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


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.



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

Meet the New Hype, Same as the Old Hype

Quick note on Coursera founder Daphne Koller’s quote from Friday’s Wall Street Journal:

If you put an instructor to sleep 300 years ago and woke him up in a classroom today, he’ll say, ‘Oh, I know exactly where I am’

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:


What is interesting about this photo is that nothing has changed…[Other industries have been transformed, and learners have changed, but education hasn’t changed]…It is pathetic that the education system has not changed in hundreds of years.

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.

This is not Dr. Agarwal’s first ahstoric bemoaning of  the lack of change in education; just two years ago he was painted by Inside Higher Ed to be gobsmacked by education-related research from 1972.

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.

For more examples of how education has changed, and just from a lens of equity, there is a great Hack Education piece from 2012 on the very subject.



the Golden Age of Education that never was

Republished from edutechnicalities

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.

In 2014, Coursera announced a partnership with, a start-up launched from within Discovery Communications, whom Coursera heralded as the parent company of Discovery and Animal Planet. (Note:  in November spun off and away from the Discovery Communications paternity) At the time, I blogged about the partnership, briefly touching on the histories of Discovery and The Learning Channel, as well as the media conglomerate that would form from their 1990s merger/acquisition and growth. I framed this in the context of edutainment, which took me down a whirlwind of Disney history, resulting in scholarship on the relationship between the learning objects/resources of the OER movement, edutainment, and the ‘free-as-in-beer’ resources one finds in Coursera/edX/  The expansion of this research continues; at the present I am adopting a postmodern lens to look at the history of broadcast contents within education, in their utilitarian existence as well as their social/political/cultural/philosophical/power contexts too.

Continue reading


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.