MOOCs: Corporate welfare for credit –

Smart article on Salon about the apparent strategy adopted by the big MOOC providers, which echoes that of the voucher/charter school proponents of the last two decades:

The plan is simple. First, declare a crisis in education that doesn’t actually exist. Second, declare that a for-profit model can fix the crisis. (This is easy when you get to invent the particular calamity.) Third, rather than starting small and building empirical support from experts in the field, seek sweeping legislative changes that lock your position into the system.

This isn’t, however, a head-in-the-sand piece about how everything is fine in higher ed. They point out that the MOOC providers have fabricated a story about how the problem is about access to college due to costs, when the real problem is about retention and degree completion.

Mine your own business, learner

Audrey Watters, who writes at Hack Education, has posted a transcript of a talk she gave at Columbia as part of their Conversations About Online Learning series. Setting aside the envy I have of a place that holds a lecture series about technology and higher learning, Watters goes deep on some of the implications of “data mining” in education, fleshing out some of the ways such data might be used and pointing out how risky that might be for students.

…all this data that students create, that software can track, and that engineers and educators and administrators can analyze will bring about a more “personalized,” a more responsive, a more efficient school system.

How will this magic happen? Using the same secret algorithmic sauce that companies like Google use to tailor search results and ads, and Amazon uses to sell you, well, pretty much anything. So what’s the hitch? There are at least two, according to Watters: privacy and money.

It may be obvious, but if data is going to make a big difference in student learning, that is going to require a sea change in the rules surrounding access to that data. Or is it? It appears that right now, the rules are being skirted by private companies that don’t have the same restrictions as actual schools. I suspect that most students and their parents aren’t aware of this end run around educational data privacy. It is access to this kind of data that will be necessary to assist with learning, in the absence of actual human interaction.

And the money? It’s not money in the sense of cost to students. On the contrary, most ‘big data’ education projects are free to the student, meaning someone else is paying. For now, the bills are being paid by venture capital investors that are expecting BIG returns. We’re in the early days, the thinking goes, of a major shift in the way education is done, and one of the biggest parts of this shift is the privatization of education. Sure, there has been some suggestion that these programs will lead to a system of credentials not unlike a degree, and some programs have even been rolled out. But for the most part, the schools with the biggest stakes in this territory thus far are not talking about any kind of equivalency between their live and online programs.

Are MOOCs textbooks masquerading as courses?

About an hour before class on Friday, it began to dawn on me that half of my plant physiology class could be out for the day. Many were attending a botany conference in Columbus, others had emailed that they were sick. When I arrived at class, my suspicions were confirmed — 8 of 15 students were there. I decided to record my comments for the day later and held an impromptu study session for the upcoming exam. I had no idea what it would take to “just record my lecture” for the day.Watch Shark Exorcist (2016) Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

inspector panel in Keynote

When you’re used to standing in front of a class and explaining things, it’s very hard to explain things to a computer screen in an empty office. Very, very hard. Not in the technical sense, as Keynote (and I imagine Powerpoint) has that covered. I just opened up my Keynote slideshow for the day, opened the slide inspector, started a slideshow recording, and boom. I made it through the first slide. I glanced at the next slide and drew a blank. I paused the recording, collected my thoughts, and resumed recording. Blanked, paused, resumed, etc

Two hours. That’s what it took me to record 35 min of lecture over 36 slides. The last few slides were a slog, I was drained — way more than after a regular classroom session. After I finished it and sent the link to the class, I started wondering what it must be like to do this for every class. I recently saw an article reflecting on the development of a new MOOC on Coursera, in which the author describes her efforts and those of the production team. I guess I should be happy with only needing 2 hours to record 35 min of material, since it took an hour for her to record a video that will run 3 minutes! 

On one hand, I wish I had the time and talent to build a complete online course from the ground up and have students around the world learning from me, no doubt there is something alluring about that. But I can see how the kind of resources required to do that and do it well keeps it beyond the reach of all but a few faculty. In fact, it seems not unlike the resources needed to create a textbook. Both projects would need several subject area experts, dozens of artists and editors, several experts in learning technology and assessment, a production staff, and I’m sure many others I haven’t imagined. I think this is no coincidence, as I can see MOOCs coming to replace, or at least heavily supplement, traditional textbooks in some courses or parts thereof. Although some publishers see MOOCs as a big sales opportunity due to their large enrollments, it is notable that Coursera itself is urging instructors “not to require any textbooks that cost money” (quoted from previous link). This makes me wonder whether the MOOC platforms (Coursera, edX) are in more direct competition with textbook publishers than anyone really realizes. In fact, that may be a useful lens to evaluate their impact on education, by way of comparison to textbooks, which are all now scrambling to “become digital,” just like MOOCs.

Venture Capital’s Massive, Terrible Idea For The Future Of College [link]

Maria Bustillos, in a long piece in The Awl, brings some great clarity and perspective to the hype and bluster of the MOOC. This quote, from Aaron Bady, who recently touched off a storm with his piece on Inside Higher Ed, captures a bit of the flavor well:

The thing is, when you frame this as, “what does this give them for the rest of their lives?” one never really knows, and I think that’s the point; there is something, but it’s something we’re all discovering together. When we reduce education to job training; when we reduce it to, “we need X skills, so let’s do whatever causes X skill to come out,” you really close down all the possibilities.


As the MOOC turns

Below is a collection of links to recent articles and essays on MOOCs. Think of this as a primer for those of us who have been too busy, you know, actually teaching, to keep up with the latest developments.

The Crisis in Higher Education — Nicholas Carr, MIT Technology Review — A fairly balanced review of what MOOCs are, including a concise version of the Sebastian Thrun-Coursera creation myth. The comparison of MOOCs to the creation of correspondence courses in the early part of the 20th century seems apt.

Napster, Udacity, and the Academy — Clay Shirky — The author, a disruptologist, surveys the higher education landscape and finds it ripe for, you guessed it, disruption. Likening courses to MP3s, and by extension, universities to record labels, he argues that it is only a matter of time before the reckoning happens.

Questioning Clay Shirky — Aaron Bady, Inside Higher Ed — Both a rhetorical and substantive critique of Shirky’s disruption argument, Bady points out the steep decline in states’ funding for higher education over the past 2 decades as a key factor in driving unmet educational need, opening the door for MOOCs and for-profit ‘universities.’

Providers of Free MOOC’s Now Charge Employers for Access to Student Data — Jeffrey Young, The Chronicle of Higher Education — This explains why so many venture capitalists are lining up to ‘invest in education.’ One way to monetize students is to sell access to them to the highest bidder. It’s Google AdWords for people!The Boss Baby movie download

The Great Decoupling of the American Economy — Andrew McAfee — While not directly addressing MOOCs, I was struck by the applicability of the idea of reducing the need for ‘labor’ (if you can call faculty that) with capital investment, which is essentially what MOOCs do. Decoupling scholarly pursuit from instruction, which is one logical outcome of the MOOC, would undoubtedly lead to a loss of academic scholarship. But increasing economic efficiency like this is supposed to lead to more free time to pursue one’s interests, which is the original definition of schola; this seems terribly ironic.Blackhat 2015 movie