Archive for December, 2013

Almost every article you’ve read about MOOCs is full of s***

December 22, 2013 Leave a comment

I launched this blog two years ago this month with something of a bang. That was just before the launch of Udacity, Coursera, and other corporate purveyors of “Massive Open Online Courses,” catchily abbreviated as “MOOCs.” As is the case with with many blogs, it fizzled out a few months after that; my last post was in March 2012. I’ve decided it’s time to come back to it.

In the mean time, hundreds of articles, both pro and con, both enthusiastic and wary, have been penned about MOOCs and MOOCish things. They’ve been written by Pulitzer prize-winning journalists, corporate bosses, politicians, venture capitalists, and university professors and administrators up and down the academic ladder.

Almost all of these articles — both pro and con — are full of shit.

Even the ones that aren’t totally full of shit are at least partially full of shit.

The primary trouble is that even the authors who are most anxious to “disrupt” our current educational system are embedded so deeply in the status quo that they don’t realize how much they are taking for granted. They believe certain things “must be so” that don’t necessarily need to be so, and they suffer from meta-unawareness about what those things are. As Marshall McLuhan quipped, “I don’t know who discovered water, but it wasn’t a fish.*”

I am reminded of Alan Kay’s words, from The Early History of Smalltalk V:

I took the whole group to Pajaro Dunes for a three day offsite to bring up the issues and try to reset the compass. It was called “Let’s Burn Our Disk Packs.” I used the old aphorism that “no biological organism can live in its own waste products” to plead for a really fresh start… The reason I wanted to “burn the disk packs” is that I had a very McLuhanish feeling about media and environments: that once we’ve shaped tools, in his words, they hum around and reshape us. Of course this is a great idea if the tools are really good and aimed squarely at the issues in question. But the other edge of the sword cuts as deep–that inadequate tools and environments still reshape our thinking in spite of their problems, in part, because we want paradigms to guide our goals… I wanted to stop, dynamite everything and start from scratch again.

I will save the details for future posts. For now, just hop on board, and fasten your seatbelts — and leave the smoldering disk packs behind.

And remember: my posts will be mostly full of shit too.

Because I am one of the fish.

*I misattributed this to quote Alan Kay for years; I only today realized that Alan was quoting McLuhan.

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