Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Great Rebranding

Responding to Michael Feldstein, who on summarizing the recent EDUCAUSE MOOC conference (see my summaries from this blog) represents MOOCs as yet another form of artifact in support of traditional instruction, diagrammed as follows:


I was at the same conference of course and viewed it a bit differently. The attendees are self-selected from an audience consisting almost entirely of instructors (people outside this community were prohibited from attending). The presentations and discussion seemed to me to be repeated instances of "please please please let MOOCs be whatever they are so long as they don't touch the sacred role of instruction."

People who live and work exclusively within these institutions need to get out more. They need to see beyond an idea of education where the students come from cookie-cutter upper income homes and whose deepest problems are motivation, distraction and information overload. They need to get beyond facile debates about quality and enter the real-word debate around access.

Seriously, what else can be said about a statement like this: " it will be offered locally with teachers at a scale of between 1 to 20 and 1 to 50. Because teachers matter.” It's like saying "we must at all costs limit education to small groups of people led by a teacher." The "distributed flip", advanced as this Great New Thing, is the connectivist model of MOOCs, but with small-group in-person attached.

The arguments in which the four elements of MOOCs - 'massive', 'open', 'online', and 'course' - are one by one putated to be 'optional' or 'unnecessary' seems to me to be a desparate attempt to cleanse MOOCs of any disruptive impact they may have on the traditional action of in-person teaching to a teacher to a small group of people.

These arguments miss the point of the MOOC, and that point is, precisely, to make education available to people who cannot afford pay the cost to travel to and attend these small in-person events. Having one instructor for 20-50 people is expensive, and most of the world cannot afford that cost. That's *why* the institutions - from which the attendees of this conference were uniquely selected - charge thousands of dollars of tuition every year.

MOOCs were not designed to serve the missions of the elite colleges and universities. They were designed to undermine them, and make those missions obsolete.

Yes there has been a great rebranding and co-option of the concept of the MOOC over the last couple of years. The near-instant response from the elites, almost unprecedented in my experience, is a recognition of the deeply subversive intent and design of the original MOOCs (which they would like very much to erase from history).

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My summaries from the EDUCAUSE Conference: