Monthly Archives: April 2014

2014: The Year of MOOC Click Bait

The University of Pennsylvania invited several hundred education reporters to a seminar on MOOCs. The school expected 15 to 20 enrollees from media outlets, but as of the catering deadline, only four responded. So the group cancelled the event.

This is the premise under which the Chronicle of Higher Education provided the click-bait headline “2014: The Year the Media Stopped Caring About MOOCs?” The article, written by Steve Kolowich, is only a few hundred words and notes that discussion of the MOOC in mainstream media has not waned…meaning the article headline poses a provocative question that the text of the article not only fails to support but rather disputes. Reading the article does not ask the question Is the media craze for the MOOC dying? but rather makes the tepid statement A University did not get enough registrants for a seminar and decided to cancel it, hardly a front-page story.  If MOOC interest was truly waning, such a non-story would be relegated to the basement of Chronicle operations, accessible only by those empowering search and a desire to read all things MOOC.

Yet the daily Wired Campus Chronicle email blast showcased Kolowich’s article on April 15: Continue reading

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The Struggle to Define Our Jargon – Excerpts from MOOC Research

Note: I will use this space over the next month to share excerpts from my dissertation The Evolution & Impact of the Massive Open Online Course. The research was a Delphi study bringing together 20 MOOC experts to discuss the MOOC in educational, political, and sociocultural terms (slides from the oral presentation can be seen here). Upon library clearance, the entire document will be available through a Creative Commons license. The following is from Chapter 1, the argument for significance. This excerpt looks at the hype-based MOOC arguments seen in news media, as well as criticisms on the MOOC and its hype.

Disagreement on definitions of education terms. The expert Delphi panel encountered a number of difficulties in finding agreed-upon definitions for education and research terms. Within the three rounds of discussion, terms such as data, open, student, pedagogy, personalization, sufficient and online education were used in divergent ways to describe similar variables or phenomena. Some have argued that such disagreement stems historically from education as a moving profession basing itself within the sociocultural milieu of the time (Harvey, 2005), so definitions outside of an educator’s primary discipline would be more negotiated than those within a field of study. However, in the Delphi study experts had no problems finding agreed-upon definitions for the business and technological terms utilized in the study such as disruptive technology and learning analytics, terms also secondary to primary discipline.

Finding spaces of agreement or disagreement is predicated upon establishing the rules and parameters for a conversation. The Delphi study was designed to create a space for various experts associated with the MOOC phenomenon to freely discuss the social, historical, political and educational impact and future of the MOOC and higher education. This is the traditional method for a Delphi study: experts of a subject have a space to discuss a rising phenomenon amongst other experts, and the panelist design mitigates the levels of expertise so that conversation can begin at a high level (Linstone & Turoff, 2002). The experts chosen for this Delphi study are all influential scholars and practitioners tied to MOOCs, but the varying definitions provided by experts in wrestling with prompts and topics created a space where conversation was dedicated to shoring up vocabulary misconceptions, space that could have been used for further debating the topics. It is possible that the problems with terminology were in fact explorations and negotiations of dominant readings; however, a negotiated view of education as an academic discipline understands the discipline is a field where expertise is often questioned, as evidenced by the prompt #expertise.  Experts debated each other’s interpretations of vocabulary rather than a conception of dominant vocabulary usage.

The success of quasi-educational concepts such as disruptive technology is predicated in part on the widespread understanding and adoption of the term in popular and critical media. The fathers of disruptive technology, Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn, have published numerous books, research articles, blogs, conference proceedings, and media articles on the topic and its impact on a number of societal sectors, most recently education. The result is an economic phenomenon gaining understanding and acceptance within a number of other institutions and societal structures, such as higher education, a space where it is difficult to extrapolate discussion of how the MOOC changes higher education without discussing disruptive technology (Horn & Christensen, 2013). Such baseline definitions of the debate shift the discussion of the future of education from an education-centric perspective to the perspective of agreed-upon terminology, such as the economics of disruptive technology, or the monetization of MOOCs, or the technology of automated learning, terminology favoring a commercial or consumable lens from which to frame higher education. For education to remain a viable lens from which to engage the MOOC debate, the field must agree upon terms as basic as data, open, and student, as well as complex topics such as pedagogy and personalization.

Non-Web Citations:

Harvey, D. (2005).  A brief history of neoliberalism.  New York:  Oxford.
Linstone, H. & Turoff, M. (2002).  The Delphi Method:  Techniques and applications.  Reading, MA:  Addison-Wesley.

Assembly Line Learning – Excerpts from MOOC Research

Note: I will use this space over the next month to share excerpts from my dissertation The Evolution & Impact of the Massive Open Online Course. The research was a Delphi study bringing together 20 MOOC experts to discuss the MOOC in educational, political, and sociocultural terms (slides from the oral presentation can be seen here). Upon library clearance, the entire document will be available through a Creative Commons license. The following is from Chapter 1, the argument for significance. This excerpt looks at the hype-based MOOC arguments seen in news media, as well as criticisms on the MOOC and its hype.

Distance education as industrialized model of learning.  As mentioned previously, the field of distance education largely roots its history in structural changes to the transmission of information. This idea of education as a technological structure can be traced within the literature to Otto Peters (1983). Contemporary leaders in the field of educational technology and MOOCs have positioned their technologies as a wave of innovation in a system inert for over 100 years (Khan & Noer, 2012; Thrun, 2012), but Peters traces the inertia back to the Renaissance, arguing the advent of distance education was the first change to the system, and positioning a concept of distance education that promotes flexibility, efficiency and scalability (Peters, 1983). To accomplish this, the historical notion of a singular instructor, who throughout history has been a lone person involved in numerous aspects of a student’s education within a course, is replaced, and the instructional labor is divided into multiple positions filled by multiple individuals, each focused on one aspect of the learning process:

In distance study the teaching process is based on the division of labour and detached from the person of the university lecturer. It is therefore independent from a subjectively determined teaching situation…the division of labour and the objectification of the teaching process allow each work process to be planned in such a way that clearly formulated teaching objectives are achieved in the most efficient manner. Specialists may be responsible for a limited area in each phase (pg. 98).

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MOOC Hype & Hesitance – Excerpts from MOOC Research

Note: I will use this space over the next month to share excerpts from my dissertation The Evolution & Impact of the Massive Open Online Course. The research was a Delphi study bringing together 20 MOOC experts to discuss the MOOC in educational, political, and sociocultural terms (slides from the oral presentation can be seen here). Upon library clearance, the entire document will be available through a Creative Commons license. The following is from Chapter 1, the argument for significance. This excerpt looks at the hype-based MOOC arguments seen in news media, as well as criticisms on the MOOC and its hype.

Much [MOOC] fervor comes from the promise of MOOCs as seen from their developers and the mass media. For these individuals and their adherents, MOOCs hold the potential to transform education (Brooks, 2012; Friedman, 2012; Thrun, 2011).  Viewed as disruptive technology, a technology that provides an established service to an emerging community of users and in doing so revolutionizes the existing community of users (Bowers & Christensen, 1995), MOOCs can provide elite educational experiences to any citizen of the world with access to an Internet-based computer and a willingness to perform the tasks of the course. These supporters see the MOOC as a global agent for the democratization of education, the opportunity to allow students of all races, ages and backgrounds to take classes from the best professors on Earth (Friedman, 2013b) at relatively little or no economic cost to the user.  MOOCs can harness the vast array of the provider’s institutional resources to help transition society from an Industrial Age, goods and services economy to a 21st Century, knowledge-based economy.  From this lens, future students will not be encumbered by the mountains of debt currently plaguing college graduates (Parr, 2013), and the MOOC model will allow an ease of lifelong learning, where individuals can enroll in MOOCs as the needs of their careers change (Hill, 2013a).

Those critical of the MOOC movement see the potential for transformation as a net negative.  The start-up organizations currently organizing and hosting a majority of existing MOOCs have raised tens of millions of dollars from venture capital organizations, and these organizations expect a return on their investment (Veletsianos, 2013a). This privatization of higher education perilously mirrors domestic and international primary education privatization initiatives over the past 30 years, initiatives built around the before-mentioned schools are broken rhetoric, yet those initiatives of the past 30 years have produced at best a negligible improvement in student learning (Mehta, 2013).  This line of thinking views the learning potential of the MOOC as secondary to the opportunity it provides private enterprise to create capital in what was heretofore a public service built on government subsidy and non-profit ideals.

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