OLDaily, by Stephen Downes

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December 24, 2012

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2012 in Words and Pictures
Stephen Downes, Half an Hour, December 24, 2012.

I reflect on the year that was.

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MOOCs in 2012: Dismantling the Status Quo
Phil Hill, e-Literate, December 24, 2012.

Phil Hill offers the thesis that MOOCs are the beginning of change, not the final outcome. "The real significance of xMOOCs," he writes, "is that they are acting as the foreign element triggering the end of the status quo. The key method of this change was the removal of the core assumption that online learning is necessarily inferior to face-to-face education... The challenge is that the higher education system has not found the transforming idea yet. We’re in the chaotic period where system performance is fluctuating wildly, and in many cases the changes brought by MOOCs and other forms of online education actually are harming the output."

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For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall
Jason DeParle, New York Times, December 24, 2012.

It bears repeating: enrolling in university isn't a ticket out of poverty because the fact of being poor itself undermines a person's ability to succeed. Hence this NY Times article describing several inpoverished students who ended up with large studen loan debts, but little else. "Each showed the ability to do college work, even excel at it. But the need to earn money brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, and ties to boyfriends not in school added complications. With little guidance from family or school officials, college became a leap that they braved without a safety net." People in poverty need more than free or low-cost earning, though it helps, and it takes some of the risk out of study. They need a broader array of social supports, and most of all, a society determined to help them out of poverty, rather than blame them for being in it. But I see no sign higher education as a sector has any real interest in that.

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Learning new lessons
Unattributed, The Economist, December 24, 2012.

The fabrication is in the first paragraph: "top-quality teaching, stringent admissions criteria and impressive qualifications allow the world’s best universities to charge mega-fees: over $50,000." The actual product for sale at the 'elite' institutions is found later in the article: "sublime architecture, better marriage partners and a huge career boost." Mostly this coverage of MOOCs in the Economist is about spin. Why Tyler Cowan, rather than the many other professors teaching MOOCs before him? Because he's a hard-right neo-conservative economist. Why credit Knewton with the term 'flipped classroom', when we all know it originated elsewhere? Why, Knewton is a for-profit provider of personalised online education. We are supposed to focus on "economic and political pressure to improve productivity in higher education," we are supposed to believe that "real innovation comes from integrating academics talking with interactive coursework, such as automated tests, quizzes and even games," and we are to just naturally agree that "even if MOOCs can coin sound academic currency, they must also make real money."

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Important developments in online learning in India in 2012
Tony Bates, Online Learning and Distance Education Resources, December 24, 2012.

India continues to be an interesting place to watch for developments in online learning. Tony Bates highlights a couple important developments from 2012: first, the appearance of very low cost computers, and second, he emergence of Indian e-learning content. So what does that say for the future. India still faces challenges - one is a way to leverage the country's millions of mobile phones to support learning. But beyond mobile phones, India still faces infrastructure challenges. A lack of reliable internet is a cjhallenge. And "It is hard to see how MOOCs developed from North American institutions are going to have a major impact in India. They are likely to be of value mainly to those already with a high level of education." Only 125 million people, mostly well-educated, are fluent in English. Indian e-learning will depend on Indian technology and Indian content.

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Why Do Smart People Do Dumb Things? Thinking about School Reform
Larry Cuban, Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice, December 24, 2012.

I was asked for my take "on Cuban's labeling MOOC's at Stanford (and other schools) as a 'dumb thing.' Do you think that these high-level university MOOCs are missing the whole point of the MOOC anyway?" In my view, Cuban's article is a sleight of hand. He gives examples of people making the same mistake over and over. But the last example is responder-responder-MOOC. But a MOOC is nothing like a student  responder system in a lecture hall (see my longer response).

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Copyright 2010 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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