By Clive Young, on 10 February 2013
Trying to take the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC more seriously I watched and read through the materials at the beginning of the week and posted a few times on the Couseara UCL Study Group.
The theme this week was “future-focused visions of technology and education” with some discussion of MOOCs themselves. I watched a couple of the utopian futuristic videos, didn’t bother with the dystopian ones. Loved the vision of the future portrayed (try A Day Made of Glass 2); always-on connected information layered on the real world though smart glass displays and even contact lenses. Wow I want that – I find I am nostalgic for the future! Skimmed the discussion forums which had a disappointing predictable anti-technology tone an uninteresting paper on metaphors.
Then jumped directly to the education readings. First up was Shirky vs Bady discussing MOOCs themselves. I declare my bias. Having worked in e-learning for a while, I am deeply suspicious of any claim of the structure ” [insert 'cool' technology of choice] will revolutionise higher education beyond recognition“. But here goes…
Shirky’s proposal is that MOOCs – IMO a technology rather than a pedagogical innovation – could disrupt higher education, maybe in the same way the Napster ‘story’ of digital downloads ultimately killed HMV. I think he makes a good point that the ‘elite’ universities, of which UCL is one, are unlikely to be much affected. They provide an expensive top-end education where the brand name is critical. He hints the function of these institutions in society – even the emerging global society. This is only partly educational; they critically serve as a rite-of-passage and a labelling/discriminating mechanism for the middle classes. And the growing middle classes are very likely to continue to pay for the process and the privilege they provide. A MOOC is for such institutions a clever marketing tool, run by a tiny handful of interested academics.
However he also makes a case that more middle-ground education (even that occurring inside the elite universities) might find they have to compete with open resources, especially if these resources start to improve in quality, maybe by a form of academic crowdsourcing. These resources don’t, and actually don’t have to, compete with the quality of the best of the elites, they just have to be ‘good enough’ and of course cheaper.
Bady’s response starts with an odd ad hominem attack on Shirky, but goes on to point out (righty) that most universities are non-profit and (unlike HMV) are happy to give away their product – MIT has been doing it for years (and the worlds libraries are full of books by UCL academics). He defends academic caution: “the thing about academics is they require evidence of success before declaring victory while venture capitalists [who support some MOOCs] can afford to gamble on the odds”. Bady agrees with Sharky that the elite universities are pretty safe, and recognises that MOOCs address a so-far unaddressed demand for more education but is makes the critical point that for him ‘good enough’ isn’t actually ‘good enough’ and “MOOCs are only better than nothing”. We need to be more aspirational and makes the connection between the rise of MOOCs in the US and the rising college fees in colleges. The system has created a demand for education the citizens simply can’t afford.
The next resource was a LONG video by open education guru Gardner Campbell. It turned out to actually be quite compelling – a great example of a lecture as performance for all those lecture capture sceptics. Alas only 29 posts on Courseara – only a handful of us students seemed to look at – or at least respond to – it!
However it starts off none too well, Campbell feels open education as represented by MOOCs has all gone wrong, and the MOOC approach undermines the ‘liberating’, even transformational possibilities of education. It all sounds a bit whiney – MOOCs exist in the real world and have no obligation to meet any fanciful standards of ‘openness’. He then has a go at some academic who has created a rubric for marking blog posts – we are invited to see this as a heresy against the very nature of the “blog”. I personally thought a blog was a writing tool rather than a fetish of freedom, but there you go.
Anyway he then steps up a notch. He ‘yearns’ for something better and finds in the philosopher Gregory Bateson’s ideas of levels of learning a framework and focus for his yearning. He says that universities achieve at best ‘level 2′ learning where the student performs well in the context of the educational system. However ‘critical thinking’ requires level 3, a contextualisation of the context, an ability for the student to step out of and critically appraise the context she is working in. Actually reminded me a bit of a a wonderful but now defunct OU course Discourse analysis (D843) I did last year – that was also partly about deconstructing contexts.
Anyways Campbell felt that the trick for creative thinking was to be able to jump contexts. At least I think that was what he was saying. He seemed to think that ‘double binds’, contradictions in any given contexts were a way of revealing therefore possibly transcending the context itself. Perhaps. Reminded me of zen philosophy, the aim of which is also to decontextualise thought. He finished by giving some examples of his students’ own creative work.
So basically the higher levels of learning are pretty unlikely to be achieved by MOOCs and, to link to the Shirky and Bady readings this week we are woefully under-specifying what we could or should be achieving. Openness is to Campbell about opening minds not just about opening access.
A good point to end this week, my totally unevidenced feeling so far is there is a lot of superficial engagement with the superficial stuff but not much deep debate going on.