Finding Focus in the MOOC Haze

When I began this blog, I intended it as a curation of the MOOC discussion, weaving in the current news with historical reference and adjacent issues in education.  That ended quickly, as the MOOCstrom (think Norway on that one) is relentless, with a barrage of new articles popping across email, blogs, RSS and social media.  Trying to curate everything resulted in two observations:  1)  most MOOC writing is reference-less commentary, and 2) most of the commentary (and you could make a case for commentary in general) is a simulacrum, built of assumptions and misnomers presented as zealous fact.  Commenting on commentary will only continue to push the conversation down the rabbit hole, resulting in more conversations built of error.

I believe in the potential of education, technology and community to create better.  I rarely see it.  Adding a rudder-less blog into the din, no matter how noble the intention, only creates more white noise.  Thus, the majority of this blog’s future will build around these planks:

1)  Operational vocabulary/key thinkers and theories.  I came into education a dozen years ago with no respect for educators; my moxie got me by in front of the class, my personality kept attention, and I came up with cool assignments for my students.  I did not see how four years of technique for making a bulletin board was worth my time; I was exceeding the expectations of my students, so the problem must have been looking at education itself as a discipline.  Twelve years later, I look at that as such a ego-laden, moronic sentiment.  We all might have assumptions, beliefs and even intuition on how people learn and how best to teach them, but if we are all rediscovering the wheel we will never make the large-scale progress we all got into education to make.

People in edu have given their life to make life better for others, so I am reluctant to criticize.  I will, however.  The lack of knowledge many (if not most) educators have of key thinkers, key theories and the operational vocabulary of education is at best appalling and at worst dangerous.  Recently I blogged about the misuse of scaffolding in a blog from a humanities professor who has a keen interest in ed tech.  His blog has received a great deal of traction, yet it uses scaffolding to label negative practices in the classroom, when what he advocates for is actually the educational textbook definition of scaffolding.  His sentiments have been echoed by others who are respected in ed tech…they use scaffolding as analogy instead of theory as built by Vygotsky and developed by Bandura and Wenger and others.  If the scholars aren’t aware of the operational vocabulary, how can a real conversation for change happen?

2)  MOOC as Present Reality.  MOOCs were not borne of Sal Khan or Sebastian Thrun (both of whom seem like really good people, just people without an education background who believe their reinvention of the wheel is the discovery of Valhalla).  MOOCs were not borne of George Siemens and Stephen Downes either (though I doubt either would say they were).  The MOOC is a step on the evolution of distance learning, which at this point seems to at least be working on getting parallel with face-to-face learning.

That being said, we can’t ignore MOOCs, can’t wish them away, can’t pine for cMOOCs and wish plague on Coursera.  Discourse sets the reality, and so even if the MOOC is a flash-in-the-pan, it is not because of the energy behind it and the discussion it has led to in circles of change and policy. Universities are quickly aligning themselves with xMOOC platforms or (in some cases) trying to build their own or a variant.  It has changed the institution of education, and thus it will in some way change education, regardless of whether it as a learning system will change the learning in the education system.

3) The Future of Learning.  This is a popular one — a professor of mine led a TED talk recently with A school in 20 years will look nothing like it does today.  He admitted to me that part of that was hyperbole designed to gain interest; there will be change but “look” is rather subjective and multi-faceted.  So I’m less interested in looking at how the education/formal learning institution and system will look, and more interested in seeing how learning will happen in the future.  And right now, there is a clash between the xMOOC developers who see course cartridges as the democratization of education, and the constructivists and social learning folks who see community and creation/authentic practice as the means.  Following that struggle is more interesting to me than prognosticating about other issues, because that struggle will in part dictate how our learning institutions, formal and informal, look and act.

I am excited to continue the MOOC discussion in all its contexts and varieties; just this week I am participating in #moocmooc, and will get into #etmooc next week and other various cMOOCs, including an interesting one I just heard of offered from David Wiley.  Hopefully adding a rudder to this blog will help create more salient points and not just be another helping of echo noise.

2 thoughts on “Finding Focus in the MOOC Haze

  1. Pingback: Finding Focus in the MOOC Haze | TRENDS IN HIGHER EDUCATION |

  2. Pingback: Finding Focus in the MOOC Haze | Utbildning på nätet |

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