Tag Archives: Sebastian Thrun

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

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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

The SJSU/Udacity MOOC Hiatus – A Crisis of Rhetoric

San Jose State University has pressed the pause button on its MOOC partnership with provider Udacity, and Internet response to the hold has largely viewed the development as a setback for MOOCs, one that might signal the end of the hype cycle and the beginning of the end of the model. This comes a month after Coursera announced plans to provide universities with pre-deisgned MOOC content for instructor & student use, a move which resulted in an Internet burial of the MOOC phenomenon, although Coursera was unaware of its death and since said “demise” the start-up has secured $43 million in venture capital.

Negative outcomes for MOOCs have received a great deal of press in recent months, often coupled with a dose of irony. The Coursera course “Fundamentals of Online Education” was shelved by Georgia Tech and instructor Fatima Wirth because the infrastructure could not support the manner in which the course viewed fundamental online learning. And now the SJSU remedial coursework, designed by Udacity in two weeks, will be tabled in an effort to increase the quality of education, an unsurprising result considering the decades of research into remedial studies and difficulties in developing models with the level of success Udacity expected.

While such hubris was responsible for a number of ends in Greek mythology, the same cannot yet be said for MOOCs. Despite these hiccups, MOOCs continue to grow. If the MOOC is dying, it is not at San Jose State University; even though the Udacity partnership is on hiatus, their work with edX continues, and will expand to 11 other California State University campuses this Fall. Udacity’s work in remedial studies at San Jose State University may not run in the Fall of 2013, but their MS in Computer Science at Georgia Tech University (sponsored by AT&T) continues forward. Coursera continues to build new courses and redevelop prior ones, both from their developing institutions as well as for use outside their inner circle. And such movement does not address offerings through Canvas, Blackboard, or the numerous in-house MOOC projects either proposed or currently in development at universities around the world, projects to potentially be assisted in development through the MOOC Research Initiative.

If the MOOC is in crisis, it is a crisis of rhetoric.

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Defining Edu Terms & MOOC Simulacra

At the heart of the Open Education Resources movement (and the Open movement in general) is the notion that education is a public good.  The progression to such sentiment may be based in a notion that an educated citizenry betters democracy and civic life (folks like John Locke and Thomas Jefferson), or that knowledge and wisdom are non-rivalrous and non-excludable (Econ 101), or that the increase and diffusion of knowledge stimulates societal and cultural growth (James Smithson, John Quincy Adams).  Regardless of its germination, the crux of such thought is that the provision of education from an egalitarian lens results in benefit across the population.

At face value the Massive Open Online Course fits this vision:  courses are free, prerequisites are encouraged but not enforced, and access to the best professors at the best universities is not bound to geography or economics.  And research into the framework of the MOOC points to the opening of university walls, the building of intra- and internet communications and an attempt to promote the increase and diffusion of knowledge for society, whether communal or global.  That’s why it’s worth noting that one of the primary voices in OER, David Wiley, sees the 2013 incarnation of MOOCs as a money grab:

I propose that, whenever you hear the acronym MOOC, you think: “Massively Obfuscated Opportunities for Cash”

How can a MOOC be both a bastion for openness and the epitome of closed content? Continue reading

Which Educators are Changing Higher Education?

I came across a piece from Smithsonian Magazine profiling Sebastian Thrun, the man behind the xMOOC prototype via Stanford’s Intro to AI course (the research community needs a shorthand for this) as well as Udacity.  Thrun won the Smithsonian’s American Ingenuity Award for Education based off his work in the MOOC world, and the magazine’s piece about him starts off as most smartly written puff pieces do:  a description of the location, the unique idiosynchracies of Thrun as he and the writer meet, a tangential topic that will show its relevance later…boilerplate journalism.  The article was passed along via Cathy Davidson of HASTAC, whose work I admire and appreciate, so I didn’t want to cast the article out as more meaningless hype about how the world of education is undergoing immense change and these MOOC things are going to save everyone and everything.  So I kept reading.

If you are a follower of this blog, you know my interest is on finding the theoretical underpinnings of the xMOOC movement.  If you were to look at the media narrative, the xMOOC just showed up one day and was the way to save education…that is disingenuous to learning theory, teaching pedagogy and the history of education, online/distance or otherwise.  I have had a great deal of difficulty finding theoretical ground on which the xMOOC developers stand…the discussion usually focuses on economics, global access, disruptive technology, parallels to the dot.com era, or heartwarming student anecdotes.  This article goes in a different direction, as Thrun opens up a bit on his education views. Continue reading

Firing at the MOOC Moving Target

I sit down at my computer on Monday morning to see what folks wrote about re: MOOCs over the weekend.  And herein lies the problem in trying to define a learning trend/model/phenomenon/hysteria:

  • Michael Feldstein wrote a thorough engagement of LMS companies such as Instructure throwing their hats into the higher ed MOOC fray.  Feldstein continued to look at the MOOC movement in terms of disruptive innovation, and while in the article he questions that approach, dominant ideology of the time (or at least dominant media narrative) links MOOC to the theory of Christensen, so I’m going to need to go back to that one.
  • The New York Times wrote an article with the inflated title The Year of the MOOC.  The article pays very little lip service to the MOOC movement prior to Seb Thrun and 2011, continuing the media narrative that MOOCs pretty much fell out of the sky at that time, though a few people were dabbling around some years before.   Continue reading