I was recently participating in a webinar about a MOOC-style first-year writing course, and a few words kept confusing me. Content. Delivery. Scale. . . . Especially the last one stops me in my tracks.
When Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Edmund Hillary climbed Mt. Everest for the first time, they weren’t doing numbers. They were undertaking a superhuman challenge. It was a qualitative matter. It was a matter of inspiration. Making the impossible accessible. Showing that someone could actually do it. Redefining success. “Because it was there.” It, the mountain that had killed countless people for trying. They were scaling the un-scale-able.
“The real value add[ed] of higher education,” says Joshua Kim, writing on Inside HigherEd, “cannot occur at web scale. It can only occur at human scale.” That scale occurs “where a skilled and passionate educator interacts directly with a student to guide and shape their learning.” As Kim adds, in an article meant to debunk myths and criticism of open, at-scale online education (not a critique of it), “[o]pen online courses at scale expose just how valuable, essential, and irreplaceable are our tight-knit learning communities. Never before has the teaching efforts of a gifted, knowledgeable and passionate instructor . . . been as valuable and as essential.” Online education at scale has to somehow find ways to substitute one-on-one and/or face-to-face human interaction, decreasing the time and attention given by an educator to learners who can ask questions, feel the presence. In a writing class, only some things can be scaled without fundamentally compromising learning. Continue reading
Why Visions to “Educate the World” are Absurd
This essay was published by the Chronicle of Higher Education in July 2013. Since the original link is broken, I’ve posted a copy here.
When I first learned about massive open online courses, the truly massive xMOOC types, I thought, OMG, now I too can finally educate the world from the convenience of my laptop and the high speed internet that I have. In fact, I had just bought a new MacBook Air at the time. And, being a writing teacher, I wanted to teach writing, because, you know, everyone in the world needs to “write better.” Perfect.
What I needed in order to get started was a course banner, especially an image that would represent the kind of writing that I teach, “academic” writing.
“Academics” has to do with wisely thinking through existing knowledge and generating new ideas, so I thought the best image to represent it would be, oh, yes, the “owl”!
However, before I settled on the owl and slapped a big wise owl image at the top of the screen, I wanted to take a quick moment to ensure that most (if not all) students/ participants from around the world would get my point when they see my course banner.
Five minutes of Googling led to another five, then an hour, and finally after three full hours of reading what I found about the owl as a symbol, I was discouraged. I lost my confidence in the power of my laptop, as well as my years of experience teaching while tethered to one particular context at a time. I sat there, face-in-palms, somewhat glad that I didn’t use a local metaphor to claim to convey a particular meaning universally. I was glad I knew how to Google.
To communicate effectively in an increasingly globalized world, we must understand others through the lens of “context” rather than “culture.”
“I am a Chinese citizen but I don’t have very high expectation of this place,” said a young man, as I joined a line outside the Chinese Consulate in New York City last Friday. Many people in line—most of whom were there to apply for a visa, like me—seemed tense, with some vocally complaining. “I hate this,” said another, without specifying what it was that he hated. The line was moving forward fairly quickly and the weather was pleasant. Continue reading
Another post about #clmooc. Last week, I followed other colleagues’ work with great interest but couldn’t create anything myself. But building on that spirit, I’d like to start this post by sharing my main idea through an illumination.
Images can be relatively universal, but because their imitation or representation of the world or ideas are mediated by selection, perspective, perception, and interpretation, even the seemingly most universal images create room for complex conversations. [youtube=http://youtu.be/oTi6lqbJI0U]
Disruption, reinvention, and even hacking have become very common themes in the discourse of higher education lately. As I sit down to write this post on the theme of hacking (for the fourth week of #clmooc, a connected learning community/course), I am thinking about how buzzwords tend to carry truckloads of irony and how often those who jump on the bandwagons of buzzwords with the most excitement don’t realize (or care about) the complexity of their words’ meanings, origins, uses, and effects. As a teacher, I am fascinated by the educational potential of irony and paradox in buzzwords, grand narratives, and over-sized belief systems. So, I often ask students to unpack the irony/paradox of overly popular words and their collocations. The intersection of the word “hack” and “education” seems so rich that I want to write an essay on it myself.
Assignment X: “Pick a word or phrase that has become unusually popular in the field of education (or another broad subject/context of your interest), study its meanings, origins, uses, etc, and write an essay in between 1000 and 2000 words.” Continue reading
Growing up in Nepal, I used to hear this useful advice all the time: “Don’t talk about the heaven in front of Indra [the god who’s the king of heaven].” The message in the saying is that you should not boast about something in front of someone who knows better than you about it. When I read about how “star” professors at prestigious universities expressing great faith in massively open online courses (MOOCs), I just wonder what dedicated teachers, educational researchers, scholars of intercultural education, and experts of online education think about these “docs on laptops” who may be stars of subject matter but evidently not so of teaching effectively. Continue reading
As I sit down to share some thoughts in the third, gaming-focused week of conversation in the connected learning course, #clmooc, I want to once again start with the friendly Philosoraptor for making my first point. Imagine that you jumped off a spacecraft using a parachute, aiming to return “down” to earth, but then you start wondering if you are falling “toward” or away from or tangentially in relation to the earth. That’s how I often feel about the increasingly hi-tech modes of living and learning.
...written for #MakeCycle 1, which is part
of #clmooc, a connected learning course run
by the National Writing Project ...
I grew up in a community where everyone built their own houses and live in one now where no one does. We just pay others for our residences, often until we die.
Luckily, though, I can make my own abode(s) in the digital world, as I am doing this week. I’m moving a blog from a free WordPress site (that had reached about 5000 views) to my own domain and site (where I only used to host a more static, hand-coded website that took forever to make any updates). It feels like I can now “work from home” in the digital world. I’m glad it’s easier to build our digital abodes today.
The idea of constructing, designing, and thinking analytically and rhetorically about one’s digital spaces goes deep into my teaching and scholarship as well. In one way or another, I help all my students to showcase their knowledge and skills, to connect to relevant communities beyond the class, and to contribute to the world of ideas–by making and maintaining their own personal and professional digital spaces.
In the previous post, I wrote about the unwillingness or inability of proponents of xMOOCs as the future of international higher education. But what I find even more amazing about the current state of affairs about mainstream MOOCs is that the participants from around the world—-including their universities and often their teachers and scholars—-are complicit in the fraud. (MOOCs are actually a blessing in terms of their potentials, especially the affordances they have for truly improving cross-border higher education, but they are a fraud as they are currently pushed by venture capitalists who see nothing but a market and their “star” professors who are too busy delivering their video lectures to the world.
Whether the dominant market-based models will ever be interested in harnessing the real powers of open online learning for cross-contextual higher learning is a huge question at this point.) But from the perspective of the participants around the world, too, the line between honest excitement about their “access” to Harvard and Princeton (i.e., mainly through video lectures and quizzes in all disciplines) and just being stupid is very thin.
I once informally interviewed a college teacher back home in Nepal who had been taking a Coursera MOOC to ask “how effective” he had found the course he was taking. He said that he was “very excited” about the possibility of “going to Harvard”! When I repeated my question about the “effectiveness” of the model of teaching/learning, he emphasized the issue of “access” and of the “prestige” of the providing institution and the teacher. I gave up after a third attempt. This is how hegemony works. Continue reading