadership that he refers to as MOOC 4.0.

I have been running and/or supporting profound change initiatives for the past two decades. But almost never do changes, even when successful, happen on the scale that is necessary today. MOOCs 4.0 put us on a new playing field, not only in education, but also in the business of leading profound innovation and large systems change.

What does this mean?  I do not wish to be flippant, but having read the article three times, I still do not know.  The sheer volume of buzzwords and hype mixed with a striking lack of knowledge regarding educational theory and history results in an article chock full of unnecessary invention and basics as Eureka.  You could question their methodology for measuring success

You could question the newspeak level of language that would make ProfJeffJarvis blush

You could question the infantility behind their unique methodologies that have discovered a new branch of learning theory learning theory nearly 40 years old…

I stop at what the Institute represents.  It would be easy to attack the idea of the Presencing Institute; the website drowns in what I consider shallow self-help jargon, and the pictures in the Huffington Post blog involve people standing on chairs or a large group sitting with their eyes closed, which when mixed with hype and buzz can convey a very negative view of New Age as mysticism.  But presencing itself is not one of these negotiated terms; the word has a philosophical basis with Martin Heidegger, and while the institute’s co-founders do not advertise this in the About section of the institute, a cursory search of other materials show a grounding in daesin philosophy.  There is a great effort from the Presencing Institute to link its validity to the giants of thought in various cultures and eras.  Calling it a cult based on a blog in the Huffington Post feeds the same inauthenticity that frustrates so many EdTech academics about the corporate influence in the field today.

Schramer presents MOOC 4.0 as the synthesis of the MOOC movement, that how he sees social constructivist learning is the MOOC apotheosis; it is not just that we are on the path of progress, but the final stop is MOOC 4.0 and presencing.  I have argued the path of progress is one of the greatest obstacles facing educational technology today; there is no path to progress, and assuming one exists only feeds the dominant paradigm.

MOOC 4.0 is in contrast to Jesse Stommel’s discussion of his experience teaching a Coursera MOOC  (also published this week) which posits the MOOC journey as one not on a singular path of progress but rather multivariate paths where the journey is the destination:

I have designed half a dozen cMOOCs.  I love them all…but I find myself wanting to kill all of my darlings. And not just in the name of experimentation. But because killing our darlings is at the root of pedagogy. Never do the same thing twice, because the same thing twice is already rotten. We learn from every one of our successes and mistakes, and we encounter each learner and each learning environment anew.

I am not going to say this is the lens from which everyone should look at MOOCs – a constant evolution not bound by a facsimile path of progress but rather by the localized and networked needs of the learners as group and individual.  But Stommel’s piece recognizes there is a dominant interpretation of what a MOOC is, he negotiates terms, he provides his own resistance grounded in theory and defined by pillars of what academic educational technology finds important, and he presents in a way that will have access and resonance for that subculture and beyond.  It would be easy for a MOOC that (among other things) resists the Subject Expert for subject experts to call itself MOOC 5.0, pretend to have invented this approach, get ungrounded press and pub in trade periodicals and media mags, and add more meaninglessness to a topic supposedly meaningful.  Rather, by sacrificing pizazz Stommel has provided an alternative lens, one that does not believe in the sanctity of EdTech as academic nor as commercial but rather as diffuse and delicate.

MOOC version numbers are one of the many frustrations of the MOOC model phenomenon.  We should highlight the absurdity of versioning a sociocultural phenomenon and point to what they advertise as new as a lack of history, theory and politic that actually supports a dominant paradigm history, theory and politic.  When we stop there, however, we have only furthered the dominant version of the MOOC, cast alternatives as victims, and created a battleground where there is no battle being fought.  MOOC progress as described by version numbers is but a continuation of a longstanding dominant viewpoint of education, today handled by EdTech corporations but being ingrained in the fabric of educational sociology since Marx, Weber and Durkheim engaged the field.  It is not about winning or fighting.  It is about producing, experimenting, designing, playing, situating and localizing.

What *We* Talk About When *We* Talk About MOOCs

Yesterday’s Chronicle announcement of the MOOC-related study Preparing for the Digital University (a comprehensive review of distance, blended and online learning funded in part by the Gates Foundation and investigated in part by Athabasca University) created somewhat of a tremor in the social media landscape for those who follow George Siemens (one of the researchers in the study, the point-person for the Chronicle write up, and one of the creators of CCK08, the course that spawned the MOOC acronym) and Stephen Downes (one of the more prevalent and accessible EdTech researchers today, as well as the other primary creator of CCK08, the course that spawned the MOOC acronym).  Downes addressed the research study at his website, Siemens and Downes discussed the differences of opinion on Twitter, Downes elucidated his point at his blog, and Siemens responded at his blog.

Every bit of the conversation between the two is worth reading (as well as the Twitter additions from other EdTech-minded individuals).  This conversation is a highlighted example of a more and more common conversation happening within this wing of the EdTech world — the *forgotten history* of distance education/online learning and what it means when *we* forget *our* history.  Downes points out inefficiencies in the MOOC research Siemens links to (based on the MOOC Research Initiative) due to a lack of familiarity with the richness of the field, and after calling for people to take education back from edtech vendors, Siemens also links to the importance of research and evidence.  From this perspective, the problem is ignorance or naivety and the solution is research, research seen here as both an awakening of the shoulders of giants as well as a tool of influence in greater conversations. Continue reading

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 marketed 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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