Tag Archives: theory


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.

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

#OpenEd13 Presentation – We Have Lost the Term “MOOC”

Video of my presentation MOOCseum: Using the Open Movement to Invigorate Local Museums is posted below. Attendees were engaged and responsive, and the numbers were impressive especially considering this was the final presentation slot at the conference.

Attendees were interested in the potential at the confluence point of MOOCs and Museums, and the Q&A session (unfortunately not all caught on camera; I went over my allotted time) captured some of those possibilities (opening up two-way communication at museums beyond a set MOOC date, incorporation into non-art entities, augmented technologies to spur communication and supplemental learning). We discussed art and aesthetics, copyright, institutional inertia, facilitation vs. expertise, and many other ideas floating in the OER ether.

But the Twittersphere showed the most interest one statement, pulled from my theoretical work on MOOCs:


Continue reading

A Lack of Female Authors, Heterogeneous Authors, & Pedagogy


David Gilmour utilizes his homegrown brand of pedagogy to provide riveting instruction to students. Photo via Brett Gundlock/National Post

Canadian author David Gilmour found himself in an Internet brouhaha this week in regards to an interview he provided for Hazlitt, an online magazine promoted by Random House of Canada.  The interview is about the books adorning his shelves, and…well, it’s best to quote rather than paraphrase:

I’m not interested in teaching books by women…when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf. And when I tried to teach Virginia Woolf, she’s too sophisticated, even for a third-year class. Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys.

Response has been passionate and plentiful, almost entirely upset with Gilmour’s seemingly misogynistic and homogeneous comments.  Interestingly enough, the comment section on the Hazlitt page is almost complete condemnation of Gilmour and his interview (author’s note:  the comments section has since become like most comment sections, a series of trolls and profanity-laced semantic debates, really devaluing the initial responses).  Gilmour has issued an attempt at a mea culpa through the National Post, claiming that he is not a misogynist, though…ah heck, it’s still best to cite rather than paraphrase:

It’s got nothing to do with any nationality, or racism, or heterosexuality. Those were jokes by the way. I mean, I’m the only guy in North America who teaches Truman Capote, and Truman Capote was not what you’d exactly call a real heterosexual guy. So I really don’t know what this is about. And this is a young woman who kind of wanted to make a little name for herself, or something, because when I said “real heterosexual guys” I’m talking about Scott Fitzgerald [and] Scott Fitzgerald was not what you’d call a real guy’s guy, a real heterosexual guy. (emphasis mine)

There are plenty of people handling the privileged white male reading of this whole issue.  I see another layer to this situation regarding Gilmour’s views on education and teaching. 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

Disruptive Tech via the Experts

A sadness fell over the Ed Tech circles of Twitter yesterday.  Maybe not a sadness, but a resignation.  The fervor that often accompanies information or artifacts from dichotomal points of view (which I love to call PsOV) was replaced with a more subdued conversation, one indicative of licking wounds, falling back, and regrouping.

A lot of MOOC related information entered into the conversation yesterday, and I’ll dedicate specific blogs to each.  But most important, from my perspective, was technology and new media maven Clay Shirky weighing in on the MOOC debate (oddly enough, I linked to a 2009 article of his just the other day when discussing my journey of putting MOOC and disruptive technology together).  The article is powerful to say the least, and makes a compelling argument…so compelling that if you haven’t read it and are interested enough in MOOCs to be at a blog all about MOOCs, you should go to it now.

Clay Shirky – Napster, Udacity & the Academy Continue reading

MOOCs, Inference & Political Punditry

One US Presidential Election takeaway of note for me was the perception of veracity in the Republican party’s projections.  When I woke up on Tuesday morning and read Nate Silver’s ultimate blog post at fivethirtyeight.com, I relayed to my wife that for President Obama to lose, there would have to be a foundational problem with state as well as national polling, not to mention the metric foundations of demographic data analysis.  A loss for the President would not be based on several mistaken variables, but instead a systemic issue at the foundation of the algorithms and the theory behind them.  Yet 12 hours later, Karl Rove famously melted down on the Fox News set, demanding answers from Fox’s number crunchers (and not receiving the answers he was hoping for).  The obvious question — despite extensive evidence to the contrary, how could Rove be so bamboozled by the election outcome?

Chris Argyris developed a tool for understanding how individuals utilize information and form perceptions in his 1990 Ladder of Inference.   Continue reading