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.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
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
A research-based report of the results of SJSU’s Spring 2013 pilot of lower-level mathematics courses offered via Massive Open Online Course platform (though I do like the term Augmented Online Learning Environment, or AOLE) has arrived — or at least a preliminary version. Dubbed “Project Lessons Learned” by the research team, the results are pretty much in-line with anecdotal expectations as well as the buzz coming from SJSU: at-risk students w/o a strong background in higher education or the subject matter fared poorly, while students w/ a strong background in higher education and/or the subject matter did better. This is not new to those critical of MOOCs as an agent of democratizing global education, and the (for lack of a better term) bellyaching that came from Udacity in regards to student population continues to ring hollow, as globally more students share characteristics with the unsuccessful demographic.
Udacity’s response is also expected, highlighting success and mitigating struggle.
All of this comes in the shadow of Udacity’s private-private education partnership, the Open Education Alliance. How will Udacity utilize its successes and failures in developing an open education model? Also, how many more education terms can Udacity co-opt? The original MOOC definition was for a learning model rather different from today’s cultural understanding of MOOC, and Open Education/Open Access as a theory and practice (with distinct roots in the early part of the century, and a history well before that) does not, at first glance, look like Udacity’s vision.