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Three Things Yacht Rock and MOOCs Teach Us About MOOCs and Yacht Rock

You mean to tell me everything that happened was just so I would record a song for a Gregory Hines movie?

Michael McDonald, Yacht Rock (Episode 12)

If you’re affluent, we can do a much better job with you, we can make magic happen.

Sebastian Thrun, Pando Q&A, 5/12/14

Thirty years ago this week, the featured song on from the movie Running Scared, Michael McDonald’s Sweet Freedom made its way to #7 on the Billboard Top 40 (an anniversary I have not seen noted anywhere), an event which decades later was anointed as the apex of the musical genre Yacht Rock.  Five years ago this month, three courses in the Stanford Computer Science department were offered online at no cost to the general public (an anniversary already noted at Coursera and Udacity), an event which months later was anointed the birth of the Massive Open Online Course.

Is there a connection?

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MOOCs and the Mythological Promise

Daphne Koller is leaving Coursera to join Google Alphabet Calico.  EdTech is not the sort of field that keeps up with comings and goings a la the Hollywood Reporter, but this movement is significant in that Koller (along with Sebastian Thrun and Andrew Ng) were the public faces of The Year of the MOOC, MOOCmania and All Things MOOC after the stratospheric success of Stanford’s Fall 2011 courses.  Thrun remains at Udacity but recently stepped down as CEO, while Ng left the day-to-day operations of Coursera in 2014.  With Koller also leaving, MOOC’s original three have all now moved on from the immediate operations of their spawn.

Interestingly, the other MOOC professor at Stanford in 2011, who was not part of the media push or start-up aftermath,  was Jennifer Widom.  She has continued to teach MOOCs since 2011, and during her current sabbatical year is offering free courses in data and design…and those free courses are going to be in-person.

It’s been five years since the initial three Stanford MOOCs were announced, four years since The Year of the MOOC and the tsunami coming to education and the rotting tree, three years since SJSU hit the pause button on the MOOCs promised to save their school, two years since the failures of MOOCs were mansplained into the promise of MOOC 2.0, and one year since nobody took advantage of the ASU/edX Global Freshman Academy.  It has been a lot of bluster but very little result.   Continue reading

Everything Schools Discussion Boards on Pedagogy

Facebook Schools MOOCs on Engagement.”  That’s a provocative title.  It’s also beyond hollow.

The research at the heart of this EdSurge buzz, coming out of Penn State, looked at three Coursera MOOCs and their supplemental faculty-run Facebook pages.  In each MOOC, students who engaged with the Facebook page remained engaged for longer than those who used the Coursera discussion boards.  This makes sense; the discussion board is not unique to Coursera but rather has a history dating back decades, while the architecture of Facebook does take from Friendster and MySpace to an extent but offers something unique to social media.  There are problems with the research (see Mike Caulfield’s blog on the topic and a subsequent Twitter conversation), in part because the research makes much ado of what is fairly straightforward understanding of discussion boards versus social media engagement in online spaces. People who have logged into Facebook are going to do Facebook things there because Facebook is designed for Facebook things.  Facebook does Facebook Things Better Than Coursera.  That’s a truthful title but it misses the point of the MOOC exchange.  Students who engage external teacher-driven social media networks are happier in those external teacher-driven social media networks than they are using the LMS-provided discussion fora.  Awkward as a title, but it also does not push promises of solutionism onto the Facebook platform.

This is not an attack on Facebook, but we should not be annointing Facebook as pedagogical powerhouses simply because they aren’t an awful Coursera discussion board.  This is also not a knock on Coursera; you could name any learning management system and substitute in their particular discussion board and you’d have the same problems, because the discussion forum is not an ideal place for developing community or collaboration or continuity in an online course.  Example example.  Discussion boards are not low-hanging fruit; they are fruit that fell from the tree weeks ago and is the cause of that unpleasant odor you found upon arrival. Facebook Wins by Providing Any Option Other than Discussion Board.

My problem is in the presentation of the research, and what impressions of the path of MOOCs (or Distance Ed or Online Learning) the EdSurge (or Campus Technology) summary promotes.   Continue reading