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Learners Rights and the MOOC Wars
January 28, 2013 11:02 AM   Subscribe

The Learners Bill of Rights, a set of “Principles for Learning in the Digital Age,” is the outcome of a twelve-person meeting held in Palo Alto last week to explore the voice of the educated in online learning discussions:
As we begin to experiment with how novel technologies might change learning and teaching, powerful forces threaten to neuter or constrain technology, propping up outdated educational practices rather than unfolding transformative ones.

All too often, during such wrenching transitions, the voice of the learner gets muffled.

For that reason, we feel compelled to articulate the opportunities for students in this brave electronic world, to assert their needs and--we dare say--rights.

We also recognize some broader hopes and aspirations for the best online learning. We include those principles as an integral addendum to the Bill of Rights below.

Published on Github, the writers of the bill seek feedback and additions in the form of pull requests. “We invite further discussion, hacking, and forking of this document.” Signatories and supporters include Sebastian Thrun of Udacity and Andrew Ng of Coursera, leading entrepreneurs behind the sudden popularity of massively-open online courses or “MOOCs” (previously, again, again). Ian Bogost responds with Open, New, Experimental, Aspirational, a critique of the rhetoric of #learnersrights:
This apparent "openness" also effectively makes criticism impossible. When someone arrives with questions or concerns, he or she becomes a naysayer refusing to "offer solutions" given the "invitation to a conversation." This is even more infuriating for folks like Bowles, who have been having the "conversation" about different modes of learning for years. There's a false sense of novelty swirling all around MOOC mania, and novelty always benefits the most recent voice. Nobody wants to hear (or run press coverage) about how a hot new trend is really nothing new.
Aaron Bady, who opposes MOOCs due to his “conservative defensiveness,” nevertheless experiences a moment of dreaming in the ongoing debate for MOOCs to reframe public education as a public works program:
At the same time, the advent of MOOC’s might have brought something to the discussion that was radically missing: the sense there is a purpose to higher education beyond credentials and profit.



But while venture capitalists are interested in MOOC’s because they want to sell these courses to universities, the thing about actually existing MOOC’s is that they actually are free to the consumers, and must be. That’s the point, and there is no MOOC without that fact. As a result, you find people thinking about how to provide education to people who couldn’t otherwise get it, and for reasons that are explicitly not about credentials or profit.

If the actual MOOC-ification of higher ed is likely to be a dead-end, in other words, MOOC’s do enable us to ask a question that we’ve often been too defensively crouched to think about: what should or could “higher education” look like, if it were stripped of its credentialing and profit-making functions? If it were free, and if it wasn’t about determining who gets jobs and who doesn’t, what would it look like?
posted by migurski (66 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
This document fails to distinguish between maximal and minimal requirements. Rights are minimal requirements: you must at least do this. So something like a "right to privacy" makes sense as a learner's right. But a "right to have great teachers"? That's just silly--and putting it in there makes the whole document seem silly by association.
posted by yoink at 11:21 AM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


If it were free, and if it wasn’t about determining who gets jobs and who doesn’t, what would it look like?

It would look like a friggin library. Duh.
posted by spicynuts at 11:27 AM on January 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


This document fails to distinguish between maximal and minimal requirements. Rights are minimal requirements: you must at least do this. So something like a "right to privacy" makes sense as a learner's right. But a "right to have great teachers"? That's just silly--and putting it in there makes the whole document seem silly by association.
posted by yoink at 11:21 AM on January 28 [+] [!]


You're missing some context here I think. The rise of online learning is happening at a time when the traditional university model is under serious attack. Increasingly, universities are being run like businesses to churn out career qualifications. Clauses about quality of instruction are a push back against the industrialization of education, which is something that the online environment could very easily facilitate. Students deserve the same service they'd expect in a class room, (professorial subject matter experts that are involved in their peer community, publishing, research, teaching, etc) not a massive course with a room full of faceless markers behind computer terminals somewhere processing exams by the bucket load.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:27 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


The "learners' rights" thing is such a transparent bunch of hogwash that it's hardly worth spending time arguing about, though I am grateful Bogost gave it a few minutes.

I like the Bady piece a lot, but it seems like there's a fair amount of faux-naivete in its concluding open-ended rhetorical questions. I mean, we know, at least roughly, what higher education looks like when stripped of its credentialing and profit-making functions: it looks like inquiry for its own sake, the shared conversational drive to knowledge of the seminar room and the workshop. Or it looks like research in a library or a lab, or artistic creation. Of course not every college studetn or course or teacher approximates that ideal, but it's recognizable as the ideal toward which college instruction tends, when it can, in the relative absence of competing pressures toward hierarchical evaluation and social sorting and instrumentalization. The bulk of MOOCs don't even try, however distantly, to approach that ideal; the idea of education represented there is about a package of skills and knowledge, dispensed from the instructor into the student — that is, the old-fashioned "banking" model.
posted by RogerB at 11:28 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't figure out the whole MOOC thing. What is the incentive for anyone to design a great MOOC, or to teach one? I can see why you'd want to take one, but I'm baffled at who's going to take on hundreds of students, massive course design issues, and give away what they might otherwise be paid to do.

Plus, education is fun, sure. But it's never been easier to do a self-paced course on a subject with materials that are freely available. Of course structured classes appeal to some learners, but is that demand enough to fuel a credential-free institutional structure, when that structure has no money behind it?

It'll be interesting to see if, five years from now, MOOC is a universal word like Google, or a forgotten buzzword a la 'Web 2.0'. You can guess which one I'm betting on.
posted by MrVisible at 11:31 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


We are aware of how much we don't know: that we have yet to explore the full pedagogical potential of learning online, of how it can change the ways we teach, the ways we learn, and the ways we connect.

I think they're mistaken if this is the sum of what they believe they do not know. People interested in education would be well-served by teaming up with professional educators--teachers, professors, librarians--rather than working in an echo chamber to produce an absurd list of "rights" they believe everyone in the world is entitled to by virtue of the fact that we have technology that makes the transmission of information easier. I wonder why they wouldn't want to acknowledge professional educators as their obvious and natural allies?

As we begin to experiment with how novel technologies might change learning and teaching, powerful forces threaten to neuter or constrain technology, propping up outdated educational practices rather than unfolding transformative ones.

Ah. There it is. Seems to me like this is a slap in the face to the massive, committed, and insultingly under-appreciated educational infrastructure already in place in, e.g., the US, if not an outright attack on its legitimacy.
posted by clockzero at 11:35 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Actually, never mind: I am entirely grateful for the Learners' Bill of Rights, because my day will surely contain no irony richer than this creepy aristocratic paternalism wearing a democratic mask. Nothing like a "Bill of Rights" written for an entirely absent population of "learners" out of noblesse oblige by a panel of CEOs, endowed chair-holders, and digital-educationalist camp-followers.
posted by RogerB at 11:36 AM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


What's frightening is that these companies sincerely believe that a 12-person meeting of academics, CEOs and startup founders should be writing and signing a learner's bill of rights. This is the classic Silicon Valley rhetorical move: advancing their own financial interests by cloaking it in pseudo-populism.

And of course, everyone already knows this. We would be shocked if this benevolent coalition of business leaders turned around and advocated for reversing the deep cuts in state budgets that fund higher education.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:38 AM on January 28, 2013 [20 favorites]


I think “MOOC” is a word destined for the dustbin myself, but it’s also the currently-agreed-upon consensus response to factual pressures on higher education. Universities and their owners are finding the actual housing and educating of warm bodies increasingly boring and expensive, so they're looking for alternatives that require less campus babysitting. What distinguishes MOOCs from visiting a library or learning for its own sake is the linear structure of a “course” though I'm told by friends who took the big Coursera ML course that grading assignments was a fiasco, so there's clearly a lot of work to be done if this is ever going to make sense.
posted by migurski at 11:42 AM on January 28, 2013




What's frightening is that these companies sincerely believe that a 12-person meeting of academics, CEOs and startup founders should be writing and signing a learner's bill of rights. This is the classic Silicon Valley rhetorical move: advancing their own financial interests by cloaking it in pseudo-populism.

And of course, everyone already knows this. We would be shocked if this benevolent coalition of business leaders turned around and advocated for reversing the deep cuts in state budgets that fund higher education.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:38 AM on January 28 [+] [!]


A lot of academics are genuinely interested in pursuing new learning models. I have less faith in "entrepreneurs" with massive profits to be had. There's a huge threat to public sector educational jobs here.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:44 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


If the actual MOOC-ification of higher ed is likely to be a dead-end, in other words, MOOC’s do enable us to ask a question that we’ve often been too defensively crouched to think about: what should or could “higher education” look like, if it were stripped of its credentialing and profit-making functions? If it were free, and if it wasn’t about determining who gets jobs and who doesn’t, what would it look like?

Funnily enough, I know exactly what education looks like when it is stripped of its credentialing and profit-making functions - I teach an occasional course via ExCo, our local free school, and I've been part of other popular education projects both as a teacher and a learner.

First, folks have to recognize that you can't strip capitalism out of education - at least not without massive social change. The person who is taking a class with no regard for credentials or employment is most often going to be someone with a lot of social privilege, because they will have the free time. They won't need to spend the class time on caring for their kids, credentialing themselves for a better job, working a second shift, etc. What's more, they will almost certainly have access to a whole bunch of stuff - transit to get to the class, internet access, access to materials for the class. Often they will have to have a fairly high degree of literacy and speak fluent English (at least for classes here in the US) because most of the people who have the time and initiative to teach these classes (remember, they are not for credentialing, so none of this is ELL-directed) are themselves fairly privileged, or at best eccentric poor folks who come from privilege and have access to various social networks. They are people who can afford to teach for free.

Now, there are movement-building popular education classes that are different - they may not be in English, they're likely to be intensively needs-driven (organizing skills, legal rights, workers' rights, cultural history) and they'll take place in accessible locations on whatever basis the students need. I actually co-taught (although honestly my co-teachers were way better than me) a video workshop for a group of immigrant women organizers, working with a translator as only one of us spoke decent Spanish. But I doubt that's what the MOOC/Coursera bunch are talking about.

But anyway - let's assume that we're not credentialing, we're just teaching something for the hell of it. And let's assume that - as is the case locally - there are enough Spanish-speaking teachers, whether immigrant, US-born, white or POC, that the Spanish-language courses can be varied and range from organizing training to literature to bikes to cooking, just like the classes in English. What does that look like?

Not quite the thrill-ride everyone is hoping for, honestly.

1. If you're taking a course for fun, it is hard to stay motivated. If you're at home alone taking the course online, it's easy just to do something else....and honestly, one session of Mandarin practice every two weeks when you get to it doesn't really help much. If you have to go out to the class after work or after school, especially if it's far away...well, all teachers know that the first two or three sessions are a lot bigger than the rest - you can start with fifteen students and finish up six weeks later with three. And this does not have nearly as much to do with the quality of the teaching as you might think.

2. If you're teaching, well, maybe you're good and maybe you're not. And there's a learning curve, and there aren't the structures that assist you when you're a paid teacher - not much mentoring or training. The organization I teach with does provide some of those things - given their shoestring budget and volunteer basis - but not too much since they can't afford it. You have to seek those things out on your own if you're serious about them and if you have the time.

If you're floundering with your class and you see your students bored or confused, it is really dispiriting and there's nowhere to turn, especially if you are not prepared for the fact that you need to learn to teach just as much as your students need to learn your subject.

3. Classes are geared to the practical, sometimes the hipster practical. A course in beer-making or bike-fixing is going to get a lot more students and those students will be a lot more engaged than a class where you read philosophy. Part of this is that at the end of the workday it's easier to do something physical/hands-on; part of this is that the regular academy pulls in most of the philosophy-readers.

4. Classes are not necessarily rigorous. Homeopathy and anti-fluoride stuff is just as common as anything else, and the people who are teaching even a serious subject may have large misconceptions about it. There is very little curriculum review - again, the project I've taught through does as much as they can.

5. Anything that requires a lot of specialized study is incredibly rare - no physicists teaching for free.

6. Anything that requires expensive equipment is right out - you won't even learn to pipette at the free school.

Certainly, it does more good than harm - even the Really Awful classes I taught when I had no idea what I was doing had their moments.

But as someone who really does provide an intellectual service for free out of personal conviction and just for the hell of it, I do not like this "everything would be better if it were done by volunteers on a crowd-sourced basis" business.
posted by Frowner at 11:46 AM on January 28, 2013 [23 favorites]


I can't figure out the whole MOOC thing. What is the incentive for anyone to design a great MOOC, or to teach one? I can see why you'd want to take one, but I'm baffled at who's going to take on hundreds of students, massive course design issues, and give away what they might otherwise be paid to do.

It's like any enterprise which attracts investment capital. The prospect is to fully commoditize the already mostly faceless work done by adjuncts and grad students that makes a university course possible: grading, tutoring, student management, and allow universities and private groups to sell "learning" with a "superstar" lecturer as the draw, teaching a course to thousands without having to hire permanent faculty.

Learn AI taught by CM/Stanfords/Goggle's Sebastian Thrun (as managed by a hidden work force of laborers making sure the gears on the MOOC turn without any social obligation from their employers other than a paycheck.) The "superstar" gets to have a huge audience, feel like a rockstar, and maybe get a percentage or stock options. Everyone else gets a paycheck but... academia in the US is a dead end already for just about everyone but the top 10 in any discipline so maybe it doesn't make any difference.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:50 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Clauses about quality of instruction are a push back against the industrialization of education, which is something that the online environment could very easily facilitate.

Sure--but you can't address that with a "learner's bill of rights." Just because there are real problems out in the world doesn't mean that a "bill of rights" is the perfect way to address them.

A "right" to have "great teachers" is simply vapid--it exposes the whole exercise as inherently meaningless, because it's a "right" that can't be in any way instrumentalized (unlike, say, a "right" to have properly credentialed teachers or a "right" to have teachers with at least one completed graduate qualification or what have you). Having a "right" to "great teachers" is like having a "right" to be an "above average" student--it's meaningless puffery that signals itself as meaningless puffery.
posted by yoink at 11:56 AM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


A group of professors has enrolled in Coursera's “E-Learning and Digital Cultures” MOOC (starts today). They will be reporting on their experience at Academe Blog.
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:10 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I can't figure out the whole MOOC thing. What is the incentive for anyone to design a great MOOC, or to teach one? I can see why you'd want to take one, but I'm baffled at who's going to take on hundreds of students, massive course design issues, and give away what they might otherwise be paid to do."

I'm taking "Microeconomics for MBAs" over on Coursera. The textbook, written by the instructor, is currently sold out with a price well over $100 the last time I checked. The text book is not required to complete the class.

Oddly, the other classes I've taken (Learning to Program and Introduction to Genetics and Evolution) were taught by folks who seemed to have unbridled passion for their subjects and would be teaching in their sleep if they could. The other class I'm taking now (Data Analysis) is taught by a similarly-minded prof.

I don't think their motives are purely altruistic but if you really love something and believe in what you love, why not share it with as many people as possible?
posted by Tevin at 12:11 PM on January 28, 2013


Isn't the "right to have great teachers" merely code for "right to take our MOOC taught by a super-star lecturer"? I'm cautiously pro-MOOCs though for basic courses that most researchers dislike teaching.

In particular, high school should be the first target for MOOCs, not university. Zero tricky subject matter. Lower level classes benefit more from standardization. etc. We're doing it at the university level for two reasons : First, student loan fraud creates a major cash cow opportunity, ala all the existing degree mills like University of Phoenix. Second, there are no high school teachers who understand anything about technologies require for doing this properly, but good universities posses plenty of faculty working on artificial intelligence and such.

Will MOOCs destroy academia? Yeah probably, but that happened already. In the past, researchers took teaching jobs that funded their research. We expanded academia through government grants that massively distracted those researchers, eventually turning them into small business owners.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:14 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"As we begin to experiment with how novel technologies might change learning and teaching, powerful forces threaten to neuter or constrain technology, propping up outdated educational practices rather than unfolding transformative ones."

Starting a conversation on how to do X, by telling the people who already do X that they are going to be opposed to a new way to do X because they've been doing it wrong, so, so wrong, is surely not the best way to start a conversation on the "new" way to do X.
posted by oddman at 12:21 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


So I took Andrew Ng's Stanford version of the ML class, which was different in basically every way from the Coursera ML class. I've talked to many of the kids who took AI with Sebastian Thrun, who nearly universally denigrated it as awful because of its easiness. I recall Thrun's response to that criticism was that it was a first execution, which is a valid response, but I think it betrays an awful thing about all the attempts at education reform.

Education is a hard problem, because it has one of the defining traits of hard problems. That defining trait is this: it's not a search for a solution, it's a search for a problem. It's obvious that the results given by education are failing... unless it's not. It's obvious that the problem is with inadequate instruction... unless it's not. Obviously, the problem is with parents... unless it's not. You see? We don't even know what the problem is. For different people, the problem will be very different.

It becomes a very attractive thing to do, in a place where you are working on the problems rather than the solutions, to define and change the problem yourself, to raise up and put forth the high and lofty goals and say: "we need to solve this problem!" And the problems are pretty explicit in this declaration: Access is the problem of education, privacy, public knowledge, ownership of IP, financial and pedagogical transparency, poor teachers, quality and care. These are the problems that the rights people have declared are the problems of education.

They are almost certainly wrong. Why? Because the problem with education is that the problems change a lot. Prioritization is hard, if not impossible. Putting a theoretical manifold over these problems lets you work harder and focus more on the wrong problems. Even if they're the right problems, they're wrongly defined. I agree with yoink in that I don't think anybody really knows what the hell a "right to have great teachers" entails. We might put up some metrics on getting great teachers. Then we will merrily and happily game the metric. We will look at these problems and be distracted from the others. What other problems are there? An infinity of other problems, some of them more important than others. By what standard are we to judge the importance of each of these problems? It is impossible to construct a standard with more than one person.

This is also why educational theories do not work. Not because they're made by pointy-haired folks, which they usually are, but because they try to define problems so that we can reduce the problem of education to finding solutions for the well-defined problems of education. That is not the problem of education. The problem of education cannot be well-defined for everybody.

Can we get any good out of a "bill of rights" such as this one? Maybe. I can point to one group of people I'm sure it benefited and will benefit educationally: the writers. It's nice to see that they put it up in github, where other people will think about these questions, maybe. Where other people will draft their own documents and probably get their pull request rejected, but that's OK. The only person an educational theory does good for is the theorist. Education theorists think hard about the problems and define them clearly -- for themselves. The awfulness comes when they try to generalize.
posted by curuinor at 12:21 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh, and I forget to mention that Thrun's response was that it was a first execution, but a proof of the principles. What I was thinking was that there can be no proof of such principles.
posted by curuinor at 12:22 PM on January 28, 2013


What is the incentive for anyone to design a great MOOC, or to teach one?

Once you're tenured or at least on the tenure track, the "economy" of the academic profession is basically reputational. For the big-name and mid-tier faculty who are signing on to Coursera and the like, a MOOC is a status signifier: the idea is that it will signify they're on top of the trends, in demand in the high-tech world, and willing to experiment in the name of good teaching. And, yes, it signifies altruism, and plays on both the teacher and the audience's altruistic feelings — because maintaining a believable appearance of altruism, of a social conscience, is an important signal in academia.
posted by RogerB at 12:23 PM on January 28, 2013


A lot of academics are genuinely interested in pursuing new learning models.

Yes – one of the signatories to this document, Cathy Davidson of Duke University and Mozilla Foundation board member wrote about corporatizing the liberal arts curriculum so it better serves employers' needs. She calls it SUCCESS: "Start-Up Core Curriculum for Entrepreneurship, Service and Society."
posted by AlsoMike at 12:30 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


They really should have drawn out the acronym for MOOC out so it could spell MOOCOW
posted by hellojed at 12:34 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Education is a hard problem, because it has one of the defining traits of hard problems. That defining trait is this: it's not a search for a solution, it's a search for a problem. It's obvious that the results given by education are failing... unless it's not. It's obvious that the problem is with inadequate instruction... unless it's not. Obviously, the problem is with parents... unless it's not. You see? We don't even know what the problem is. For different people, the problem will be very different.

Here's the solution: education is a content delivery platform. That's the business the MOOCs see themselves in and why they are getting internet money, because we all know how great the internet is at delivering content to consumers learners...
posted by ennui.bz at 12:34 PM on January 28, 2013


But a "right to have great teachers"?

I think "right to have great teachers" is corp.speak for replacing actual instructors with people from the private sector. Managers and executives in the classroom. Which, on the surface, seems ok, sort of. I mean...actual experience in the field, right? However, based on my daughter's experience in the b-school she's attending (which has a big love for bringing-in private-sector execs to teach their field) the execs seem to be universally terrible, clueless instructors.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:41 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


A "right" to have "great teachers" means imposing requirements on teachers that they be "great". I can't even begin to imagine what that would entail.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:55 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


blue_beetle: "A "right" to have "great teachers" means imposing requirements on teachers that they be "great". I can't even begin to imagine what that would entail."

"Would you like to work for 45 cents on the dollar? You would? Great!"
posted by boo_radley at 12:59 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a start. At least they're trying something.
posted by amtho at 1:11 PM on January 28, 2013


And, yes, it signifies altruism, and plays on both the teacher and the audience's altruistic feelings — because maintaining a believable appearance of altruism, of a social conscience, is an important signal in academia.

That may be a reason to try creating a MOOC, or to teach one once or twice. But it's not a great reason to put a lot of effort into one, as you can create the appearance of altruism pretty easily. It won't be a great motivator for long, especially once it becomes obvious, as per Frowner's excellent comment, that the people you're teaching are privileged enough to be able to take classes that don't involve certification. And the cachet of teaching a MOOC won't survive long if anyone can teach one on homeopathy or anti-flouridation in the course space next door.
posted by MrVisible at 1:12 PM on January 28, 2013


They really should have drawn out the acronym for MOOC out so it could spell MOOCOW

Milking Online Opportunities for Cash Oughta Work
posted by yoink at 1:12 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


So I saw this last week when it was making the rounds on Twitter. My eyes started rolling really hard when I got to this part:
We are aware of how much we don't know: that we have yet to explore the full pedagogical potential of learning online, of how it can change the ways we teach, the ways we learn, and the ways we connect.
They are right - the authors of this document clearly don't know very much, because those of us that have actually been involved in online learning for a while know quite a bit. I mean seriously, I started getting training in online teaching in the late 90s for crying out loud, when online teaching mean rolling your own html, and connecting over dial-up. And even back then we knew that online teaching meant a fundamental change in the relationship between teachers and students, that it meant re-envisioning the traditional ways (i.e. the lecture) that course content was delivered, that it meant a greater emphasis on peer learning. I mean seriously, where have these people been?

We have a body of scholarship, actual real research with results and theory and everything, on online pedagogy that goes back more than a decade. Every time I read something written by one of these MOOC cheerleaders I wonder if they have read anything, like ever, about pedagogy, online or off.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 1:16 PM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


It's a start. At least they're trying something.

The issue isn't that education hasn't been trying something. Educational institutions try this sort of thing all the time. Educational institutions jump from one fad to another faster than popular teenagers, and this one has the distinct aroma of the Buzzword of the Semester. The connected faculty will attend webinars and seminars and conferences about MOOCs for the next few months, and they'll ooh and aah about how it will change the face of education, and then by fall they'll move on to something else entirely to justify their trips out of town.

The adjunct faculty who teach the 100 level online courses will look up from their grading briefly, sigh, and go back to explaining what plagiarism is, again.

People pay money to go to school these days for certifications, not for education. You can get an education elsewhere, but as long as employers want you to have a degree, you're going to slog through four years of mediocre education. Yes, you could be doing something much more useful with your time or money, but if you ever want to have time or money, it's what you've got to do. And as long as MOOCs don't offer certifications that employers will look at, they're dead in the water.

I'd love to see employment certification de-coupled from educational institutions, but the way to do that isn't to offer non-certified alternatives that don't appeal to employers. (We've got tons and tons of those already.) It might work the other way a lot better; offer employment certification that doesn't involve educational institutions. But if you think the accrediting bodies are going to give up their stranglehold on certification without a protracted, bloody battle, you're mad.
posted by MrVisible at 1:23 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Joey 'Clams' Scala: We're not payin', because this guy, this guy's a fuckin' MOOC.
Jimmy: But I didn't say nothin'.
Joey 'Clams' Scala: And we don't pay MOOCs.
Jimmy: MOOC? I'm a MOOC?
Joey 'Clams' Scala: Yeah
Jimmy: What's a MOOC?
Johnny Boy: A MOOC, what's a MOOC?
Tony DeVienazo: I don't know...
Johnny Boy: What's a MOOC?
Jimmy: You can't call me a MOOC!
Joey 'Clams' Scala: I can't?
Jimmy: No...
Joey 'Clams' Scala: [pause] I'll give you MOOC!
[punches Jimmy in the face]
posted by Kabanos at 1:25 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Education is a hard problem, because it has one of the defining traits of hard problems. That defining trait is this: it's not a search for a solution, it's a search for a problem. It's obvious that the results given by education are failing... unless it's not. It's obvious that the problem is with inadequate instruction... unless it's not. Obviously, the problem is with parents... unless it's not. You see? We don't even know what the problem is. For different people, the problem will be very different...Because the problem with education is that the problems change a lot. Prioritization is hard, if not impossible. Putting a theoretical manifold over these problems lets you work harder and focus more on the wrong problems. Even if they're the right problems, they're wrongly defined...This is also why educational theories do not work. Not because they're made by pointy-haired folks, which they usually are, but because they try to define problems so that we can reduce the problem of education to finding solutions for the well-defined problems of education. That is not the problem of education. The problem of education cannot be well-defined for everybody.

It's "pointy-headed," curuinor, not "pointy-haired". And while I think your heart is in the right place, your wildly radical skepticism about the limits of the epistemology of public education in the United States is misguided.

The sentiments quoted above are silly, in addition to being written like a bad high school essay, somewhat ironically. The writer of this comment (whether intentionally or not) fails to distinguish between varying problem definitions arising from different interests involved in the situation. In fact, public education perhaps wouldn't be the "search for a problem" that it currently seems to be if its success and improvement weren't so vigorously stymied and hijacked by profit-motive-oriented and culture-war-oriented interests. The writer thus naively conflates and assumes the equality of, for instance, the "problem" that public education poses to corporate America -- namely, that it involves lots of money and that money doesn't belong to them yet -- with the problems that affect actual people, Americans, human citizens.

The public education system in the US is simply less effective at teaching children things, while also teaching them how to think critically and at ensuring that everyone gets an education of comparable and high quality, than education systems in the US's peers are; it is also much less effective at those things than it has the potential to be even without the comparison. And the consequences of low-quality education are numerous and corrosive to a society that people would want to live in. That's just my impression of the issues being faced: there are surely more, and perhaps I have not articulated those I identified well. These problems would be much easier to solve if higher education weren't being shamelessly defunded and if the teaching profession in K-12 weren't under heavy assault from corporate raiders.

Education is not a problem in itself. Improving the public education system in the contemporary US entails addressing a cluster of problems, and a sizable contingent of the people defining the problems and setting the agenda are ruthlessly out for profit and very skilled at concealing that, which naturally muddies the waters.
posted by clockzero at 1:29 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


hellojed: "They really should have drawn out the acronym for MOOC out so it could spell MOOCOW"

Massively-open distributed online course. I could die happy if that entered common use.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:31 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


clockzero: "It's "pointy-headed," curuinor, not "pointy-haired". "

From "Pointy-haired boss"
posted by boo_radley at 1:37 PM on January 28, 2013


Discourse Marker: We have a body of scholarship, actual real research with results and theory and everything, on online pedagogy that goes back more than a decade. Every time I read something written by one of these MOOC cheerleaders I wonder if they have read anything, like ever, about pedagogy, online or off.

Here's what they're thinking: "Gee, all this stuff about attending to pedagogy sounds expensive and time-consuming! We just want to get this shit implemented all over the place quickly and at a profit!"

At least that's what it feels like when my colleagues and I try to present recommendations based on pedagogical concerns.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:46 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


clockzero: "It's "pointy-headed," curuinor, not "pointy-haired". "

From "Pointy-haired boss"


From context, curuinor clearly meant academics and experts, not bosses.
posted by clockzero at 1:48 PM on January 28, 2013


seek feedback and additions in the form of pull requests.

The fuck? They're only interested in comments from people who can handle a very complex code generation tool?

They're obviously not too interested in talking to anyone but serious tech-heads. Actual learners need not apply.
posted by Malor at 1:54 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


In particular, high school should be the first target for MOOCs, not university.

In a way, that's already underway (in a big way). It's just that there are already established private players producing courses for primary education. This for-profit privatization push has largely wormed its way in through "charter" schools, a la a wolf in sheep's clothing.
posted by eviltwin at 1:58 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actual learners need not apply.

The only people who matter are serious tech-heads. If you are not familiar with git you must be a suit.

...or, I dunno, some kind of illegal laborer or redneck or something. They still have those, right? I mean, like the guy who does the pool? He's from like Guatemala or something, I dunno. Can you be an illegal and a redneck at the same time, or are they diametrically opposed?

Anyway, point being, git or gtfo.
posted by aramaic at 2:03 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's "pointy-headed," curuinor, not "pointy-haired". And while I think your heart is in the right place, your wildly radical skepticism about the limits of the epistemology of public education in the United States is misguided.


I meant pointy-haired. It's administration and management who care about this crap. Academics can be pointy-haired. They too can focus on problems which are not germane, and it was this foolishness which I was referring to. But this is a digression.

The sentiments quoted above are silly, in addition to being written like a bad high school essay, somewhat ironically. The writer of this comment (whether intentionally or not) fails to distinguish between varying problem definitions arising from different interests involved in the situation. In fact, public education perhaps wouldn't be the "search for a problem" that it currently seems to be if its success and improvement weren't so vigorously stymied and hijacked by profit-motive-oriented and culture-war-oriented interests. The writer thus naively conflates and assumes the equality of, for instance, the "problem" that public education poses to corporate America -- namely, that it involves lots of money and that money doesn't belong to them yet -- with the problems that affect actual people, Americans, human citizens.

The declaration in question is both from the academy and from the corporation: it has academics and CEO's. Although there is a distinction in the way they think, I do not think that they differ in the myopic method they use to propose questions, to propose the disease (see below).

The public education system in the US is simply less effective at teaching children things, while also teaching them how to think critically and at ensuring that everyone gets an education of comparable and high quality, than education systems in the US's peers are; it is also much less effective at those things than it has the potential to be even without the comparison. And the consequences of low-quality education are numerous and corrosive to a society that people would want to live in. That's just my impression of the issues being faced: there are surely more, and perhaps I have not articulated those I identified well. These problems would be much easier to solve if higher education weren't being shamelessly defunded and if the teaching profession in K-12 weren't under heavy assault from corporate raiders.

Now, you see, these are symptoms. Perhaps I would be better off using the terminology of symptoms, diseases and solutions. The writers of this so-called declaration insist that they know what the disease is, because they have convened and presumably talked about it with themselves, but I do not think that this is possible. The disease is different for each and every person.

You assume that if we get our educational standards up to Shanghai's and Singapore's and Finland's, then we will have solved the great problem of education. This is not true. My point is that it becomes a moving target: Shanghai may have a great education system by that standard, but they think long and hard about how to avoid rote learning and make their kids more creative.

Education is not a problem in itself. Improving the public education system in the contemporary US entails addressing a cluster of problems, and a sizable contingent of the people defining the problems and setting the agenda are ruthlessly out for profit and very skilled at concealing that, which naturally muddies the waters.

To reiterate my point:
I say that education is a problem in itself because if we do improve the public education system and address that cluster of problems, we will have found new ones.
posted by curuinor at 2:06 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's some interesting discussion on the bug tracker:
...the existence of this document on Github is weird at best and disingenuous at worst.
posted by cdward at 2:21 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm taking "Microeconomics for MBAs" over on Coursera. The textbook, written by the instructor, is currently sold out with a price well over $100 the last time I checked. The text book is not required to complete the class.

Unless the instructor happens to have self-published and is selling the textbook themselves, they're probably not seeing a whole lot of that money. I'm pretty sure the James Stewarts of the world are major outliers.

However, based on my daughter's experience in the b-school she's attending (which has a big love for bringing-in private-sector execs to teach their field) the execs seem to be universally terrible, clueless instructors.

I know someone who worked as a TA for a course taught by 'industry experts'. Let's just say I have no reason to believe your daughter's experience is anything other than the norm.
posted by hoyland at 2:44 PM on January 28, 2013


The rewards for an academic to develop and host a MOOC can be very significant. First there are a number of grants that have been awarded for the work. Second if one is successful at getting a few thousand students it will have a impact on your standing as reporters and others will use you as a reference and source. Universities also see the potential benefit in gaining the cachet of developing the leading mooc in a particular field of study.
posted by humanfont at 3:01 PM on January 28, 2013


I meant pointy-haired. It's administration and management who care about this crap. Academics can be pointy-haired. They too can focus on problems which are not germane, and it was this foolishness which I was referring to. But this is a digression.

Ah, I see. I wasn't familiar with that Dilbertism.

The public education system in the US is simply less effective at teaching children things, while also teaching them how to think critically and at ensuring that everyone gets an education of comparable and high quality, than education systems in the US's peers are; it is also much less effective at those things than it has the potential to be even without the comparison. And the consequences of low-quality education are numerous and corrosive to a society that people would want to live in. That's just my impression of the issues being faced: there are surely more, and perhaps I have not articulated those I identified well. These problems would be much easier to solve if higher education weren't being shamelessly defunded and if the teaching profession in K-12 weren't under heavy assault from corporate raiders.

Now, you see, these are symptoms. Perhaps I would be better off using the terminology of symptoms, diseases and solutions. The writers of this so-called declaration insist that they know what the disease is, because they have convened and presumably talked about it with themselves, but I do not think that this is possible. The disease is different for each and every person.


I do not understand what your point is, curuinor. If the problems in the public education system are merely symptoms, then what is the disease? And to take the metaphor further, sometimes treating the symptoms is all you can do or should try to do; I take ibuprofen when I have a cold knowing full well that it does not kill the rhinovirus. I mean, from a policy perspective, we have to draw the line somewhere or else we get stuck in an infinite regress of problems with bigger and more intractable etiologies. I hope you're not going to suggest that we all need to be better people, and then structural issues will vanish.

You assume that if we get our educational standards up to Shanghai's and Singapore's and Finland's, then we will have solved the great problem of education. This is not true. My point is that it becomes a moving target: Shanghai may have a great education system by that standard, but they think long and hard about how to avoid rote learning and make their kids more creative.

I think if we got our educational achievement up to their levels, we would have accomplished a hell of a lot, with measurable enhancements to many quality-of-life indicators as well as a promise fulfilled to the next generation to do our best for them. I don't really see this vaguely-defined quasi-transcendental "great problem of education" thing you're suggesting, although I also admit that I'm not sure I understand what you mean; it seems like you're saying that if you improve something, there might still exist more room for improvement, which means that 1) it's impossible to define problems, and 2), it's pointless to even discuss specific improvements because even if those are accomplished, there may exist further potential improvements, and if you can't accomplish perfection there's no point in trying to do anything. I doubt you actually meant what I just stated but I can't figure out exactly what you do mean. You're still positing the existence of some big problem, but you haven't said what you think it is.

Not every human endeavor is entirely perfectable. This does not mean that improvement commensurate with our capabilities is a half-measure. I think that incremental improvements in institutions, punctuated by transformative processes and moments, is how society tends to work, and in the case of the US's current public education system, there's immense room for improvement.
posted by clockzero at 3:14 PM on January 28, 2013


To reiterate my point:

I say that education is a problem in itself because if we do improve the public education system and address that cluster of problems, we will have found new ones.


This is a functionally useless definition of "problem", curuinor. I think you've somehow confused the general character of life and the human experience for the particular characteristics of the contemporary problems in education in the US.
posted by clockzero at 3:22 PM on January 28, 2013


Coursera and its ilk are missing the mark if their target is to supplant traditional academia. However, presenting themselves as a method of continuing education for a professional in organizations where training budgets are consistently being slashed? That is great stuff.

These things need to be treated as better quality CEUs than the typical vendor presentations that pass for credit.
posted by bfranklin at 4:06 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


CEUs wouldn’t be a ONE TRILLION DOLLAR OPPORTUNITY.
posted by migurski at 6:04 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jesus, migurski, thanks for posting that photo. It's a goddamned pinata to these people.
posted by clockzero at 6:20 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Shady provenance aside, if financial constraints and corporatization of universities didn't prevent more traditional institutions of higher education from actually fulfilling these "rights" (access, opportunity to create public knowledge, a right to one's own personal data and intellectual property, financial transparency, and quality and care (given increasing workloads for educators) in particular), I suspect there wouldn't be nearly so much interest in online education. My experience is that most people (obviously not those of us who spend tons of time on internet forums, but you know, most people) still prefer face-to-face interactions for most social activities. Learning being a social activity.
posted by sockpuppet13 at 7:03 PM on January 28, 2013


My experience is that most people (obviously not those of us who spend tons of time on internet forums, but you know, most people) still prefer face-to-face interactions for most social activities.

Well, sure, they prefer them. But they might prefer them in the way that, say, I prefer to eat only the finest tenderloins of Kobe beef from drunken cows that have received daily massages rather than ground chuck, but I can realistically only afford to make hamburgers from one of those.

And I think the price difference between in-person education and online education is rapidly approaching -- for stuff like MBA programs, anyway -- the ratio that separates the lovingly massaged Kobe beef from the factory-farm stuff at Price Chopper.

People might prefer a lot of things, but what they prefer and what they can actually afford are only loosely coupled. Paying someone with a terminal degree to stand in a room and chat with you and a small number of your friends for several hours a week on a regular basis is something that few people can afford and I suspect that it will increasingly become a luxury.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:22 PM on January 28, 2013


What's frightening is that these companies sincerely believe that a 12-person meeting of academics, CEOs and startup founders should be writing and signing a learner's bill of rights. This is the classic Silicon Valley rhetorical move: advancing their own financial interests by cloaking it in pseudo-populism.

That's unfair and completely untrue for a large number of people interested and involved in open learning and alternative methods of teaching.

First, take a look at those people on that list. Those aren't just CEOs and startup founders.

The very first name on the list, John Seely Brown, is a famous fellow at USC. His book, The Social Life of Information, is a classic study on information technologies and the peril of technology worship by many technologists:

As the introduction states, the authors argue that developing information practices need to be more thoroughly weighed than the sometimes tunnel-vision mentality of technological enthusiasts

The entire book is a critique of the technology-fetishists solution of throwing more technology at it. It's a reserved look at Information, what it means, and how that meaning arises and NEEDS a social context.

Another quote from the introduction of the book:

Some digital champions can appear a little like Sweet Pea, oblivious to the resources of the world that support them. Others, more worryingly, are actively hostile. They see society's resources as constraints on information and yearn to be free of them. Material objects appear as the unwanted antithesis to bits, communities and organizations as enemies to individualism, institutions as "second wave."

His book was required reading in my Information Science program, and I'm glad it was. As an engineer, it made me realize my own weaknesses when it comes to science and technology.

Second, your attack ignores the large history of alternative education experiments in the Bay Area around Berkeley and Stanford in the 60s and beyond. Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog embraced independent learning, alternative lending libraries and other community resources. Of seven chapters in that book, one of them is explicitly dedicated to education: "Learning".

And during that time, there were multiple independent movements around the world to create free and open universities for the community. The Free University of Berkeley is one of the most famous, along with The Antiuniversity of London. Here's an article from Time discussing the free education movement.

This passion and belief in community education continued as the counterculture moved online with The Well, members like Howard Rheingold had/have a large interest in education and learning.

Alternative education has a long history in the counterculture movement of the Bay Area, and the hacker movement of MIT and the east coast. And yes, it is related to the startup community there, with the Homebrew Computer Club forming a foundation for that culture.

Metafilter has a hate-on for startups, engineers and technologists. I get it. There's frustration because the public education system is suffering, and this is viewed as an attack on it. But to ignore the historical context is to throw away some valuable allies and lessons learned by people who really do care about teaching, education and community.
posted by formless at 10:17 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


cdward: and I love how the response to that comment is

"I'm not sure that I was making any specific claims to "openness" or to my open "cred" by posting it here, but golly, I sure appreciate your mansplaining how GitHub and open source work to me."

You're not sure how GitHub is related to open source, and how posting on GitHub can be considered as making a claim to being open? And you think that someone trying to talk about that is ignoring your obvious expertise because you're a woman?

A fucking perfect example of an asshole who happens to be female getting called out on real problems with what she's doing, and her response is basically "ooh a man told me I was wrong, must be sexism!" Makes me pretty confident that the group of people writing this are a waste of space.
posted by jacalata at 10:22 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


replacing actual instructors with people from the private sector

People like this sometimes become some of the best teachers I have ever known!

And then there are those whose altruistic aims, bless their hearts, have moved into teaching without realizing its difficulties. Some of them have fled after a week.

We can talk abstractly about pedagogical theory, about standards, the core curriculum, cooperative learning, "sage on the stage" teaching - which is a pejorative term - but is not always a bad thing in practice.

An example: my daughter had a very smart H.S. science teacher who tried to engage in the generally termed Socratic seminar approach. And this is certainly, on balance, a better approach to teaching than the take-notes-regurgitate-them-on-the final-approach. But here, the teacher (formerly a professor), when realizing that his students hadn't been adequately informed about the basics of physics, gave them an impromptu 80 minute lecture. Lecture.

It was the best day of the class for her.

Now, generally, I try to incorporate all teaching styles in each lesson, but lecturing has now taken on an official Black Mark in the teaching industry. (Achh, and arggh: an industry?!) Our evaluation, as teachers, by administrators, has been an eternal frustration. Getting worse. Sure, I like feedback, but accurate feedback has so many distortions, from the parental, student, and administrative level that it is most accurately described as deleterious than fortuitously and reliably advantageous. Would that it were not so.

A quick description of more accurate measurement of teacher effectiveness is something I would like to explore, but length precludes that here. Measuring intelligence, competency in one's subject area, and, most important but impossible to measure - caring - these are things kid, parents, teachers and others know, but are hardly reliably measured. Sorry if this sounds like a cop-out, but I feel a little frustrated that the 25-35 years I've spent teaching and learning about how to do it well cannot be measured well, or, rather, has not been measured reliably, in my opinion, in recent years, the years in which "accountability" has become such an important "value-added" factor in one's paycheck. High-stakes standardized tests have certainly not been a boon to the analysis of one's pedagogical efficiency!

I love teaching and learning. Give me a few points for that, wouldja?
posted by kozad at 10:23 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


people interested in education would be well-served by teaming up with professional educators--teachers, professors, librarians--rather than working in an echo chamber to produce an absurd list of "rights" they believe everyone in the world is entitled to by virtue of the fact that we have technology that makes the transmission of information easier.

The second link in this post, the one listing the 12 signatories of this (admittedly pompously named) Learners Bill of Rights, contains at least 9 professors. The very first one who has co-authored a book I outlined above on Information Science that is used in the core curriculum of at least one Information Science or Library school.

Every time I read something written by one of these MOOC cheerleaders I wonder if they have read anything, like ever, about pedagogy, online or off.

Given that the list contains the name of three professors who list pedagogy in their title, I would guess, "Yes. Yes they have read something about pedagogy."

My question for this thread is: does anyone ever read the links?

Seriously. Public education is being torn apart by the right. A group of twelve inter-disciplinary academics, including English and Humanities professors, people whose research careers show a passion for education and teaching decide to explore supplementary alternatives. And the result from the left on here is to savagely attack the movement?

We're fucked.
posted by formless at 11:32 PM on January 28, 2013


formless: Seriously. Public education is being torn apart by the right. A group of twelve inter-disciplinary academics, including English and Humanities professors, people whose research careers show a passion for education and teaching decide to explore supplementary alternatives. And the result from the left on here is to savagely attack the movement?

The right loves to push online education. It can enrich major corporations, it's cheaper than hiring teachers, and you can outsource a lot of the drudgery like grading overseas or to poorly paid workers the students don't see. Alas, it doesn't seem to actually work, at least not from what I've seen. Effective teaching requires significant time from a competent instructor, both for individual student assistance and for grading (the highest value assignments cannot be graded by computers or non-experts). The internet cannot short-circuit that need, no matter how much you want it to.

If they're not going to try to cut instructors out of the loop, then it might be worth looking into, but people are highly skeptical of online education because of its poor reputation and that is probably what provoked the hostility.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:07 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Yet to explore", "begin to experiment" - so what have online educators been doing over the past fifteen years of exploring and experimenting with and just matter-of-factly using web-based delivery? Let alone those who were using listservs and other Internet tools before the web.

A group of professors has enrolled in Coursera's “E-Learning and Digital Cultures” MOOC (starts today).

That particular MOOC is being run by my colleagues, so this whole thread is fascinating. Re "I can't figure out the whole MOOC thing. What is the incentive for anyone to design a great MOOC, or to teach one?" - one of their incentives this first time around is to figure out the whole MOOC thing.
posted by rory at 3:29 AM on January 29, 2013


The right loves to push online education. It can enrich major corporations, it's cheaper than hiring teachers, and you can outsource a lot of the drudgery like grading overseas or to poorly paid workers the students don't see. Alas, it doesn't seem to actually work, at least not from what I've seen. Effective teaching requires significant time from a competent instructor, both for individual student assistance and for grading (the highest value assignments cannot be graded by computers or non-experts). The internet cannot short-circuit that need, no matter how much you want it to.

However, online education that involves significant time from competent instructors, both for individual student assistance and for grading, works perfectly well. There are plenty of teachers following that model of online education; you just won't find them at the head of major corporations.
posted by rory at 3:38 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've got over my knee-jerk reaction to some of the rhetoric of the Bill and thought a bit more about what's in it. Really, the rhetorical flourishes aren't helping it...

The Internet has made it possible for anyone on the planet to be a student, a teacher, and a creative collaborator at virtually no cost.

There are all sorts of costs involved in becoming a student, a teacher, and a creative collaborator, and only some of them are financial. You can develop the cheapest of cheap computers, and they'll still be out of reach of many, not least because of the time needed to learn how to use them effectively; and the cheapest of the cheap won't let you do what a top-end equivalent can. Studying takes time, which many people can't afford. Collaborating needs collaborators who speak your language (in more senses than one), which the Internet may or may not provide. Maybe they're out there, maybe the One is waiting for you, but will you find them? You may be creative - it may even be possible to teach you how to be creative - but what if you aren't? The Internet makes things "possible" in the same way that being alive makes things "possible".

We believe that our culture is increasingly one in which learning, unlearning and relearning are as fundamental to our survival and prosperity as breathing.

"Increasingly"? We've always needed to learn to survive and prosper. And why "as fundamental as breathing"? If we stop doing it for two minutes, we'll die? What would be wrong with "are fundamental"?

The right to access: Everyone should have the right to learn...

We all learn, all the time. This "right to access" is talking about accessing education, and education of particular kinds. So, online delivery has the potential to give more people access to education than before. Well, maybe, but what kind of education? If a country has universal primary school education, even if that means thirty kids sharing one book in a school with one teacher and a single blackboard, it could be said that online delivery has nothing to offer it in terms of increasing access to education. The question is whether it can provide better forms of education: better-quality primary education, or access to secondary or tertiary education or some form of training. But a "right to better education" is more arguable than a "right to access to learning". Suddenly we're in the business of drawing lines around how much better education is ours by right and how much isn't, and deciding who pays for it.

Student privacy is an inalienable right...

"Inalienable" means you can't give it up, and maybe that's true of a right to privacy. But we give up our privacy every day: by using customer loyalty cards or even credit cards, by posting on Facebook, or by walking around in public. We can choose not to do those things, but often at our cost. What if education providers "offer clear explanations of the privacy implications of students' choices" and students don't like them? Maybe they don't sign up, at a cost to their education; or maybe they do regardless, at a cost to their privacy. Is this "right to privacy" even about that, or is it about providers being transparent about what they do with information?

And so on. It just feels as if framing this in the language of rights is an invitation to criticism and cynicism. Their approach in the second half of talking about principles seems better, even if many will still be as arguable.
posted by rory at 5:21 AM on January 29, 2013


Effective teaching requires significant time from a competent instructor, both for individual student assistance and for grading (the highest value assignments cannot be graded by computers or non-experts). The internet cannot short-circuit that need, no matter how much you want it to.

How can we possibly know that, given that nobody can seem to agree on even the most basic metrics for "effective teaching" in a purely classroom-based environment?

If we lack even the most basic ability to measure the effectiveness of one teacher or professor against another, then I am intensely skeptical that we have the data to say that an entirely different delivery method is ineffective.

Besides which, current teaching methods are undoubtedly compromises with regard to effectiveness already. If we assume -- and I'm not sure this is a good assumption, but we'll go with it -- that teaching is most "effective" (for some nebulous definition of 'effective') at a student:teacher ratio of 1:1, and declines from there, then obviously there are virtually no educational systems shooting for maximum effectiveness. We're already making compromises based on economics, in some cases packing a few hundred students into a lecture hall, having a professor throw some material at them in the form of a lecture, and hoping something sticks beyond their notes. We do that today, Internet or no Internet. And it might be that an online course isn't any worse and is a whole lot cheaper, so that in terms of effectiveness-per-dollar it's a lot better.

It would be nice to start figuring out how we want to define and measure effectiveness, because online education is already here and it's growing, and it's not going to stop. Given the choice between online education now, and waiting a few years and saving up and maybe taking time off work for classes, lots of people are taking online classes and degree/cert programs, and those programs increasingly come with the stamp of approval from Real Universities, indistinguishable from the butt-in-seat one. But I think we need to be prepared that some sort of hypothetical measure of effectiveness might be just as damning to many traditional educational models as they are to online courses.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:22 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It would be nice to start figuring out how we want to define and measure effectiveness…

Ian Bogost in the post specifically calls out the lack of awareness that this group has shown toward all the existing work in the area, from online learning to measurement of outcomes. It would be so nice that lots of people have been working on it for years, but this new conversation seems weirdly unaware of all that's come before.
posted by migurski at 7:47 AM on January 29, 2013


Well, sure, they prefer them. But they might prefer them in the way that, say, I prefer to eat only the finest tenderloins of Kobe beef from drunken cows that have received daily massages rather than ground chuck, but I can realistically only afford to make hamburgers from one of those.

See: access. What I am saying is that, while I believe that this is a good list of goals that we should strive for in education (and I tend to agree that they should be considered rights, even), we should strive for these goals no matter the format in which education is provided. I'm not convinced that online education that satisfies these criteria will be any cheaper than in-person education that satisfies these criteria.

The companies that have made a successful business in online education tend to provide better value in the category of access, but pretty much fail in all the other categories in this learners' bill of rights, for example. The online educational initiatives that I've seen that are successful at education - at knowledge transfer, not just information transfer (which is part of the educational process, but not the whole of it), for example - tend to involve a lot of labor by some group of talented people, and consequently have not been scaled up in a manner that provides the same access and cost-savings as the large online businesses that restrict their goals to information transfer (albeit engaging information transfer).

As the "moment of dreaming" link suggests, it may be that we can use this discussion to re-focus the educational debate in the US on education as a whole, or that online education done right will still provide some cost savings over traditional universities by focusing solely on the educational mission. I would dearly love to see the sort of shift in the discussion around the purpose and role of public education in the US that Bady promotes.
posted by sockpuppet13 at 8:55 AM on January 29, 2013


How can we possibly know that, given that nobody can seem to agree on even the most basic metrics for "effective teaching" in a purely classroom-based environment?

There's actually a whole field of research on this topic at the intersection of education and psychology. People have looked at various constituent questions, such as, "what is the most effective way for people to memorize information?" and breaking that down by different broad categories of learning styles. Or, "what are effective ways to develop critical thinking skills in students?" (the harder task) - also broken down by learning styles, and by a variety of sub-topics. This is not my area of expertise, but I have enough passing familiarity with it to know that, while there are definitely still many open questions, it is not a giant unknown morass.

Although, the political discourse around education (specifically public education) in the US ignores much of this and is a giant morass, where folks with expertise in the area have a hard time making themselves heard, despite trying very hard.
posted by sockpuppet13 at 9:06 AM on January 29, 2013


A quick description of more accurate measurement of teacher effectiveness is something I would like to explore, but length precludes that here. Measuring intelligence, competency in one's subject area, and, most important but impossible to measure - caring - these are things kid, parents, teachers and others know, but are hardly reliably measured. Sorry if this sounds like a cop-out, but I feel a little frustrated that the 25-35 years I've spent teaching and learning about how to do it well cannot be measured well, or, rather, has not been measured reliably, in my opinion, in recent years, the years in which "accountability" has become such an important "value-added" factor in one's paycheck. High-stakes standardized tests have certainly not been a boon to the analysis of one's pedagogical efficiency!

I think part of the problem is that assessment of educational effectiveness requires time, effort, and expertise on both ends: assessing student learning, and assessing how teaching affected student learning. But the business model wants quick, simple, easy metrics.
posted by sockpuppet13 at 9:15 AM on January 29, 2013


Given that the list contains the name of three professors who list pedagogy in their title, I would guess, "Yes. Yes they have read something about pedagogy."

I know who these people are, but just because they say they are interested in pedagogy doesn't mean they necessarily keep up with the literature - I know lots of academics who say that, but don't follow the research.

And frankly, if they have followed the research, then I am even more appalled, because NONE of that is reflected in this bill of rights, or in any of the other MOOC rhetoric I've read. As rory and others in this thread have pointed out, the phrasing used here makes it sound like all of this is new and unexplored, when in fact we have been exploring online pedagogy for a long time. If they care so much and know so much, why don't they ever actually talk about the research?

I think part of the problem is that assessment of educational effectiveness requires time, effort, and expertise on both ends: assessing student learning, and assessing how teaching affected student learning. But the business model wants quick, simple, easy metrics.

Yes, exactly. We can assess teaching - but the key word here is *assess*, not measure, because quality assessment will not necessarily be able to be boiled down to a nice round number. Some things can be measured, others have to be assessed qualitatively - something we do ALL THE TIME in education.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:56 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're not sure how GitHub is related to open source, and how posting on GitHub can be considered as making a claim to being open? And you think that someone trying to talk about that is ignoring your obvious expertise because you're a woman?

A fucking perfect example of an asshole who happens to be female getting called out on real problems with what she's doing, and her response is basically "ooh a man told me I was wrong, must be sexism!" Makes me pretty confident that the group of people writing this are a waste of space.


I've been torn about the use of 'mansplaining' in her response. (She says almost the same thing in a comment on the Ian Bogost post.) Part of me doesn't doubt she's getting sexist, condescending emails. And then on the other hand, the "that it will be shared, edited, forked, remixed, translated, and hacked" is, I think, a fundamental misunderstanding of how Github can work for text. She right that there's text on Github. There are endless dotfiles. I've got a book on Github, for god's sake. Dotfiles can certainly have all those verbs done to them (though I guess you can only really translate comments), but that's because each person has their own, practically by definition. Github's a slightly prettier and perhaps more efficient method of looking at other people's dotfiles than everyone sticking them on their own website, which was the previous option. A 'bill of rights' is meant to be authoritative. Otherwise it's a 'list of stuff that seems like it'd be nice'. This document is much closer to a book than it is to my .bashrc. People do use git for things like collaborating on article revisions. But if they were doing it on Github (I'm sure somebody is--we haven't touched our thing in years), I strongly suspect they'd be sharing the repository, not forking and making pull requests. Why? Again, there's meant to be an authoritative version. The whole reason for using git in this scenario is to make it easy to create the authoritative version while being able to work in parallel. Perhaps they want to 'disrupt' what it means to be a bill of rights, but I think they would be too busy 'disrupting' education.
posted by hoyland at 5:10 PM on January 30, 2013


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