Online Learning Summit

March 14, 2014

FemTechNet, collaborative makers of “the anti-MOOC,” were graciously, no I’d even say studiously received by leaders of the bellies-of-the-beast at last weekend’s Online Learning Summit, hosted by Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, and Stanford (the great research institutions who put money and a spotlight on what would first be the year, but quickly the boondoggle of, the MOOC.). President Hennessy of Stanford started us off by indicating that the Massive of MOOCs should really be rethought as the moderate; and Open ended up generating a host of problems people hadn’t quite predicted (particularly the great differences of skills, knowledge, and attention of the masses who came; demonstrating “a dynamic range of ability.”)

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Opening Remarks and Q&A with Nicholas B. Dirks, Chancellor, U.C. Berkeley
and John Hennessy, President, Stanford University

The speakers at the Summit were interested to name both what MOOCs have proven to be good and not so capable at:

  • not good at generating revenue
  • not good at “human content-enhanced learning” (Ellen Junn, Provost, CSU, Dominguez Hills) or feeling connected to what one learns or the “human touch”
  • not good at much besides content-provision, and isn’t learning more than this?
  • great for book-clubs for life-learners (alumni, people with little access to quality education)
  • great as text-books to be used by working professors in their own classes; in a new world of “more content” teachers will be able to use MOOCs and other open content to choose between and enhance their own teaching
  • great opportunities to learn about learning; educate the educator
  • great at further stratifying an already-stratified higher education system whereby elite institutions (like the ones hosting the event and the one at which I teach) can continue to provide and even improve face-to-face and residential education with the selective, thoughtful use of technology while less-privileged institutions will use technology to try to save costs, educate more “efficiently,” and/or through the noblese oblige of elite institutions who will share their highly produced and exceedingly expensive content for free or at lost cost with the lesser-thans. It appears only 1 million Americans within higher education (1%) currently receive the “Classroom, Quad and Lab” that were once the gold-standard of our liberal education; this 1% will greatly improve through smart uses of digital learning! (Patrick Methvin, Deputy Director of Postsecondary Success, U.S. Program, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)
slide by Patrick Methvin, Deputy Director of Postsecondary Success, U.S. Program, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

slide by Patrick Methvin

We went on to hear from administrators, professors and technology professionals about better models—and some wacky experiments, too; all agreed that this was the time for innovation, experimentation and even play (for those with the support to do so)—for digitally enhanced learning (including our own DOCC). Such experiments would use technology to help professors be more than content experts, but also expert pedagogues; thereby “amplifying the effectiveness of professors and students”:

  • Learning Management Systems that allowed for live, synchronous classes that are socially networked
  • the building of flexible curricula and pedagogy from “units of learning” or self-contained modules (Eric L. Grimson, Chancellor for Academic Advancement, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  • tools to provide more individual and individuated attention

Of course, feminist pedagogy has been making just such claims, and theorizing and practicing from them, for generations (see our white paper), and it’s a thrill, really, to see leaders from across academia listening to our old, successful, and next-gen models!

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FemTechNetters, Anne Balsamo and Radhika Gajjala will tell it all to you!

 

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MOOCing the Liberal Arts?

February 19, 2014

I had the opportunity to speak this past weekend with my colleague and friend, Liz Losh, about the FemTechNet DOCC2013 as part of the Gaede Institute’s yearly conversation on the Liberal Arts, this one on MOOCs. The Institute’s director, Christian Hoekley, put together a compelling program where both critics and successful practitioners of recent MOOCs joined in conversation with a small, engaged, thoughtful crowd of interlocutors to think, in particular, about the challenges of technologically enhanced/corporate/computer delivered education within the context of a liberal education that might seem diametrically opposed to the aims of most mainstream MOOC‘s: bent as they are to serve many, many, many customers, efficiently, conveniently, for free (or at low cost or via the “noblesse oblige” of the wealthy few [Astin]), leaving in the dust the traditional teacher/professor, brick and mortar classroom, and its well-established norms of community, conversation, and care.

Alexander Austin, described by many in the room as the “guru of higher education research,” reminded us that his lengthy and lauded career of research allowed him to assure us that evidence has established, over decades and across thousands of undergrads at a variety of learning environments, that what students need to succeed is frequent interactions with faculty, student-to-student contact, co-curricular opportunities, writing, independent research opportunities, and a common core, none of which are usually available, or even attended to, in the production, selling, and use of MOOCs. He understands this “course content delivery” view of education as decidedly uninterested in other things that most colleges want to boast about: their institution’s unique purview on teaching young people leadership, citizenship, self-awareness, or critical thinking. Meanwhile, Peter Hadreas named similar qualities left under-attended to in the MOOC his Philosophy colleagues were being forced to teach on Justice (and for which he and he colleagues penned an infamous letter of refusal as a direct appeal to Professor Michael Sandel): education that needs to honor knowledge, good will for the student, and open speech.

What we learned in the meantime, from Owen Youngman who carefully studied his own tens of thousands of students enrolled in his MOOC on new media, “Understanding Media by Understanding Google,” was that the very many students from around the world who were successfully, happily, and gratefully taking his course for free were primarily older students, with undergraduate and even graduate training: people who were already prepared to learn on their own, or with the guidance of other students, students who were augmenting their already completed liberal education with extra stuff available for free on the Internet.

The conference left me no less suspicious about what MOOCs can’t and won’t do, and all the nefarious reasons that necessiate that liberal arts professors and our students should stay impassioned in our refusal of this upstairs/downstairs scenario [Hadreas], what I have liked to think of as a separate-but-equal set up, whereby some people get to take the Harvard class for credit, and the rest take the dumbed-down, paltry, technologized alternative for free. But this conversation did allow me to see how MOOCs can enhance, although never replace, what we strive to do well in college, and can provide a small piece of what people might want or need who are not (or will not get to be) in college. MOOCs can provide a form of adult or remedial education where they add information, access, learning, and knowledge to those with little access to these fine things without them. For those of us in higher education, including our students, our work is to provide MOOC alternatives by using technology, and other means, to improve what we do and to open access to what we have.

DOCC v MOOC

May 1, 2013

Here is the info graphic, hot off the press, for the DOCC 2013, the pedagogy project that FemTechNet is producing for Fall 2013.

MOOCvsDOCC InfoGraphic April 2013

MOOCvsDOCC InfoGraphic April 2013

Image produced by Tony Germano for Anne Balsamo, 2012.

Use with permission under a CC BY-NC-SA license.
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