One of the longstanding questions around the MOOC movement is financial: there is a great deal of venture capital locked up in Coursera, edX and Udacity, but none of these organizations have provided a methodology of ROI for its benefactors, choosing instead to focus on heartwarming anecdotes about the potential of global education (quick tangent — Aaron Bady has a great takedown of the MOOCmania over here, where he challenges Clay Shirky’s most recent article and pinpoints the MOOC hysteria as an easy mark, where MOOC can stand for any potential and the current system for all failings). While philanthropy is not lost on MOOCs, venture capital is not traditionally so gregarious with its investments, so a way to pay back the investors must emerge. And here is where speculation begins in a rampant earnestness (my favorite part of this article is where Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller nonchalantly focuses on scalability…reminds me of the SNL sketch for the Bank of Change where the CEO says his bank [that deals wholly in making exact change] turns a profit based on volume).
One of my pet peeves in the MOOC hype is the discussion of best teachers. Whether it’s Thomas Friedman, Bill Gates, Sal Khan, or the fringes of the political spectrum (left and right), rhetoric regarding xMOOCs explicitly states that the structure will allow many people to take class offerings from the best teachers in the world. However, no one has offered a rationale on a) what constitutes a best teacher in the world, and b) how they will end up fronting MOOCs such as those offered by Udacity, Coursera and edX. The rhetoric is as follows: MOOCs are partnering with prestigious universities, step 2, best teachers in the world. This fits a dominant ideology of prestigious universities, but perhaps we should challenge such ideology, because when we do the rhetoric looks more like this:
Equating institutional affiliation with ability is not a reliable indicator of success. Professors at prestigious universities perhaps are the best teachers in the world, or they may be good researchers, or they may be well-known in their field, or they may have a great deal of publishings, or perhaps they once were the best in the world at (teaching, publishing, research, publicity) but their recent scholarship has languished. To anoint a professor as one of the best teachers in the world because of their institutional affiliation is a superficial, research-bereft method of analysis. Continue reading →
The cancellation “temporary suspension” of Coursera’s Fundamentals of Online Education course is a watershed moment in the rapidly growing world of MOOCs. Inside Higher Ed has summarized the problems which befell the course and led to suspension, and a number of course participants have documented their experiences, displeasure and ideas for potential fixes (Debbie Morrison’s experience, chronicled on her blog Online Learning Insights, was the first on the scene, and subsequent artifacts continue to arrive, such as the #foemooc Twitter feed). There are many questions on a structural level, such as why a course with an enrollment of 40K would utilize a service such as Google Documents, which limits docs to 50 simultaneous users. These are the questions most likely to be asked and answered in the dominant narrative…when if Coursera discusses it in the media or on their site (as of publication, Coursera had no notice or explanation of the suspension on their page; rather, the course is listed as upcoming), they will likely focus on the structural shortcomings and their structural fixes. There are other considerations and potential questions to put in the forum as well:
1) The partnership between the California State University system (San Jose State University to be specific) and MOOC provider Udacity allows a credit-based output for MOOC enrollment. This is despite a lack of accreditation for Udacity, a for-profit enterprise producing curricular materials. One could say it is the responsibility of the scholastic institution to assure quality control, and that would be true in conventional academia…but the narrative in society is not about San Jose State University doing great things in their utilization of a resource such as Udacity, but instead about Udacity changing education as we know it, and that change is implied as for the better. Continue reading →