Thursday, April 7, 2016

Deceptive Promises?

This morning, while commuting, I was able to read through another chapter in the book titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future, which I started back in August of 2015 (or somewhere there about).  This time I am reviewing chapter 9, which is titled Deceptive Promises: The Meaning of MOOCs-Hype for Higher Education.  The abstract is as follows:

Since 2011, massive open online courses (MOOCs) fired the imagination of the general public as well as the academics, university administrators and investors alike. This chapter is an analysis of the main promises and expectations associated with MOOCs in higher education. This analysis is largely informed by a literature review of new extensive research reports, press releases, media articles, scholarly blogs and academic papers. Considering costs and benefits, ethical aspects and the impact on the landscape of higher education, the author explores whether MOOCs stay consistent with their initial promises and rhetoric. This chapter continues the discussion on the book section ‘RIA and education practice of MOOCs,' with the particular focus on the topic of ‘educational training design.

I think that this is actually a chapter that's worthwhile reading! I think that it fits in well with the work that Rolin Moe, Markus Deimann,  and Panagiotis and I, published in CIEE volume 2, issue 1. The author of this chapter writes about the failed promises of the (x)MOOC and how the (EdTech?) reality distortion field that was prevalent at the time really brought many universities into the (x)MOOC arena without much planning for fear of missing out (FOMO).  This article was much better written critique than the Meisenhelder articles published in the NEA journal Though and Action titled MOOC-mania.

I think that the critiques of the author are valid, and this researched essay (position paper?) really lays out the perfect (reality distortion) storm that brewed up between 2011 and 2013.  While it is a worthwhile read, I wouldn't consider it as the only source of MOOC critique and issues†.  I think that there are two big issues that stood out for me.  The first issue is that the author just writes about MOOCs.  He makes no distinction between the various types of MOOCs, and the various rationales for starting the MOOC. xMOOCs were by no means the first MOOC, that honor goes to the connectivist MOOCs that started around 2008 and continued until this mania hit.  The connectivist MOOCs didn't necessarily seek to democratize education, whatever that may mean.  Sure, they were open resources and they were available to anyone who could connect with them, but - from my own readings and experience - that's not how they started.

Relating to this, I don't like the connotation of the title, specifically the deceptive part.  When someone is deceptive, they are intentionally so.  There is an agency behind deception, and there is some goal or gain to be hand.  While the xMOOC does definitely have issues, I don't think that the actors in the xMOOC arena (Kohler, Ng, Agarwal, Thrun, et al.) were deceptive in their practices or even their means.  I think that the Stanford crew were swept up in the unexpected popularity of those two experiments that they ran and they mis-stepped, and mis-spoke.  For Agarwal, on the other hand, it seemed like a natural extension of their previous effort - open courseware.  Maybe I am being naïve, after all I wasn't behind closed doors when this was all conceived, but I am less convinced that this was all a planned, deceptive, practice from the start.

The other thing that doesn't quite sit well with me is the economic aspect.  I got a sense that a major underlying current as to whether a faculty member or institution adopts MOOCs is the economic factor (rather than something more substantive like pedagogical factors).  While I think that jumping head-first into something you know little about is not wise (and often discouraged!), I do think that the sustainability argument, or rather the "will this make us money, increase enrollments, increase x, y, z revenue", is a false one.  As an IHE you certainly don't want to bleed money.  You can only do that for a certain amount of time until you go our of business.  However,  I don't see MOOCs, or other types of OCW and other types of OER, as revenue generators.  What you do in class, in a small seminar, or "regular" 20-student class does not show in a MOOC.  You can't treat OER as a window into your courses and your programs. It just doesn't work that way.  What should be considered are the synergies between traditional paid-for education and free open courses. There is no reason why these two cannot co-exist and support one another.  There are some ideas I have about this - but subject to another blog post - this one is getting lengthy.

Did you read this article? What did you think?

† see previously references articles as samples of others writing in the same field
blog comments powered by Disqus