Tag Archives: disruptive technology

The Struggle to Define Our Jargon – Excerpts from MOOC Research

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.

Disagreement on definitions of education terms. The expert Delphi panel encountered a number of difficulties in finding agreed-upon definitions for education and research terms. Within the three rounds of discussion, terms such as data, open, student, pedagogy, personalization, sufficient and online education were used in divergent ways to describe similar variables or phenomena. Some have argued that such disagreement stems historically from education as a moving profession basing itself within the sociocultural milieu of the time (Harvey, 2005), so definitions outside of an educator’s primary discipline would be more negotiated than those within a field of study. However, in the Delphi study experts had no problems finding agreed-upon definitions for the business and technological terms utilized in the study such as disruptive technology and learning analytics, terms also secondary to primary discipline.

Finding spaces of agreement or disagreement is predicated upon establishing the rules and parameters for a conversation. The Delphi study was designed to create a space for various experts associated with the MOOC phenomenon to freely discuss the social, historical, political and educational impact and future of the MOOC and higher education. This is the traditional method for a Delphi study: experts of a subject have a space to discuss a rising phenomenon amongst other experts, and the panelist design mitigates the levels of expertise so that conversation can begin at a high level (Linstone & Turoff, 2002). The experts chosen for this Delphi study are all influential scholars and practitioners tied to MOOCs, but the varying definitions provided by experts in wrestling with prompts and topics created a space where conversation was dedicated to shoring up vocabulary misconceptions, space that could have been used for further debating the topics. It is possible that the problems with terminology were in fact explorations and negotiations of dominant readings; however, a negotiated view of education as an academic discipline understands the discipline is a field where expertise is often questioned, as evidenced by the prompt #expertise.  Experts debated each other’s interpretations of vocabulary rather than a conception of dominant vocabulary usage.

The success of quasi-educational concepts such as disruptive technology is predicated in part on the widespread understanding and adoption of the term in popular and critical media. The fathers of disruptive technology, Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn, have published numerous books, research articles, blogs, conference proceedings, and media articles on the topic and its impact on a number of societal sectors, most recently education. The result is an economic phenomenon gaining understanding and acceptance within a number of other institutions and societal structures, such as higher education, a space where it is difficult to extrapolate discussion of how the MOOC changes higher education without discussing disruptive technology (Horn & Christensen, 2013). Such baseline definitions of the debate shift the discussion of the future of education from an education-centric perspective to the perspective of agreed-upon terminology, such as the economics of disruptive technology, or the monetization of MOOCs, or the technology of automated learning, terminology favoring a commercial or consumable lens from which to frame higher education. For education to remain a viable lens from which to engage the MOOC debate, the field must agree upon terms as basic as data, open, and student, as well as complex topics such as pedagogy and personalization.

Non-Web Citations:

Harvey, D. (2005).  A brief history of neoliberalism.  New York:  Oxford.
Linstone, H. & Turoff, M. (2002).  The Delphi Method:  Techniques and applications.  Reading, MA:  Addison-Wesley.

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2013 in MOOCs – Which Event Best Defined the Quest to Solve Education?

As we say goodbye to 2013, the year after The Year of the MOOC, I remain unable to adequately define the acronym that graces this blog’s header.  This year Oxford Dictionary gave it the old college try, creating a definition more inclusive than exclusive and in doing so adding even more confusion to a rhetorical landscape littered with LOOCs, HOOCs, cMOOCs, xMOOCs, urMOOCs, SPOCs and other -ooc misfit acronyms.  Research and media remained focused on structural descriptions:  MOOC design, its workings, its assessment strategies, its back-end data collection and aggregation.  Developers continued to herald the model as education for everyone and an example of reinventing education, even in the face of research noting the model’s penchant for providing adequate instruction and scaffolding for those who, to channel Derek Zoolander, already read good and do other things good too.  Some look at recent events as the beginning of the end for MOOCs or the inevitable trough of disillusionment a la Gartner Hype Cycle, while others remain bullish on the MOOC and its place as a standard bearer for the future of higher education and educational technology.

I don’t look back on 2013 in search of takeaways. 2013 was a result of 2012, the year of the MOOC, which was a result of 2011, the proliferation of unique experiments in distributed learning.  There is an interconnectedness to it all, and for those who wish to focus on the lack of interconnectedness between the 2008 version of MOOC and the 2011 and beyond MOOC, both models were at heart about offering coursework to large numbers of people online for no charge. Continue reading

The Disruptor Disrupted: The First Explicit xMOOC Failure

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

Will the Future of Education Parallel the Demise of Print Media?

I finally got around to reading Mike Boxall’s overview of the MOOC movement in UK’s The Guardian, and I’m glad that I waited to read it until after solidifying a definition of disruptive technology. Boxall’s article is one of the few mainstream MOOC articles that limits hype and alludes to big questions (I’ll get more into that in a moment, but I’ve noticed that the big question about education everyone keeps referring to has not been spelled out; it’s kind of like Douglas Adams’ answer to the question of Life, The Universe & Everything in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).  And his look at whether or not MOOCs will be disruptive has made me wrestle with my newfound disruptive definition. Continue reading

Reviewing Christensen’s Disruptive Technologies (Harvard Business Review, 1995) in MOOC Terms

One of the common citations in xMOOC artifacts and discussion is the idea of xMOOC as a disruptive technology.  The concept, developed by Harvard Business professor Clayton Christensen, is tossed into discussion as if it’s vital reading I should already know…none of the authors do more than give a cursory definition to the concept in abstract fashion rather than concrete, and in all of the articles I have read, I don’t see consensus on the definition.  This makes me think several possibilities:  1) this is a concept so integral to this field that I should know all about it and am an idiot for not having a foundational knowledge, or 2) this is a concept not fully understood but thrown out there in a way that sounds erudite but lacks foundation.  I think it’s a mix of both.  As a learner struggling to grasp a topic (my background is in both media and social sciences, not business), the best way is to personally dive in rather than rely on the previews of others.  At the same time, it took those previews to get here, so perhaps this review can help others start to nail out a more complete definition on the topic.   Continue reading

MOOCs, Inference & Political Punditry

One US Presidential Election takeaway of note for me was the perception of veracity in the Republican party’s projections.  When I woke up on Tuesday morning and read Nate Silver’s ultimate blog post at fivethirtyeight.com, I relayed to my wife that for President Obama to lose, there would have to be a foundational problem with state as well as national polling, not to mention the metric foundations of demographic data analysis.  A loss for the President would not be based on several mistaken variables, but instead a systemic issue at the foundation of the algorithms and the theory behind them.  Yet 12 hours later, Karl Rove famously melted down on the Fox News set, demanding answers from Fox’s number crunchers (and not receiving the answers he was hoping for).  The obvious question — despite extensive evidence to the contrary, how could Rove be so bamboozled by the election outcome?

Chris Argyris developed a tool for understanding how individuals utilize information and form perceptions in his 1990 Ladder of Inference.   Continue reading

MOOCs – Sliced Bread, or the Ron Popeil Bread Slicer?

There’s a lot of hype about MOOCs (and when I put hype and MOOC together, I mean xMOOC), and with the hype comes a resistance from ed tech folks.  The arguments go something like this:  hype machine says MOOCs are the next big thing and the best thing to happen in ages, and resistance says MOOCs aren’t great, aren’t new, and aren’t making things better.  A prime example comes from some hype dished up by the MIT Technology Review entitled The Most Important Education Technology in 200 Years, countered by D’Arcy Norman’s terse reply whose tag line involves fertilizer.  What we forget when we enter a point-counterpoint frame of mind is that both points of view come from ideologies and histories that result in the digital artifacts I have linked to.  Studying those artifacts to find the encampment inferences and foundations can help us see the positives and negatives of both sides rather than following one full throttle. Continue reading