Monthly Archives: June 2014

A Finished Dissertation – MOOC Pasts & Futures

After nearly two years of intense study, scholarship and research, my dissertation The Evolution & Impact of the Massive Open Online Course has been published to ProQuest (though I am sharing it via Scribd, as ProQuest is not always the easiest for open access).  The project, undertaken at the dawn of the meteoric rise of the Year of the MOOC, attempts to pinpoint the MOOC as a phenomenon and said phenomenon within how society views/ed education in 2014.    This included a substantial literature review that utilized critical theory to offer an alternative to the dominant narrative of educational progress:  analysis as well as critique of the dominant narrative of education’s history and historical purpose, a focus on the role of artificial intelligence in the shaping of education systems, and critiques of status quo systems and arguments from the perspective of historically marginalized voices.

The findings in the Delphi study can be viewed in a multitude of fashions; I chose two specifically:  the Likert scale answers to the prompts provided the expert panel, and critical analysis of expert answers looking at the issues behind the answers provided.  From the view of the Likert the results were mixed:  there was consensus on 4 of 12 prompts (faith in learning analytics, distance/online education not void of expertise, MOOCs are not the great solution for democratizing education, MOOCs could allow for tier-based educational opportunities), and a great deal of resistance on many of the remaining eight.  There was surprise in how consensus was achieved; I was not only surprised that experts agreed in the first round about the potential of big data, but was also surprised it took two rounds to agree that the field of distance and online education was a space with expertise.   Continue reading


One Interesting Thing About MOOCs Among the List of 8

At face value, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s 8 Things You Should Know About MOOCs, a data draw from the recent edX release of data, reads more like 8 Things You Already Know About MOOCs:  MOOCs are populated by highly educated individuals, most registrants do not interact, registration is highly Western.  Such tepid information makes the article feel like click-bait; anyone following MOOCs over the last 2.5 years could point to prior evidence of these facts the Chronicle article presents as novel.

What I found most interesting was the graphic relating to the gender distribution fact:  over 3/4 of edX students are male.  Again, this is not novel information; the Penn survey in 2013 noted this, data further elucidated by New Scientist magazine.  But the Chronicle presents the graphic by first showing gender breakdowns across American college campuses, where 57% of students are female.

screen capture from Chronicle of Higher Education

screen capture from Chronicle of Higher Education

It is a pretty stark difference to see a nearly 3 to 2 female to male majority on campus shift to 3 to 1 male to female in the world of MOOCs.  One could argue that fewer women than men participating in MOOCs is not necessarily shocking; there are many articles on record showing the STEM field to be male-dominated (some sensational, others more tempered), so this data could be read to support a largely accepted happenstance.  However, MOOC research (and EdTech research in general) is almost always instrumental by design, a form of A/B testing that abstracts the system from the environment and fails to account for political, cultural or social elements. Continue reading

Why HBX is Just Another MOOC (or a Food Dehydrator)

The Business School, Disrupted article in Sunday’s New York Times goes well out of its way to avoid labeling HBX (the pre-MBA online program preparing for roll-out through Harvard Business School) as a MOOC.  Rather, the article places HBX in contrast to the MOOC, and presents the MOOC in terms of Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation.  According to those quoted in the article (Dean Nitin Noriha, Professor Michael Porter, Professor Jay Lorsch, etc.), the instrumental qualities of a MOOC do not pertain to the HBX model:  there is a cost to enroll ($1,500), the format is not lecture-based, and the program actively discourages lurkers or vacationers in an effort to secure heavily active participants.  In short, HBX defines itself by pointing out its differences from the MOOC model; to paraphrase Baldrick from BBC’s Blackadder, it is a dog because it is not a cat.

The article is a fascinating touchstone of online education-as-phenomenon for reasons outside the MOOC instrument; Geoff Shullenberger discusses much of Clayton Christensen’s article presence over at his blog.  For me, the real power of the article is not in what makes HBX different instrumentally from a MOOC, but how the language of online education as proliferated through MOOC discourse has created a space for brazen discussion of education as branding and consumer-profit relationships.  The language of online education in 2014 (as presented in Useem’s article) not only fails to address the thoughts of research and scholarship in online education prior to Sebastian Thrun’s MOOC, but bolsters a worldview of online education in a manner antithetical to the earliest beliefs and hopes for what inexpensive telecommunication could do to revolutionize the way we learn and communicate.  The world of MOOCs, HBX and Disruptive Innovation look little like the ideals of transformational learning from the perspective of the learner.  From this perspective, HBX might act in a different manner than the MOOCs cited in the NYTimes article, but its purpose and view of why online education exists only solidifies the MOOC perspective. Continue reading