Tag Archives: education

There is no Open in MOOC

Coursera’s announcement to add Specializations to its roster of educational packages comes with a new price in many cases, as noted in Carl Straumsheim’s 1/29 piece at Inside Higher Ed.

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

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Udacity: Shifting Models Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Just over a year ago (a year and two days, to be exact), Clay Shirky wrote Napster, Udacity & the Academy, one of a few “must-read” articles regarding the MOOC phenomenon.  Shirky built an argument that MOOCs fit the monicker of Christensen’s theory of disruptive technology, doing so by noting the dominant higher education narrative (made up of Ivy League or Tier 1 Research schools) focuses on a small and misleading fraction of the sea of higher education (regional schools, community colleges, for-profit institutions), allowing him to posit that the theory behind the MOOC is proof that higher education can be disrupted:

The possibility MOOCs hold out isn’t replacement; anything that could replace the traditional college experience would have to work like one, and the institutions best at working like a college are already colleges. The possibility MOOCs hold out is that the educational parts of education can be unbundled.

Shirky then links this “unbundled education” (possible for those who cannot afford the “ransom note” of a higher education sticker price) to the potential of a MOOC, noting that, like the musical track unbundled from the CD, learning can be set free from the degree.

The argument Shirky presents is compelling, and was a watershed moment in the MOOC debate, a place where a well-respected Internet scholar seemingly sided with a movement that many practitioners viewed as antithetical to learning and the Open movement.  As an advocate for Open, Shriky’s argument of a collegiate experience grounded in reality and not lofty Ivy stature saw MOOCs as an opportunity to improve that reality, an opportunity for those whom payment was one of the primary hurdles:

MOOCs expand the audience for education to people ill-served or completely shut out from the current system.

One year and two days ago, this was the advertised potential of the MOOC movement.  The heavily advertised potential.

Continue reading

Ignoring Education Research & History

Whether it’s lack of awareness, deliberate avoidance, or ignorance on the matter, there is a mainstream disconnect between the societal notion of education and the expansive field of education research.   In education, innovators and disruptors consistently reinvent the wheel, hyping revolutionary ideas that are often unaware of existing research, replications of prior models, or proud of their ignorance of history of the field’s theory and pedagogy.

I’ve discussed this before in relation to Sal Khan and Khan Academy; Khan’s somewhat autobiography One World Schoolhouse celebrates the lack of educational research behind Khan and his academy (both directly in the text as well as through a brief bibliography).  The attitude behind celebrating an ignorance of educational research purports a belief (and, in the media, a narrative) that not only is education broken due to the status quo of (bureaucracy, unions, outdated institutional governance, etc.), but the solutions are simple and evident outside of the bloated institution.  When such a narrative gains acceptance in the media (see recent education sections in Forbes and the Wall Street Journal), the attitude becomes inherent in the discussion, becoming fact despite its illogical nature.  Media and cultural scholars such as Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard have documented the disconnect between media reality and scholarly reality as well as the evolution of multiple realities, but most people aren’t reading McLuhan and Baudrillard.  If they are reading something, it’s more likely it will be in Forbes or the Wall Street Journal rather than in a compilation of cultural studies literature.

M. Night Shyamalan proposed his own educational fixes in a recent Wall Street Journal article, and it follows this same model:  education is broken, it needs disruption and innovation, and Shyamalan did his own research to figure out why the problem exists (note:  the article does not state why Shyamalan did his own research; based on its tenor, however, I assume it is because he either didn’t know prior research existed or was not impressed by prior research).  His ideas (fire the worst teachers, make principals focus on learning, provide more feedback to teachers, stretch the school day and build smaller schools) aren’t revolutionary, nor is the idea to do them all at once.  And in practice, the ideas have seen mixed results, and the mixed results are likely not due to the initiatives being put in place piece-meal.  For example, if you remove the principal from administrative duties and make the position a teacher-centric one (something I imagine many teachers and principals alike would at first glance support), you must hire more administrators to do the administration, positions that are not low pay-grade and cannot be filled by recent college graduates.  This movement follows a trend in higher education where administrative positions have risen dramatically while teaching positions have remained relatively stagnant…and again, administrators are hired at a pay grade higher than teachers.  That money must come from somewhere, and school budgets are not growing, but shrinking.  Where?  Shyamalan noted in his research that class size does not matter…so we can remove more teachers to pay for the new administrators.  However, there is significant research debunking Shyamalan’s claim that class size does not matter.  So while Shyamalan’s efforts are well-intentioned (and I truly believe this to be the case), its effect on existing media narrative and potential political decision will likely not fix the problem, and perhaps exacerbate it by once again ignoring existing research.

It is not just people outside the walls of education who are unaware of the field’s history or pedagogy.  Last year I noted an example where Dr. Mark Sample looked at scaffolding and split the word to define some as obstructive, and that positive scaffolding could even be called descaffolding.  The crux of Dr. Sample’s argument was strong, but scaffolding as an educational term has its roots drawn in the theories of Leo Vygotsky and Albert Bandura, and is an important aspect of modern learning theories such as constructivism and activity theory, theories in congruence with Dr. Sample’s argument.  Despite the strength of the presumption, by alienating scaffolding as a reference term in education, those who read the blog without the ed theory background will do like Sample does and equate scaffolding to bad, even though the theory behind the blog is that scaffolding is good.

More recently, Dr. Scott Newstok wrote an article for Inside Higher Ed that calls for close learning in a world of MOOCs.  Dr. Newstok argues for the importance of community and culture in education, and sees the role of the bricks and mortar space as vital to the argument.  The cautionary aspect of Dr. Newstok’s plea is important (let’s not all jump on the MOOC bandwagon when its pedagogy is as-yet undefined and suspect), but his term close learning already has a defining term in education circles:  the community of practice.  Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger used the theories of Vygotsky and Piaget to envision the importance of shared experience, mentorship, communication and community in the learning process.  It’s everything Dr. Newstok asks for in his article, except it’s 25 years old and research around it has shown the power that communities of practice can have not only in face-to-face settings, but online as well as blended (the original notion developed 20 years ago, not the marketing notion sent out in the back-to-school EdTech emails  last week).

I’ve corresponded briefly with Drs. Sample and Newstok, and it’s commendable that both care passionately about education and want to help make it better.  And I don’t  blame them for not being aware of educational theorists like Vygotsky or Wenger.  Despite our insistence that education is vital, educators have done a poor job of establishing its history and pinpointing the important touchstones in the theory of the field (I know Rutherford’s Gold Foil experiment, but prior to my education studies I would have imagined Piaget as much a swank French restaurant as he would be an educational/psychology pioneer).  Educators must join this debate and remind the pundits and professors of the history and theory of the field, or progress will only exist in dusty journals and education will remain in a broken cycle, the wheel constantly reinvented.

I Went to College, but You Shouldn’t

Bryan Alexander is blogging with frequency again (hooray!), in his exemplary educator style — pose a topic, add information, perhaps include an informed opinion, and rather than end the blog with a definitive period have it linger for further discussion.

He is currently musing on the cost of college, the decline in college enrollments, and the general purpose of college in today’s society.  How are the current forces in society, culture and policy shaping the future of the system?

What does this kind of projection tell policymakers?  The regional growth formula of “meds and eds” would still work, perhaps.  Or that they should simply prepare for greater economic inequality, and assume education no longer reduces class divisions. Continue reading

Finding Focus in the MOOC Haze

When I began this blog, I intended it as a curation of the MOOC discussion, weaving in the current news with historical reference and adjacent issues in education.  That ended quickly, as the MOOCstrom (think Norway on that one) is relentless, with a barrage of new articles popping across email, blogs, RSS and social media.  Trying to curate everything resulted in two observations:  1)  most MOOC writing is reference-less commentary, and 2) most of the commentary (and you could make a case for commentary in general) is a simulacrum, built of assumptions and misnomers presented as zealous fact.  Commenting on commentary will only continue to push the conversation down the rabbit hole, resulting in more conversations built of error.

I believe in the potential of education, technology and community to create better.  I rarely see it.  Adding a rudder-less blog into the din, no matter how noble the intention, only creates more white noise.  Thus, the majority of this blog’s future will build around these planks: Continue reading

MOOCs – the Public/Private Partnership of Higher Education

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

What is the Benefit of Online Education?

Slate’s Matthew Yglesias looks at the growth of and support behind online education, citing the new Marginal Revolution University (which deserves its own entry soon; the official site is a banner page with info link; looking around leads to some PR that states the initiative is not a MOOC, but does not define MOOC or set MRU as something different) and the growth of and interest in MOOCs (though Yglesias does not use that monicker, preferring online education through digital technology).

Yglesias then looks at who he considers the winners and losers in a future of online education through digital technology, naming motivated students of low income as the big winners (access without cost barrier), along with conservative politicians who want to keep ed costs down but don’t want to be seen as bailing on education for the masses. The losers, to Yglesias, are student loan companies, and perhaps marginal college students.

This piece is purely an economic or business look at the ramifications of online Ed, but there are inherent assumptions of pedagogy. Yglesias’ thinking here, as I see it, is that learning is a behaviorist notion: education is about passing content along from a gatekeeper to a wanting individual, and said transmission constitutes learning. Motivated kids will do well because they will have access (Yglesias also mentions the potential global impact of MOOCs, though he does not discuss how students in developing nations will gain access to the necessary technology, Costa Rica notwithstanding), and from this perspective marginal kids aren’t getting anything with this new wave of technology.