MOOCs, Inference & Political Punditry

One US Presidential Election takeaway of note for me was the perception of veracity in the Republican party’s projections.  When I woke up on Tuesday morning and read Nate Silver’s ultimate blog post at, I relayed to my wife that for President Obama to lose, there would have to be a foundational problem with state as well as national polling, not to mention the metric foundations of demographic data analysis.  A loss for the President would not be based on several mistaken variables, but instead a systemic issue at the foundation of the algorithms and the theory behind them.  Yet 12 hours later, Karl Rove famously melted down on the Fox News set, demanding answers from Fox’s number crunchers (and not receiving the answers he was hoping for).  The obvious question — despite extensive evidence to the contrary, how could Rove be so bamboozled by the election outcome?

Chris Argyris developed a tool for understanding how individuals utilize information and form perceptions in his 1990 Ladder of Inference.  In this model, the pool of knowledge that people access is too large for it all to be stored with individuals, so each person has a rationale for the information they choose.  As we interpret and evaluate such information, we make inferences on systems and structures, to the point that we often end up in a reflexive loop of information, choosing information that fits our prior knowledge and worldview rather than seeing debate and dichotomy as potential changes to belief or at the least knowledge to incorporate and shape our views.  In the election, there was a cornucopia of information for pundits to choose from, and arguments for why some information should be accepted and other information rejected.  Based on my prior knowledge, experiences and theoretical perspectives, I saw Silver’s research as sound and reasonable, while Rove relied on his network of information whose models were flawed for various reasons.  It’s an easy narrative to believe that Rove (or anyone on the other side of an argument or belief) is wrong because of malice or deceit borne of evil, but more than likely it’s a matter of looking at the wrong signs and not incorporating others into your worldview.

I have a lot of theoretical and pedagogical questions for the xMOOC movement (#cfhe12), but I do not believe that it is an evil enterprise borne of venture capitalists made from the Ned Beatty mold in Network.  To be fair, I have theoretical and pedagogical questions for the cMOOC movement, but with that group I have documented theoretical underpinnings and a visible evolution of education to this point from the distance perspective.  Lacking documentation on the theoretical and pedagogical beliefs of the xMOOC developers, it is up to us to do the research and find similar models and methods across platforms and structures to determine the driving force of the movement from an educational perspective.

Personal note:  a friend of mine who works in education recently took to social media to air his disdain for Diane Ravitch, an education historian and K-12 activist.  His take was that Ravitch was writing off education for lower income students because education cannot address poverty.  That is not my reading of Ravitch, nor is it the reading of the majority of people I respect in the education field.  Yet I respect this friend and his beliefs as well.  My response to him was to look deeper at what she was doing and see it from a perspective outside his workplace and network; that him writing her efforts off as disingenuous would be like me writing his efforts off.  

There are terms utilized by the xMOOC developers that continue to pop up in their discussion of the platform.  Understanding the history of these definitions and putting them together should help create a theoretical base for understanding xMOOCs as a three-dimensional system with interest in education rather than a profit-making machine.  The beginnings of a list (and I would love input on more common terms)

  • Disruptive Technology
  • Prussian Model
  • Sophisticated Interaction
  • Human Computer Interaction
  • Open (in relation to an xMOOC) (#oped12)
  • Badges/Gamification

I’m going to dedicate future blogs to these topics, to go in-depth on their histories and how they relate to the xMOOC movement.  The goal is to create a greater theoretical and pedagogical understanding of what drives the xMOOC in an effort to improve xMOOCs rather than deny them.  It’s perspective, but it’s much more from a policy and technological standpoint.

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