Stephen Downes had mentioned in a post a while back that the “distributed flip, advanced as this Great New Thing, is the connectivist model of MOOCs, but with small-group in-person attached..” The shift to the term was portrayed as part of (as the title indicates) the “Great Rebranding”, a move to assimilate MOOCs into an institution-friendly form by eliminating their history.
As a person who has popularized that term, I’ve thought a bit about how to respond. Because certainly a distributed flip could be just an xMOOC with a small-group experience attached. But it could be many other things as well, and I think that sometimes gets lost. Besides this, it runs both ways. In another world the distributed flip is “just a flipped classroom with something MOOC-like attached”. There are issues of perspective here that don’t resolve simply.
But the piece I want to really take issue is that the use of this term is somehow an attempt to erase history, and not give people their due. I could just stand, I think, on my reputation – I have fought as hard as anyone to make sure that people understand the provenance of the ideas they cite. Sometimes it seems half the posts on this blog are dedicated to that endeavor in one way or another. Additionally, I’ve been interacting with Stephen and George and Dave since the early PLN days. It was Stephen himself, having found a post Helen Barrett had written about an interaction with me, who pulled me into what would eventually become the MOOC fold with an OLDaily cite a little over 6 years ago. I think I count that as one of the luckiest days of my professional life, since interaction with this community sharpened ideas about open education that I had gotten lazy about critiquing, and pushed me to be a better thinker and blogger in this area. I had just come off political blogging, and it was a joy to find a community of edubloggers that had the same energy and gift for quick but trenchant analysis as my online political friends. It changed my life, seriously.
So I think I could stand, if necessary, on the “if you don’t know me by now…” argument.
But I think I’d rather talk about the term directly. What is attractive to me about the term is how it connects to much more history than even the term MOOC does. The flip element highlights everything from experiments with reading clubs in the 1800s, to Mazur’s work in the early 1990s, to the first models referred to as “flipped” or “inverted” classrooms in the mid-2000s. There’s a fairly rich history around the flipped model, and most of it is still (thankfully) intact. The distributed piece is certainly tied to the early MOOCs of Siemens, Downes, Kop, Cormier, et. al., but in more traditional one-to-many formats (such as examples at San Jose State, Bunker Hill College, or The University of Puerto Rico) is also related to everything from experiments by the Annenberg Foundation in the late 80s and 90s, to Carnegie Mellon’s OLI, to OCW and Wiley’s OER efforts, to Tony Hirst’s OCW serializers back in 2008, to, yes, even the work of one Sal Khan (via a screencasting model popularized by Jon Udell and others – there, I had to get that last reference in…).
So, in fact, my main argument here is that calling the term “distributed flip” a “great rebranding” is in fact 180 degrees backwards. The term is not an attempt to erase history, but to plug these trends into a wider narrative that has been going on a long time, and has a rich provenance. One in which the cMOOCs play a very influential role, but not a solitary one. I’m not sure how that is a bad thing, but as always, I’m happy to entertain counterarguments in the comments.