Our Unbelievably Provincial Way of Talking Education

Found this interesting:

No less important, Americans spend a far higher proportion of their national wealth on higher education than the British. According to the OECD, the UK spends 1.3 per cent of GDP on tertiary education, precisely the EU average. The US, on the other hand, spends 3.1 per cent, far more than any other country in the world.

The UK has about a 38% tertiary degree rate compared to the U.S.’s 42%. All in all, I’d say nearly functionally equivalent. So in a world where we didn’t look to technology, but to policy for solutions one might make the interesting observation that we could might be able to reduce the cost of education by about 60% by following a UK model.

Mind you, I’m not endorsing the UK model. But a look around the world will show you that where tertiary education is left to markets education gets more expensive without any net increase in quality or access. No doo-hickey cooked up in a Mountain View garage can “solve” that problem.

Creating the Education Death Star

The damage that Coursera, EdX, Udacity and others have done to a decade of open education progress becomes more apparent by the day. In today’s installment, the kettle at SJSU comes to a full boil, with the faculty association there joining the Philosophy department in expressing opposition, not to open education, but to the badly deformed version of it that CourdacityX has produced. Some choice snippets:

“…The pedagogical infrastructure and work that has gone into the preparation of the edX material could easily be replicated if SJSU made a commitment to pedagogy and made training in pedagogy central to all faculty.”

“…In an environment where faculty are constantly reminded that fewer resources for public universities are available, CFA is disturbed that President Qayoumi is not actively lobbying Sacramento and Silicon Valley venture capitalists for more public funding of education. The people with whom he associates, members of the Silicon Valley elite, are the very people who have succeeded in privatizing the wealth generated by our society and making the rules that reduce their tax obligations to California. The partnerships with Udacity and edX will put more tax dollars into the pockets of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and at the expense of the State’s taxpayers.”

“…CFA also urges the public to write letters to the CSU Chancellor, SJSU President Qayoumi, and elected officials expressing concerns and questions regarding online education and massive open online classes, and the use of private companies for public education.”

Mark my words, within a couple weeks you’ll begin to see similar statements bubble up from larger and more influential faculty associations. After years of systematic defunding of public higher education, the brush is dry, dry, dry, and edX just lit the spark.

How the hell did we get here? Speaking about the previous statement of the philosophy faculty, David Wiley nails it:

If entities like edX and Coursera and Udacity would simply be open – meaning, use an open license for their materials – the concerns of SJSU faculty and others could be assuaged. Rather than pre-packaged, teach-as-you-receive-it collections of material meant to undermine faculty, openly licensed course frameworks empower faculty to tweak and customize and modify while still saving money. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You can have your cake and eat it, too, when you use open licenses. The either/or presented by the SJSU faculty is only true when purchased-pre-packaged courses are copyrighted – like the edX course is.

The problem is that these organizations have made enclosure of public resources their business model. What’s happening here is not some trivial misunderstanding, but a very intentional closing of education. Audrey Watters:

At last week’s Ed-Tech Innovations conference in Calgary, Stephen Downes quipped that “Coursera is the last gasp of the standalone education application.” Even learning management systems — once the pinnacle of isolated and restricted education applications on the Web but never of the Web — have recognized the importance of becoming a platform and have opened up APIs in order to connect to third-party applications.

But not Coursera. It runs counter to the early MOOCs that Downes and others created that grew from and exemplified the theory of connectivism — learning on the Web, from the Web, of the Web. The Web was the original MOOC platform. Coursera seems to be the education anti-platform.

The place where Wiley, Downes, Carson, Mackintosh, Groom, and a hundred other people who have been arguing with each other for years about what web-based education should look like agree is this: locking down reuse — by students or faculty — is anti-educational. It’s anti-educational because it gets in the way of the teacher who is trying to teach, and needs to localize materials based on specific needs, personal insight, or based on all this data-driven practice we keep pushing (but never want to support at the local level). It’s anti-educational because it gets in the way of students, who need to learn that education is a process of sharing and conversation, and need the power to take learning into their own hands. Students who may want to do crazy things, like discuss assignments on forums outside the course without breaking copyright law.

The sad thing to me is that all this is happening at precisely the point that open educational practice is poised for broad adoption. Saylor.org has put together a couple hundred classes of open material. Connectivist MOOCs demonstrated ways to pair co-creation of open resources with a peer-to-peer teaching paradigm that served many types of learning well, and changed the way we think about education. The UMW experiment has gathered so much steam that the only thing holding it back at this point is the tracks. Wiley and Thanos’ Kaleidescope Project (disclosure: of which WSUV is a part) is finally addressing the training and integration needs that have so often been ignored in institutional reuse of open resources.

When I look around at everything *but* xMOOCs, I see a open education movement coming into maturity.

But then. there’s edX. There’s Coursera. There’s Udacity. All of them seemingly dedicated to paving over faculty and students in the name of “open”.  And the backlash is just beginning.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In the hands of other actors the xMOOCs could form a core to thousands of localized experiences that dramatically rewrite what is possible in education while treating teachers as partners instead of roadblocks. In other hands, xMOOCs could empower students to rewrite their educational materials, and make their education a mashup of what works for them, instead of what the Five-Year Plan determined they should have. In other hands, xMOOCs could promote the communities of practice we want to build around education rather than destroy them.

There’s still time for edX to turn their ship around, although I doubt that will happen. In the meantime, maybe we should do something novel, like figure out how public money could support the public good?

Is the “Distributed Flip” part of the “Great Rebranding”?

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.

Community College Is the Disruptor That Is Here Today

I’ve been trying to write this post since February, and each time it spirals out of control. So here’s an attempt to barrel through and tell it plain.

“Disruptive Technology” used to mean something. It’s actually defined, in a book-length tome, by Clayton Christensen in the mid-90s. And it’s definition hinges on a set of cultural and economic pressures.

In a truly disruptive situation, major players in a market make sustaining improvements to their core product to serve an existing customer base. Think housing, where everyone tries to build bigger and better houses, and make money on customization and upgrades. Meanwhile, down-market a group of people not served by the core product make do with an inferior product. Let’s say, in this case, modular homes. So you’ve got your traditional buyers and your trailer park residents.

What the disruption is (and the only type of disruption that is actually meaningful) is when suddenly traditional buyers of houses start looking at the rapidly improving modular homes and think — hey, maybe we could go modular!

At that point, all the process around the traditional product and all the corporate capacity to produce it become a bit of a burden. Additionally it’s not quite worth it enough to shed the existing customer base — which locks the traditional market into their current business model, and unable to fully evolve (think about the way Microsoft’s Office Suite revenue has constrained its available strategies).

So, is that what is happening in the housing market? Oh, who knows. Probably not. But the potential is there. When a large number of third generation traditional homeowners start looking at $150,000 modulars, that’s when you’ll know.

Is that happening in the higher education market?

Interesting thing, that. A while back my wife said to me, regarding our daughter’s college education  — if we can’t make it work without deep loans, we’ll just have her go to community college a couple years, then transfer in, because “no one cares where you spent your freshman year.”

I am a second generation college student on my Dad’s side. I’ve got a Masters degree. I work in higher education. But the more I thought about it, the more it made a sort of sense. The “cruise ship” amenities colleges have had to provide to compete are a distraction, and attract a set of students that aren’t really helpful to Katie’s success. The social culture of college has also become increasingly dysfunctional, and is not always suitable for a 18 year old kid (whereas it’s something a slightly older student can often navigate well). The students I have met coming into four-year college from the community college system have generally been some of the best students I have known.

And as far as quality? At least with the online/hybrid courses, the better community colleges have been putting us to shame both in breadth and quality of offerings. Add to that that as the distributed flip takes root as a model, they may be participating in the same classes as their peers at four-year, Masters, and Research institutions.

That, to me, looks like disruption, much more than any individual piece of software using “adaptive intellegence” or any free online course. It’s hard to explain, but I can feel a cultural shift where parents need not be ashamed of sending their kids to community college (and graduating them debt-free) compared to parents that encourage their children to take on debt to go to that dreamy four-year experience. Economically, students with associates degrees are actually already outperforming students with BA’s in the labor market (albeit due to compositional effects).

Once the cultural shift happens, once community college becomes seen as something other than a second-rate experience, things can happen rather quickly. Unlike MOOCs or ccompetency-based credit, everything is already wired up to go for credentialing. And while the effects won’t be catastrophic, the institutions that want to remain relevant would do well to look at the community college market now, and think about what lessons they can learn from it.

Anyway, that’s the *short* version.

[Incidentally, Jeff Selingo (@jselingo) wrote something very smart about this a little bit ago, but I’m having trouble tracking it down now (it may be behind a paywall or nag-wall).]



Distributed Flips, Pacing, and MOOCs as OCW

Article in the NY Times today, detailing more distributed flips. What I find interesting is this paragraph:

The blended course, teaching Python computer programming, is being tried at both Bunker Hill and MassBay Community College, but at different paces. The Bunker Hill class moves slowly, taking two weeks on each week of M.I.T. material. MassBay, whose students have more computer background, matches the M.I.T. pace.

And of course neither one syncs up with the actually MIT cohort.

This is exactly what Amy Collier, Helen Chen, and I found in our research. The differences in student background, prerequisites, and school schedule make following along with a broader MOOC cohort really problematic. So what is happening is that schools are not using them as MOOCs. The emerging success story of “MOOCs in the institution” ends up being primarily a success story of Open Educational Resources coming into their own.

And in fact, the people using the material  conceive of their use in exactly that way:

“The students were immediately engaged in the course, and they love the instant feedback online, the green checkmark when they get the right answer,” said Harold Riggs, who teaches the MassBay class. “M.I.T.’s really added ambition in this course. It’s not just teaching Python, it’s teaching computational thinking. I can still do things my own way, but it’s like getting a very good textbook.

I really want to get on some relatively high rooftops in a densely populated Mountain View neighborhood and scream this. Because there are actually rather sizable implications to this, once we see that this use is really a variant of traditional OCW/OER more than an extension of either cMOOCs or xMOOCs. It should change how we think about student forums in these efforts, about student data, and real-time instructor feedback. It suggests that localized versions, run independently on a separate LMS, might have a ready-made following. It opens the opportunity for distributed maintenance of the course materials, and allows for the possibility of “overspecified” courseware, which, much like a textbook, contains more material than any single given instructor can use to provide for course customization.

Frankly, it turns a lot of assumptions on their head. But as long as we are still referring to these experiences as MOOCs, we’re not going to see it. Because that “massive” element isn’t actually there — the students are part of no global cohort (though perhaps are part of a heavily asynchronous global community around the content).

There’s no massive in these MOOCs, and that’s fine, but let’s deal with the implications of that. Until we do, there are opportunities that we are missing, and drawbacks we are sweeping under the rug. We should deal with both.