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 →
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:
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.
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.
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.
Every bit of the conversation between the two is worth reading (as well as the Twitter additions from other EdTech-minded individuals). This conversation is a highlighted example of a more and more common conversation happening within this wing of the EdTech world — the *forgotten history* of distance education/online learning and what it means when *we* forget *our* history. Downes points out inefficiencies in the MOOC research Siemens links to (based on the MOOC Research Initiative) due to a lack of familiarity with the richness of the field, and after calling for people to take education back from edtech vendors, Siemens also links to the importance of research and evidence. From this perspective, the problem is ignorance or naivety and the solution is research, research seen here as both an awakening of the shoulders of giants as well as a tool of influence in greater conversations. Continue reading →
The program, which started last winter, pairs MOOC-like course videos and assessments with a support system of course assistants who work directly with students. The goal is to create a low-cost master’s degree that is nonetheless “just as rigorous” as the on-campus equivalent—producing graduates who are “just as good,” to quote one of the new program’s cheerleaders, President Obama. The price: less than $7,000 for the three-year program, a small fraction of the cost of the traditional program.
By understanding what kinds of students are drawn to the new program, Mr. Goodman and his fellow researchers think they can begin to understand what competitors it might threaten.
Bringing down the cost of a professional program is an admirable goal, and this specific success could mean a great deal for the target population of this and other professional, graduate programs. However, the rhetoric surrounding initiatives such as the Udacity/Georgia Tech/AT&T partnership rarely distinguishes between the target population of a professional program and the population at the heart of the crisis in higher education.
The din of the MOOC world continues unabated, vacillating between the MOOC continuing its march toward Valhalla and the MOOC as a dying revolution in need of last rites. The multiple personality disorder of MOOC coverage is most evident in last week’s tech-business articles about MOOC company Udaicty. Upstart Business Journal last week wondered aloud if the MOOC was dying, asking the question whether Sebastian Thrun could save the MOOC. Here, we learn that Thrun recently left Google to focus full-time on Udacity (similar to the FastCompany report from 11/13 on him leaving Stanford to focus full-time on Udacity), as potentially a last-ditch effort to save the MOOC. This is echoed in a TechCrunch blog from earlier in September entitled The MOOC Revolution that Wasn’t. Yet on the same day Upstart ran their open question, both EdSurge and Venture Beat heralded a recent $35M investment in Udacity from venture capital firms such as tech-based Drive Capital. The tenor of these articles, it should be said, lacks the same globalize and democratize education ballyhoo from articles in 2012 and 2013. That said, none of these articles have given up on the MOOC as an instrument of educational change.
The way [Agarwal] sees it, effective uses of the MOOC model are only beginning to take shape. Enrollment in edX courses has doubled over last year, and he believes we’re on the verge of an era he calls MOOC 2.0. “We’ve been growing as others are throwing in the towel,” he says of edX.
There is lot to take issue with in this quote, and the article in whole. What MOOC providers are throwing in the towel? Certainly not Udacity, Coursera, edX or Canvas. Also, Agarwal’s use of MOOC 2.0 is symptomatic of the ahistorical nature of most EdTech Mavericks; it marks at least the sixth time someone has used MOOC 2.0 to talk about the future, and fails to note that Cathy Sandeen of the American Council on Education invoked MOOC 3.0…15 months ago. Continue reading →
One of the earliest problems with the MOOC phenomenon was discord: on one side there were distance/online education scholars devoted to digital learning as a transformative opportunity, on the other AI and Machine Learning mavens (whose models focused on the Tech side of EdTech) who were largely unaware of existing methods and progress and saw EdTech as a mechanism of convenience/ease/economy. MOOC was a term borne of experimentation and cutting-edge theory, a background it lost once MOOC became synonymous with LMS-based content streams.
One year ago, focused on the disparity between the freedom of the original MOOC and the limitations of the Frankenstein’s Monster MOOC built of venture capital and buttressed institutions, I made a call for scholars to step back from fighting for the MOOC monicker.
Love @RMoeJo‘s notion that we lost the term MOOC, not to mention his research and theoretics around the idea grounds the term #opened13
Today, I am announcing a course I will lead in collaboration with Canvas network and a slew of writers, educators and scholars, scheduled to launch in January 2015. It’s a course about establishing tangible and repeatable creative writing practices (#cwmooc), built around the development and drafting of the written word. It will look very little like the MOOCs of Udacity/Coursera/edX. But it is a MOOC. And I am not shying away from calling it such.