Tag Archives: TED

The Problem with The MOOC Problem

My first postdoctoral publication was last week at Hybrid Pedagogy, an article about the lack of agenda or cohesion among educators in a fluctuating higher ed landscape.  In it I call for educators to do a better job both in defining their purpose as educators (similar to what Morozov advocates for as an intellectual agenda) and ask them to better advocate for seats at practical Future of Education discussions, those on organizational and political levels rather than in conference proceedings and in academic journals.  Response was overwhelmingly positive, which while flattering signifies a failure on my part to articulate my purpose.

I do not necessarily believe in actionable outcomes as a prerequisite for position papers or calls to advocacy; there needs to be a space where people can longitudinally engage with content or a premise without a need to place the situation inside a synthesis rubric.  Traditionally, the Hybrid Pedagogy discussion boards foster such teasing and wrestling.  This was not the case in my article, and I wonder if it is because the article was too easy to agree with.  Of course people should better advocate and better articulate, but why are we not doing that right now? I do not believe people wish to be poor advocates for their educational calling nor do I believe people are happy to be outside the conversation, so looking over the article I see too much TED and not enough discord.  Perhaps the article articulates a needed voice and position in the education sector (the idea that we are stuck talking about systems and instruments when the whole EdTech hullabaloo was intended to transcend the issues of systems and instruments).   And perhaps this was a needed first step for a movement to challenge educators, entrepreneurs and politicians to engage with one another in research-grounded actionable programs to better education rather than to solve it.  But without any disagreement for my premise, I feel there is no real place to agree either.

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Gartner’s Hype Cycle as Springboard – MOOC and Public Policy

A common theme in early MOOC criticism was a linking of the MOOC to Gartner’s Hype Cycle.

Certainly, a lot of hype accompanied the MOOC…more hype than for any EdTech innovation in education history, and perhaps more hype than for any learning model (or even agent of change) in higher education history. Spurred by a media narrative focused on a broken educational system, the MOOC was heralded not only as a means of providing cost-efficient education, but doing it through the best universities and professors in the world, for the entire world, in a way that would break down existing conventions of class and privilege. In short, MOOCs could crumble a bloated ivory tower while providing an education of higher-than-existing quality to individuals from around the world, eradicating student debt all the while.

Use of the hype cycle in discussion of MOOCs looked at the learning model as a present artifact that needed attachment to a history. That history could be MIT’s OpenCourseware, Columbia’s Fathom, Yale & Stanford’s AllLearn, the use of television in education (such as Nebraska Educational Telecommunications of the 1960s), the use of radio in education, or even the establishment of correspondence-based schools in the late 19th Century (such as Cornell University’s satellite school of correspondence). None of these innovations proved to be game-changers for higher education; moreover, almost all of the above were deemed failures by the developing institutions.

But the MOOC is ahistorical, borne of an intersection of machine learning, computer science and a TED talk by Sal Khan. It cannot be rated entirely on the history of similar distance education ventures, if at all.

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Want to Fix Education? Ditch TED.

I want to compare two texts.  The first is an op-ed by Richard Galant, a senior editor for CNN, entitled What if Students Learn Faster Without Teachers?  The second is a 1987 video by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics entitled A Private Universe (you will need to click the VoD button next to the 1 in Individual Program Descriptions).  In his op-ed, Galant uses the ideas of 2013 TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra for a School in the Cloud to question the effectiveness of teachers.  In the Harvard-Smithsonian video, we see a bright student struggling with understanding how the Earth experiences different seasons, despite being handed the correct information.   One text brazenly questions the role of teachers, while the other solidifies their necessity.  And guess which one is getting the airtime?

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Khan and Papert: Transformational Computers vs. Transformational Computing

In doing some MOOC reading I again got into the comments section to find a difference of opinion, this time on Khan Academy, a content delivery system many xMOOCs herald as inspiration for their wares. I evoked Seymour Papert’s 1991 book The Children’s Machine, specifically his kitchen math discussion, in an attempt to look at why a lecture-based mathematics instruction often doesn’t translate into understanding math for application in life. Another commenter provided this Papert quote in saying that Khan and Papert would agree on the benefit of Khan Academy:

“There won’t be schools in the future…. I think the computer will blow up the school. That is, the school defined as something where there are classes, teachers running exams, people structured in groups by age, following a curriculum-all of that. The whole system is based on a set of structural concepts that are incompatible with the presence of the computer. …But this will happen only in communities of children who have access to computers on a sufficient scale.

My response: Continue reading

Will William Jennings Bryan Keynote TED 2013?*

*This isn’t about hologram technology, though that would be pretty sweet.

Seems that TED is a bit upset that some of its TEDx offshoots aren’t properly vetting speakers on the basis of academic rigor or sound research practice:

Critics take issue with TEDx talks that have featured such topics as touch-healing the brain, rebirthing, crystal therapy and nonsense math.

TED is an interesting phenomenon:  putting together prolific thinkers and speakers to provide insight on new and unique things happening around the world is a great tool in the Information Age.  I fell in love with Ken Robinson based on his TED talk in 2006, and have seen great examples of energy, knowledge and enthusiasm from the likes of Al Gore, Jane McGonigal and Keith Barry.  But the concept wore thin quickly, especially when most every video followed a standard format:  anecdote that seemingly has nothing to do with speaker, shock, sales pitch, back to the anecdote, synthesis.  The time limit caused great minds to forego their intellect and find an inner Billy Mays instead, and the adherence to format cheapened the experience for me. Continue reading

MOOCs, Public Policy and Historical Ignorance

The due course of education in America is linked to public policy. This has existed on the state and federal level for over 100 years (well over); however, it is only in the last 30+ that there has been a federal department dedicated to education. Too often it seems that people within their own disciplines ignore societal factors and stressors when debating the merits of their discipline. This happens in education, an enterprise subsidized by governmental monies (to a shrinking degree, however). We cannot debate movements in education without looking at politics.

At the same time, politicians and policy hawks need a firm understanding of education if they are going to pitch for a model or debate a movement. Rhetoric and hyperbole only go so far, and ignorance of the theories, pedagogies and history of learning can cause great harm.

My Twitter network shot out an education article published by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C. Written by Alex Tabbarok, it’s title, Why Online Education Works, foreshadows a lack of historical perspective of both online and education (#cfhe12). The artifact is an important representation of existing thought in the political world, and with that I will dive in:

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