I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. . . . When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me. – Nameless character in Ralph Ellison’s novel The Invisible Man
The inability to realize that others may not have the same stakes, interests, or understanding about a given issue or situation that we do is perhaps wired into our biological makeup as humans–as well as ingrained in our social experiences and positions. But in the world of big bad MOOCs, this problem tends to be taken to a whole new level: willful blindness. The majority of students/participants in most of the xMOOCs are from outside the local context and country where they originate; however, that majority is NOT considered in the making and running of most of the courses. In other words, MOOC providers and teachers are as yet blind to the basic fact that for MOOCs to function in the transnational context, curriculum, pedagogy, and other aspects of education that they embody/perform must make a paradigm from the “context-bound” to the “context-crossing.”
Even worse, those who follow the blind leaders of the revolution treat them as great, insightful educators and facilitators for a new era of higher education in the entire blessed world. In reality, the non-local majority—-the participants who are as invisible as the nameless character in Ellison’s novel—-come from vastly different contexts. Many of them don’t understand much of what is taught/discussed. And few of them can use what they learn in their local society and professions in meaningful ways. But that’s how hegemony works: the underdog, the cheated, the abused somehow believe that it’s all in their interest.
I started thinking about the first side of the coin (willful blindness reinforced by willful invisibility– more about the latter in the next post) when I read some of the responses to a blog post I wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education last summer. Sharing some challenges that I had faced when trying to teach a basic course in a new academic culture and country, I wanted to suggest that MOOC instructors shouldn’t get too excited about their ability to “educate the whole world” from the convenience of their laptops and high speed internet. While a lot of the commenters were positive, many challenged the argument (including a prominent MOOC scholar, who refused to “approve” a response to his critique of my essay on his site) by saying that cross-contextual barriers to students’ understanding and engagement in the courses don’t actually exist or weren’t a big deal, and so I was essentially saying (in the words of one of the critics): “MOOCs will never fly, Orville.” I wish that they genuinely did. Continue reading