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.
This history is beautiful. I know words; this history has the best words. People read this history, and they love it. I hear from people who read it, everyone who read it said, ‘That’s a good history.’ They look over it and everyone is impressed at how much beautiful history there is. My researchers have looked at it and they love it. The Canadians, the distance education people, the educationals…big supporters.
Looking at the upload numbers, it’s doing well with everyone. It wins with cMOOCs. It wins with xMOOCs. It wins with people who mix up online learning and MOOCs. We love people who mix up online learning and MOOCs. And it’s taking off. It’s a movement. Have you seen the downloads? We’re going to publish it Open, and we’re going to make the publishing companies pay for it! Remember that. #makeonlinelearninghistorygreatagain
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 →
Try again. Fail again. Better again. Or better worse. Fail worse again. Still worse again. Till sick for good. Throw up for good.
– Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho (1983)
When I quote this passage from Worstward Ho, the somewhat obscure yet recently rejuvenated Samuel Beckett novella, the meaning of the famous lines in the preceding paragraph, those on the forearm of Stan Wawrinka and on the lips of Richard Branson, Elon Musk and other entrepreneurs, change entirely.
Beckett was not promising a modern Valhalla through x quick changes to everyday life; for him there was no Valhalla, no simple fixes or quick changes or solutions, but only masks on the essence of the human condition. How this message ever ended up the stuff of motivational posters could be considered an abomination of Beckett, but Beckett probably would have found the wanton misinterpretation ironic, amusing and evidence of the failure of the human condition to adequately express itself in form.
What Beckett holds is cultural authority; his name is recognizable regardless of any context of his work or contribution to society or culture. The same is true for Sebastian Thrun, the pater familius of CS 271, the 2011 Stanford Computer Science course in which over 160,000 students registered for a free online version of the course that became the flagship for what we today call a MOOC. Continue reading →
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 →
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 program, which started last winter, pairs MOOC-like course videos and assessments with a support system of course assistants who work directly with students. The goal is to create a low-cost master’s degree that is nonetheless “just as rigorous” as the on-campus equivalent—producing graduates who are “just as good,” to quote one of the new program’s cheerleaders, President Obama. The price: less than $7,000 for the three-year program, a small fraction of the cost of the traditional program.
By understanding what kinds of students are drawn to the new program, Mr. Goodman and his fellow researchers think they can begin to understand what competitors it might threaten.
Bringing down the cost of a professional program is an admirable goal, and this specific success could mean a great deal for the target population of this and other professional, graduate programs. However, the rhetoric surrounding initiatives such as the Udacity/Georgia Tech/AT&T partnership rarely distinguishes between the target population of a professional program and the population at the heart of the crisis in higher education.
The din of the MOOC world continues unabated, vacillating between the MOOC continuing its march toward Valhalla and the MOOC as a dying revolution in need of last rites. The multiple personality disorder of MOOC coverage is most evident in last week’s tech-business articles about MOOC company Udaicty. Upstart Business Journal last week wondered aloud if the MOOC was dying, asking the question whether Sebastian Thrun could save the MOOC. Here, we learn that Thrun recently left Google to focus full-time on Udacity (similar to the FastCompany report from 11/13 on him leaving Stanford to focus full-time on Udacity), as potentially a last-ditch effort to save the MOOC. This is echoed in a TechCrunch blog from earlier in September entitled The MOOC Revolution that Wasn’t. Yet on the same day Upstart ran their open question, both EdSurge and Venture Beat heralded a recent $35M investment in Udacity from venture capital firms such as tech-based Drive Capital. The tenor of these articles, it should be said, lacks the same globalize and democratize education ballyhoo from articles in 2012 and 2013. That said, none of these articles have given up on the MOOC as an instrument of educational change.
The way [Agarwal] sees it, effective uses of the MOOC model are only beginning to take shape. Enrollment in edX courses has doubled over last year, and he believes we’re on the verge of an era he calls MOOC 2.0. “We’ve been growing as others are throwing in the towel,” he says of edX.
There is lot to take issue with in this quote, and the article in whole. What MOOC providers are throwing in the towel? Certainly not Udacity, Coursera, edX or Canvas. Also, Agarwal’s use of MOOC 2.0 is symptomatic of the ahistorical nature of most EdTech Mavericks; it marks at least the sixth time someone has used MOOC 2.0 to talk about the future, and fails to note that Cathy Sandeen of the American Council on Education invoked MOOC 3.0…15 months ago. Continue reading →