My first computers and writing related lesson was on the drive to the annual Computers and Writing Conference and it was about the agency (or authority or trust) we put in our machines, specifically our cell phones, as if they were reliable people. I was travelling by myself and my only navigation equipment was my iPhone. I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the route my iPhone had planned for me until I got close to Frostburg, and by the time I did start to pay attention, it was too late. The “route 1″ Apple Maps planned involved about 20 steps for the last 40 miles– turn left down this street, right for 1000 feet down this road that looks more like an alley, left again, etc. This might have been scenic, but just as I started all these crazy turns, thick fog settled in. And I mean scary, white-knuckle driving under the best of circumstances thick fog. I could not see anything beyond the edge of the road– not that there was much to see beyond the edge of the road anyway. It was so bad I was literally driving by iPhone: I propped it up in the cup holder and I glanced between the road and the blue dot and instructions on the screen telling me I needed to turn left in two tenths and then one tenth of a mile… and then I’d actually see the turn. Thank you, iPhone!
Had my iPhone been “smarter” (and frankly had I been smarter and thought more carefully about the route Maps had selected), I wouldn’t have ended up in these back woods in the first place. On the other hand, had I been traveling with another human and had that human been serving as the navigator on these side roads with the previous generation of navigating technologies– a road map– I am pretty sure I/we would have been lost in the fog until it cleared because there is no way we would have been able to spot those turns. The iPhone got me into that mess, but it also got me out of it.
But back to the topic at hand, the annual Computers and Writing Conference, #cwcon, this year in Frostburg, Maryland. Let me get my main (really, only) gripe about the conference out of the way right at the beginning: I didn’t think a whole lot of Frostburg.
The end of English Composition I from Coursera/Duke is near, and I’ll be sure to write something up about that in the next week or so– probably after the Computers and Writing Conference coming up this weekend. The short version for now is it has been a struggle for me to keep up at the end, both in terms of the way in which the class has been paced/the work has piled up, but also just in terms of basic motivations of the “why am I here in the first place” variety, feelings that surly fuel the dropout rate of these kinds of classes. More on that below when I talk about the Koller et al essay.
But in the meantime and while I get ready to leave town, I thought I’d start a post about three MOOC readings amongst the many that have been piling up around me. As is usually the case, this is mostly useful to me so I can come back later, but some of this might be useful to others too.
But before I even get to that, I am pleased and proud to point to my June 2013 College Composition and Communication piece “MOOC Response about ‘Listening to World Music,’” which is part of a special “symposium” section of the journal. (That link is behind a firewall just for NCTE members, though I might put a version out on this web site sooner than later for everyone to read.) I think it turned out well, though I would have preferred a more interesting title and I’m surprised that this is just two pieces, mine and one by Jeff Rice (his essay is at the same link as mine). What I also think works well is that both Jeff and I are both writing about the “Listening to World Music” MOOC, and I think our commentaries overlap and diverge in interesting ways.
Okay, on to three MOOC readings after the break.
Via the internets, I came across this latest Ms. Mentor column in CHE, “Adjunct or Starving Artist?” and while I generally agree with her, I wanted to add my own slightly different answer to the question because I can recall asking it of myself around 23 years ago and because I think Ms. M. has a typically bad attitude about teaching composition.
I’ve been a lot more busy lately than I was anticipating because this is May and it is supposed to be time off or at least “the quieter time” of the summer seasons at EMU. But besides teaching an online version of English 444 with some new elements that are keeping me busy, I’ve been going to a lot of meetings/workshops lately– all day Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of last week, half the day yesterday, half the day today, etc.. I’m moving offices this afternoon and tomorrow. I am slowly but surly working with Charlie Lowe on editing/putting together a collection of essays on MOOCs (more on that coming soon I am sure. ) And then there is all of the stuff in “life” around the gardens and the house, too.
So I have an excuse of sorts as to why I’ve had such a hard time keeping up with Composition I, and I really hit a wall with the third assignment, the “Case Study.” More below, but the short version is the whole course is just becoming more and more of a slog. Continue reading
I actually don’t have too much to report about the Duke Composition I class because, well, not much has been going on in it lately– other than me not getting some things done that I should have gotten done. Nothing is really different; there is just more of it. More on this below, but just to get repetitive: it still feels very anonymous and locked in lost time to me. When a class like this is taking place face to face and in a small group, the interaction becomes critical to the whole point of the class. When that’s not there, well, what’s the point?
But first, many MANY MOOC article links and the like, so many I’ll just mostly link here:
- I was going to post this list of links and my latest response to the Duke MOOC earlier this week, but I got distracted and busy with other things. I’m glad I waited now because just the other day from CHE comes “Why Professors at San Jose State Won’t Use a Harvard Professor’s MOOC” by Steve Kolowich. Go read the whole thing– well worth it– but to summarize: faculty in Philosophy at SJSU (which MOOC followers will recall is one of the first universities in the U.S. to very publicly incorporate MOOCs into engineering courses) have refused to teach a philosophy course with an edX MOOC developed by Harvard’s Michael Sandel because the SJSU faculty see MOOCs as a tool to replace them, and they go further to suggest that Sandel and “professors who develop MOOCs are complicit in how public universities might use them.” Sandel wrote this response where he claims to know “very little” about what edX was going to do with his course and where he says he “The last think I want is for my online lectures to be used to undermine faculty colleagues at other institutions.” Three observations/tangents here:
- Alert readers will recognize that Michael Sandel is the guy that Thomas Friedman has a middle-school crush on in this column from March where he once again spouts off crazy stuff about MOOCs and transforming education.
- I’ve been raising the concern about MOOCs from elite institutions having the effect of further marginalizing the likes of SJSU (and EMU) for quite some time.
- You know, I’m not going to say that Sandel is lying in his response where he says he had no idea how edX might try to use his online course materials. But either Sandel is not being entirely truthful or he is not quite as brilliant and broad of a thinker as Friedman and the folks at edX might think.
- “I’m Failing My MOOC” by John Warner, from Inside Higher Ed and also about the same Duke Composition I course. I mostly agree with Warner’s main review: the content of the MOOC is okay to pretty good, but “content by itself is a very limited part of what matters in terms of teaching and learning.”
- “Students Avoid ‘Difficult’ Online Courses, Study Finds” in CHE by Ann Schnobelen. I don’t know if this is really about MOOCs and I don’t know if this is really about the kinds of online courses I teach, but basically, the study (with only 46 students) suggests that students pick classes to take online that they find easy to “teach themselves.” I can see the point and see how it connects with the potential role of MOOCs, but in my experience, most of my students who choose to take classes online because of how it fits into their schedules and lives. The most typical student in my undergrad online courses are women (single or not) with babies or very young children at home.
- “MOOCs and the Quality Question” by Ronald Legon, an Inside Higher Ed piece about the evolving nature of MOOCs. The term “MOOC 2.0″ comes up, which strikes me as a tad premature.
- “Of Machine Guns and MOOCs: 21st Century Engineering Disasters” by Pat Lockley at Hybrid Pedagogy. It’s kind of an interesting analogy, but I’m not sure it’s an argument that really holds together for me.
- “The War on the Humanities has Three Fronts (Part 1: The Right Wing),” a post on Karen Michalson’s blog. I think Michalson has a lot of good points here about how things like MOOCs are favored by the right wing (which generally is not that crazy about paying for this pesky “public” education in the first place) and she links to a lot of good stuff. The problem though is she avoids the hard to escape reality that MOOCs in higher ed are getting the most traction in Democrat-thick California.
- “The World is Not Flat” by Ry Rivard is an interesting (albeit long) InsideHigher Ed piece that makes a pretty compelling argument that the American/English-speaking version of MOOCs might not work in all parts of the world and may represent a sort of “intellectual neo-colonialism (PDF).” That link leads to a book/collection of essays published by the Commonwealth of Learning in 2012 called Open Educational Resources and Change in Higher Education: Reflections from Practice. Definitely something worth looking at later: basically, it’s a collection of essays about international trends in Open Educational Resources (OER) and online instruction in higher ed.
- “Before MOOCs, ‘Colleges of the Air’” by Susan Matt and Luke Fernandez and on the CHE blog/site about classes that were offered over the radio back in the 1920s and 30s. Good stuff, and another one of those pieces that suggests to me that there might still be a project in me about technologies of teaching before the computer– especially in “distance ed” and “correspondence” formats. And this quote rings especially true for me: ”The problem of what MOOCs add up remains. While some universities have promised to accept them for credit, in the long term, we may find, as proponents of radio did, that the courses play at best a minor role in helping students earn degrees.” Oh, and speaking of which:
- “MOOCs, History, and Context” in Inside Higher Ed where Arthur Levine talks about literally hundreds of years of transformations in higher education to MOOCs in, well, context.
- “Duke Faculty Say No” also by Ry Rivard and Inside HigherEd. Faculty at Duke forced the university to back out of a deal with nine other universities to “create a pool of for-credit online classes for undergraduates,” apparently with an outfit called Semester Online and a deal that has been in the works since 2012. And as a reminder of something I’ve mentioned here before: while Duke seems perfectly willing to support its faculty developing MOOCs that might someday be offered for credit at other institutions by Coursera, they are not willing to accept those credits at their own institution. By the way, Semester Online seems somewhat reasonable to me: ”Unlike massive open online courses, or MOOCs, only a few hundred students were expected to enroll in each course – which would feature a mix of recorded lectures and live discussions – but each course would be divided into sections of no more than 20 students led by an instructor, perhaps a graduate student.”
- Finally, there’s this strange “map” of the “Major Players” in the MOOC Universe from CHE:
There are many problems with this, but I’ll just mention two for now. First, Khan Academy is not a MOOC in any way, shape, or form. Not even close. Second, Cathy Davidson is just not that big of a player in the “MOOC-iverse,” and even she says this in this post, which ultimately brings things back to HASTAC.
Okay, after all that (!), a few words about the Duke Composition MOOC:
Before news about Composition I, some MOOC reading round-up:
- As Nick Carbone pointed out on the WPA-L mailing list, it seems like journalists taking and reporting on MOOCs has become all the rage as of late. Just goes to show you that contemporary journalism gets everything interesting from blogs like this one. From the Larry Gordon of the LA Times comes “Hitting the MOOCs instead of the books” about his experience in a “Principles of Public Health” course from UC Irvine, and in the New York Times A.J. Jacobs’ “Two Cheers for Web U.!” I think I like the NYTimes piece a bit better because of its humor and snark (favorite line: “The professor is, in most cases, out of students’ reach, only slightly more accessible than the pope or Thomas Pynchon.”), but both pieces are ultimately pretty fluffy written by good writers who haven’t thought a whole about education since they were in college.
- “MOOC Mania: Debunking the hype around massive open online courses” by Audrey Watters on The Digital Shift blog is a solid essay about MOOC stuff, though I have to say it sounds like something I’ve read already.
- “They mean to win Wimbledon!” is a post by Jonathan Rees that circles around an obscure Monty Python sketch to make the point about MOOCs being this invasive species trying to take over higher education. Interesting enough reading, but….
- …. the main reason I’m linking to it is because it discusses this essay from Inside HigherEd, “EdX Rejected.” In what is clearly at odds with the race into the MOOC business by so-called elite institutions, Amherst College said thanks but no thanks to edX’s invitation to join their consortium. It’s a good read that speaks highly of both Amherst’s administration and faculty. My favorite responses quoted in the piece are from Adam Sitze, who is a law professor. There’s this:
Sitze, though, compared edX and MOOCs to a litany of failed dotcoms, including other education ventures with similar ambitions. He said MOOCs may very well be today’s MySpace – a decent-looking idea doomed to fail.
“What makes us think, educationally, that MOOCs are the form of online learning that we should be experimenting with? On what basis? On what grounds?,” Sitze said. “2012 was the year of the MOOCs. 2013 will be the year of buyer’s regret.”
Faculty also worried about edX and its broader effect on higher education, particularly edX’s plans to grade some student writing using only computer programs.
“They came in and they said, ‘Here’s a machine grader that can grade just as perceptively as you, but by the way, even though it can replace your labor, it’s not going to take your job,’ ” Sitze said. “I found that funny and I think other people may have realized at that point that there was not a good fit.”
Amherst is an unusual institution even among elite institutions, teaching all of its courses in seminars and never with multiple-choice exams. Still, I think it’s an interesting development.
Anyway, on to English Composition 1:
I might have an idea for a proposal for the annual Conference of College Composition and Communication, which will be happening in 2014 in Indianapolis March 19-22. The theme in the call for proposals (this is a PDF) is “Open | Source(s), Access, Futures,” and it’s right up my alley in a number of different ways. But one of the bulleted prompt/questions is:
How can composition and communication help shift conversations about MOOCs and other kinds of online courses and mobile learning away from market driven fantasies and into pedagogy in the service of a critically engaged democracy?
On the one hand, I am a little leery of proposing something “MOOC-centric” because I think I’ve done enough MOOC writing between this blog and some other things coming out/in the pipeline. And I am sure there will be lots of other panels with titles like “MOOCing Around With the Future: Open Source(s), Open Access(es).” On the other hand, MOOCs really are an important topic right now and lord knows I’ve been doing enough writing and thinking about it to have something to say at this conference. And I know I’m not alone on that.
So how about a panel of CCCCs-like people (professors, grad students, non-tenure-track folks of various stripes, etc.) who are in the field in some general sense as a teacher (writing or otherwise) who have taken a MOOC or two as a student and are reporting back on that to this group? I think this might be useful and interesting because I continue to see a lot of articles written from the perspective of people who have (or will) teach in a MOOC environment and a lot of articles written by people who are really just speculating on what MOOCs might be like, but I still haven’t seen that many pieces from students., even when those students aren’t really “students” but more like curious participants.
I’m imagining something more roundtable-like: that is, rather than 15-20 minute presentations from three people, I think the ideal format for this would be a half-dozen folks offering five to seven minute opening thoughts and then a discussion.
Anyone out there interested in something like this or some other MOOC-like idea?
This is the last week of classes here at EMU this winter (what everyone else calls spring) semester, and I am in a kind of calm before the storm, so to speak, so I thought I’d spend a little time sorta/kinda getting caught up in English Composition I: Achieving Expertise. Just a few observations/notes, more or less in order:
Before I post more about the Duke Composition I MOOC (maybe tomorrow?), I thought I’d also catch up a bit on some of the articles and other things MOOC-related I’ve come across lately. More or less in the order of how closely I read them….
April is always the cruelest month in academia because it’s near (or, at EMU, is) the end of the semester, which means there are all kinds of last meetings, end of the school year celebrations and recognitions, planning for spring/summer teaching, etc., etc. So I’ve fallen behind in the English Composition I MOOC, though I did manage to
throw together write an essay for peer review. Here’s an update on some of what’s been going on in the class, at least for me. It rambles on quite a bit in part because this post (and other posts, of course) are as much notes for future MOOC writing as they are anything else.