Shit or get off the pot: Why are we still talking about the seismic impacts technology will have on higher education?

7344245446_6baee05e2a_b

It is a fascinating exercise to look back at how academics and scholars viewed the impact of  computers in education.  There have been discourses around technology and computer-mediated learning for over three decades.  What is interesting in the 20 or so articles I read (ranging from 1970 to 1985) is that we are having the same debates, with the same arguments being constructed around the same fault lines, roughly split between evangelists and critics advocating or arguing against the impacts and benefits of technology in higher education;

 

“We are, whether fully conscious of it or not, already in an environment for higher education that represents the most drastic change since the founding of the University of Paris and Bologna…some eight or nine centuries ago.” Stephen Muller – President Johns Hopkins talking about technology in 1985
 
“In each instance, technology failed to live up to its early promise for three reasons: resistance by teachers, high cost, and the absence of demonstrable gains in student achievement” – ‘Looking into education’s high-tech future’ Raymond Bok 1985

 

With the almost ubiquitous impact of technology, whether in the form of devices, usage or interaction, in many aspects of society, there still seems to be significant contesting of the relevance of technology to the way we do higher education teaching, learning and assessment.

1984
 “Communication between people occurs in a social context including role relationships eventually negotiated by participants. Developing and maintaining these relationships assists the society, and the entire communicative process is a necessary condition for a person’s definition of a self-identity. Contemporary technologies potentially limit the development of social relationships and broadening of self?concepts. Computers cannot fulfil many social functions and could disrupt the social fabric, thereby losing vehicles for defining and constructing self.” – ‘Technology and the crisis of self’ – Gratz and Salem, Communication Quarterly v.32, n.2, 1984
 
 1998
“It is often very tempting first to draw a simplified picture of the role of the teacher in “traditional” or even “old-fashioned” education and then present contrasting visions of a new role in the future. In my opinion, there is too much easy and superficial talk about revolutions and paradigm shifts in education. Revolutions don’t happen that often…” ‘The role of university teachers in a digital era’ – Ljoså, paper presented to the EDEN Conference, Bologna, Italy 1998
 
 2013
“The potential of technology to transform teaching and learning practices does not appear to have achieved substantial uptake, as the majority of studies focused on reproducing or reinforcing existing practices.” – Kirkwood, Adrian and Price – ‘Technology-enhanced learning and teaching in higher education: what is ‘enhanced’ and how do we know? A critical literature review.’ Learning, Media and Technology 

 

There are thousands of examples of individual projects both here in the UK and around the sector globally where small and medium scale applications of e-learning, web 2.0 technologies, infrastructure investment or new pedagogies have been implemented and evaluated to varying degrees of success (Smith 2012). There is little evidence that there has been institutional level change, in terms of teaching, learning and assessment or pedagogical strategy, aside from changes in administrative processes connected to those strategies or to enshrine within them the didactic content-driven transmissive models of the existing pedagogy. Nor has there been the associated promised revenue generation or cost savings (Blin & Munro 2008; Kirkwood 2009; MacKeogh & Fox 2008; Stepanyan, Littlejohn & Margaryan 2010).

 

I used to work in a bookstore in the late 1980s back in my hometown of Sydney, Australia.  There was no way in the days of pastel pink walls and stacked tan and maroon bookshelves did we ever believe that the model of book retail would ever change.  The main technological change I saw from the time when I used to go into the bookstore as a five year old was to replace the grand central staircase with escalators.   As I grew more knowledgeable of the business I would see the impact of technology in terms of stock control, buying, customer service and range development.  But once again, little could we predict that less than 10 years after I finished working there, it would be the last major bookshop standing in the city because technology had not simply changed the way they did business, it changed the business itself.  As yes of course, there were more reasons as to the failure of hundreds of bookstores than simply the power of Amazon.  But at the core of it, book buying as an industry changed.  It started with distribution, then it went to price, then it went to promotion and finally it went to product, with e-books and e-readers changing the very way the product is produced and consumed.

 

 

This model of change (for better or for worse) can be seen happening in hundreds if not thousands of every day practices.  Yet despite some change within higher education, we are still arguing about the impacts of technology, perhaps fiddling whilst Rome burns.

 

“People will argue that you don’t get the same interaction as in a face-to-face environment. But the vast majority of our students elect never to show up on campus as we record our lectures and don’t force participation. In terms of project work – they organize themselves digitally – they set up a Facebook group, meet over Google+ hangouts and Skype, and occasionally in person. This really changes the need for face to face interaction.” David Glance, Director of the UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia

 

It is clear that the modern university will not look the same as it does now. The challenges and significant changes that the digital age represents cannot afford to be reacted to by putting a new coat of paint on an old car. The modern university will have to adapt to a world that is looking for new ways to get from point A to point B, driven and navigated by learners and a community that are not necessarily constrained by roads or engines.

 

 ”…educational policymakers have not learned anything from these decades of research, whose recurring theme has been the complexity (if not outright failure) of educational change and the inadequacy of so many reform ideas…we have so little evidence that anyone has learned anything new about the processes of teaching and schooling beyond the confines of their own personal locations.” Bascia, N. & Hargreaves, A. 2000, ‘Teaching and leading on the sharp edge of change’, in N. Bascia & A. Hargreaves (eds), The sharp edge of educational change, Routledge, London, pp. 3-28.

 

For me, the phrase that adorns this blog post, ‘shit or get off the pot’, represents a critical line in the sand for all of us engaged in the strategic and pedagogical direction of higher education.  Can we afford the same moments of blessed ignorance afforded to the management of Borders and HMV who staunchly refused to embrace the new behaviors of users and when they did it was too little, too late?  Are MOOCs the wake-up call that perhaps all is not right in neverland?  As noted by David Glance, the users of higher education are adapting the new skills they have in information and digital literacy to interacting and engaging with each other and the academy in different ways.  We all know the statistics around mobile text usage, the continued decline in email in 16-20 year olds and continued blurring between the personal and professional in terms of web 2.0 usage.

 

“Tasks that were previously the domains of faculty are now under the control of learners: searching for information, creating spaces of interaction, forming learning networks, and so on. Through blogs, wikis, online video, podcasts and open educational resources, learners are able to access content from leading lecturers and researchers around the world. Through the use of social media, learners are able to engage and interact with each other (and in some cases, directly with researchers and faculty)”. Siemens & Weller, ‘Higher education and the promises and perils of social network’, Revista de Universidad y Sociedad del Conocimiento (RUSC) 2011
 

How long can we continue to argue the toss about technology in higher education?  I argue that the tipping point has already been passed.  The ability to access information and further, the skills to use that information in creative, constructive or problem solving ways are embedded and integrated into school level learning and social interactions from a young age.  Significant aspects of business practice are linked inexorably with technology and more importantly, are different from the way they were even 5 or 10 years ago.  Yet we, as often the largest employer in a region, the hub of innovation and the heart of entrepreneurship and intellectual capacity are debating whether there is any benefit that can be gained from technology in our practice.  We talk about our 19th century learning model as one that has worked in the past, why are questioning its relevance now?  Perhaps the answer to the question as to why there has been little measurable institutional impact of changes in technology is that there have been very few instances of an institutional strategic imperative to respond to the change.

 

Are we trapped in a model of fundamentally believing what is right about what we do that we can’t see that not everyone shares this belief?  Often anyone who advocates for technology is labeled an evangelist or an advocate, sometimes used as terms of derision in the same way users of Facebook are branded addicts because they use Facebook more than the person undertaking the research does (I hasten to tell the story about whether my long dead grandfather would consider all of his grandchildren as addicts for the amount they are addicted to their cars, because he only drove his olive green Morris Minor to church on Sundays).  Whilst we arguing about whether Twitter is an intellectual copyright minefield, or whether Dropbox own our data or if we should ban students from using Wikipedia and Google learners are acquiring knowledge from different sources, they are interacting in the ways they feel comfortable doing and they will seek something different from higher education if what we offer is in discord from what they want.

 

‘It’s tragic because, by my reading, should we fail to radically change our approach to education, the same cohort we’re attempting to “protect” could find that their entire future is scuttled by our timidity.’ David Puttnam Speech at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, June 2012

 

So much of our scholarship on e-learning is about tools and platforms, arguing the relative merits of second life or twitter, or analyzing the dropout rates of MOOCs.  What we are missing in our research and in our arguments at a strategic level is a narrative around what are the changing educational requirements and conditions that necessitate a critical review of our teaching and learning pedagogies.  Employers are actively searching a potential employee’s digital profile, how do we integrate that into our teaching of professional practice? Crowd-sourced information is driving sales and reputation in industries as automotive, travel and arts and culture.  The issue is not the use of technology by the academy, but how that technology leads to a new model of collaborative, interactive and authentic higher education experience.  As Michael Wesch notes;

 

“We want to put them in a state of wonder. They’re insatiably curious. If we (teachers) inspire them, then we can work to harness and leverage technology and create with them.”
Michael Wesch from Kansas State University who directed ‘A vision of student’s today’

 

It is time for us to shit or get off the pot.  In my opinion we cannot afford to continue this cyclical and eventually damaging ‘will they, won’t they?’ dance of unresolved technological tension.  There has to be a critical, empirical and research informed evaluation of our pedagogical practices.  The systems by which we enhance our programmes and courses need to be agile and responsive.  And this has to happen quickly and publicly.  Our agenda in some ways is being controlled for us by companies like Pearson and the reputational one-two of things likes MOOCs and hacktivist education coming from organisations like Coursera, FutureLearn, TED and the Gates Foundation.  At the moment we as universities are relying on the import of credentials and qualifications.  But this is being broken down through new industries, new jobs and continued (in my opinion, flawed) belief that learning can be simply broken down and aggregated like the way you collect football cards, swapped, bartered and finally made into a set.  This is a not a call to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  In fact, it is the opposite.  We need to make a case that we are at the centre of facilitating a creative, engaging and innovative culture.  We support learners to develop a skills set that is authentic, transferable and shareable.  We have decades of interactions, conversations, research, investigations and experience.  Technology does not diminish that.  Technology provides a way in which our learners can connect and join with that body of knowledge.  Technology affords the learners with an opportunity to add to it, share it, remix it and create something new from it.  But at the heart of that is still the institution, the space that encourages, supports and fertilizes that creativity.  But by banning mobile phones in classrooms or insisting that lectures are compulsory (as the only way to learn something is to listen to it being intoned from afar),  we are creating the constructs of our irrelevance.

 

‘Last fall, the Harvard Business School began requiring every entering student to purchase an IBM personal computer. Those who were unfamiliar with these machines received special instruction in their use. Software was distributed to enable students to manipulate financial data. Word processing programs were provided to assist students in preparing their reports’ Looking into education’s high-tech future’ Raymond Bok 1985
 

Gonna be a new race! Scaling the walls of institutional change

3272377416_058529dcb1_b
 
There’s gonna be a new race
Kids are gonna start it up
We’re all gonna mutate
Kids are saying yeah hup! 
Radio Birdman – New Race

 

I was having a discussion recently with a group of students about the linking of industry practice and teaching in Higher Education.  It made me reflect back on my own industry experiences as an arts and retail marketer in the early 1990s.  I was in marketing for one of Australia’s largest book chains and later was marketing director for a community radio station.  There would be few aspects of that practice that have not undergone significant change.  Aside from the obvious changing nature of the products themselves, distribution has been re-imagined and a lot of theoretical rationale for why retailers exist has been made redundant.  Price has become a global concept and promotion is rooted in modes and mediums barely imagined in 1991.  But mostly importantly, the customer themselves have changed, with the way they seek, consume, share and obtain media driven by skills and behaviours shaped by engagement and interaction with technology.

 

The same progressive shift in user behaviors is clearly evident in higher education, manifesting itself in similar shifts to our 4P’s (Price has been thrown into turmoil by the free aspect of MOOCs and £9000 fees in England, Product is shifting through OERs, e-learning and again, MOOCs…you can work out the rest).  However, the predominant model of teaching, learning and assessment across many universities is still mired uncritically in 19th century models and practices, as if the radio didn’t even exist and bookstore was a cloth hatted man serving your needs individually by drawing dusty leather bound tomes from his darkened shelves.

 

Making change without doubt one of the most difficult organisational processes of them all.  Management guru Tom Peters used to talk about change by noting that one of the most empowering changes he saw in a workplace was where the team agreed to move a filing cupboard three feet to the left, because that filing cupboard had been getting in the way of work flow for years and no-one ever felt empowered to move it.  When ‘big ticket’ changes like e-learning or a new teaching, learning and assessment strategy come along, the common mantra is to label them as huge changes that will require decades of time and billions of pounds to effect.   When I worked in FE in Australia just repeating that mantra sometimes ensured whole eras of changes actually swept over and past my department (much to my chagrin and regret now!).  How can I change programmes I have planned for, notes and lessons I have carefully designed, room booking systems made years in advance, professional standards inflexible since the time of Harold and the arrow?

 

There are two obvious paths to take this blog post, and I am going to ignore both of them.  It is too easy to compare education to the anachronistic and arguably fading world of physical book retail.  Equally, it is too easy to rant about the slow changing nature of higher education institutions.  Now is the time to take the path of least resistance.  Through a lot of the literature and debate around this topic there have been three ideas, nay comments really, that have resonated with me in terms of how we as developers and strategists for e-learning can make organisational change happen and stick.  As with all my blogs recently, I am not arrogant enough (yet!) to suggest that these suggestions will shake the world and solve all the problems.  They just might however, give you an insight into a way forward.

  1. 1. From little things big things grow

Davidson and Goldberg (2009) argue that ‘…institutions of learning have changed far more slowly than the modes of inventive, collaborative, participatory learning offered by the Internet and an array of contemporary mobile technologies’.  Slowey (2012) noted that in Ireland there has been a high-take up of e-learning platforms such as the VLE, but this is often in a more instrumental manner (efficiency, cost etc).  Trying to change the entire practice of any institution is a difficult task. That said, it is unsustainable that learners arrive at HE with skills that are out of sync with those required to engage in study and then are different again to those required to gain and participate in practice.  There is some evidence to suggest that e-learning in institutions is often the purview of the e-learning evangelist, someone who is motivated to try different things constantly and that these evangelists represent a minority of provision, bringing into play accusations of scalability and context.  Garofoli and Woodall (2003) used an old marketing concept (the adoption cycle) and applied it to HE, suggesting that many changes don’t get out of the early adopter phase (where e-learning is championed by people who favour ‘revolutionary change’ through self-sufficient, risk taking, experimental behaviours.  Donovan noted (as early as 1999!) that;

‘Early adopters often are lauded as ready-made advocates for technology, but this rampant enthusiasm is a double-edged sword: sometimes it is contagious, but more often, it is perceived as techno-zealotry. This is off-putting to the majority of faculty, who may resist the adoption of technology by saying, ‘I can’t do that because I’m not like him/her’ [an early adopter].’

 

Adopting one small new practice because you are aware that learners and learning has changed is far less frightening that throwing all of it out because some e-learning cheerleader tells you that it works.  I was labelled by a very eminent colleague recently as an e-learning evangelist.  I politely retorted that I am not an e-learning evangelist; I am an evangelist about the benefit that can be had from encouraging people to talk to each other; a much simpler premise for change.  And that is often all it takes to seed change.  How about trying out clickers in your classroom because you want students to engage in opinion sharing? What is the harm in asking learners to share their group interactions with other learners through a Google doc or making a short video on their phone and uploading it to youtube? Instead of printing a huge readings book, how about making a scoop.it site and getting the learners to comment on each reading in a dialogue on the site, or even better, encouraging them to add readings to the list?  These are small incremental changes, but all linked to social interaction and engagement.  They are not sea-changes nor are they barbarians banging at the gate.  There is something to be said for the idea of from little things, big things grow.

2. ‘When I graduate I will probably have a job that doesn’t exist today’

I was watching the rather ubiquitous video made by the Kansas State University five years ago called “A vision of students today’ and the even having watched it many times, that quote above had never really resonated with me until this year.

In so many fields and disciplines the pace of change is facilitating both a change in what we do, but equally where, when and why we do what we do at work.  I have heard many people protest that the modern youth (post and including Gen Y for want of a better descriptor) are not prepared to do the hard yards at work like we did.  In some ways, the way we teach in HE is informed by a similar ‘rite of passage’ approach, where the learner is expected to undergo the same university experience that we did.  Certainly when I finished university the jobs I went for were the same ones that existed before I started (recruited by the same people, the same companies and more than likely the same interview questions!).

 

In my field of marketing, expertise in social media, micro-segmentation, border-less distribution and DIY were not even glimpses on the page of my monolithic textbook.  Even when I was teaching marketing, the skills present in both the curriculum and practice are different to what is required today.  Of course, there are principles, universal truths perhaps, that transcend the ages, but even they get questioned at some point.

 

If we accept that employability and finding a good job are now central motivations for undertaking HE then clearly there needs to be a closer, even symbiotic dialogue between HE and work (or practice).  We also have to accept that without doubt technology has changed the way work happens and the way work is constructed and defined as a function of a consumer or capitalist society.  From learning design through to how we interact with a group of learners in front of us or in front of our screens, the recognition that the way we did it before, or the way we had it done to us maybe insufficient for the requirements of the 21st century learner.  Perhaps we react to this by trying out the benefits of user generated content, encouraging the development of Personal Learning environments, we might set assessments that encourage learners to explore and define professional identity through social media or we might simply model the modern working environment through collaborative or socially engaged activity.

 

3. Learners are not native to technology, they were introduced to it.

In the youtube clip called ‘Rethinking Learning – the 21st century learner’ (linked above) noted e-thinker Henry Jenkins observed that often when we talk about e-learning we get caught up discussing the skills required for the workplace and not the skills required by the 21st century learner to engage as a member of society (which he noted included creativity, civic engagement and socialising).  One teacher (Nichole Pinkard) argued that no child was born digitally native (mirroring much of the debate around Prensky’s work) and that you can trace back to where they were exposed to a piece of technology that resonated for them and they went from simply consuming and using to producing and sharing.  I have seen this happen with my 5 year old niece, who has taken the digital camera we gave her and aggregated traditional photography skills such as depth of field and perspective along with digital skills of texture and colour and shape aligned with the type of photography supported by the camera (as well as taking a mean self-picture!).  Perhaps she will become a photographer, or something else visual, or perhaps not, but the skills of technology use are emerging earlier on our children because of the ubiquity of the technology and its fundamental ability to change the way something is done.

 

The generation of learners entering HE now have used devices, computers, the internet and mobile technology almost all of their life.  They didn’t have to re-learn how to do something (remember going from rotary phones to push button to mobile).  They know how to find information on the internet.  They have developed skills in determining authenticity and realness (see my earlier posts).  They consume and make content (in 2011, over 50% of YouTube’s licensing payments come from user generated content and depending on definitions between 66 and 80% of videos uploaded are user generated).  They bring with them skills to HE we can chose to ignore through our teaching, learning and assessment or that we can chose to build on and embrace them.  We as a profession cannot continue to promote and support the ‘empty vessel’ mode of HE teaching and learning, where we assume that students start university ready to be filled with all the knowledge we choose to disseminate.  Once again, small initiatives and ideas can be the way to bring about this change without tearing down the walls of the lecture theatre.  Student-led learning such as class presentations can be enhanced to encourage creativity and innovation not repetition, learners can be supported to build and develop networks between groups and cohorts through collaborative and inter-disciplinary projects like the one run at the University of Technology, Sydney called ‘Shopfront’ (see http://www.shopfront.uts.edu.au/).  Mobile phones can be embraced as a way of linking notes to practice in a classroom, or a method of crowd-sourcing or resource discovery.  None of this is rocket science.  What is important to note is that I strongly believe that underpinning of this should be a vision for what kind of institution you want to be a part of, what kind of pedagogy informs your learning, teaching and assessment, how do you want find out about your learners and adapt to their skills?  And that this vision should be supported by action, people, evaluation and sharing.  It should align pedagogy and technology in an agile and collaborative way.  And finally that there is not one size this will fit all and they as markets have fractured, retail has personalised and the largest selling book of 2012 was originally a piece of internet distributed Twilight fan fiction, we also need to find unique and personalised paths through our reconstruction.


Know your product: Is the MOOC the messiah or just a very naughty boy?

Where’s the professor?
We need him now!
Gonna tell you ’bout them
Yeah we take it all the way ’round the world
(The Saints – Know your product)

I have been bemused at the on-going howling and whooping about the seismic shifts cutting swathes through Higher Education.  It seems to me that there are two discrete things happening here; the desire to see change happen, led by people with the passion, enthusiasm and money and the equal desire to find quick fixes from the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  Change is a complex beast at the best of times, I think simply because there is rarely change that is universally embraced nor equally applied or applicable.  Even in 2008 when Barack Obama won office in the US, the result was one of the polarised oppositions in the history of global politics, defending their turf with ever increasing fervour and even more outlandish claims.  MOOCs and all their multiple variations are one such seismic ‘shift’.  Even this week a consortium of UK universities got together and announced to the world that MOOCs represent a ‘Napster moment’ for Higher Education;

UK universities to launch free degree-style online courses

and

UK universities are wary of getting on board the mooc train

But what do MOOCs actually represent in this fractured, and some would argue broken university environment still reeling from increased fees, the changing skills requirements of employers in a high unemployment world and shrinking global boundaries between systems and institutions? It would easy to argue that they are the messiah, bringing with them a new era in open learning, connectivity and smashing the cobwebbed ivory towers of the academic establishment.  It would be equally easy to label them a fad, like the yo-yo or the billion hit success of Gangnam style (wop, wop, wop, gangnam style!).  And it would be a cop-out to say that their impact lies somewhere in the middle.


(Two Gangnam style parodies – One from Stanford University and the other from York university)

For what it’s worth, I think MOOCs represent just another apparent quick fix to the bleedingly obvious problems most universities are facing.  Rapid expansions, bigger is better and an increasing dependence on less academic staff doing more with much less have all taken their toll on the most basic business and educational practices required to be a functional organisation. Academic stress is at its highest levels in recent memory and has engendered a long-hours culture and significant issues with depression and mental illness (http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=6344).  In the view of both our political class and the tabloid press, universities are always in deficit, never meeting the requirements of any our constituents, requiring constant funding cuts and increased competition to drag us from our 18th century ivory towers. And then there is the MOOC.  Trendy, fashionable, supported and promoted by the top universities that are often spared the harshest of the impacts described above (at least publicly).  Why wouldn’t every university, private college and ma and pa show want in?  It must be as easy as pie to do a MOOC? Go on, do one now, I dare you!

 

But like most quick fixes, I argue that the MOOC idea is fundamentally flawed and risks futher de-stabilising already unstable institutions.  And to make my case I am going to make three (highly opinionated) arguments;

1. MOOCs are not a Napster moment

Napster was a platform to share music illegally.  It represented a kick in the arse by users who were tired of paying £15 for a CD that they already owned on vinyl, or being unable to find music by a band that a record company kept in the faults or refused to sign.  It was a rebellion; a punk act if you will (granted one that made Sean Fanning a rich man and have the distinct honour of portrayed by Justin Timberlake in a movie).  MOOCs are not led or run by the users.  They are not subverting the norm, just re-packaging it.  A more accurate analogy might be the move from vinyl to CD. And from that we had the highest record profits in history and then the greatest crash in revenues as users took control and democratised music, both in the production and distribution of it.

MOOCs are run by the establishment.  The user is simply grist for the mill; numbers to be held up as demonstrative of the great success of MOOCs in changing education forever.  The groundswell of user-led change stopped when MOOCs went commercial and the words ‘monetize’ and ‘consumers’ became part of the debate.  MOOCs are not Patti Smith or Siouxsie Sioux , they are Avril Lavigne.  They may look punk, dangerous and scary to your parents, but underneath they are still the mainstream masquerading as a rebel.

 2. The numbers game

I alluded to this in the first point.  Coursera has had nearly 2 million students enrol from over 196 countries.  Huge numbers! Game-changing numbers!! Participation in droves!!!  Their completion rate – between 7 and 8%.  Is it too blunt a point to say that if MOOC providers actually cared about learners then that kind of attrition should be horrifying to them?  Instead we hear all the right PR arguments about the reasons why people got involved, the desire to experiment and dip a toe in the water, and they are right, fair point.  Why shouldn’t HE encourage experimentation and engagement?  Of course it should.  And it used to do far more of it with continuing education programmes, community education and taster courses.  And almost exclusively they have been shut down, commercialised or sold-on, much to the detriment of an educated society.  So why are we talking in that language again? Do universities believe that we made a mistake by closing down our systems, fire-walling everything we did and making the whole thing user pays?  Without going all Mulder on you, I want to believe.  I really do.  But the Scully in me continues to have those nagging doubts about the altruistic intentions of MOOCs.

 3. What is this change thing anyway?

Good old Stephen Stills (I don’t say that often!).  When in Buffalo Springfield he sung this little couplet;

‘There’s something happening here / What it is ain’t exactly clear’. 

What kind of change do MOOCs represent anyway? Are MOOCs the same old, same old; a very web 1.0 way of didactic instructionism and academic-centred content?  Alternately, the pragmatic solution to assessment within some MOOCs (at least on the surface) privileges the role of the peer and the community.  There is a building discourse around the superficiality of change seeded by or in response to technology in Higher Education. One where the institutional position is to keep the entire house the way it was, but to simply change the colours of the wall.  Whether this is through a lack of skill or mismatch between the understanding of the academy and the needs and skills of the learner, there is evidence that many e-learning projects have simply become lecture 2.0 or tutorial 2.0, without appropriate thought to changing the pedagogy (Blin & Munro 2008). A discussion forum where the lecturer simply poses a question and asks the learners to ‘discuss’ does not ground the interactions either vertically or horizontally (between learners, other learners and academics). Using YouTube instead of a VHS recording, allowing the VLE to act as a file repository or a way of replicating the classroom virtually ignores the obvious benefits that technology can bring to enhance pedagogy. Are MOOCs caught in this ‘deckchairs on the Titanic’ mentality?  Are they driven by a new pedagogy, wedded to the demands and behaviours of a new learner cohort?  Are they seeking to make new knowledge in emerging disciplines?  Are they really learning 2.0 or just another attempt to re-package what we have already with a few bonus tracks and a novelty toy?  Or are they McDonalds Happy Meal of Higher Education, the same burger, fries and Coke that we have been served up consistently and efficiently for decades, just with a different plastic toy and a newer, funkier box?

 

You might think, at the end of the day and this close to Christmas that perhaps all of this seems a little Grinch-like.  I argue that in most cases, for any real innovation to have significant and lasting impact, there needs to be a simplicity, a functionality and sometimes simply a sheer audacity to do what it says on the box, unafraid of the consequences.  The simplicity of making education more widely accessible is audacious in this time of austerity.  But what is missing for me is the reason why it needs to be done, aside from the ‘because we could do it’ solipsism.  Are learners demanding it?  By sheer numbers, yes they are.  Is a MOOC delivering what they want? Is it meeting their expectations? By the same sheer numbers, apparently not.

 

‘I’m just sitting in my chair when a voice comes on the air
Says “Why don’t you try it? You’ll feel alright!”
“It’s a great new brand of smokes
“Cool your head and clears your throat
“Keeps you young and so in touch.”

Said advertising, you’re lying
You’re never gonna give me what I want
I said smooth talking, brain washing
You’re never gonna get me what I need

(The Saints – Know your Product)


Thanks to all you who have read and commented on this blog in 2012.  I have been humbled by your interest and your engagement.  I will be back in 2013 with more thoughts and ideas, more music and perhaps even a mix-tape or two.  But in the meantime, if you are for something to keep you entertained over the holidays, check out my Australian music podcast called ‘Wide Open Road’ right here