Peter Greene -as usual – does one of his incomparably witty and wise take-downs of edupreneurship, this time taking in the miracle-that-wasn’t of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs.
I’m doing this from my smartphone, which makes it hard to do any editing at all. So I’m just pasting his entire column:
MLK & Another Christmas
Posted: 16 Jan 2017 11:19 AM PST
Every year around December 25, a whole bunch of people who aren’t actually Christians get all misty about a watered-down version of the original faith, make some generic noise about peace and good will while ignoring all the parts of the message that might be, well, more uncomfortable (“But wouldn’t the moneylenders get upset if we threw them out of the temple? That just seems so rude and uncomfortable. Maybe we should do something less confrontational.”), and follow it up with some noise about how, really, we should make every day Christmas.
Then on December 26th, they just scrub all of it out of their memory hole and go back to their usual lives.
Martin Luther King Jr Day has become kind of Christmassy. A whole bunch of people who aren’t ordinarily black or much concerned about social justice and all the rest of it spend some time conjuring up some warm and misty images of a man who was called a troublemaker, who criticized liberals and moderates for their uninvolved silence, and who did not give his life, but had it stolen by some angry white guy with a gun.
We’ll have posts and tweets about how great a man he was, how folks of all colors should just get along, illustrated with photos of King looking noble and stock photos of ethnically diverse hand clutching. And then on January 17th, we’ll go back to arguing that Colin Kaepernick should protest injustice in some less destructive and disruptive manner than kneeling during the anthem.
Perhaps this is marginally better than trying to erase the day entirely so that King’s name isn’t even spoken, or is tied to a name like Robert E. Lee.
But I know this– talk is cheap (and stock photos are free). And all this talk about King and the Civil Rights movement as if it was just a bunch of African-Americans sitting politely and lovingly waiting to be recognized so that America would be slightly less rude– this is fake history, which is even worse than fake news. My students have grown up in a mostly rural, mostly white corner of the world as part of a generation that as grown up to think that the blatant injustice, prejudice and mistreatment of blacks is inconceivable– and so most of them cannot conceive of it, can’t imagine that things were all that bad, really.
The soft fuzzy view of King fosters a soft fuzzy view of the ongoing struggles around race and injustice. The soft fuzzy King also fosters an unrealistic view of him as a man, a person, which in turns allows us to let ourselves off the hook (“I could never do anything important like that. I’m just a regular person, and I will just sit here quietly until the next Superman comes along to show us the way”)
But if we look at King as a person, and our nation as a society that struggles to do the right thing, that struggle turning on the actions of ordinary human beings, many of them, far more than just one– well, then, there’s no excuse to let ourselves off the hook.
We do our students no service by giving them one more dusty figure in the pantheon of Extraordinary Humans Who Are Responsible for Who We Are As a Country. Nor do we serve them by reinforcing the notion that this is a nation that somehow drifts toward Right by some mystical, non-human agency for which none of us are really responsible.
There will be lots of posts and tweets and stories pulled up from the archives today, and many of them will be a corrective to the fuzzy holiday picture. Do not read them today, or share them with your students tomorrow. Bookmark them. Keep them handy, and pull them up and read them over the weeks and months ahead. Share them with your students on days that are NOT specifically set aside for Reflecting on the Dream or Contemplating the Issues of Race. The concerns we raise on this day really should be everyday and every day concerns. We have no excuse to stop paying attention just because the calendar turns over to the 17th.
MOOCs and the Failure of Innovators
Posted: 16 Jan 2017 10:06 AM PST
Today at IEEE Spectrum, Robert Ubell has a rough and telling explanation of “How the Pioneers of the MOOC Got It Wrong.” It includes some important lessons for many of the “innovators” in the education world today.
Massive Open Online Courses took off five years ago, when Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig decided to stream the computer lectures from Stanford out across the internet to the world. It seemed like such a winner of an idea that Thrun co-founded Udacity, one of the leading providers of interwebbified education. Thrun was so sure of this idea that he predicted in a 2012 interview at Wired that in fifty years, only ten higher education institutions would still be standing. He and other MOOC launchers were certain that they “had inspired a revolution.”
They did not know what the hell they were talking about.
In the beginning, MOOC completion rate was a whopping 7%. Nowadays that has inched up to almost 13% average. These are not impressive numbers. Nor are MOOCs putting universities out of business. As Ubell reports, research shows that people just graze or glance or bounce in for a minute. Those “who did finish a MOOC were accomplished learners, many with advanced degrees.” In other words, people who are more than capable of teaching themselves from whatever resource, whether it be a MOOC or, say, a book.
What happened? A common reformster problem– MOOC-ophiles were trying to disrupt practices that were no longer the norm in education. They figured that a MOOC would be more engaging than a traditional lecture (even if early MOOCs were just lectures on line, because computer technology!); they didn’t realize that educators were already ditching and replacing lectures.
The three principal MOOC providers—Coursera, Udacity, and edX—wandered into a territory they thought was uninhabited. Yet it was a place that was already well occupied by accomplished practitioners who had thought deeply and productively over the last couple of decades about how students learn online. Like poor, baffled Columbus, MOOC makers believed they had “discovered” a new world.
How many times have we seen this played out in ed reform circles. Edbiz McSellsalot comes running up, hollering, “Quick! I have just chiseled this circle out of stone. I call it a ‘wheel,’ and if you will all start using it, your transportation will be revolutionized.” Experienced educators, riding on automobiles mounted on inflatable tires and sophisticated suspension systems, fail to respond with the proper level of awe and wonder. Unfortunately, too often the next step is for Edbiz to run off and convince some policy-makers to mandate the use of the “new” stone wheel.
And so vendors tell us that a multiple choice test (the kind of test that forty years ago we figured out is a poor assessment tool) will be totally awesome if we administer it on a computer. Charter operators announce proudly that they’ve discovered that personalized attention in a resource-rich environment will help students learn, particularly if you make sure that only the right students are in the room. Occasionally reformsters will grudgingly admit that some innovation doesn’t actually work, just as we told them it wouldn’t years ago. Who knew that having high stakes testing would warp and narrow instruction in schools? Every single teacher in the country– but nobody would listen to us.
One of the assumptions of reformsterism (carried over from the business world) is that you don’t need to be a trained experienced educator to be a great education leader. That assumption is disproven on a regular basis. That is why the teacher reaction to a reformster idea isn’t always “You have got to be kidding me”– sometimes it,s “No shit, Sherlock.”
Sometimes outsiders see bold new angles because they’re outsiders, but sometimes outsiders just don’t know what they’re talking about. Not every reformster is tripped up by ignorance of the territory or the arrogant belief that they don’t even need to look at a map. But MOOC creators are not the only befuddled Columbi on the scene. If folks can’t learn from the actual MOOCs, they can at least learn the lesson from MOOC creators.