Tag Archives: history

What the Researchers Got Wrong About Their ‘Sesame Street’ Education Study

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

MOOC 4.No

Putty. Putty. Putty.
Green Putty – Grutty Peen.
Grarmpitutty – Morning!
Pridsummer – Grorning Utty!
Discovery….. Oh.
Putty?….. Armpit?
Armpit….. Putty.
Not even a particularly
Nice shade of green.
As I lick my armpit and shall agree,
That this putty is very well green.

Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning – Grunthos the Flatulent (as recited in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

I have long tracked the absurdity of MOOC developers and pundits assigning version numbers when discussing the MOOC.  The oscillation between MOOC 2.0 and MOOC 3.0 over the last two years was evidence I presented to argue the MOOC is not a tool or instrument or disruptive innovation but rather the acronym from which we discuss a larger sociocultural phenomenon regarding educational technology and solutionism.

Historically, software versioning had meaning for the proprietary sect (starting at 1.0 and changing with various updates) and the open field (building from a 0.x beta to the 1.0 indicating a complete and reliable product).  This has vacillated somewhat, but the meaning behind versioning progress has continued to involve significant changes to a specific product.  The use of versioning when describing the evolution of the MOOC lacks this principled or pragmatic grounding; MOOC 2.0 meant one thing to Sebastian Thrun and Udacity (for-credit courses) and an entirely different thing to NPR’s Marketplace (leadership strategy), while MOOC 3.0 meant one thing to Cathy Sandeen of the American Council on Education (the MOOC in a blended or distributed flip) and another to Anant Agarwal & Michael Crow of the Global Freshman Academy  (adaptive learning in a for-credit environment).  Forget that many of these sound the same (the Udacity MOOC 2.0 is pitched a lot like the Global Freshman Academy MOOC 3.0), and forget that in some cases MOOC 3.0 came before MOOC 2.0…

Actually, don’t forget any of that.  Remember it, because the inanity is the point.  The only reason we can have MOOC 3.0 before MOOC 2.0 (not to mention huge announcements from Coursera and edX at the same time as educational media tell us MOOC hype is over) is because MOOC has little practically defined meaning.  It is immaterial, hype, folderol.  I spent the first part of my educational scholarship life trying to rectify a definition based on both the scholarship of the educational technology field and the textual offerings of EdTech developers, and the result was a very diluted and fairly meaningless definition so inclusive its use offers no pragmatic purpose.

So, then, why does MOOC matter?  We say MOOC because it signifies an era in education and educational technology, a movement, a discussion, what some see as a battle and others see as progress and others yet see as Same Stuff Different Day.  MOOC in and of itself is a simulacrum; invoking it in conversation allows us to engage a very divergent phenomenon with some semblance of a foothold, to share our beliefs/values/ideas in what we hope to be a constructive fashion.

There is nothing constructive about version numbers, however.  They harken to the practical when there is no practical to the MOOC, they assume progress when there is no defined history or pathway, and they tap into an ethos of contradictory solutionism by using parlance of companies dedicated to perpetual upgrades and profit.  When edX and ASU harkened to MOOC 3.0 with the Global Freshman Academy (just six short months after Anant Agarwal said we had finally reached MOOC 2.0, mind you), I feigned disappointment that hype version numbers were still somewhat behind the times.

Ask and ye shall receive!  A Monday night Huffington Post blog by Otto Scharmer, MIT instructor and co-founter of the Presencing Institute, presents a self-described revolution in learning and leadership that he refers to as MOOC 4.0.

I have been running and/or supporting profound change initiatives for the past two decades. But almost never do changes, even when successful, happen on the scale that is necessary today. MOOCs 4.0 put us on a new playing field, not only in education, but also in the business of leading profound innovation and large systems change.

What does this mean?  I do not wish to be flippant, but having read the article three times, I still do not know.  The sheer volume of buzzwords and hype mixed with a striking lack of knowledge regarding educational theory and history results in an article chock full of unnecessary invention and basics as Eureka.  You could question their methodology for measuring success

You could question the newspeak level of language that would make ProfJeffJarvis blush

You could question the infantility behind their unique methodologies that have discovered a new branch of learning theory learning theory nearly 40 years old…

I stop at what the Institute represents.  It would be easy to attack the idea of the Presencing Institute; the website drowns in what I consider shallow self-help jargon, and the pictures in the Huffington Post blog involve people standing on chairs or a large group sitting with their eyes closed, which when mixed with hype and buzz can convey a very negative view of New Age as mysticism.  But presencing itself is not one of these negotiated terms; the word has a philosophical basis with Martin Heidegger, and while the institute’s co-founders do not advertise this in the About section of the institute, a cursory search of other materials show a grounding in daesin philosophy.  There is a great effort from the Presencing Institute to link its validity to the giants of thought in various cultures and eras.  Calling it a cult based on a blog in the Huffington Post feeds the same inauthenticity that frustrates so many EdTech academics about the corporate influence in the field today.

Schramer presents MOOC 4.0 as the synthesis of the MOOC movement, that how he sees social constructivist learning is the MOOC apotheosis; it is not just that we are on the path of progress, but the final stop is MOOC 4.0 and presencing.  I have argued the path of progress is one of the greatest obstacles facing educational technology today; there is no path to progress, and assuming one exists only feeds the dominant paradigm.

MOOC 4.0 is in contrast to Jesse Stommel’s discussion of his experience teaching a Coursera MOOC  (also published this week) which posits the MOOC journey as one not on a singular path of progress but rather multivariate paths where the journey is the destination:

I have designed half a dozen cMOOCs.  I love them all…but I find myself wanting to kill all of my darlings. And not just in the name of experimentation. But because killing our darlings is at the root of pedagogy. Never do the same thing twice, because the same thing twice is already rotten. We learn from every one of our successes and mistakes, and we encounter each learner and each learning environment anew.

I am not going to say this is the lens from which everyone should look at MOOCs – a constant evolution not bound by a facsimile path of progress but rather by the localized and networked needs of the learners as group and individual.  But Stommel’s piece recognizes there is a dominant interpretation of what a MOOC is, he negotiates terms, he provides his own resistance grounded in theory and defined by pillars of what academic educational technology finds important, and he presents in a way that will have access and resonance for that subculture and beyond.  It would be easy for a MOOC that (among other things) resists the Subject Expert for subject experts to call itself MOOC 5.0, pretend to have invented this approach, get ungrounded press and pub in trade periodicals and media mags, and add more meaninglessness to a topic supposedly meaningful.  Rather, by sacrificing pizazz Stommel has provided an alternative lens, one that does not believe in the sanctity of EdTech as academic nor as commercial but rather as diffuse and delicate.

MOOC version numbers are one of the many frustrations of the MOOC model phenomenon.  We should highlight the absurdity of versioning a sociocultural phenomenon and point to what they advertise as new as a lack of history, theory and politic that actually supports a dominant paradigm history, theory and politic.  When we stop there, however, we have only furthered the dominant version of the MOOC, cast alternatives as victims, and created a battleground where there is no battle being fought.  MOOC progress as described by version numbers is but a continuation of a longstanding dominant viewpoint of education, today handled by EdTech corporations but being ingrained in the fabric of educational sociology since Marx, Weber and Durkheim engaged the field.  It is not about winning or fighting.  It is about producing, experimenting, designing, playing, situating and localizing.

Now With References!

I’ve created a full-blown references page for All MOOCs; this makes up the entirety of my citation list for the dissertation which inspired this blog project.  My earlier bibliography received several shout-outs as congruent to open scholarship, and I think a reference list that can snapshot the MOOC phenomenon not just as a learning system but a mechanism of hype and sociopolitical discourse can serve value.  Browsing through, it’s amazing to see changes in the conversation…first the online education world between 1989 and 2011, followed by the democratization wave and then the reconciliation of the MOOC’s misgivings with they desire for solutionism.  What does the future hold for MOOC rhetoric?

Research in a World of Constant Connection – #AERA13

Research plays an integral part in the archetype of a college professor.  At state and select private universities (often known as Research I schools), a professor’s research record is as important as their teaching and service records, often more so.  At mid-major and liberal arts colleges, research may not be as integral but it is still important and relevant.  The ability for a professor to conduct topical and relevant research from implementation to publication is considered vital to the growth of the specific discipline as well as academia at large.

This is evident at a conference like the American Educational Research Association’s Annual Meeting, happening right now in San Francisco, where thousands of educators are presenting their research findings to thousands of attendees.  The sheer volume of papers and presentations on topical issues across the various strata of education is overwhelming, and AERA has worked diligently to divide their membership mass into divisions and special interest groups so that individuals can find field-specific topics to utilize for their scholarship or to share their scholarship.

I want to ask the question but does it matter? and then cut to the page break, being all provocative and such.  That’s not the right question, because it does matter.  It matters a lot.  But how much of a difference is it truly making?  Continue reading