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.
Much [MOOC] fervor comes from the promise of MOOCs as seen from their developers and the mass media. For these individuals and their adherents, MOOCs hold the potential to transform education (Brooks, 2012; Friedman, 2012; Thrun, 2011). Viewed as disruptive technology, a technology that provides an established service to an emerging community of users and in doing so revolutionizes the existing community of users (Bowers & Christensen, 1995), MOOCs can provide elite educational experiences to any citizen of the world with access to an Internet-based computer and a willingness to perform the tasks of the course. These supporters see the MOOC as a global agent for the democratization of education, the opportunity to allow students of all races, ages and backgrounds to take classes from the best professors on Earth (Friedman, 2013b) at relatively little or no economic cost to the user. MOOCs can harness the vast array of the provider’s institutional resources to help transition society from an Industrial Age, goods and services economy to a 21st Century, knowledge-based economy. From this lens, future students will not be encumbered by the mountains of debt currently plaguing college graduates (Parr, 2013), and the MOOC model will allow an ease of lifelong learning, where individuals can enroll in MOOCs as the needs of their careers change (Hill, 2013a).
Those critical of the MOOC movement see the potential for transformation as a net negative. The start-up organizations currently organizing and hosting a majority of existing MOOCs have raised tens of millions of dollars from venture capital organizations, and these organizations expect a return on their investment (Veletsianos, 2013a). This privatization of higher education perilously mirrors domestic and international primary education privatization initiatives over the past 30 years, initiatives built around the before-mentioned schools are broken rhetoric, yet those initiatives of the past 30 years have produced at best a negligible improvement in student learning (Mehta, 2013). This line of thinking views the learning potential of the MOOC as secondary to the opportunity it provides private enterprise to create capital in what was heretofore a public service built on government subsidy and non-profit ideals.
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.
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.
Critics take issue with TEDx talks that have featured such topics as touch-healing the brain, rebirthing, crystal therapy and nonsense math.
TED is an interesting phenomenon: putting together prolific thinkers and speakers to provide insight on new and unique things happening around the world is a great tool in the Information Age. I fell in love with Ken Robinson based on his TED talk in 2006, and have seen great examples of energy, knowledge and enthusiasm from the likes of Al Gore, Jane McGonigal and Keith Barry. But the concept wore thin quickly, especially when most every video followed a standard format: anecdote that seemingly has nothing to do with speaker, shock, sales pitch, back to the anecdote, synthesis. The time limit caused great minds to forego their intellect and find an inner Billy Mays instead, and the adherence to format cheapened the experience for me. Continue reading →
Ed tech author Audrey Watters wrote one heck of a MOOC synopsis for the movement’s 2012 history and future. The look back at 2012 hits a lot of the points this blog has attempted (in more words and with less skill), so it was the look forward that piqued me the most:
But as we see some of the unbundling start to occur, it feels as though there is a re-bundling of sorts. That is because, as Foucault would tell you, it is not simply a matter of “revolutionizing” the university and dismantling its “monopoly” on knowledge transfer and credentialing and then BOOM educational access and liberty and justice for all. Power is far more complex than that. As we unbundle assessment from the university, for example, it gets re-bundled with Pearson. As we unbundle the content from the campus classroom, it gets re-bundled with textbook publishers. With MOOCs, power might shift to the learner; it’s just as likely that power shifts to the venture capitalists.
This is a really important consideration, and I am going to take a few steps back in order to go forward. Continue reading →