Tag: MOOCs

  • My Summer Research Project/Talk on MOOCs at Microsoft Research New England

    I spent this summer at Microsoft Research New England as a PhD Intern working on a project  with the most boring title ever. “The Student as End User in the MOOC Ecology”.  Here is a link if you are interested in seeing my talk on the topic (also took place at Microsoft Research):


    Students as End Users in the MOOC Ecology, Microsoft Research New England Talk


    The topic I am interested in with MOOCs is one that seems to be missing from a good portion of the conversation, what happens to students? My hunch with all of this is and was that the Big 3 MOOC companies are operating more like social networking sites than Education or learning institutions in some aspects. The most important place where I am noting the similarities is in the legal formation of the subject popularly known as a “student” or “learner”, who legal becomes an “End User” through clickwrap. By looking at the various legal documents that are available (Terms of Use, Contracts with partnering institutions), we can begin to sketch a portrait of the “End User”, and it looks nothing like the “student” or “learner” that is being discussed publicly by the companies. Additionally, when we start thinking about the obsession with numbers, data, and analytics, the Massive turns into an interesting space of inquiry for Big Data, Privacy, etc.

    I am in the process of doing a final revision of my paper before I start submitting it. Currently I’m debating how much I need to go into what the Big 3 MOOC companies are saying . In the paper I speak about more than Daphne Koller’s TED Talk, and spend more time talking about imperialism as the accumulation of capital… but, as with the final draft of everything, I’m trying to figure out what is adding enough to keep and what is taking away from the overall point and purpose of the paper.

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  • Shifting the MOOC Convo from Education

    Over the past two days I’ve seen many people in a circular conversation asking why the conversation on MOOCs has taken over the discussion and innovation talk happening around open education. I have a short response I’d like to share.

    Would you ever call a computer the internet? or the internet twitter or Facebook? This seems to be one of the big mistakes we’ve made in ensuring we are discussing all aspects of what we are calling MOOCs. Similarly, the things we are talking about for the most part, namely MOOC companies, are not “education”, or “learning”. They tools that help navigate exclusive educational content at best. For this reason, with the summer project I am currently working on during my internship I am referring to the big companies as Massive Open Online Courserware (MOOCw), so I don’t get stuck in the conversation around education and learning. Those two things are very hard to critique socially. Here is my first draft attempt to explain this from the first draft of the paper I’m currently working on on the topic:

    There is an issue when attempting to describe MOOCs. “MOOCs” signifies the entire environment. While the acronym stands for Massive Open Online Courses, the courseware providers factor heavily into how MOOCs are discussed and conceptualized across various spaces.[…] Rather than using the term MOOCs I will refer to them as MOOCw (Massive Open Online Courseware). This differentiation is important because the lack of specificity in what we are speaking about means many conversations happening related to MOOCs and MOOCw tend to speak around each other and inevitably end up only interrogating what we see as the most important stake in all of this: higher education.

    The social configuration uses learning and education as a point of convergence or a nodal point (not sure which one is more appropriate yet) so we absolutely cannot lose the conversation that is happening about what all this means for higher education and learning. I think it would be really useful though to shift part of the conversation on MOOCs toward the media-technology/social media intersection part of MOOCw though because the interesting part to all of this is for me, and hopefully for many the media-technology theorist out there watching what is happening, is the new social configuration this well funded attempt at the digitization of learning/education and our big data fetish is creating. The way MOOCw platforms are imagining and building their technologies to operate is something we should be questioning, especially given the strange press/news stories (that more often than not feel like advertorials or press releases) we’ve been seeing for well over a year now. The culmination of these stories to date is a Guardian piece that came out on Saturday, “

    Online universities: it’s time for teachers to join the revolution” penned by Anant Agarwal, founder of edX that had the following text as a subtitle to the subtitle  “Moocs, the new model of university education, have no race, colour, sex or wealth barriers, and can be accessed at a click”. The initial reason I was interested in MOOCs is because the way they were being discussed felt like the digital divide was being rearticulated and reinforced with how MOOCw companies were imagining the future of education. This story sort of confirms that. History of media-technologies should show that it is impossible to divorce our interactions with these “tools” from our larger social context. As society continues to be stratified on class, economic, and geographical lines, more and more of us are going to be on the wrong side of the divide, and MOOCw companies seem to be setting themselves up socially and politically to be the most viable solution to alleviate education problems by pretending that isn’t happening. And by offering the world access to elite American education. Who can critique that?

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  • MOOCs & Performance Studies: an Introduction #DukeHP

    While looking at MOOCs could start with an analysis through media, even when I do that, I go somewhere else.  The media I frame I find most helpful to begin thinking through things, the McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message”, even takes me immediately out of media.  In MOOCs the medium seems to be performance more than anything else I can pinpoint.  While yes, there is a screened device between the individuals, the second I begin thinking about what is actually happening, and how it can be useful, I end up right back in Performance theory.  When I look at what happened in Twitter vs Zombies, that connection is even clearer.  Rather than go to a whole lot of sources, I will name one that covers all the bases around MOOCs: The Sage Handbook of Performance Studies.

    I know, I know. A text book! But it talks about everything and it is a fantastic primer for those outside of Performance Studies and those new to Performance Studies.

    In Della Pollock’s chapter, part of the “Performing History: A Politics of Location”  “Memory, Remembering, and Histories of Change: A Performance Praxis” the “not not me” and you being “not not you” seems to be central to the performance of MOOCs.  When a student or professor enters the MOOC world, they are re-presenting a version of themselves that, if taken in conversation with the whole, can never be completely representative of who they are.  When we put our bodies/beings in conversation with others on the in MOOCs, we open ourselves up to a certain type of interpretation that is us, but not us.

    I should stop. I won’t give you a blow by blow of the book and how I think it relates to MOOCs because I think half the fun is discovering the connections we can make on our own and then entering into conversation.  I would like to point out the two main areas though that, in my opinion, absolutely need to be incorporated into our conversations about MOOCs.  The first is Critical/Performance Ethnography.  The introduction to this section in the Sage Handbook of Performance Studies states the following:

    “Performance ethnography embraces the muddiness of multiple perspectives, idiosyncrasy, and competing truths, and pushes everyone present into an immediate confrontation with our beliefs and behavior. Body-to-body, we are less able to retreat into the privacy of our own limited self-serving thinking, our stereotypes and biases. We have to acknowledge the validity of another viewpoint, because it is living right there in front of us. In this way the embodiment and action that is inherent in performance ethnography makes this a methodology that reflects, in Conquergood’s visionary phrasing, a “critical genealogy” that can be “traced from performance as mimesis, to poesis, to kinesis, performance as imitation, construction, dynamism” (1992, p. 84).” — Part V: Introduction: Performance and Ethnography, Performing Ethnography, Performance Ethnography, Olorisa Omi Osun Olomo (Joni L. Jones)


    I also shared a Conquergood Essay that appears in the handbook via twitter yesterday in PDF format, “Rethinking Ethnography: Towards a Critical Cultural Politics”.   I think one of the most important things we need to do as we pull students into these experiences and environments is provide them with a toolkit to help analyze and understand what is going on, what their role in all of it is, what everyone’s role is, and, most importantly, what the stakes are in terms of the class and the world outside of the classroom.

    The second area that I think is so important for us to examine, especially as MOOCs are a model that sees student-as-teacher to a degree, is Performance and Pedagogy. My offering to all of this is, rather than trying to create a new framework about how people are “performing” in these environments, instead of looking for ways to analyze the co-performance that is taking place, locate political stakes, etc, why not just go to the place where it has been going on for a while now, Performance Studies?  There is even a whole area that specifically speaks to Performance and Pedagogy.

    “[A] performative epistemology makes us responsible for how we inhabit the world. There is no recourse to foundational claims. The world, here, is always-already pedagogical, always being articulated and rearticulated. How we choose to enter this back-and-forth is the key to the ethical dimension of performance. In particular, the performative decenters our taken-for-granted assumptions about pedagogy—where it happens and with what texts.” (Dimitriadis, Pedagogy on the Move: New Intersections in (Between) the Educative and the Performative)

    Even more in line with some of the things that were said yesterday around the purpose of MOOCs is the following:

    “Many performance studies classes involve performance as a way of knowing; they further the objective “to understand performance as a method of inquiry” (Pelias, 2001, p.1). While some performance scholars focus on performances as a subject of study, others view performance as epistemological. “ (Stucky, Fieldwork in the Performance Studies Classroom: Learning Objectives and the Activist Curriculum)

    And finally, the big giant quote”

    “Performance as pedagogical discourse signals students to engage both their critical and creative skills as well as their enfleshed knowledge in order to display and present their understanding of complex concepts grounded in social, cultural, and political issues through the body—and maybe more importantly through their experience. Their performances serve as products that evidence their understanding and their resistance. These performances also serve as demonstrations of how they came to their understanding, as well as critical dialogic engagements with those who witness the performance. In constructing the notion of performance as a pedagogical discourse, I am suggesting that it offers the opportunity for a critical engagement of issues that go beyond pedestrian notions of experiential learning to a form of critical performative pedagogy.


    A critical performative pedagogy also offers teachers and other students in the class (the audience), the opportunity to see themselves again through the performances of others; performance as a barometer of truth or reality. The performance can serve as critical reflexive lens in order for teachers and students to see and realize their own resistances, stereotypic assumptions, habituated responses, and experiences relative to particular issues related to the theoretical arguments that frame the assignment and the person in performance. This is especially important when teachers and students explore the complex intersections of race, sex, class, gender, and privilege; and how the politics of these embodied practices blend and bleed the borders between school and society.”
    Introduction: Performance and Pedagogy, Bryant Keith Alexander

    Hamera, Judith, and D. Soyini Madison. The Sage handbook of performance studies. Sage Publications, Incorporated, 2005.

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