Monthly Archives: January 2013

The MOOC Paradox – Expecting External Motivation to Produce Internal Motivation

Reading John Gatto’s pioneering work Dumbing Us Down, and took to musing on one of the paragraphs, this one from Dan Greenberg, founder of Sudbury Valley School, who wanted to look at what students need from modern education in a modern economic, social and political landscape:

Children must grow up in an environment that stresses self-motivation and self-assessment.  Schools that focus on external motivating factors, such as rewards and punishments for meeting goals set by others, are denying children the tools they need most to survive.

As noted in my previous post looking at Thomas Friedman’s thoughts on MOOCs, there is a disconnect between the idea that education needs to produce a strong workforce and the idea that education needs to produce creative, critical and divergent thinkers who can tackle multi-faceted problems facing society and the world at large.  Writers such as Gatto (2002), Stephen Ball (2003), and P. Taylor Webb (2009) see the contemporary political and curricular landscape of education as a system of rewards and disciplines, from the national level and No Child Left Behind all the way down to the individual classroom providing stickers or detentions.  Such an environment, based on standardized assessment of content remembered, facilitates a workforce to provide a good or service rather than to tackle complexity.  Even more general-minded individuals such as Sir Ken Robinson (2009) see a problem with a school system designed to produce scalable assessable results rather than critical, creative and divergent outcomes based on the context of the content.   Continue reading

Warning: Thomas Friedman is an Education Expert Now

I am reluctant to review newspaper articles or op-ed pieces in the same way I have handled journal articles, series chapters or literature from the developers of MOOC platforms.  However, if utilizing a critical theory lens, no discourse can be ignored, especially when it is presented as dominant ideology.  And few volumes have such a cultural resonance as the New York Times and bestselling author Thomas Friedman.

Friedman commands an audience, though his pedigree to do so has been hotly debated.  Whether deserving or not, Friedman recently moderated a Davos-sponsored roundtable discussion of “how philanthropic resources and technology are being integrated to foster the growing revolution in online education.”   Continue reading

A Critical Review of Andrew Ng’s “Learning from MOOCs”

My research and scholarship revolves around how learning technology (specifically recent explosions in distance and online learning technologies such as Khan Academy, cMOOCs and xMOOCs) affects the teaching profession.  There is great scholarship on the difficulties of distance instruction, and a whole host of people writing about educational technology while showing concern to stakeholders existing in academics.  There is not a lot of research writing on MOOCs as of yet, and very little on the xMOOC so commonly considered when discussing MOOCs.  And there is even less MOOC writing that focuses on instructors, or on the teaching profession, and how MOOCs work with/affect it.  Andrew Ng, one of the co-founders of Coursera, has an essay in today’s Inside Higher Education where he looks specifically at the relationship between MOOC and instructor.  In reading MOOC literature (and the subsequent comments), I find a great deal of how one interprets the writing depends a great deal on that individual’s prior inferences and assumptions.  This is nothing new — perhaps it just seems new and loud in a world of quick publishing — but it bears mention, especially when it is easy to consider any writing to be Fact.  There are multiple ways to read a text; I am taken back to Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding and his ideas of dominant, oppositional and resistance readings.  In the spirit of this article, I am going to tackle it from the theoretical standpoint of critical pedagogy. Continue reading

xMOOC – The “Coach Fare” of College

Interesting thoughts on the development of MOOCs outside the usual crunch of ed-tech and instructional design folk, this coming from Waldo Krugell, an economics professor at North-West University in South Africa.  The post is exploratory, looking at xMOOC not as a democratization tool for education as much as an opportunity to sell the existing face-to-face structure as premium.  He compares this to airlines’ handling of first, business and economy class, especially in recent years on the economy side with fares brought in low but other aspects of travel (baggage, meal, pillow, entertainment) sold at a premium; in the first-class area, however, the treatment is rather different. This is an encouraged business model sold along with pragmatism; Krugell (who does not say whether he is personally in favor of or against such a measure) says his inspiration comes from the following quote on travel:

It is not because of the few thousand francs which would have to be spent to put a roof over the third-class carriage or to upholster the third-class seats that some company or other has open carriages with wooden benches … What the company is trying to do is prevent the passengers who can pay the second-class fare from traveling third class; it hits the poor, not because it wants to hurt them, but to frighten the rich … And it is again for the same reason that the companies, having proved almost cruel to the third-class passengers and mean to the second-class ones, become lavish in dealing with first-class customers. Having refused the poor what is necessary, they give the rich what is superfluous.

This quote comes from Jules Dupuit, a civil engineer and economist, writing about the economics of travel in the 1860s.

From the pragmatic, business-oriented mindset that seems to have not only infiltrated academe but gained position and power, revenue-generating models are neither good nor bad, just a necessity.  From a neoliberal point of view, any negativity associated with MOOCs should be balanced against the democratization of education possible with such a system.  From the critical pedagogical perspective, this is further proof that education has strayed well from its progressive ideals as a place to educate young minds to be critical and active citizens (local, national and global) and rests squarely as a training ground for skill development and leveling up on a trade or craft, the implications far beyond short-term low-promotion employ.

Competencies, not Courses

Very thought-provoking statement from George Siemens on Twitter:

I think competency-based learning is where things are going. Learning unit reduced from courses to competencies.

If he is correct (I believe he is), this has a lot of implication on the things we usually talk about in relationship to MOOCs:  economics, the University (and the entire formal education system), the student.  We don’t talk as much about the social and cultural role of education (to be fair, we don’t talk about it much these days at all), and we talk less about the role of educators and instructors (except when we question their veracity and effect on measurable metrics).  It all ties together though, and if we are looking at competencies, we are looking at a marginalization of the educator (at best).  It might help a bottom line, but what effect does it have outside of economics?

How to Remove Teachers and Improve Education (in 6 Easy Steps)

Gregory Ferenstein uses Udacity’s recent partnership with San Jose State University (part of the California State University system) as evidence of the beginning of the end of higher education (and said teaching profession) as we know it.  The post is everything that drives me crazy about 21st Century journalism:  anecdote as proof, charismatic author as authority, grounded theory and research be damned.  I don’t disagree that this partnership could change higher education; of course, the inclusion of television stations at most major and minor universities across America in the 1970s was supposed to do the same thing, and twenty years later most of these expensive studios were shuttered (see Baggaley’s excellent Harmonizing Global Education for more on prior movements in educational technology and mainstream educational institutions).  You should read the article for yourself, but my takeaways: Continue reading

Instructor, Facilitator or Free-For-All: What Will ETMOOC Provide?

An about me paragraph:

My name is Rolin Moe, and I am a doctoral student studying learning technologies through Pepperdine University’s Distance Education in Learning Technologies program.  I enroll in a lot of MOOCs, participate in some, complete few.  My interest is mostly as a researcher, looking at how the technology affords the ballasts of education:  purpose, interaction, assessment.  MOOCs like etmooc are interesting because most work in online education has focused on the first or third in lieu of the second; this is the opposite because the first ballast is only defined in generalities, and the third is debatable.  However, I think highly of one of the conspirators, Alec Couros, who wrote a chapter for a research book about his first experience in the MOOC-like world, a chapter I was rather fond of, and was excited to see how a cMOOC from his perspective would go.  I am in the preliminary phases of my dissertation, which looks at instructional roles throughout distance and online education, so I might not participate in discussion too freely, choosing rather to link to other course takers, as well as share some tangential research I am finding in my studies.

My fears, trepidations, and hopes

I just finished a week of #moocmooc, of which I was not a fan (perhaps I will detail some day).  There is a similarity in design between #etmooc and #moocmooc, not the least of which is the idea that the course is not taught, but rather facilitated.  The first I heard of facilitator as a cMOOC term was from Dr. Couros, and I have seen George Siemens use the term as well, but both were doing work at the same time and I’m not sure who gets credit.  Regardless, there is part of me that feels like facilitator is a disingenuous monicker for the work of the person.  I don’t doubt the efforts of Couros and the others; however, to believe that there is not a delineation of power and expertise in distinctive roles is to pretend such does not exist.  Like bell hooks famously noted during the first conference of Cultural Studies, the set up of the space and environment will speak as much of a message as the message you intend, especially in regards to position and power.  The list of conspirators is long and impressive, a mix of practitioners, scholars, users who all have clout in their fields.  If this is a learning environment, there must be a zone of proximal development, and these people are the experts, some of if not most or all of.  I don’t necessarily think this should be shunned, but if it is to be heralded that we are all in a network and we are all on an equal footing, that footing is on shifting ground if I am one click away from seeing who is in charge.

My son is about to start preschool, and we are looking at all sorts of unique options for him.  We viewed a few Waldorf schools online, watching videos and the like, and I was shocked at how traditional the classrooms were.  I told my wife that I want to find a preschool where the teacher’s desk is not in the front of the room at the chalkboard.  Implicit in that statement is an understanding that relationships dictate learning, and by placing the teacher in that position you have a subject/master dichotomy happening.  #etmooc goes out of its way to remove that subject/master relationship, in ways more successful (in my opinion) than #moocmooc did.  But there are experts, there is digital inequality, there are inside jokes among the twitterverse regulars. I am excited about what #etmooc will provide, and curious as to how the facilitators will facilitate.