One of my pet peeves in the MOOC hype is the discussion of best teachers. Whether it’s Thomas Friedman, Bill Gates, Sal Khan, or the fringes of the political spectrum (left and right), rhetoric regarding xMOOCs explicitly states that the structure will allow many people to take class offerings from the best teachers in the world. However, no one has offered a rationale on a) what constitutes a best teacher in the world, and b) how they will end up fronting MOOCs such as those offered by Udacity, Coursera and edX. The rhetoric is as follows: MOOCs are partnering with prestigious universities, step 2, best teachers in the world. This fits a dominant ideology of prestigious universities, but perhaps we should challenge such ideology, because when we do the rhetoric looks more like this:
Equating institutional affiliation with ability is not a reliable indicator of success. Professors at prestigious universities perhaps are the best teachers in the world, or they may be good researchers, or they may be well-known in their field, or they may have a great deal of publishings, or perhaps they once were the best in the world at (teaching, publishing, research, publicity) but their recent scholarship has languished. To anoint a professor as one of the best teachers in the world because of their institutional affiliation is a superficial, research-bereft method of analysis. Continue reading →
The cancellation “temporary suspension” of Coursera’s Fundamentals of Online Education course is a watershed moment in the rapidly growing world of MOOCs. Inside Higher Ed has summarized the problems which befell the course and led to suspension, and a number of course participants have documented their experiences, displeasure and ideas for potential fixes (Debbie Morrison’s experience, chronicled on her blog Online Learning Insights, was the first on the scene, and subsequent artifacts continue to arrive, such as the #foemooc Twitter feed). There are many questions on a structural level, such as why a course with an enrollment of 40K would utilize a service such as Google Documents, which limits docs to 50 simultaneous users. These are the questions most likely to be asked and answered in the dominant narrative…when if Coursera discusses it in the media or on their site (as of publication, Coursera had no notice or explanation of the suspension on their page; rather, the course is listed as upcoming), they will likely focus on the structural shortcomings and their structural fixes. There are other considerations and potential questions to put in the forum as well:
1) The partnership between the California State University system (San Jose State University to be specific) and MOOC provider Udacity allows a credit-based output for MOOC enrollment. This is despite a lack of accreditation for Udacity, a for-profit enterprise producing curricular materials. One could say it is the responsibility of the scholastic institution to assure quality control, and that would be true in conventional academia…but the narrative in society is not about San Jose State University doing great things in their utilization of a resource such as Udacity, but instead about Udacity changing education as we know it, and that change is implied as for the better. Continue reading →
Reading John Gatto’s pioneering work Dumbing Us Down, and took to musing on one of the paragraphs, this one from Dan Greenberg, founder of Sudbury Valley School, who wanted to look at what students need from modern education in a modern economic, social and political landscape:
Children must grow up in an environment that stresses self-motivation and self-assessment. Schools that focus on external motivating factors, such as rewards and punishments for meeting goals set by others, are denying children the tools they need most to survive.
As noted in my previous post looking at Thomas Friedman’s thoughts on MOOCs, there is a disconnect between the idea that education needs to produce a strong workforce and the idea that education needs to produce creative, critical and divergent thinkers who can tackle multi-faceted problems facing society and the world at large. Writers such as Gatto (2002), Stephen Ball (2003), and P. Taylor Webb (2009) see the contemporary political and curricular landscape of education as a system of rewards and disciplines, from the national level and No Child Left Behind all the way down to the individual classroom providing stickers or detentions. Such an environment, based on standardized assessment of content remembered, facilitates a workforce to provide a good or service rather than to tackle complexity. Even more general-minded individuals such as Sir Ken Robinson (2009) see a problem with a school system designed to produce scalable assessable results rather than critical, creative and divergent outcomes based on the context of the content. Continue reading →
I am reluctant to review newspaper articles or op-ed pieces in the same way I have handled journal articles, series chapters or literature from the developers of MOOC platforms. However, if utilizing a critical theory lens, no discourse can be ignored, especially when it is presented as dominant ideology. And few volumes have such a cultural resonance as the New York Times and bestselling author Thomas Friedman.
My research and scholarship revolves around how learning technology (specifically recent explosions in distance and online learning technologies such as Khan Academy, cMOOCs and xMOOCs) affects the teaching profession. There is great scholarship on the difficulties of distance instruction, and a whole host of people writing about educational technology while showing concern to stakeholders existing in academics. There is not a lot of research writing on MOOCs as of yet, and very little on the xMOOC so commonly considered when discussing MOOCs. And there is even less MOOC writing that focuses on instructors, or on the teaching profession, and how MOOCs work with/affect it. Andrew Ng, one of the co-founders of Coursera, has an essay in today’s Inside Higher Education where he looks specifically at the relationship between MOOC and instructor. In reading MOOC literature (and the subsequent comments), I find a great deal of how one interprets the writing depends a great deal on that individual’s prior inferences and assumptions. This is nothing new — perhaps it just seems new and loud in a world of quick publishing — but it bears mention, especially when it is easy to consider any writing to be Fact. There are multiple ways to read a text; I am taken back to Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding and his ideas of dominant, oppositional and resistance readings. In the spirit of this article, I am going to tackle it from the theoretical standpoint of critical pedagogy. Continue reading →
Interesting thoughts on the development of MOOCs outside the usual crunch of ed-tech and instructional design folk, this coming from Waldo Krugell, an economics professor at North-West University in South Africa. The post is exploratory, looking at xMOOC not as a democratization tool for education as much as an opportunity to sell the existing face-to-face structure as premium. He compares this to airlines’ handling of first, business and economy class, especially in recent years on the economy side with fares brought in low but other aspects of travel (baggage, meal, pillow, entertainment) sold at a premium; in the first-class area, however, the treatment is rather different. This is an encouraged business model sold along with pragmatism; Krugell (who does not say whether he is personally in favor of or against such a measure) says his inspiration comes from the following quote on travel:
It is not because of the few thousand francs which would have to be spent to put a roof over the third-class carriage or to upholster the third-class seats that some company or other has open carriages with wooden benches … What the company is trying to do is prevent the passengers who can pay the second-class fare from traveling third class; it hits the poor, not because it wants to hurt them, but to frighten the rich … And it is again for the same reason that the companies, having proved almost cruel to the third-class passengers and mean to the second-class ones, become lavish in dealing with first-class customers. Having refused the poor what is necessary, they give the rich what is superfluous.
This quote comes from Jules Dupuit, a civil engineer and economist, writing about the economics of travel in the 1860s.
From the pragmatic, business-oriented mindset that seems to have not only infiltrated academe but gained position and power, revenue-generating models are neither good nor bad, just a necessity. From a neoliberal point of view, any negativity associated with MOOCs should be balanced against the democratization of education possible with such a system. From the critical pedagogical perspective, this is further proof that education has strayed well from its progressive ideals as a place to educate young minds to be critical and active citizens (local, national and global) and rests squarely as a training ground for skill development and leveling up on a trade or craft, the implications far beyond short-term low-promotion employ.
I think competency-based learning is where things are going. Learning unit reduced from courses to competencies.
If he is correct (I believe he is), this has a lot of implication on the things we usually talk about in relationship to MOOCs: economics, the University (and the entire formal education system), the student. We don’t talk as much about the social and cultural role of education (to be fair, we don’t talk about it much these days at all), and we talk less about the role of educators and instructors (except when we question their veracity and effect on measurable metrics). It all ties together though, and if we are looking at competencies, we are looking at a marginalization of the educator (at best). It might help a bottom line, but what effect does it have outside of economics?