I want to compare two texts. The first is an op-ed by Richard Galant, a senior editor for CNN, entitled What if Students Learn Faster Without Teachers? The second is a 1987 video by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics entitled A Private Universe (you will need to click the VoD button next to the 1 in Individual Program Descriptions). In his op-ed, Galant uses the ideas of 2013 TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra for a School in the Cloud to question the effectiveness of teachers. In the Harvard-Smithsonian video, we see a bright student struggling with understanding how the Earth experiences different seasons, despite being handed the correct information. One text brazenly questions the role of teachers, while the other solidifies their necessity. And guess which one is getting the airtime?
Missed this a few weeks back, but at Inside Higher Ed author Ry Rivand covered a summit hosted by Harvard and MIT entitled Online Learning and the Future of Residential Education. While the proceedings were not quotable to the press, Rivand and other journalists had full access to presenters, professors and other dignitaries invited to discuss this future.
My focus as a researcher is on how massive learning technologies affect instruction and the instructor; contemporary learning theory puts a great deal of importance on creating a learning environment (that could turn into a community), experiencing learning through authentic hands-on projects, and contextualizing information. xMOOCs, as they have been sold, herald pedagogy but present a learning system of short videos and interactive quizzes, which original MOOC visionary George Siemens labels a return to 1960s educational theory and pedagogy*.
*If you didn’t click that link, do it. Siemens has a fantastic idea on how MOOCs could utilize gaming theory from World of Warcraft or Call of Duty in establishing grouping for projects, the sort of thing that education professor and community learning researcher Linda Polin sees as an authentic use of gamification in learning.
Anyone thinking Siemens’ quote is overly critical or cynical should view Rivand’s direct quote of Anant Agarwal, the director of MOOC provider EdX:
I missed this New York Times op-ed a few months back from John Markoff, who writes about computers and technology. It’s your standard MOOC media narrative — great change afoot, the potential to fix the education crisis, and so forth. One part stuck out, though:
Udacity, along with other MOOC designers, is moving rapidly away from the video lecture model of teaching toward an approach that is highly interactive and based on frequent quizzes and human “mentors” to provide active online support for students.
As I mentioned yesterday, Udacity heralds the death of the lecture on their website, and in the same sentence promotes mini-lectures, which are the same as lectures except sliced up. A sandwich doesn’t become filet mignon when you cut it into triangles, yet a lecture turns into best practices when captured to video and divided into segments. Continue reading
One can make the argument that educational theory and pedagogy don’t matter in the context of MOOC, because MOOC has ascended to magnificent heights prior to scholarly research or pedagogical rigor used in analysis of the learning system; if the State of California is going to require colleges to accept certain MOOCs for college credit, debating theory and pedagogy is akin to rearranging deck chairs.
That doesn’t stop MOOC providers from dressing themselves in pedagogy. One can’t blame them; product management 101 indicates the importance of promoting value and rigor in an item, even if the promotion is the only place the value and rigor exist. Case in point: Udacity’s proclamation that the lecture is dead. To prove the point, Udacity follows up with “Bite-size videos make learning fun.” Perhaps this is just semantics, but the video remains a lecture, correct? There is still only a one-way communication happening from sender to receiver, and the receiver has no opportunity to send back to the source. That’s a lecture, just as a snack.
Learning is fun; watch any toddler engage a new concept. Read some Piaget or Vygotsky. Learning has the potential to not be fun, certainly — I know my high school geometry course was only 10 months long, but at the time it felt like watching the teacher write proofs on the Elmo overhead projector stole my present and future. But fun learning was not invented four years ago with the advent of a ten-minute recorded lecture. At best, it’s the seven second abs of education.