Tag Archives: Vygotsky

Why HBX is Just Another MOOC (or a Food Dehydrator)

The Business School, Disrupted article in Sunday’s New York Times goes well out of its way to avoid labeling HBX (the pre-MBA online program preparing for roll-out through Harvard Business School) as a MOOC.  Rather, the article places HBX in contrast to the MOOC, and presents the MOOC in terms of Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation.  According to those quoted in the article (Dean Nitin Noriha, Professor Michael Porter, Professor Jay Lorsch, etc.), the instrumental qualities of a MOOC do not pertain to the HBX model:  there is a cost to enroll ($1,500), the format is not lecture-based, and the program actively discourages lurkers or vacationers in an effort to secure heavily active participants.  In short, HBX defines itself by pointing out its differences from the MOOC model; to paraphrase Baldrick from BBC’s Blackadder, it is a dog because it is not a cat.

The article is a fascinating touchstone of online education-as-phenomenon for reasons outside the MOOC instrument; Geoff Shullenberger discusses much of Clayton Christensen’s article presence over at his blog.  For me, the real power of the article is not in what makes HBX different instrumentally from a MOOC, but how the language of online education as proliferated through MOOC discourse has created a space for brazen discussion of education as branding and consumer-profit relationships.  The language of online education in 2014 (as presented in Useem’s article) not only fails to address the thoughts of research and scholarship in online education prior to Sebastian Thrun’s MOOC, but bolsters a worldview of online education in a manner antithetical to the earliest beliefs and hopes for what inexpensive telecommunication could do to revolutionize the way we learn and communicate.  The world of MOOCs, HBX and Disruptive Innovation look little like the ideals of transformational learning from the perspective of the learner.  From this perspective, HBX might act in a different manner than the MOOCs cited in the NYTimes article, but its purpose and view of why online education exists only solidifies the MOOC perspective. Continue reading

Ignoring Education Research & History

Whether it’s lack of awareness, deliberate avoidance, or ignorance on the matter, there is a mainstream disconnect between the societal notion of education and the expansive field of education research.   In education, innovators and disruptors consistently reinvent the wheel, hyping revolutionary ideas that are often unaware of existing research, replications of prior models, or proud of their ignorance of history of the field’s theory and pedagogy.

I’ve discussed this before in relation to Sal Khan and Khan Academy; Khan’s somewhat autobiography One World Schoolhouse celebrates the lack of educational research behind Khan and his academy (both directly in the text as well as through a brief bibliography).  The attitude behind celebrating an ignorance of educational research purports a belief (and, in the media, a narrative) that not only is education broken due to the status quo of (bureaucracy, unions, outdated institutional governance, etc.), but the solutions are simple and evident outside of the bloated institution.  When such a narrative gains acceptance in the media (see recent education sections in Forbes and the Wall Street Journal), the attitude becomes inherent in the discussion, becoming fact despite its illogical nature.  Media and cultural scholars such as Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard have documented the disconnect between media reality and scholarly reality as well as the evolution of multiple realities, but most people aren’t reading McLuhan and Baudrillard.  If they are reading something, it’s more likely it will be in Forbes or the Wall Street Journal rather than in a compilation of cultural studies literature.

M. Night Shyamalan proposed his own educational fixes in a recent Wall Street Journal article, and it follows this same model:  education is broken, it needs disruption and innovation, and Shyamalan did his own research to figure out why the problem exists (note:  the article does not state why Shyamalan did his own research; based on its tenor, however, I assume it is because he either didn’t know prior research existed or was not impressed by prior research).  His ideas (fire the worst teachers, make principals focus on learning, provide more feedback to teachers, stretch the school day and build smaller schools) aren’t revolutionary, nor is the idea to do them all at once.  And in practice, the ideas have seen mixed results, and the mixed results are likely not due to the initiatives being put in place piece-meal.  For example, if you remove the principal from administrative duties and make the position a teacher-centric one (something I imagine many teachers and principals alike would at first glance support), you must hire more administrators to do the administration, positions that are not low pay-grade and cannot be filled by recent college graduates.  This movement follows a trend in higher education where administrative positions have risen dramatically while teaching positions have remained relatively stagnant…and again, administrators are hired at a pay grade higher than teachers.  That money must come from somewhere, and school budgets are not growing, but shrinking.  Where?  Shyamalan noted in his research that class size does not matter…so we can remove more teachers to pay for the new administrators.  However, there is significant research debunking Shyamalan’s claim that class size does not matter.  So while Shyamalan’s efforts are well-intentioned (and I truly believe this to be the case), its effect on existing media narrative and potential political decision will likely not fix the problem, and perhaps exacerbate it by once again ignoring existing research.

It is not just people outside the walls of education who are unaware of the field’s history or pedagogy.  Last year I noted an example where Dr. Mark Sample looked at scaffolding and split the word to define some as obstructive, and that positive scaffolding could even be called descaffolding.  The crux of Dr. Sample’s argument was strong, but scaffolding as an educational term has its roots drawn in the theories of Leo Vygotsky and Albert Bandura, and is an important aspect of modern learning theories such as constructivism and activity theory, theories in congruence with Dr. Sample’s argument.  Despite the strength of the presumption, by alienating scaffolding as a reference term in education, those who read the blog without the ed theory background will do like Sample does and equate scaffolding to bad, even though the theory behind the blog is that scaffolding is good.

More recently, Dr. Scott Newstok wrote an article for Inside Higher Ed that calls for close learning in a world of MOOCs.  Dr. Newstok argues for the importance of community and culture in education, and sees the role of the bricks and mortar space as vital to the argument.  The cautionary aspect of Dr. Newstok’s plea is important (let’s not all jump on the MOOC bandwagon when its pedagogy is as-yet undefined and suspect), but his term close learning already has a defining term in education circles:  the community of practice.  Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger used the theories of Vygotsky and Piaget to envision the importance of shared experience, mentorship, communication and community in the learning process.  It’s everything Dr. Newstok asks for in his article, except it’s 25 years old and research around it has shown the power that communities of practice can have not only in face-to-face settings, but online as well as blended (the original notion developed 20 years ago, not the marketing notion sent out in the back-to-school EdTech emails  last week).

I’ve corresponded briefly with Drs. Sample and Newstok, and it’s commendable that both care passionately about education and want to help make it better.  And I don’t  blame them for not being aware of educational theorists like Vygotsky or Wenger.  Despite our insistence that education is vital, educators have done a poor job of establishing its history and pinpointing the important touchstones in the theory of the field (I know Rutherford’s Gold Foil experiment, but prior to my education studies I would have imagined Piaget as much a swank French restaurant as he would be an educational/psychology pioneer).  Educators must join this debate and remind the pundits and professors of the history and theory of the field, or progress will only exist in dusty journals and education will remain in a broken cycle, the wheel constantly reinvented.

Scaffolding & MOOCs

I came across a great blog by Mark Sample, a literature and new media professor at George Mason University, looking at scaffolding, MOOCs, and MOOC pedagogy.  I thought Dr. Sample’s argument was spot-on about the problems of attaching training wheels to coursework, but had trouble with his association with that as scaffolding, which I look at from Vygotsky or Bandura as an integral part of the student-teacher relationship, and is one of if not the most important function of a teacher.  I might not be Laura Riding as far as definitions and ambiguity are concerned, but I feel like in order to have discussions about a topic we all need to define like terms before looking at points of contention.  I responded to Dr. Sample’s blog, but thought the write-up summarized the difference between classic and contemporary instruction fairly well, so am putting it here too. Continue reading

Teaching & Teachers – Apocalypse Now?

Just when I finish linking the MOOC movement with societal and cultural movements working against teaching as a profession, I find a weeks-old Wall Street Journal article asking if teachers will be necessary in the future.  The jist, as you could imagine, is that technology allows for lecture to be put online for others to see, so do we need all of these lecturers when we can just get some “star teachers” to record some HD video?  Learning is the accrual of content, so why not get the well-known people to share the content?

My problem with this educational futures is it sits squarely opposed to conventional and contemporary learning theory. Continue reading

Connectivism: Contemporary Learning Theory, Distance Ed Theory, or Pedagogy with Panache?

I’m still trying to wrap my head around connectivism, the learning theory developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes that in a lot of ways led to the growth of distance education and the development of MOOCs.  At its heart, connectivism is about where content/knowledge/learned stuff exists, and posits that in an interconnected, technologically-robust world, it is as much about how to access the learning opportunity as anything, but inherent to such a model is the notion that technology has systemically changed not only the way knowledge operates, but also the brain itself.   Continue reading

Social Learning in Independent Spaces?

I recently posted a response to a research paper by Terry Anderson which looked at the various modes of interaction across learning platforms and spaces.  Among the important and interesting notes was Anderson’s assertion that high quality learning could happen if one of three interactions (student-student, student-teacher or student-content) was of a high quality, regardless of the quality of the other two.  Yet in my reading of Anderson’s work, I saw him continue to discuss student-student interactions with great importance, moreso than he gave to student-teacher or student-content.  This ties into some existing learning theory popular today, most notably social learning theory (though, to be general, the Canadians like to call it social cognition) via Bandura (and Vygotsky’s social development theory). Continue reading

When MOOCs Happen: Alec Couros Explores Personal Learning Networks

Alec Couros gives a quasi-case study account of his experience facilitating (and I really like that term to define the role of an instructor in a MOOC) EC&I 831, an open access course that grew into an open online course, and eventually had ten times the number of registered students interacting online.  The course is commonly organized with cMOOCs, based on the focus on open access, the online component, the learning theory of the course, and the ratio of external students to internal students.  In this anthology chapter, Couros uses his experience with EC&I 831 to discuss the importance of personal learning networks, analyzing learning theory behind open access learning (and subsequently Open Online Courses).   Continue reading

Siemens on MOOC Theory / Classifying MOOCs

George Siemens starts a June 2012 blog post by celebrating the advancement of massively open online courses via platforms such as Coursera and EdX (noticeably absent from his praise is Udacity) as methods of providing excellence in education on a global level (an effort that is written about in great detail throughout popular lit, but not so much in research).  The purpose of the blog, however, is to note the theoretical and pedagogical differences between MOOCs and Coursera/EdX MOOCs (and he notes that he has chosen to signify the larger model as the “other”).  What about similarities?

There are many points of overlap, obviously, as both our MOOCs and the Coursera/EDx MOOCs taken (sic) advantage of distributed networks to reflect changing educational practice.

As I have noted in previous review of research, the assumption that MOOCs share ancestry is likely faulty.   Continue reading