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Three Things Yacht Rock and MOOCs Teach Us About MOOCs and Yacht Rock

You mean to tell me everything that happened was just so I would record a song for a Gregory Hines movie?

Michael McDonald, Yacht Rock (Episode 12)

If you’re affluent, we can do a much better job with you, we can make magic happen.

Sebastian Thrun, Pando Q&A, 5/12/14

Thirty years ago this week, the featured song on from the movie Running Scared, Michael McDonald’s Sweet Freedom made its way to #7 on the Billboard Top 40 (an anniversary I have not seen noted anywhere), an event which decades later was anointed as the apex of the musical genre Yacht Rock.  Five years ago this month, three courses in the Stanford Computer Science department were offered online at no cost to the general public (an anniversary already noted at Coursera and Udacity), an event which months later was anointed the birth of the Massive Open Online Course.

Is there a connection?

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MOOCs and the Mythological Promise

Daphne Koller is leaving Coursera to join Google Alphabet Calico.  EdTech is not the sort of field that keeps up with comings and goings a la the Hollywood Reporter, but this movement is significant in that Koller (along with Sebastian Thrun and Andrew Ng) were the public faces of The Year of the MOOC, MOOCmania and All Things MOOC after the stratospheric success of Stanford’s Fall 2011 courses.  Thrun remains at Udacity but recently stepped down as CEO, while Ng left the day-to-day operations of Coursera in 2014.  With Koller also leaving, MOOC’s original three have all now moved on from the immediate operations of their spawn.

Interestingly, the other MOOC professor at Stanford in 2011, who was not part of the media push or start-up aftermath,  was Jennifer Widom.  She has continued to teach MOOCs since 2011, and during her current sabbatical year is offering free courses in data and design…and those free courses are going to be in-person.

It’s been five years since the initial three Stanford MOOCs were announced, four years since The Year of the MOOC and the tsunami coming to education and the rotting tree, three years since SJSU hit the pause button on the MOOCs promised to save their school, two years since the failures of MOOCs were mansplained into the promise of MOOC 2.0, and one year since nobody took advantage of the ASU/edX Global Freshman Academy.  It has been a lot of bluster but very little result.   Continue reading

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


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


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


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.