In this TED talk Anant Agarwal, head of MOOC provider edX, describes education as having ‘calcified’ for the past 500 years. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair if one considers education in the wider context, from primary school through to post-graduate university study and not forgetting the learning and development that is facilitated by countless commercial and not for profit organisations.
My wife works in a primary school so I see first hand how different the facilities and ways of engaging pupils are to when I was at a similar school over fifty years ago. Yes there are still the brightly coloured pictures on the walls and familiar pots of paints and crayons, but there’s plenty of technology too. I wouldn’t say that the technology has shaped the teaching practices in the school though. What is different is definitely cultural, it’s about the way pupils are encouraged to treat one another and to embrace what life has to offer. This is summed up in the school’s motto “New day, new possibilities”.
Agarwal also talks about the innate ability of the millennial generation to use technology, a topic I remember debating right back at the start of the IDEL course. I’m not going to go over that again now, save to say that there’s enough evidence to debunk that theory.
However, contrary to what you might expect from the head of a company offering online education, Agarwal isn’t extolling the virtues of MOOCs as the elixir to cure the ‘calcified’ educations system in this video presentation. Instead he talks about a blended approach, where online resources are combined with classroom based activities.
Argawal suggests a number of ideas he believes would be effective in helping students learn more effectively:
- Similar to a TED talk I posted earlier in this blog from Coursera founder Daphne Koller, Argawal promotes ‘active learning’ quoting Craik and Lockhart (1972), who proposed that “Learning and retention is related to depth of mental processing”.
- Secondly he suggests that ‘self pacing’ is very helpful to learning, for example students being able to pause and rewind virtual lectures.
- He suggests that ‘instant feedback’ is more effective than the traditional format where work is submitted and feedback and grading is received a couple of weeks later when ‘students have forgotten all about it’. “Instant feedback turns teaching moments into learning outcomes”
- Gameification through virtual laboratories
- Peer learning through discussion forums and Facebook like interactions – learning by teaching
This talk was published in 2013 so it’s no surprise that all of the ideas he suggest above are present in the learning environments offered by many of the businesses I network with on a regular basis, including my own. Many of these ideas have been implemented for purely pragmatic reasons, to reduce costs and to enable a relatively small number of trainers to meet the needs of a large number of learners. They also appear to be an effective way of helping large numbers of people learn.
“Big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary”
This quote from NY Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman sets the scene for this TED talk from Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera.
The talk is relevant to both the community culture and algorithm cultures of this course. From a community perspective Koller describes cultural norms in MOOCs that we have also seen develop during this course, including students asking and answering each others questions and forming into smaller study groups of their own volition.
From an analytics perspective Koller talks about the way massive open online courses have enabled turning “the study of human learning from a hypothesis driven mode to the data driven mode”. Koller states that the data Coursera collects enables fundamental questions such as “what are good learning strategies versus ones that are not” to be examined. She also talks about the personalisation that is possible by virtue of having large volumes of data available, making it easier to spot anomalies and address them with targeted guidance for students.
Interestingly she doesn’t see MOOCs making traditional universities obsolete, but calls upon them to move away from the lecture based format and embrace active learning.
She finishes with a vision of the possibilities that online education brings for fundamental change in the world.
This article doesn’t reference Stewart, B., (2013) but the authors constructs some very similar arguments, focusing in particular on the part played by the media in constructing a view of MOOCs and constructing a contrasting view of the established educational establishment in Canada. “Where professional magazines focus on the relationship between technology, higher education and profit, newspapers symbolically construct MOOCs as an easy fix for an allegedly inefficient and outdated higher education system.”
The discussion points at the end of this piece are worth reflecting on alongside the other block one readings for this course. I think this point the author raises in particular summarises the way MOOCs are seen as arbiters of change (or at least portrayed as such by the media):
“Once MOOCs remove barriers to access, getting an education becomes an individual responsibility/ choice. When articulated with the utopian idea of the democratizing potential of digital technologies, this vision effectively leads to an individualized take on education aligned with a neoliberal vision of public goods. MOOCs become a symbol of an education system that looks more like a catalogue of products, allowing individuals to pick their favorites and build the ‘knowledge’ profile that best suits their needs.” Dumitrica, D. (2017)
Stewart, B., (2013). Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation? MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Technology, 9(2), pp.228–238.
Delia Dumitrica (2017): Fixing higher education through technology: Canadian media coverage of massive open online courses, Learning, Media and Technology, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2017.1278021
Well this will be one to watch! While I’d imagine that the faculty at Oxford are already embracing many of the new literacies that MOOCs have helped bring the the fore, I can’t help but think of the ‘old’ universities such as Oxford as being more likely to have traditional approaches to pedagogy.
When I saw the announcement linked in the tweet above a description of the practices of new literacies from Lankshear and Knobel (2007) in Stewart (2013) sprung to mind:
The more a literacy practice privileges participation over publishing, distributed expertise over centralized expertise, collective intelligence over individual possessive intelligence, collaboration over individuated authorship, dispersion over scarcity, sharing over ownership, experimentation over “normalization,” innovation and evolution over stability and fixity, creative innovative rule breaking over generic purity and policing, relationship over information broadcast, and so on, the more we should regard it as a “new” literacy.
I wonder how much Oxford’s first MOOC will embrace these practices…
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2007). Sampling “the new” in new literacies. In Stewart, B., (2013). Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation? MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Technology, 9(2), pp.228–238.