Last week, Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland & Phil Levine of Wellesley College received a great deal of media attention for their in-process paper Early Childhood Education by MOOC: Lessons from Sesame Street. Asserting that research on Sesame Street & educational efficacy is lacking and has failed to engage beyond the immediate or short-term results, Kearney & Levine designed an apparatus in an attempt to find a correlation between exposure to Sesame Street and longitudinal outcomes such as high school graduation or post-school labor gains. While their instrument did show statistically significant outcomes in the immediate and short-term for those with better access to Sesame Street, the instrument failed to note any significance beyond (the researchers note this as inconclusive, though the only inconclusive aspect is whether the failure was on the part of the instrument or if the findings are in fact insignificant).
What does this have to do with MOOCs? Not a whole lot as per the research. But the invocation of MOOCs is indicative of an ahistoricism that permeates this work-under-review. Saying Sesame Street is ostensibly the first MOOC shows a fundamental flaw in Kearney & Levine’s historical literature review on the subject, a flaw Audrey Watters notes and critiques in an excellent response to the paper and subsequent media furor. Continue reading
Quick note on Coursera founder Daphne Koller’s quote from Friday’s Wall Street Journal:
If you put an instructor to sleep 300 years ago and woke him up in a classroom today, he’ll say, ‘Oh, I know exactly where I am’
This sort of ahistoric bluster is nothing new. My favorite example is from edX CEO Anant Agarwal from 2014, which came from a keynote at Campus Technology’s 2014 conference. Agarwal had a photo of a 1950s MIT classroom as a slide, and accompanied it with this quote:
What is interesting about this photo is that nothing has changed…[Other industries have been transformed, and learners have changed, but education hasn’t changed]…It is pathetic that the education system has not changed in hundreds of years.
In the interest of full disclosure, this was not the picture from Dr. Agarwal’s presentation. I know this because a 1950s picture of a MIT lecture hall would not have nearly that many female students. In 1955, the Ad Hoc Committee on the Place of Women at MIT believed women were not successful undergraduates, a position contrary to the attitude of Chancellor Julius Stratton but evidenced by the low enrollment of female students. It would taken 10 more years for attitudes to change at MIT, and nearly a generation after that before levels of gender equity would fall more in line with similar universities.
This is not Dr. Agarwal’s first ahstoric bemoaning of the lack of change in education; just two years ago he was painted by Inside Higher Ed to be gobsmacked by education-related research from 1972.
Education changed 300 years ago, and 200 years ago, and 100 years ago, and 70 years ago and 60 years ago and 50 years ago and so forth. Even in the past 3.5 years, since the MOOC monolith, education has changed…what has not changed is the ahistoric narrative sold by MOOC developers.
For more examples of how education has changed, and just from a lens of equity, there is a great Hack Education piece from 2012 on the very subject.
Republished from edutechnicalities
The history of edutainment, a mid-20th Century portmanteau used to describe the mix of broadcast contents with an educational context, is a fascinating field, and Audrey Watters’ Story of The Learning Channel is an important addition to a critical reader on the relationship of broadcast media, ownership rights and the education superstructure. Noting how the current state of
The Learning Channel TLC evokes responses of, “Remember when it was called The Learning Channel,” Audrey presents the history of the infrastructure which created what was a public-public partnership between government agencies to provide satellite-based educational television (conceptualized in the 1960s, partnered with more public agencies and enacted in the early 1970s), and how public-public became public-private became private became a host of barrel-scraping reality TV fare. It is an excellent read.
The article ends with questions to consider when engaging broadcast television, education, edutainment and the other terms and subfields that inhabit this realm:
- Who owns the “pipes”? Who owns the means by which content is transmitted? Who owns the satellites? Who owns the spectrum? Who owns the cables? Who owns the network?
- What do we mean by “educational content”? In particular, how has our definition of “documentary” changed over the last few decades? How does this shape what media – in form and in content – enters the classroom?
- How have regional educational agencies and distance education providers – particularly those offering for-credit classes – been affected by the commercialization of content and delivery?
- How has education become increasingly commercialized? How might education on the Internet and via various computer technologies be following down that very path taken by education on cable TV?
This topic intersects with my emerging research; I am thankful to Audrey for this discussion and the energy behind it. I would like to join the conversation as part of an emergent discussion.
In 2014, Coursera announced a partnership with Curiosity.com, a start-up launched from within Discovery Communications, whom Coursera heralded as the parent company of Discovery and Animal Planet. (Note: in November Curiosity.com spun off and away from the Discovery Communications paternity) At the time, I blogged about the partnership, briefly touching on the histories of Discovery and The Learning Channel, as well as the media conglomerate that would form from their 1990s merger/acquisition and growth. I framed this in the context of edutainment, which took me down a whirlwind of Disney history, resulting in scholarship on the relationship between the learning objects/resources of the OER movement, edutainment, and the ‘free-as-in-beer’ resources one finds in Coursera/edX/curiosity.com. The expansion of this research continues; at the present I am adopting a postmodern lens to look at the history of broadcast contents within education, in their utilitarian existence as well as their social/political/cultural/philosophical/power contexts too.