Daphne Koller is leaving Coursera to join GoogleAlphabet 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.
To sign up for Michigan State University’s How to Start Your Own Business, for example, budding entrepreneurs have to pay $79 up front for the first of five courses in the Specialization or prepay $474 for the entire program.
When enrolling in a MOOC on Coursera, learners are normally met with a box asking them if they would like to take it free — giving them access to all the course materials but not awarding a certificate upon completion — or pay $49 for an identity-verified course certificate provided upon completion. Learners can first pick the free option but change their minds later, however.
The question the article asks — how does charging for access fit the mission of access to world’s best education — is a variation on a question that’s been asked for 4+ years now, ever since Coursera, Udacity, edX and others became the go-to mainstream voices on EdTech expertise — what makes these providers the world’s best education besides a mission statement and a platform for PR? David Wiley’s quote from 2013 is the touchstone I remember from that period — MOOC as a concept, to him, was out of the barn and the acronym rather stood for Massively Obfuscated Opportunities for Cash. Continue reading →
Yesterday, Coursera announced another steaming option, this time watching their contents on Apple TV. This reminded me of the 1980s-1990s Annenberg-funded World of Chemistry. In high school, I loved World of Chemistry.
The video only plays the cold open for the show; to access the contents requires going to Annenberg Learner where you can watch and share but not embed; Annenberg has requested no embedding. C’mob Annenberg, let’s do better!
World of Chemistryhas the feel of public-access or syndication TV from the 1980s, from the cheesy MOOG synth open to the 256 color palate of the media. It suffered from most educational media materials of that time: sound hiccups, video skips, flat camera angles. But it understood how to use moving image, juxtaposition, sound and captivating humans in concert to create a worthwhile and reusable media resource. 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 hullabaloo regarding #MassiveLearning is a unique example in the MOOC phenomenon — a three-week course on the Coursera platform offered via the University of Zurich’s Paul-Olivier Dehaye which abruptly halted in Week 2, with all course resources deleted and no sign of Dr. Dehaye (save a list of cryptic tweets). The confusion in the course led to blogs and social media conversation, coupled with a lack of answers from involved parties (Dr. Dehaye, University of Zurich, Coursera) or educational media resulted in a flurry of social media activity on July 7. Was this similar to the Fundamentals of Online Education MOOC that cancelled in Spring 2013? Was this an experiment conducted by Dr. Dehaye on his course? Was this a high-profile AWOL professor situation?
On July 8, the situation seemed solved…the MOOC mystery (Scooby Doo references were plentiful in social media conversation on July 7) the result of a pedagogical experiment to gain a greater participation from users gone wrong. Coursera says it had no idea this was going to happen, comments backed up from the official words from the University of Zurich. Dr. Dehaye has yet to comment, leaving his tweets and academic history as ample ground for conspiracy discussion (nod to Kate Bowles for the research). Jonathan Rees has already written a response to this from the perspective of the student, questioning the quality control of a MOOC provider such as Coursera in terms of the trope that MOOCs provide the best professors to the world.
I do not believe the blame easily lies with Coursera here; this does not seem to me an example of Coursera overreaching for clicks and users. This is an embarrassment for Coursera, but blame seems an inappropriate reaction. However, I am interested in the avoidance of blame in a society where people seem out to find a point person to blame. Continue reading →
Note: I will use this space over the next month to share excerpts from my dissertation The Evolution & Impact of the Massive Open Online Course. The research was a Delphi study bringing together 20 MOOC experts to discuss the MOOC in educational, political, and sociocultural terms (slides from the oral presentation can be seen here). Upon library clearance, the entire document will be available through a Creative Commons license. The following is from Chapter 1, the argument for significance. This excerpt looks at the hype-based MOOC arguments seen in news media, as well as criticisms on the MOOC and its hype.
Distance education as industrialized model of learning. As mentioned previously, the field of distance education largely roots its history in structural changes to the transmission of information. This idea of education as a technological structure can be traced within the literature to Otto Peters (1983). Contemporary leaders in the field of educational technology and MOOCs have positioned their technologies as a wave of innovation in a system inert for over 100 years (Khan & Noer, 2012; Thrun, 2012), but Peters traces the inertia back to the Renaissance, arguing the advent of distance education was the first change to the system, and positioning a concept of distance education that promotes flexibility, efficiency and scalability (Peters, 1983). To accomplish this, the historical notion of a singular instructor, who throughout history has been a lone person involved in numerous aspects of a student’s education within a course, is replaced, and the instructional labor is divided into multiple positions filled by multiple individuals, each focused on one aspect of the learning process:
In distance study the teaching process is based on the division of labour and detached from the person of the university lecturer. It is therefore independent from a subjectively determined teaching situation…the division of labour and the objectification of the teaching process allow each work process to be planned in such a way that clearly formulated teaching objectives are achieved in the most efficient manner. Specialists may be responsible for a limited area in each phase (pg. 98).