Confessions of a Subversive Student

Confessions of a Subversive Student

My relationship with education has always been a kind of dissonant harmony. I have always loved learning, yet I have always felt like a rogue in the regimented institutions of homogenization. Today, the dissonance continues as I find myself at times upholding and perpetuating systems of conformity in education, while simultaneously trying to disrupt and subvert those systems in order to shake loose their inhumanities and ultimately help them evolve past obsolete structural paradigms. Reconciliation is slow-going and messy. The pendulum must swing a wide arc before settling in its consonant center.

In my fifth grade class, we had a mock monetary system in which we earned fake dollars for good grades and behavior. The “money” was to be spent at “sales” during which our teacher provided trinkets and candy, etc. that we could purchase. This fake economy — supposedly designed to teach us about the “real” economy — was a regulated, glorified reward system for obedience and the completion of worksheets. I used the fake currency to set up my own black market. I hired some classmates, and we expanded our business to other classes that didn’t even use the currency except in my shadow economy. I got in trouble for this.

That same year, my teacher asked me if she could try to publish a political cartoon about endangered species that I made for a class assignment (“sure,” I told her). Perhaps she wasn’t serious, but it made me consider the possibility that the things I did in school might have merit in the “real world.” The prospect of publishing a cartoon connected my education to the “real world” much more significantly than the fake money did.

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On January 27th, Cathy N. Davidson launches “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education,” a MOOC connected to dozens of other courses and events distributed across the web. Over six weeks, Hybrid Pedagogy will host a discussion group, codenamed MOOC MOOC Dark Underbelly, a rowdy exploration of topics unearthed by the course and its offspring, a place to examine the deeper (and sometimes darker) issues implicated in these discussions. Our node will include related articles, curated content from participants, weekly #moocmooc chats, and more. Watch @hybridped and @moocmooc for details. In this article, Cathy offers 10 things she’s learned from making her meta-MOOC.


1. It’s a little bit “Wayne’s World,” a little bit “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and a little bit amateur hour (and that’s a good thing).

Starting last May 2013, my HASTAC colleague Kaysi Holman and I began making a meta-MOOC, “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education.”  It comes with a long, whimsical subtitle intended to disrupt traditional ideas of the purpose and function of higher education:  “Or, How We can Unlearn our Old Patterns to Relearn for a More Engaged, Successful, Fruitful, Productive, Humane, Happy, Beautiful, and Socially-Conscious Life.” We made it for Coursera with which my university, Duke, is a partner. The Duke News team shot the opening promo video with two real cameras and real lights, but, for the rest of the six week course, Kaysi and I filmed with and delivered into a low-tech webcam neither of us had ever shot with before, a la Wayne and Garth.

Amateur videography is not really what I signed on for but it turned out to be interesting. I learned a lot about the art of scripting an entire course in 8-15 minute segments, designing and reading from cue cards (harder than it looks, as numerous hilarious Saturday Night Live segments attest), and storyboarding text and images. Kaysi, who has a law degree, not only read the fine print (confusing and in one case contradictory) on the agreements and helped with the IRB, she also learned many new skills: ScreenFlow editing, uni- and bi-directional mic’ing, and lighting to try to compensate, futilely, for the unflattering zombie green of office fluorescents, to name just a few. She edited, interjected explanatory texts and images, and designed landing pages. I’m not sure what we would have done without Lynda.com.

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Tales of a MOOC Dropout

Tales of a MOOC Dropout

In September 2013, Hybrid Pedagogy published an e-book of graduate student essays focused on student experiences in MOOCs — from EdX, Udacity, and other xMOOCs, to improvisational MOOCs created by the students themselves using open web resources. The full collection, Learner Experiences with MOOCs and Open Online Learning, was published via GitHub. The following article from Cindy Londeore is one of the essays from that volume. You can read more about the e-book in George Veletsiano’s introduction, “How Do Learners Experience Open Online Learning?

Dropout. It’s such a nasty word. The high school dropout rate is held up by reformers to bolster their argument that the American public school system is failing. Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have an expected 90% dropout rate which is not considered a problem. This juxtaposition begs the question; when is dropping out not a big deal?
Individuals who join a MOOC are described as being part of course enrollments. However, this is confusing and fallacious, as the term “enrollments” in a traditional in-person course implies a level of commitment not necessarily present in students who enroll in a MOOC. Initial enrollment in a MOOC is more akin to all the students who read a description of the course in the school catalog, and consider taking it. MOOC students who submit the first assignment may be a better comparison to initial enrollments in a physical class. Indeed, if the numbers of students who scored more than zero on the first week’s materials is used as a starting point, the dropout rate falls to 75%. By the end of the course the numbers are consistent with an in-person course. Only 10% of the students who attempted the final exam failed to earn a certificate. Students who enroll in traditional classes have made a commitment to attempt the work outlined in the syllabus. Students who enroll in a MOOC have done little more than express a passing interest in the topic and may feel no need to ever revisit the course.

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During the summer of 2013, George Veletsianos approached the editors of Hybrid Pedagogy about publishing a collection of graduate student essays. The collection focused on these students’ experiences in a variety of MOOCs — from EdX, Udacity, and other xMOOCs, to improvisational MOOCs created by the students themselves using open resources on the web. Sean Michael Morris and Chris Friend assisted with the editing process, and the book was designed using GitHub by Kris Shaffer with help from Barry Peddycord IIIJesse Stommel, and Robin Wharton.

Learner Experiences with MOOCs and Open Online Learning is an e-book in which student authors describe and reflect upon their open online learning experiences. Current conversations around educational innovations in general, and MOOCs in particular, lack student voices. This book enables learners to share their stories, thus contributing to our understanding of open online learning.
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On October 14th, the Canvas Network will launch a new massive open online course inspired by the popular television series The Walking DeadInstructure has teamed with faculty from the University of California Irvine, and AMC, the producers of the show, to create the MOOC. I took the opportunity to speak with Melissa Loble, the Associate Dean of Distance Learning at UCI, about what it was like to create a MOOC based on the ideas raised by a television show, and the relationship between popular culture and online education.

Sean Michael Morris: Let’s start with the obvious question: Why a MOOC centered on “The Walking Dead”? What was the inspiration?
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When MOOCs went viral in 2012, traditional small colleges reached an identity crossroads, a midlife crisis where idealism and wisdom collide. Although the main concerns of future viability have been present for years — the fate of the humanities, the rise in student debt, and the sluggish economy, among others — MOOCs have summoned a sense of urgency. “Get online, or get an identity,” as Patrick J. Deneen recently expressed, illustrates the high stakes for institutions deciding whether to assimilate or differentiate. Along with the rapid adoption at large, elite institutions and flagship state schools is the growing myth that MOOCs will threaten traditional liberal arts colleges and smaller institutions. Despite the massive amount of capital invested in CourseraedX, and Udacity and the hype about global branding, according to Inside Higher Education the original MOOC platform included engaged learning activities found at most small liberal arts colleges. MOOCs, it appears, were not created to run the old guard out of town; rather, they can bring the best traditional liberal arts instruction in direct dialogue with fresh ideas from students across the globe. Recently Wellesley College announced its first course offerings with edX, making it the first liberal arts college to offer MOOCs. Will other small institutions be able to adapt?
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This is the second article in a series focused on creating a dialogue among K-12 and post-secondary pedagogies and pedagogues. We will be accepting submissions for the related CFP throughout Summer 2013. Click here to find out more.

Just over a year ago, my “learning” exploded. I was developing a hybrid Canadian online delivery program for Chinese high school students. I was encouraged to push the boundaries of K-12 online and blended learning by investigating the most cutting edge online opportunities anywhere. After reviewing my options, I discovered MOOCs and realized they had the potential to push K-12 learning “out of the box.”
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This article is an attempt to address a possible gap in Connectivist thinking, and its expression in cMOOCs. It’s to do with the experience of technology novices, and unconfident learners in cMOOC environments. It comes from a phenomenon, and experience I identified in a recent MOOC I participated in and the experience is best described like this:
To learn in a cMOOC you need to connect.
To connect in a cMOOC you need to learn.

Introduction
I’m not a Constructivist, Behaviourist, Cognitivist, or Connectivist. This is not a call for a return to an older theory. I’m a pragmatist, like many educators. I flirt outrageously with every theory that will have me. I’m ideologically promiscuous. I go with what works, and I am ruthless in weeding out what doesn’t. I do this because there is no “one size fits all” theory. Because there is no “one size fits all” student. And because students, participants, and learners are the final metric that measures any theory, and experience is the proving ground for theory. Faith to a theory, ideological monogamy, gets in the way of the evidence.
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“Learners are classified based on their patterns of interaction with video lectures and assessments, the primary features of most MOOCs to date.” — Rene F. Kizilcec, et al.

It’s the first thing in the name. MOOCs are primarily massive. They reach huge numbers of students. “Graduating even 5 percent of 100,000 students in a MOOC provides many instructors with substantially greater reach than an entire lifetime of teaching in a conventional classroom.” Educause’s “What Campus Leaders Need to Know about MOOCs” starts with scale: “MOOCs (massive open online courses) are courses delivered over the web to potentially thousands of students at a time.”

With this massive scale comes great responsibility. Discussions of teaching at “mass” scale can set the tone and context of a conversation about pedagogy, a conversation with faculty, CIO’s, CEO’s, but also potentially, a conversation which limits the voice of students. Especially at a time when Diane Dagefoerde of Ohio State University can say “We have a couple of MOOCs going on right now… I’m sure we all do, right?” in an Educause Top Ten Issues in Higher Education IT webinar, we all need to be careful how this conversation begins. The quote that starts this article is drawn from a paper co-written by three Stanford faculty, and argues that a reasonable classification of learners in MOOCs can be drawn from interactions with video lectures and assessments (multiple-choice quizzes and unmoderated forums).
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As some are raised a Catholic or an atheist or a vegetarian, I was raised an academic. The university always had about it a mystique, a cloud of mystery and veneration. Lauded in my household were the values of objectivity, critical thinking, close reading. As early as the fourth grade, my mother took me to her college Shakespeare classes, introduced me to her professors, and indulged me with lunch at the student union. I attended classes with her throughout her undergraduate study; and for years after, I’d walk through campus simply to absorb the essence of the place. Today, I am as much in love with the endeavor of higher education as I am disappointed by its outcomes.

The reformation of higher education is under way. Whether we agree or not, the vast credentialing system of universities and colleges, the importance placed upon expertise, the value of the degree and the Ph.D., the political economies that oppress those that form the backbone of the system, the administration of learning, the rights of students, and even the act of learning itself are all under scrutiny. It is a scrutiny that’s been in play for years, and has been exacerbated most recently by the advent of the MOOC (massive open online course), the corporatization of education, and the exportation of pedagogy to technologists and private entrepreneurs. Sadly, little is coming forward from this inquisition of education that’s hopeful. Academics and administrators are afraid for their careers, and students and learners of all ages are looking openly at other options (other options that enterprising speculators are at the ready to provide).
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Victorian hubris opined, “All that can be invented has been invented,” and so we entered the 20th century emboldened with a Titanic which was unsinkable, and a hydrogen-packed Hindenburg. The invention eureka moment is chance, perseverance, sweat — but also danger. Gone is the slow iteration of change; upon us, the sudden rupture-rapture of the new. No one expects thousands will die in the North Atlantic; no one expects academics to throw themselves on gangways as luddite voices of restraint. If teaching is what we do, do we not owe those seeking to learn a reassurance they are at least on a seaworthy ship? How much of the good ship MOOC is built on the same blueprints as many noble vessels whose buoyancy has long since proved questionable? Somewhere Leonardo di Caprio stands on the bow of Google Reader.

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The ChallengeIncorporate an open source community service project into every class.

What happens to a student paper or project after the individual turns it in or presents it in class? Where does it go? What, ultimately, is at stake for the student when s/he sits down to apply his or her thoughts to paper? What mediums do these thoughts and ideas travel through and whom they reach? What impact does their effort make beyond the classroom?

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In A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant ChangeDouglas Thomas and John Seely Brown write, “Embracing Change means looking forward to what will come next. It means viewing the future as a set of new possibilities, rather than something that forces us to adjust. It means making the most of living in a world of motion” (43). The changing landscape of education in the digital age asks us to reconsider what, how, and where we learn. On May 3 at 1pm EST, Hybrid Pedagogy will host #digped discussion about peer-to-peer learning and how we can shift from thinking about educational institutions toward thinking about learning collectives. The following is drawn from Chapter 4 of Thomas and Brown’s book. While our Twitter discussion will center around this section, we also encourage you to read the first three chapters in PDF formatbuy the entire book, and explore other resources the authors have made available online.

The new culture of learning is based on three principles: (1) The old ways of learning are unable to keep up with our rapidly changing world. (2) New media forms are making peer-to-peer learning easier and more natural. (3) Peer-to-peer learning is amplified by emerging technologies that shape the collective nature of participation with those new media.

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On Friday, March 8, Pete Rorabaugh interviewed Anya Kamenetz, author of DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Change in Higher Education (2010). Kamenetz’s writing investigates systemic problems associated with funding, institutional inflexibility, and explores homegrown alternatives. DIY U was one of the first books published in the U.S. to discuss the incipient cMOOC community and also touches on the work of Jim Groom at the University of Mary Washington. In the wake of a year’s worth of media-MOOC-craziness, Pete asked about Kamenetz’s reflections since the publication of DIY U, specifically related to innovations within and alternatives to the structure of higher education.

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Recently, my colleague and Hybrid Pedagogy co-conspirator, Pete Rorabaugh, and I spoke at the Emory Symposium on Digital Publication, Undergraduate Research, and Writing. Over the course of two days of discussion, it became clear that, in order to realize the full potential of digital publication initiatives like the Domain of One’s Own project at the University of Mary Washington, we need to work with our students to create an institutional environment where they are seen as owners and producers–not just users and consumers–of intellectual property. Unfortunately, institutions attempting to chart a safe course through treacherous regulatory seas too often take an approach that positions faculty and students as passengers along for the ride, rather than co-pilots or fellow travelers capable of plotting a course of their own.
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On Friday, January 11, 2013, Pete Rorabaugh asked Alec Couros to join hium for an hour-long Twinterview. It was the weekend before the launch of #ETMOOC, his brainchild, and Pete wanted to get some context and history for his digital work before he began another connectivist adventure. Their conversation roamed from Alec’s first experiences in the cMOOC (even pre-MOOC) community, academic influences on his “open thinking” philosophy, reflections on publication and tenure, and his motivation to organize #ETMOOC.

Every fall when I ask my first year students, “Why did you choose the College of Environmental Science and Forestry?” at least one will answer, “I want to save the world.” By the time they are sophomores, my students have taken rigorous science courses that focus on environmental issues. When they do group projects in the research/composition course I teach, I’m impressed with their topics, the depth of their knowledge, and their passion.

What seems wrong is that their presentations are only to each other. Sure, they invite their friends, but at a small college where everyone takes a whole bunch of the same courses, that’s not a very satisfying audience. The students teach me and have changed me — dramatically — but I shouldn’t be the only person to benefit from their knowledge and fresh ideas.
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Sherry Turkle famously argues technology has begun to overtake our attention and time, which has led to increased physical isolation and shallow online interaction. She contends, in a community-starved world, we need to disconnect from our smartphones and other Information and Communications Technology (ICT)-enabling devices in order to create greater balance: “We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. The opposite is true … If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will know only how to be lonely”. Detractors such as David Banks, Nathan Jurgenson and others counter that Turkle’s assessment of alienation creates a digital dualism. As David Banks at Cyborgology suggests, it may be more appropriate instead to consider our techniquehow we use technology.

Surely, online interactions can be shallow, but it’s no certainty. I’ve spent over a decade in different online spaces—primarily as a member of various web fora where sub-communities exist—and I cannot say that what I’ve witnessed and experienced was anything less than a human desire to connect with others. Sometimes these online spaces offered, for those who felt lonely or isolated by their interests in their physical environments, a place to belong. In other words, for many people I’ve encountered, these are not places for leading a shallow existence.
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A MOOC is not a thing. A MOOC is a strategy. What we say about MOOCs cannot possibly contain their drama, banality, incessance, and proliferation. The MOOC is a variant beast — placental, emergent, alienating, enveloping, sometimes thriving, sometimes dead, sometimes reborn.

There is nothing about a MOOC that can be contained. Try as they might, MOOC-makers like Coursera, EdX, and Udacity cannot keep their MOOCs to themselves, because when we join a MOOC, it is not to learn new content, new skills, new knowledge, it is to learn new learning. Entering a MOOC is entering Wonderland – where modes of learning are turned sideways and on their heads — and we walk away MOOCified.

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Have you ever overheard this conversation, or something similar, in the departmental copy room? One teacher says, “How many pages of a book can I copy and still call it fair use? Another teacher replies, “I think it’s ten percent (or ten pages).” I overhear these conversations all the time. As a recovering corporate intellectual property attorney I am perhaps especially attuned to them. One always correct potential answer to the question is, “Well, that depends.”

Recent judicial attempts to establish some notwithstanding, bright lines just don’t exist in the legal terrain of fair use (as it’s called in the U.S.) or fair dealing (as it’s called in many other jurisdictions). Copyright law does have some very clear rules. For example, everything first published in the U.S. before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain. Or, since 1976 in the US, copyright has attached automatically to works the moment they are “fixed,” regardless of the author’s intent or preference.

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I once heard an interesting story about my former collegiate marching-band instructor, Dr. Richard Greenwood. According to legend, Greenwood once held up the score to an extensive piece the band was working on, pointed to it, and said, to the surprise of those around him holding instruments, “This is not the music we are playing. This is not the song we are performing. This is only a map. It’s a guide to get us where the composer wants us to go.” He then went on to discuss the merits of interpretation, flexibility, and improvisation within a framework.

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MOOCs: Changing Modes of Pedagogy [original Google Doc]

As Bonnie Stewart explains, massive open courses are not a new concept. In the 1970s, Michel Foucault taught courses for free, open to everyone who was interested. Indeed, the concept of free education extends back to Socrates, who reportedly refused payment for his instruction. Nonetheless, the acronym MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course, was generated in the context of a course called “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” taught by Stephen Downes. Let’s examine that acronym:

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Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), as they are situated both inside and outside of traditional higher education institutions, naturally raise questions about those institutions. My recent article, “Occupy the Digital: Critical Pedagogy and New Media,” began to uncover some of those questions. In that article, I assert “that academic work must be useful beyond its tower and that digital culture offers new opportunities to achieve that goal.” Perhaps MOOCs are a way to take academic work beyond its traditional boundaries. Or perhaps MOOCs are so extra-institutional that they will work no real changes on higher education.

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Coursera is silly. Educational technology news has been all a-flutter over the last few months about the work that Coursera is doing to bring higher education into the open. But I tell you what: I signed up for one of their classes — a course on Science Fiction and Fantasy from the University of Michigan — only to discover something really startling. Really: startling.

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MOOCs are a red herring. The MOOC didn’t appear last week, out of a void, vacuum-packed. The MOOC has been around for years, biding its time. Still, the recent furor about MOOCs, which some have called “hysteria,” opens important questions about higher education, digital pedagogy, and online learning. The MOOCs themselves aren’t what’s really at stake. In spite of the confused murmurs in the media, MOOCs won’t actually chomp everything in their path. And they aren’t an easy solution to higher education’s financial crisis. In fact, a MOOC isn’t a thing at all, just a methodological approach, with no inherent value except insofar as it’s used.

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