Uncle MOOC will be looking after you for a few weeks...
A metaphor is always a handy way to get a grip on something new (as long as one is aware of its limitations). My attitude to MOOCs changes on a weekly basis, and so does my MOOC metaphor - I'm sure you've got one of your own: the MP3 of education, this year's SecondLife, industrial revolution applied to education, a giraffe smoking a cheroot rollerblading down the Champs-Elysees - it can be pretty much whatever you want. So here is this week's MOOC metaphor.
MOOCs are like the patronising uncle who has yet to have a child of his own. They are great fun for the nieces and nephews, they are inventive, playful, and the kids always look forward to them arriving. But this uncle secretly (and after a couple of beers, not so secretly) thinks he could do a better job at raising the kids than the parents. He may also think they prefer him to their actual mum and dad. "Why don't they do all the stuff I do with them?" he thinks. "I'm great at getting them out of a tantrum, I do my distraction technique and they forget it. I never see their dad doing that," he compliments himself. "I would have a set of rules that the kids would respect and obey, not this slapdash approach," he vows.
And then, of course, he has kids of his own. Suddenly he realises he has to work as well as raise the kids, that his distraction techniques don't work with a tired 6 month old at 3 in the morning, that he has to do it every single day and getting the basic stuff done like feeding, bathing, looking after them is a real achievement in itself.
This is how I sometimes feel about MOOCs and their relationship to formal education. They are good fun, they offer something new, a lot of learners really enjoy them. But they shouldn't kid themselves they can do the robust, day to day stuff better than the existing system. If they had to, they'd soon find that a lot of their energy is spent on the not-so-fun stuff, because that is required of them. But, like our friendly uncle they do also make the parents think "maybe we should go to the zoo more often," and "he does know how to get the best out of Tommy, I could learn something there".
So when I see pieces like this announcement that Georgia Tech are offering an online Masters (they don't even have the good grace to blush when they use the term 'MOOC 2.0") it begins to sound not unlike, ooh, I don't know, an Open University (but with cheaper staff support). This makes me think - this is the first signs of MOOCs discovering that it wasn't quite as easy as they thought, but they still like to dress it up as a revolution.
That's my metaphor for the week, I'm sure Dominik has some better ones. What's your MOOC metaphor?
To save me clogging up this blog by banging on about the lazy 'education is broken' meme used to justify venture capital, I've set up one of those Tumblr blogs that gathers stuff together here: http://brokeneducation.tumblr.com/
I think there's a slight danger that like Pseuds Corner in Private Eye it ends up including too much. In the case of Pseuds corner it sometimes seems that any attempt to use words of more than one syllable will be lampooned. Similarly, this tumblr may end up including any attempt to talk about the future of education. In general what I want are those pieces where the education is broken meme is trotted out largely as a pretence for some solution the company or individual has to offer. But I'll take anything in this area really. I would like to pretend that one day I'll go through them and do a semantic analysis or cluster analysis of concepts. But I'll probably just make a sarcastic one-liner instead.
Any suggestions for inclusion just tweet me @mweller.
Mildly interesting aside - I often talk about finding the right voice for a blog. This one is the carefully considered, balanced, poorly written one. I found that as soon as I started doing this tumblr blog it revealed a much snarkier, sarcastic me. Some people may like that, others not.
I admit it, I'm slow on the uptake, but I had a lightbulb moment David Kernohan pointed me at Donald Clark's post on MOOCs "More action in 1 year than 1000" (no hype there then). As Brian Lamb has reported a wikipedia edit battle around MOOCs to remove the early MOOCers such as David Wiley and George Siemens from the picture has also taken place. Initially I thought this was just a bit of ignorance, but Clark's post made me understand - it is part of a wider narrative to portray MOOCs as a commercial solution that is sweeping away the complacency of higher education.
So Clark dismisses the impact of early MOOCers, claiming it was Khan that caused it all: "It took a hedge fund manager to shake up education because he didn’t have any HE baggage." Why? Because it appeals to the narrative to have a saviour riding in from outside HE to save education. If you acknowledge that these ideas may have come from within HE then that could look like venture capitalists latching on to a good idea in universities and trying to make money from it. That doesn't sound as sexy and brave.
This is more than historical pedantry. I'm not saying all mentions of MOOCs must start with an agreed paragraph that acknowledges Downes, Wiley, Siemens, Couros, Cormier. The intention here is to create an explicit narrative, and as narratives are founded in history, it requires a careful construction of this to support the ongoing story. The narrative goes something like:
Why do people like this narrative? For three reasons I'd suggest:
Of course it falls apart at any detailed inspection. Clark calls MOOCs a sustainable model. Are they? At the moment they rely on those boring, haven't changed in a 1000 years universities to pay the staff to create the courses. How sustainable is that when you've had the glorious revolution? Can they really meet all educational needs? The drop-out rate is high as we know, and they tend to suit experienced learners. They meet some needs and can be very exciting, but as the new universal solution they'd create a lot of problems for a lot of learners (which some brave company would then arise to meet).
Open education wasn't sexy, it was about giving stuff away. Entrepreneurs don't like that model, hence Clark's dismissal of the OER movement (which, at the OU anyway is actually proving itself to be sustainable and part of normal business, but hey, we don't want to hear that). Universities have been around 1000 years - that must be bad, right? If a company had been around for 1000 years, I think we'd be saying it must have a pretty good model. And of course, no innovation ever comes from inside universities.
And all this takes away from the really good stuff in MOOCs. I love MOOCs, they advance open education, they allow experimentation, they do shake up thinking in a good way, they raise the profile of teaching. This is good, exciting stuff.
On Twitter Mike Caulfield said it reminded him of this clip:
So I know Clark is just trolling for attention and one shouldn't respond, but it's worth highlighting this nonsense when it arises because it seeps in and reinforces the new narrative. Don't be mistaken, there is a genuine battle for the future happening here, and it starts by rewriting the past.
My small MOOC open course, H817Open ends this week, so I thought I'd post some reflections on how it's gone.
I'll start by saying what my intentions were for it. The idea was to mix formal and informal learners (as it is one quarter of a Masters level course), to blend OERs and MOOCs (it is in the OpenLearn repository and exists after course end), to use an activity-based 'collaboration-lite' model and to adopt a range of technologies.
In general it went well, the learners seemed to enjoy it, although we saw the familiar drop-off of participation. It was only on a small scale so I don't think I can draw any big conclusions. I've summarised my thoughts in the slidedeck below, so won't repeat them here. If you have time I'd thoroughly recommend looking through the blog aggregator at the student contributions, they're fabulous.
I will say though that I'd do it again, and it's been one of the most engaging teaching experiences I've had for a long time, if also one of the most exhausting.
In an earlier post I said the puppy would get it if people didn't enjoy it. Suffice to say the puppy is alive and well, and that is as much as we can hope for:
David Kernohan has a good piece on education funding and the manner in which MOOCs commercialise higher ed over on his blog (although I disagree with his criticism of Jim Groom and Stephen Downes). It resonates with some discussions I had with people at the Hewlett OER conference in San Diego last week. As readers of this blog will know, I'm no fan of the 'education is broken' cliche.
At the San Diego meeting several smart open education people stated this belief quite passionately, and I voiced my anger at it to the point where it almost came to blows. In the ensuing discussions it became apparent that people bundle together several things under this banner. At different times it was because i) kids are taught in age bands, ii) that we don't encourage creativity, iii) that American kids have to walk to school through gang neighbourhoods or iv) that the current model is financially unsustainable.
I would argue that i) is maybe problematic but is what happens when you want to ensure education happens on a massive scale. None of the alternatives I've seen would really operate at the scale of a nationwide system and are often predicated on very motivated children and parents. But I could be convinced otherwise. I would argue this is an administrative convenience at the moment, not indication that something is broken, and if you can show me how to do it robustly otherwise, I'd go along with it.
For ii) I think we are in the really interesting area where we could do some great stuff with good pedagogy and technology. I was impressed with the project based learning they do at High Tech High, and they take a very egalitarian approach to recruitment so I think there is a model here that could be applied elsewhere. Or many other models. This to me is a sign for opportunity.
For iii) I wonder how much people expect schools to do. If your society is this broken, then don't think schools can fix it on their own.
Which brings me to iv) - funding. Quite often this is what people mean when they say education is broken - that it is financially unsustainable. And this is where I think we are on dangerous ground. If we go around as an education community saying this what we are really saying is "please come and privatise education for the lowest cost". They won't claim to do that at the start, the promise will be to offer better education, for less money. But then market forces will hit, they're in competition with other providers, they need to pay back that VC funding, they need to comply with regulations on fair provision of education, they're facing a lawsuit for incorrect assessment... And those promises get trimmed one by one until the model looks pretty bleak and we sit around in conferences moaning 'this system is even more broken than the last one.'
As I mentioned on David's post, if the argument is really about funding, then let's have that debate, but let's have it in the open. Maybe the full commercial model is the only viable one. We can then decide what we lose by this. But maybe other models are viable too. We spent over £20billion in the Iraq & Afghanistan wars for very little return after all, imagine if we'd put that money into education. It's a cliche I know, but always worth considering.
I don't think people have done proper analysis on the ROI for society for having free higher education (if they have please point me to it). For instance, there was a golden heyday of the Arts college in the 70s. Everyone went to Arts college when they couldn't think of anything else to do. And most of our successful bands and designers came from this background. You couldn't directly attribute the money they generated to the education they had (often they dropped out) but it created the right atmosphere for them to flourish. And sometimes young people just need some space to find out what they want to do before getting caught up in work, and this often means they do better, more productive work later.
So free higher education may not be the 'unicorns and rainbows' dream it seems. If we have the proper debate about education funding, at least we can look at these issues. And all of this is to ignore the more general benefits to society of having more broadly educated population. As David suggests, we need to be wary of being useful idiots by playing into this commercial solution because we've made it seem like the only possible outcome. So the brokenness and the solution are intertwined, but as Chief Brody says, "it's only an island if you look at it from the water".
(or, yes, another bloody Mrs Thatcher post).
The passing of Mrs T has led to some interesting reactions in our house. My wife, raised in the Welsh valleys, and who saw her village go from a state where everyone worked in the mines to one where no-one did, has found it painful. She hasn't wanted to watch any of the debate or coverage, because it makes her too angry, and she doesn't want to feel that way.
Far from growing up on the periphery of Thatcher's society as she did, I grew up in its very centre, in Essex. And this was just as traumatic. As a sensitive teenager in the Thatcher years I felt isolated and confused. Everyone I knew bought in to the very simplistic notion that only money counted, there was no other metric. They became estate agents, bankers, builders. They laughed at me for going to university and wasting my time. I lacked the sophistication and clarity to argue why I felt there was something wrong with this creed and, while people in London may have had viable alternatives to be part of, in Essex there were none. It was a lonely time until I got to university. All of this came back to me this week, particularly as the parade of 80s ghouls such as Tebbit and Mellor were brought out to pay homage.
So I am unable to make a rational judgement of Thatcher's premiership. As many people have commented Britain was a busted flush at the end of the 70s. Enough of us complain about customer service from BT now, you had no idea what it was like in the 70s. So there was a degree of change that had to happen, a painful transition. But I can't make that balanced assessment - it is a purely emotional response.
And this is what I think the commentators fail to grasp. They are judging just on policy. But it's more than that - when Tony Blair passes I think I'll be capable of making a rational assessment of his time, and I bet people won't be celebrating his death with the same fervour.
The protests scheduled for her funeral and the presence of "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" at number 1 are more than childish or ghoulish responses. They are, whether the participants realise it or not, part of a struggle for history. Already we are seeing a rational, balanced assessment of Thatcher occurring which tends to favour her. But this glosses over the human aspect of it all, the pain she caused. These public acts are a way of cementing into history this feeling. When people mention her in the future they will have to record now these protests at her passing, it can't simply be a record of a big ceremonial funeral where she was celebrated.
Just as the poll tax rioters were decried and lambasted at the time, but now those riots form an essential part of the Thatcher history, so the less respectful reactions to her death are part of an attempt to etch into history some of that emotional aspect she has for so many. This doesn't mean that anything is legitimate, but I think to simply dismiss more guttural reactions is to misunderstand their role in the wider context.
On my open course H817Open I use a mixture of technology, and thought it might be useful to describe these here, and also to indicate what I'd like to do beyond this.
The technologies are:
OpenLearn - This is where the bulk of the content is hosted and also forums. It is provided by the OU for OU content only, so not an open content system. It made sense to use this, but some recent changes have made the page rendering slow, and the design is suitable for a one-off visit to find an OER in that it prompts you to find other resources, it uses up too much screen real estate on this for a MOOC.
WordPress - this is the blog aggregator, based on the DS106 model. Students blog on their own spaces, but they register their blog with us. We then syndicate all the feeds using the FeedWordPress plug-in. I wanted them to use any blog they liked, so I tried using a Google Form that has a Martin Hawksey script to autodiscover the feed. This hasn't really worked as feeds are hidden all over the place and I've ended up adding most in by hand. We ask students to tag posts with #h817open and only posts with this tag are accepted (there is a setting in FeedWordPress for this), so if they blog about going shopping, that doesn't get pulled in. This has worked quite well. For next year I think I would ask learners to restrict their platforms to blogger, wordpress or tumblr as we can then write a bit of code that will automatically discover feeds in the known locations for these platforms.
Mailchimp - I send a weekly email outlining what is coming up and addressing any issues. This has been surprisingly important, and probably the key component. Mailchimp allows you to send emails to upto 2000 subscribers for free. I get a csv file from the openlearn platform and upload this, then create the weekly email. A lot of the identity and tone of the course arises from this email so it's worth investing some time in getting it right (I don't know that I have).
GMail - I set up a generic email account for the course to handle queries
Cloudworks and badges - we experimented with badges and the Cloudworks system has a very neat tool for creating a badge. However it's a bit fiddly in that you have to create a cloudworks id and then a mozilla one.
Blackboard Collaborate - I deliberately haven't scheduled many synchronous events as I wanted a more open course in terms of timings, but I did get George Siemens to give a talk and we have a discussion and review session planned. The OU has signed a contract with Blackboard so we went with this for easiness, but I think I would explore Google Hangouts next year.
Twitter - I ask people to use the #h817open hashtag, but I have to say Twitter has proven to be less significant, or less active, than I expected. I would probably make a specific activity around this next year to encourage use early on.
Google Plus - I didn't create a specific Google Plus community, but learners created one immediately and it has proven to be lively, interesting and supportive. It has beaten twitter as the forum of choice.
Blogs - as I mentioned above, most student activity is undertaken on their own blogs. They can use any platform they like (although note my reservations about this for next year). I've been trying to promote a 'collaboration-lite' model whereby you can work largely independently, but through the aggregator (or Google Plus) you can connect and share as much as you like. I think this has worked for some learners but not others.
So that is my collection of tools - a mixture of in-house and out-there technologies. I met Philipp Schmidt last week and at the same time had a twitter conversation with Martin Hawksey which has set me thinking. What I would like is an open course DIY toolkit. You come along, select which functions you want and it recommends a bunch of open technologies (although not necessarily open source) with examples of where they've been used, and hey presto, you roll your own MOOC. I may work on this soon, but if anyone wants to have a crack, let me know.
I've mentioned the idea of resilience before (thanks to Joss & Richard for linking it to open education and giving me the idea). When Terry Anderson from Athabasca visited us last year, I worked on a paper to explore the idea more fully with him.
Resilience borrows the idea from ecosystems, pioneered by Holling, who described it as "‘a measure of the persistence of systems and of their ability to absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between populations or state variables".
In our paper we take the concept and use it as a means of thinking about how HE institutions can view the impact of digital technology. As Joss points out we shouldn't think of resilience as 'resisting', but rather an ability for core functions to persist, in a new context. Terry and I take two possible digital challenges (MOOCS, no surprise, and Open Access) and look at our respective institutions responses to them from a digital resilience perspective.
I think it's a framework that could work well as a way of thinking about how well places an institution is and areas they need to address. The scoring is subjective of course, but in a group setting it works well to create discussion. Have a go yourself for your institution (or one of your choice) and any particular challenge.
This is for H817Open students - the rest of you, move along now.
If you have registered your blog with the H817Open blog aggregator (by completing this form) and posts aren't coming through, here are some things to check:
1) Maybe it has come through - it checks every hour or so, and posts them according to the time originally published. So yours may end up on an "Older posts" page straightaway. So have a look through, or use the search box (at the bottom of the page) to search for an identifiable term in your post.
2) RSS where art thou? - in order to aggregate your posts, we need to find an RSS (or atom) feed. This is how blogs are picked up by blog readers. Some blogging platforms hide this away and it becomes a case of detective work to find it. If you can't find your RSS feed, then it's likely we can't either. Wordpress, Blogger and (usually) Tumblr all have reasonably easy to find feeds. If yours is hidden, search for help on your platform and then find it and register the feed with us.
3) Tag it up - you need to tag your post with #h817open - this doesn't mean putting this term in the title or in the body of the text, but rather applying a tag. In blogger these are called labels. Again, search for help on your blogging platform if you aren't sure about tags.
4) Open, not closed - some blogging platforms, particularly the OU ones, have a setting where only certain people can read it (eg other OU people who are signed in). The blog aggregator can't access it if a password is required, so it needs to be made public.
5) Don't blog it - It isn't essential to register your blog and have it syndicated, you can point people to posts in the forums or in the Google Plus group that some students have set up. The blog is more of a sample of what is going on in the course, rather than a definitive record.
It's difficult to individually trouble shoot problems on an open course, but the above covers any problems we've encountered so far.
I gave a presentation last week with the above title. In my preparation it wavered between 10 reasons to do one, and 10 reasons NOT to do one, which indicates my ambiguous take on MOOCs, so I settled for half and half.
By "do a MOOC" here I mean for an instructor or an institution to offer one, rather than a learner take one, although you can infer some of the learner reasons also. Later in the week I followed the uniteMOOC session up at Newcastle via Twitter and some very similar responses were being given there. My presentation is below, but actually, you'd be better off looking at Sheila MacNeill's splendid Prezi on the subject, which was part of the Newcastle event.
5 reasons to do a MOOC & 5 reasons not to from Martin Weller
(Enjoy the MOOC or the puppy gets it)
The content for my MOOC, no, I mean, open course, on Open Education is now all available in the OpenLearn environment. It doesn't officially start until March 16th, but I'm adopting a more flexible approach than many MOOCs so you can work through it in your own pace (and it'll stay up afterwards).
Some points to note:
I don't often use this blog for personal reasons, but two colleagues are leaving the OU, and for various reasons I can't make either of their leaving dos. So, to assuage my guilt, and also to publicly acknowledge and thank them, I'm blogging it. I'm sure it's better than a fountain pen as a leaving present.
The first colleague is Ross MacKenzie. Ross works in what is called Learning and Teaching Solutions. They do all the content creation stuff from editing to DVDs to running the VLE. In fact, it was Ross who succeeded me as VLE Director - I'd come up with a solution based on an open architecture, which Ross very sensibly translated as a decision to go with Moodle. This single decision did an awful lot for open source (many other universities took it as a cue that it was okay to adopt Moodle), and also for the Open University it was important to embrace open source. Part of the story of the OU over the last 15 years has been to engage with changing definitions of what it means to be 'open'. And the VLE was a big part of this.
Ross is unusual for a technical chap in that he is helpful and likes to say yes. Arguably this makes him unqualified for the changing world of educational IT (I'm joking IT friends! Sort of). He is also a very good photographer, and plans to do more in this line. He has been going for nearly 3000 days continuously over on Blip, check out his photos there and on his blog (he likes to travel to cold, inhospitable places).
The second colleague is Tony Walton. Tony has worked in the strategy office and alongside various PVCs. For a few years I worked on a number of projects which Tony was charged with leading. I used to joke that a coffee with Tony was a dangerous event since you'd end up on a strategic project. When I list the projects I worked on, mainly because of Tony, you'll appreciate the impact he's had on the OU as well as on my career: Getting the initial Hewlett funding for OpenLearn; developing a new Broadcast Strategy that moved away from TV and led to the founding of our Open Media Unit; the VLE which saw us move to a centralised elearning system; SocialLearn which was the OU's first engagement with social media (and a forerunner to FutureLearn in many ways).
As with Ross, these projects have all helped the OU engage with what it means to be open in 21st century. Like Ross, Tony does not have typical administrator traits, I won't stereotype (again) but he's helpful, unflappable, unassuming and enthusiastic about his tasks.
Tony and Ross, it's been great working with you - enjoy your retirements (or in Ross's case, new career), the OU will miss you (wipes tear from eye). Here's a retirement card for you both to share:
David Kernohan likes to joke that he has a disruption klaxon that sounds whenever that over-used term is deployed. It must have sounded like a nuclear attack warning when reading this educause piece (which he pointed me at, and which Pat Lockley gives the perfect, hilarious response to). Now, I'll confess, I've used the D word in the past. I liked Christensen's first book, it was well researched and well argued. But like so many concepts it has been misapplied to the point where it is meaningless.
If you are about to employ a consultant, particularly in education, I will offer you this money-saving advice for free: don't look at one that uses the word 'disruption' (or, even worse, describes themselves as a 'disruptor').
Disruptors are not concerned about your specific problem, they only have blanket solutions. They don't worry about making something useful, only about sounding revolutionary. Disruption is about ego. You see disruption appeals to people because it's revolutionary, elite, new, sexy. Just being useful or practical looks all dowdy besides glamorous disruption.
So, everything has to be disruptive, a game-changer, a revolution, an all-encompassing tsunami of change. It can't just be useful in a particular context. That educause piece judges OERs a failure precisely because they are not disruptive. That tells you more about the author than it does about OERs - in their world only disruption matters. Take the OER based TESSA project. Useful? Undoutedly. Disruptive? Probably not. So, who cares about it, right? We should aim higher than getting well paid speaking gigs for middle-aged men with goatees who skateboard to work.
Any educational technology advance in the past 15 years will have been claimed to be disruptive by someone: elearning, learning objects, VLEs, OERs, games, MOOCs. The thing is all of these are very useful for particular problems. But if they ain't disruptive they're no good.
So this is my motto from now on: don't be disruptive, be useful.
Last thought - whenever I hear disruption, it is not David's klaxon that plays in my head, but Mitchell and Webb's NumberWang, except it is now "DisruptionWang". Try it, you'll find it makes as much sense.
UPDATE: DisruptionWang is sweeping the nation. You can now get the t-shirt (courtesy of David Kernohan)
A year ago we decided to rewrite one of our Master's level courses, H817, Innovation and Openness in Education. I volunteered to write one of the four blocks of the course, on open education. I blithely suggested, "I'll probably make it a MOOC." It seemed fitting as MOOCs and different flavours of openness were the subject of the block. At the time MOOCs were all a bit new, experimental and fun.
How that glib suggestion has haunted me. As the profile of MOOCs have increased so the demands and requirements placed on creating one have multiplied. But with the help of some great people at the OU (it's been great to work with people who want to help rather than just repeating "no") we are finally ready to roll.
Yes, now you can enrol on the MOOC, which starts officially on March 16th. There is some set-up work that can be done and you'll be registered to go then when it's all live.
Not another bloody MOOC I hear you cry! Yes, but I hope to be testing some new elements as well as providing damn fine learning materials. Here's what I think is mildly distinctive about mine:
The course outline is as follows:
Go on, give it a bash, what have you got to lose but your evenings?
Jim Groom and Tim Owens have been running a Domain of One's Own project at UMW. And to my delight they've kicked it off with a staff development program based around reading my book. I think all universities should do this!
You can see some of the posts here. As the author it's been very interesting to see some of the reactions from what I guess are atypical readers. I think most of the people who read my book are kind of interested in the subject, so there's an element of preaching to the converted (although I try not to do any preaching). But with Jim's faculty I guess they're people who wouldn't have read it. And the book brings out different concerns and reactions in them, many of which hadn't occurred to me. This going beyond your usual readership is a salutary lesson for any writer, and has made me rethink some of the way I write.
In his post Jim comments:
"I understand it would be impolitic for Martin to mention this in the book given his audience, but for me that is the real radical line of reasoning for open scholarship—a clear picture of just who the people behind the ideas ideas are, and what “such people” represent more tangibly as human beings."
I don't know about impolitic, I just forgot to mention it. Whenever I do sessions on social media for educators I always address this point. Getting the balance right is difficult. Jim is absolutely correct, it's the personal that leads to engagement, and this is a very different voice from the objective one of academic papers (which is not to say it's better or worse, just different). So you need to put an element of personal in there, the people I follow on blogs and twitter don't just broadcast cold ideas. But having said that, one of the mistakes I think people make when they first start blogging is to go too personal. I'm not particularly interested if you went to the cinema last night and the film was quite good and then you had a curry.
So It's about that bridging between personal and professional. Now if you went to the cinema, and had a revelation about open access while watching a 3-D slasher movie, I'm interested. I think the personal element is essential in good online presence (but that doesn't mean I want to know when you've had an argument with your spouse). Which raises the question, are there some roles where it's effectively impossible to do good social media? I think it's very difficult to be a police officer or politician or senior manager online as you end up having to sanitise every output to the point where it becomes unengaging. If you don't there are people who will use it against you. So, as you go higher up the career ladder maybe effective online presence becomes more difficult.
In Amis's The Pregnant Widow the main character finds financial success but as soon as he does, his ability to write poetry dries up. You can't have both. Maybe that's the way it goes with social media.
In a post some time back I mentioned that academics now have to compete in an attention economy, and this isn't something we're used to doing (or very good at). It means making your slideshare attractive, or making your blog post punchy, or giving your paper a snappy title. Sometimes it works, sometimes it seems awkward and artificial.
MOOCs/Open courses will be the next in this line. I've heard more than one commentator say you have yo grab learner's interest in the first 5 minutes of a MOOC (maybe that's too long). That probably isn't true of formal education, where you have a captive audience. It may be a good tactic for a lecture, but it isn't a necessity.
There are lots of lists of great opening lines to novels - this list puts "Call me Ishmael" at no 1, but I have to say I'd disagree, given the criteria I'm about to set out (Pride and Prejudice at number 2 is a better example I think, and Clavino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller at 14 is probably the best - how can you resist that?).
For me, opening lines (or shots in cinema) need to achieve three things:
1) Quality - you need to know you're in the hands of a gifted artist and it's worth investing the next few hours/days/months of your life in their work.
2) Content - is this something I am going to be interested in? Good opening lines will let you know what type of subject matter, or genre this is, although very good ones may well subvert this expectation too.
3) Direction - you don't have to give the ending away in the opening lines, but a tease about the direction pulls the reader in.
So, armed with my three criteria I thought I'd look at my favourite opening lines of a song (for this month anyway). It's not as lofty as the books in the list, it's The Hold Steady's "Chips Ahoy". The opening lines go:
"She put $900 on the fifth horse in the sixth race
i think its name is "chips ahoy!"
it came in six lengths ahead, we spent the whole next week getting high"
I make no pretensions that's poetry, but it's a good opening to a rock song. And it meets my criteria I think:
Now, I've just created a MOOC open course and it certainly doesn't start off with a carefully crafted opening line or snappy 2 minutes. It starts off with a course description, learning outcomes and an overview. All very worthy and useful stuff. I think it does meet my 3 criteria, but it does it too slowly. A question then for those developing and studying open courses is the extent to which we should deliberately craft these big bang openings? Do learners need them to decide or do they come with a different set of priorities? You may be prepared for the slow build in learning. Or is the attention economy online just too strong a force?
Just asking the questions. Oh, here's a video of Chips Ahoy while you ponder the answers.
I've blogged a couple of times before about my frustration with the education is broken rhetoric. To be clear this doesn't mean I think everything is rosy and we carry on as we are, but I think it's too simplistic and doesn't really get us anywhere. I'll try and explain why in this post.
Clay Shirky posted a piece on MOOCs as higher education disruptors last year, and has followed up with another piece here. He uses the phrase "school is broken" so my education is broken klaxon went off, forcing this post.
I should say that, unlike some of my edtech peers (stand up David Kernohan and George Siemens), I like Shirky, I think he is often very perceptive and he is also a very persuasive writer. In this piece he definitely nails some things - most significantly the common misperception of a university student and university life. It isn't young people at pristine universities, so making appeals to this type of learning as typical doesn't do anyone any favours. I wonder though how many people really do this? Maybe it's a US thing - in the UK we've had a very mixed economy of higher education (including that Open University thing) for a long time now.
I have a number of issues around the education is broken theme though. It's never clearly explained what exactly is broken. Is it the cost? Is it student achievement? Is it student drop-out? These are quite different issues. If cost is your main concern, then maybe it's not that education is broken, but that education funding is broken. This is quite different. You could argue here that the problem is not with an inefficient education system (I'm sure it is inefficient, but certainly less so than it used to be), but rather with the notion of an education market. As has been pointed out in the UK, marketing spend has gone up considerably in universities. This is a natural consequence of making education compete in a market place. As is providing better sports facilities or bars than competitors. All of this spend has little to do with education, but having created a commercial market through fees, you can't then complain that universities behave in an entirely appropriate way to survive in that context.
If it is student drop-out that is your main concern, then I agree, we could do a lot more. A small example, but my colleagues on the Bridge 2 Success project worked with many of the students Shirky identifies, and who had struggled with maths to the point where it was preventing them from gaining employment. By creating an online course from OpenLearn content and backing this up with support (sometimes face to face, sometimes online) they got something like an 80% pass rate. Absolutely we need more ideas like this, simply sending people back through the same system that they've struggled with before makes no sense.
So, I think we need to decide what is broken with more clarity before offering solutions. We need to know what is broken to fix it effectively. I don't want you amputing my leg and fitting me with a prosthetic, no matter how marvellous it is, if my problem is migraines.
My second beef/horsemeat (UK joke) with Shirky is his naive view of MOOCs as panacea. He cites a book "Don't go back to school" which interviewed 80 people who had dropped out of school and gone on to be successful. I'm sure there are very interesting lessons to learn here. But really, a carefully selected sample of 80 people? And from that you want to make recommendations about education for everyone?
So when Shirky promotes MOOCs as the equivalent of MP3 or YouTube, he underestimates the demands that will be put on them, and is, unusually for him, wrong about the analogy. MP3s could replace vinyl/CDs pretty much completely. Free MOOCs can't replace education because much of the cost of education is nothing to do with the educating part. Taking a MOOC for fun is great. But when your job will depend on it, then you'll start making demands of it that currently don't exist. If MOOCs replace higher ed then they'll need to find ways of doing the following:
You get my point. All of these requirements will cost money. So MOOCs as universal education method will soon begin to cost more and more. They'll also start to spend more and more on recruitment and marketing. Sound familiar?
But, I think he is right when he highlights price as a factor. Free education is one revolution, cheap education might be even more significant.
[Image by David Kernohan]
Unless you've been in a very long meeting you can't have missed the story about the Coursera/Georgia Tech MOOC that ran into difficulty and was cancelled (yes, we get the irony that it was Fundamentals of Online Education, no need to go on about it). The Georgia Tech MOOC was trying to do some different things, maybe they didn't all work, but I don't think it was the disaster it's been portrayed as. In the early MOOC days this level of experimentation would have been accepted (I didn't sign up for it, so I'm just going on the reports of others here). It seems that the level of expectation around MOOCs has made this level of flakiness unacceptable.
This is but the most publicly embarrassing example of a growing trend I've noticed. As MOOCs have become mainstream and high profile there is increasing pressure on them to be very high quality, robust and efficient. There is a good deal of brand reputation now invested in them. In short, they have become the equivalent of television broadcast. This means that they're expensive to create, need to appeal to a broad demographic, and have high production values. If this is their direction then there are several inevitable outcomes:
That'd be quite a depressing scenario, in such a short space of time MOOCs could have moved from the 'we're all in this together' ethos to another form of broadcast controlled by a few. Hopefully people will still experiment with the cMOOC type approach, and offer a huge buyer-beware caveat. But unless we want to kill MOOCs, I'd suggest we all cut them a bit of slack as learners.