Thurn’s “fall” and other MOOC notes of late

Not only am I racing to the end of the semester right now; I’m also racing to the end of the “MOOC book,” Invasion of the MOOCs: The Promises and Perils of Massive Online Open Courses. With any luck, I’ll be able to blog about the release date soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to write up a post that is sort of/kind of notes for MOOC things I’m reading and planning on writing about soon.

First off, the “big news” about MOOCs lately is the fall of Sebastian Thrun. This CHE piece covers most of it with links, “Academics to Udacity Founder: Told Ya.” The upshot of it is there’s a lot of academic schadenfreude being savored over Thrun’s admission that MOOCs don’t work like he had hoped. For Invasion of the MOOCs, I’m going to write a brief afterword that tries to touch on some of the things that have happened since this project first got started and a lot of these essays were originally written. In brief, I think the lesson about Thrun is more complicated than “told ya.”

The fact is Thrun dramatically over-promised the potential of MOOCs, either out of a huckster’s desire for headlines, pure hubris, naiveté about what it takes to teach at risk students online, or (most likely) some combination of all of the above. But that just means that Thrun was wrong about what he thought (or hoped) would be the use of MOOCs; that doesn’t mean MOOCs are automatically now useless. After all, when personal computers were first being contemplated back in the 1970s, folks thought that one of the main reasons why people would want a home computer was to replace boxes of recipe cards. Frequently the original purpose of a technology turns out to be flat-out wrong– and of course the original MOOC folks would have never made such ridiculous promises anyway.

Speaking of which: Audrey Watters has a handy article here, “Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2013: MOOCs and Anti-MOOCs.” It includes a nice “history” of the past year, a ton of links, some great quotes, etc. I thought this was useful:

Barely a week has gone by this year without some MOOC-related news. Much like last year, massive open online courses have dominated ed-tech conversations.

But if 2012 was, as The New York Times decreed, the year of the MOOC, 2013 might be described as the year of the anti-MOOC as we slid down that Gartner Hype Cycle from the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” and into the “Trough of Disillusionment.” For what it’s worth,Gartner pegged MOOCs at the peak back in July, while the Horizon Report says they’re still on the horizon. Nevertheless the head of edX appeared on the Colbert Report this year, and the word “MOOC” entered the Oxford Online Dictionary – so whether you think those are indications of peak or trough or both or neither, it seems the idea of free online university education has hit the mainstream.

Besides being smart, that just gives you a taste of the links/connections to other MOOC articles out there. Good stuff.

I haven’t spent a lot of time looking at this yet, but the MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) “is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of a set of investments intended to explore the potential of MOOCs to extend access to postsecondary credentials through more personalized, more affordable pathways.” I do know that they sponsored a conference this past weekend. Jim Groom has a blog post about it here (via Stephen Downes) and Inside Higher Ed has an article here called “Confirming the MOOC Myth.” Judging by the comments and some of what Downes had to say about a study from the University of Pennsylvania that found that there’s not a lot of engagement in MOOCs (shocking!), sounds like there are a lot of different views of the still moving future of MOOCs.

Finally (and also a link from Stephen Downes’ site) comes “MOOCs: the C***** word is the problem!” by Donald Clark. His basic point is that the problem with MOOCs is the notion that it’s a “course” and it ought to be thought more about content. This is more or less what my contribution to Invasion of the MOOCs is about, and I know mine is not the only piece in that book that makes a similar argument. So Clark is in good company, I suppose.

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