Monthly Archives: April 2013

Research in a World of Constant Connection – #AERA13

Research plays an integral part in the archetype of a college professor.  At state and select private universities (often known as Research I schools), a professor’s research record is as important as their teaching and service records, often more so.  At mid-major and liberal arts colleges, research may not be as integral but it is still important and relevant.  The ability for a professor to conduct topical and relevant research from implementation to publication is considered vital to the growth of the specific discipline as well as academia at large.

This is evident at a conference like the American Educational Research Association’s Annual Meeting, happening right now in San Francisco, where thousands of educators are presenting their research findings to thousands of attendees.  The sheer volume of papers and presentations on topical issues across the various strata of education is overwhelming, and AERA has worked diligently to divide their membership mass into divisions and special interest groups so that individuals can find field-specific topics to utilize for their scholarship or to share their scholarship.

I want to ask the question but does it matter? and then cut to the page break, being all provocative and such.  That’s not the right question, because it does matter.  It matters a lot.  But how much of a difference is it truly making?  Continue reading

Gartner’s Hype Cycle as Springboard – MOOC and Public Policy

A common theme in early MOOC criticism was a linking of the MOOC to Gartner’s Hype Cycle.

Certainly, a lot of hype accompanied the MOOC…more hype than for any EdTech innovation in education history, and perhaps more hype than for any learning model (or even agent of change) in higher education history. Spurred by a media narrative focused on a broken educational system, the MOOC was heralded not only as a means of providing cost-efficient education, but doing it through the best universities and professors in the world, for the entire world, in a way that would break down existing conventions of class and privilege. In short, MOOCs could crumble a bloated ivory tower while providing an education of higher-than-existing quality to individuals from around the world, eradicating student debt all the while.

Use of the hype cycle in discussion of MOOCs looked at the learning model as a present artifact that needed attachment to a history. That history could be MIT’s OpenCourseware, Columbia’s Fathom, Yale & Stanford’s AllLearn, the use of television in education (such as Nebraska Educational Telecommunications of the 1960s), the use of radio in education, or even the establishment of correspondence-based schools in the late 19th Century (such as Cornell University’s satellite school of correspondence). None of these innovations proved to be game-changers for higher education; moreover, almost all of the above were deemed failures by the developing institutions.

But the MOOC is ahistorical, borne of an intersection of machine learning, computer science and a TED talk by Sal Khan. It cannot be rated entirely on the history of similar distance education ventures, if at all.

Continue reading

MOOCs: Where’s the Lit Review?

One of the purposes of research is to establish a foundation of prior knowledge for future experiments to engage and extrapolate before proposing a new design that will further the field.  This is important; without an understanding of what came before, research runs the risk of reinventing the wheel, or even (worse yet) coming up with something more rudimentary than the wheel.

In my days of teaching creative writing, it used to be quite the stressor to get smart, motivated teenagers to take notes of their plots and characters.  These were students used to doing everything right and being able to beat the system just with what was stored in their heads.  I explained that creative writing was not about beating a system, and the more complex a story and a group of characters became, the more important it was to create a system where you could record those complexities so you could return to it as the story developed.  Some listened right away and got to work.  Some needed trial and error before coming to me so we could devise strategies.  Some never listened and became increasingly frustrated.  In the end, it was more likely for someone from the first or second group to have a coherent, rich story than someone from the third group.

I think about this as I read more literature on the history of MOOCs as described by the MOOC creators.   Continue reading

Worth Reading – Nipper’s Generations of Distance Education (1989)

If Anant Agarwal can walk around the Harvard/MIT Summit of Higher Education with a cognitive science paper written in 1972, I can herald the work of Soren Nipper and his generational view of distance education.  The difference being, Nipper’s work is seminal in the history of distance education, and the piece is both critical of lackadaisical pedagogy as well as cautious of, as he calls it, computer conferencing without accounting for the numerous variables inherent in learning.

There’s lots of good academic reading in this field — Terry Anderson, John Daniel, Tony Bates — but Nipper comes up in all of it.