Thank you, I have way too much fun with these talks. It shouldn't be allowed. Thank you very much; it's a pleasure to be here. This is the first of three talks I'm giving this week. The three will form a set, so if you feel a little bit unfulfilled at the end of that it's because I'm only get third of the way through the talk. They are however designed to be standalone talks as well so hopefully you will not be as unfulfilled after the talk as you might be afraid of being. I'm also jet-lagged, so you have to forgive some odd, weird, bizarre, and other utterances.
I want to talk to you about the concept of free, the concept of open learning, the concept of networked learning in a networked world and the concept of the institution.
You may in certain sense think of this talk, together with the other talks, as a rebuttal to the way institutions are approaching Massive Open Online Courses and open learning generally today.
It's unfortunate that Diana Laurillard was not able to be here today because my first slide is for her. She challenges the concept of the Massive Open Online Course by asking, "What is the problem that MOOCs appear to have solved?" (Laurillard, 2014) And she answers it, "The problem MOOCs succeed in solving is to provide free university teaching for highly qualified professionals." One might answer that's what the traditional institution is doing as well. One might equally answer that that's what the Internet was doing 20 years ago.
What I want to examine in this talk, is not the problem MOOCs solve at the moment but the problem MOOCs were designed to solve. I'll take a little bit of credit. I'm one of the people that had a significant hand in designing the original concept of the Massive Open Online Course.
Diana Laurillard actually answers the question in the same talk, the same paper, in which she proposes. The dilemma, she writes, "By 2015 there will be 53 million out of school and UNESCO estimates that we need 1.6 million teachers to achieve universal primary education.” (UNESCO, 2014) That's primary education. That's not secondary. That's not tertiary, primary. I did a quick off the cuff calculation. At $50,000 or 25,000 pounds we would need an additional 80 billion dollars in salary a year not counting buildings, equipment, resources, et cetera, roughly 40 billion pounds.
That's a lot of money. It's not inconceivable that we could pay this amount, but the difficulty there is there seems to be no inclination on the part of governments and institutions in the world to actually pay this amount of money.
We have to find, says Laurillard innovative ways of teaching. I would say we have to find more innovative ways of learning. Because the problem isn't the way we design our courses. That might be a solution to the problem, one solution, but the problem is cost and access. Design is only one way, and, I would submit, a limited way of looking at the problem.
What is the problem? Very simply, who gets to graduate? Paul Tough, "New York Times", "Whether a student graduates or not seems to depend today almost entirely on one factor, how much money his or her parents make." (Tough, 2014) Look around this institution and ask whether that's the case here as well. Did it determine who got in? Does it determine who gets out?
"It's always going to be the case," he continues, "that the kids who have need are going to have been denied a lot of the academic preparation and opportunities for the information that the affluent kids are given. It's not simply the money, but it's the background, the expectations, the culture, and the values that money can buy." So simply throwing money at poor kids isn't going to solve the problem, but neither is denying the money to make solutions to the problem possible. Money is a necessary, although admittedly not sufficient, condition.
Let's turn the question around. What is the problem for which colleges and universities are the answer?
It's not addressing issues of cost or addressing issues of access, is it? If we look at the results that they have produced, it's exactly the opposite of that.
Let's look at why colleges and universities and other educational institutions are running MOOCs. What are their reasons? They've been studied. One such study (Hollands & Tirthali, 2014) lists the following five reasons why institutions are building MOOCs. Check these off if they sound familiar. Check these off if you just heard them:
- extended reach and access (to markets),
- build and maintain brand,
- reduce cost, that is the cost to the institution, and raise revenue for the institution,
- improve educational outcomes, I could talk a lot about that, and, of course,
- research and innovation in teaching and learning.
Meanwhile, academics deny that cost is even a problem. A ridiculous set of studies recently, the references are all there, argue that the benefits of college still outweigh the cost. The reasons for that, if you read the article are:
- That the opportunity cost of going to college has gone down. What that means is, when you go to college or a university you're giving up less income. Why? Because there's been a worldwide recession and you wouldn't make as much money. That's the argument. (Abel & Deitz, 2014)
- Financial aid programs drive college prices higher, as though they were incapable of doing anything else. It's like when the tuition caps were raised here in the UK to 9,000 pounds and the expectation, naive though it was, was that universities would settle out on a gradient instead of all raising their fees to 9,000 pounds. We know what really drives institutions. (American Enterprise Institute, 2014)
- And there's the argument that student debt is overstated, which is true if you, when you read the study, look at only people who are heads of households between the ages of 25 and 40 and don't look at the people who have not been able to establish their own household. In that case student debt is overstated, but if you actually looked at all students, you'd get a different story. (Leonhardt, 2014)
We've been told outright that money is not the problem, the implication being that we should not spend any money trying to fix this problem. (Lynch, 2014) That's why we're getting a lot of – a lot of - educational reform or, as it's characterized in North American, education deform. And they're saying what we really need is a culture change in the institution, that what we really need is accountability – perhaps to the BMO financial group that offered this study.
|Image: Bristow, 2014 |
But for many people, let's be realistic here, and you can walk down the street and you can see it, for many people cost is the problem. In Canada, in North America, in general, university participation rates are lower among aboriginals, students with disabilities, the poor. (Bristow, 2014) Big surprise. Student debt acquired not only by paying tuition but by paying that opportunity cost that isn't as much now, has become an even bigger problem. (Eaton, Dioun, Godoy, Goldstein, Habinek, & Osley-Thomas, 2014)
It's interesting. You look at in constant dollars higher ed cost and instructional cost, they're more or less steady. But students are getting nailed on student loan interest. That's the light blue line. And the private colleges are making out like bandits.
Not only are students hurt, so are their families. (Canadian Alliance of Student Associations , 2014) This is a study from the Canadian Association of Student Associations. Parents are borrowing more. They're going back to work. They're dipping into their retirement savings. Those very same studies that say debt is not a problem are studies that ignore the impact on families that are supporting students trying to go to school.
And meanwhile the benefits - remember that, those of you are maybe my age - the benefits of digital resources, (like) open knowledge for all, never materialized. Recently we had a report in "The Chronicle of Higher Education," 11 publishers are raising their prices all at the same time. (Wolfman-Arent, 2014) But there's no collusion. The previous cost model for e-books was not sustainable.
Even universities agree that that's a problem, pretty surprisingly. Journals published by non-profit organizations, says this report, "2 to 10 times better value than those published by commercial companies." (Sample, 2014) Of course the journals don't want you to know this. Academia doesn't want you to know this. And they will publish these reports only after threats of mass resignation. (Jump, 2014) That's what happened a couple of months ago. And then when they publish the report, they'll publish it with a big disclaimer saying it might not be true. (Harvie, Lightfoot, Lilley, & Weir, 2014) Those are the guardians of academic knowledge.
And what we're seeing in the community today are calls to recognize alternative forms of literature. (Hunwick, 2008, GreyNet, 2014) I'm a living alternative form of literature. They're calling on people to recognize research and technical reports, which I produce a lot, evaluations, of which I produce a lot, working papers, which is pretty much all I produce in the way of papers, conference papers like this, which isn't even a paper until well after it's created, multimedia content, and the like. There's a reason for this. This stuff is a lot more accessible, a lot more immediate than traditional published literature.
You know, the Internet 20 years ago was providing services only to highly educated professionals. And 20 years ago in 1994 a guy called Steven Harnad came out with what he called "The Subversive Proposal". (Okerson & O'Donnell, 1995; Poynder, 2014) The Subversive Proposal was to free the research literature through self-archiving. It has morphed a little bit over the years, but it's basically still the same concept today.
Originally the idea was to put these things up FTP servers (FTP servers are like websites but without pictures or links or hypertext or cat… well ok, they did have cat videos). "Self-archiving's time," wrote Harnad in a later presentation (Harnad, 2001) "has yet to come 20 years later." That doesn't mean there hasn't been a movement. There has been a movement. There's been a growth of a movement, the idea based on the firm belief that open access holds, at the very least, the promise of a faster and more effective system of sharing new knowledge.
And it's a promise that resonates not simply in the halls of universities like this, but in places where people are impacted by constant access, in the developing world, in the First Nation's communities, among the poor. (Poynder, Open Access in India: Q&A with Subbiah Arunachalam, 2014)
Now it's no coincidence that the worldwide web was created 20 year ago as well. The first accredited school, according to Phil Hill, to offer a course of the WWW, which is what it was called then, was the Open University in a pilot virtual summer school. (Eisenstadt, 1994; Hill, 2014) My own first online learning resource was called "Stephen's Guide to the Logical Fallacies," and I'm a relative newbie because it was published online as a website early in 1995. I'm a neophyte. And our first institutionally based online course, "Introduction to Instruction" at Assiniboine Community College was offered in 1996.
But you know we're still waiting for the benefits of web-based courses as well - this whole openness thing, this whole access thing. I once did a survey specifically for digital rights management technologies for learning resources. I did a survey of how long it would take me to read all of the patents. Since I was developing my own system, I thought it would be a good idea. It would take me more than a lifetime to read them all.
The history of online learning is the history of a plethora of patents. (Watters, 2014) This is a patent for setting up a regional network in the south western United States. That's Nevada. That's Arizona. That's New Mexico. That's Utah. That's Colorado or Wyoming, one of the square ones. Calling it a patent thicket is more than a slight understatement. And it's not just patents, of course, it's copyright, trademarks, even trade secrets.
Here's one that came out a few weeks ago - I've actually got the screen capture - trademark for pi. (Poulsen, 2014) Yes, pi, the pi that you're all familiar with, 3.141 whatever. A colleague memorized it to 100 digits. I've memorized it to, what, one.
This is not simply an isolated instance. It's the norm. It's a phenomenon that took place in the industrial revolution. It's a phenomenon taking place in the information revolution. It's a phenomenon of enclosure. You would think we learned from the last time, but we didn't. And it threatens the commons, the common heritage, common knowledge, common culture that we all thought that we own.
People say that I'm scare-mongering, that these fears won't really come true. Even the defenders of open content say, "Oh, you're way over. Show us one example." Well, here's one example: A study of 50 titles, this was from New Zealand literature prior to 1890 or something like that that have been digitized. Only three were hosted by repositories that do not restrict any type of subsequent use. (Clark & Chawner, 2014) These are contents that are public domain. The copyright has long since expired, but you cannot access them except through a system that imposes limitations to your use. And it's getting worse.
Content companies now are building web browsers. (Baker, 2014) This is a promo for the new Amazon web browser. One click and you can be watching the best in paid TV. I love the way it's represented. "Watch for zero dollars with Prime." (Searchy, 2013) You're supposed to think it's free, but the only reason there's a price there is because episode one, with one click, costs you $2.99 or you can buy the season for $29.99 or maybe you can buy an open access, public domain work for who knows how much.
Content providers, and this is manifestly clear and well known, do not want people to have free and open access. (Newman & Levy, 2104) Newspapers are a good example. People got used to having their news for free on the Internet, but they've been trying desperately to stop that. There's almost a sense in which they have no sense of community as they do this.
You might think that's an extreme case. It wasn't so long ago, a month or so ago, I can get the exact date, happily, that we had some guy heavily armed in Moncton with assault rifles strapped on the back and he went out and started shooting policemen. The whole city was locked down. I was locked down. We were all locked down. The city became a ghost town. It was a huge story. You may have heard about it. No? We thought it made the international news. I guess not.
It was a big story in Moncton. Our local newspaper did not remove the pay wall barrier even though the safety of people on the street depended on free and open access to news. My little alternative, community based web newspaper, "The Moncton Free Press" was the major source of online news during the event, that plus Facebook plus Reedit plus the other social networks.
Their priorities are not our priorities, and, sad to say, this includes especially universities.
Look at what their priorities are. Universities searching for a new president, 400K salary. Staff there, some of the staff there, were volunteering in groups of four to take that salary. (As It Happens, 2014) No word on whether their offer has been accepted, but 56 of them have already volunteered in groups of four.
The resistance, generally, of academic staff to open content is manifest. Here's a report from here (Greenwich) where we see active change blocking and passive forms of intransigence. The sharing of resources only happens on Moodle (did I see that in a slide recently) which is a closed system. It may be open source, but the content is blocked with a subscription wall. The staff have not had time to effectively learn about open content in their work. (Bryant, Coombs, Pazio, & Walker, 2014) This is a report that was cited by Terry Anderson. (Anderson, 2014) You can see the report an open course-ware conference in February of this year. Even at that conference skepticism prevails.
This is Tony Bates reporting that adoption by faculty and instructors remains a major challenge. (Bates, 2014) And this is repeated over and over and over and over. Peter Suber and the aforementioned Steven Harnad have come to argue that institutions need to adopt mandatory open archiving policies. Why would they advocate such a measure? Because faculty left to their own devices won't bother. And that's well documented.
There's no end to the reasons they offer (Jhangiani, 2014):
- For many disciplines, they say, there is no open textbook available. That's not true, but that's what they say.
- They're concerned about the quality, the comprehensive, clarity, currency, et cetera, as if existing textbooks are such models of comprehensive, clarity, and currency.
- They complain that in the world's most visual medium there are no illustrations, charts, or graphics.
- In a world of chat rooms and YouTube comments, there are no questions or clinical thinking exercises
- No online learning management systems available despite the existence of the aforementioned Moodle.
- And, crucially for faculty, there is no testing.
> Professors who call out the institutional policies, the institutional indifference to cost and access, are accused of insubordination. This is a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Robert Buckingham, who was summarily fired and stripped of tenure for criticizing administration plans to "rationalize". (CBC News, 2014)
Universities, meanwhile, disguise what is an increasingly unsustainable model by doing what they were doing to me, hiring poorly paid, temporary, academic staff. They're called sessionals in Canada. They're called adjuncts in the United States, I don't know what they're called here. I don't know if they exist here. They do. I'm getting nods. This is what the adjunct or sessionals say, "Our marginalization, meager pay, and lack of job security," all of which I can attest, "...all contribute to a culture of paranoia and enmity." (Shah, 2014) Sound familiar?
And our institutions who do not have access or openness as a priority have priced online learning using the same models, same mechanism even, that they've used to price in classroom. Here we have a report on an online learning consortium. "I don't see why university administrators could think that unapologetically pricing courses at $1,400 per credit hour..." - that's per credit hour; most courses are three credit hours, six credit hours - "...for online learning could possibly work." (Straumsheim, 2014) But, of course, it worked in traditional institutions, so it should work online.
And "Mostly they see the new technology as a means to make more money." (Martin, 2014) McGill University looking at the new wonderful phenomenon of crowd sourcing has decided to use crowd sourcing to encourage donations (and yet again, the silo model, the model where the university is all prevails, they didn't use Kick starter, they built their own crowd funding platform. It boggles the mind).
While university fundraisers pursue parochial interests open content advocates create resource networks. (Sheare, 2014) And that's a big difference between the world of closed and the world of open.
Why? Open access makes a massive economic difference, maybe not to the institution, although I would argue that it does, but especially to the users of that institution. The estimated rate from open data for the G20 nations is 2.6 trillion dollars, 1.3 trillion pounds, annually, from education, transport, consumer products, and the rest. (Dawson, 2014)
The mechanisms we have today such as the Creative Commons license are being recognized finally as a patch, not a fix. (Brest, 2014) We shouldn't be adopting this world of closed content and copyrights and trademarks and patents as the default. They are now arguing, finally, that we should be working to a world where the default is open. And you know, that is the world outside academia. That's the world that has been unfolding in my experience, in my world:
- Things like Ergo, a free and open journal of philosophy. (Huber & Weisberg, 2014)
- Things like "Mini Lectures Using Learning Objects" (Nash, 2014)
- Things like, "A New Talk Sketched Daily" (May, 2014)
- Even TED, although TED is, as I once commented, really the Upworthy of academia.
- Things like "The Open Textbook Toolkit" from BC Campus, basically a way to help people who want to create an open textbook create an open textbook. (BC Campus, 2014)
Can we imagine a world of open resource, open access, open learning beyond the traditional world of open coursework, beyond the traditional university model? Maybe. Even the Open Coursework Consortium is changing its name, so we must be getting somewhere. (Open Education Consortium, 2014) We're seeing a worldwide – literally – embrace an alternative model of learning based on open content and even national and pan-national investments in open content networks and open content platforms. (Creelman, 2014)
But, of course, there's nothing that can't be corrupted by money. We should know, looking across the river (at Canary Wharf). We have, for example, a company that produces five minute educational videos. They're not TED videos. TED videos are longer. They have the intent of making them go viral. (Wolfman-Arent, Online Upstart’s Goal: MOOC Lectures That Go Viral, 2014) Or we have this free online lesson from Disney called, "Play Games with Doc McStuffins." No media placement there! (Dickson, 2014)
Traditional universities are not immune, sadly, from this temptation. Events have proven that they're not. Some critics take them to task. They take them to task for MOOCs. People like Roger Schank saying, "I'm sure that Stanford itself won't give the stuff they produce to its own students. No one calls this racism or classicism, but it's education for poor people.” (Schank, 2014)
On the other hand, Schank's solution. Give a Stanford education to everyone is ridiculous. I did the math. $32.5 trillion a year - $54.5K per year to attend Stanford x World population ages 20-24 of 596.3M. (Sullivan, 2012) That's more money than there is in the world. (CIA, 2014) Perhaps for that reason it's hard to resist the idea that MOOCs are moneymaking scams. (Nagel, 2014) You take the people charging that tuition, and you put MOOCs into their hands, that's kind of the image you get. Isn't it?
You almost wonder whether this $0.00 MOOC offering is what they call a loss leader.
They’ll get your hooked on the MOOCs, this free open content, and as soon as you're hooked on the MOOCs, well, now it's going to toss you a dollar, $5, $19.99, $39.99. It's still cheaper than a course, but you know. Online education is a billion-dollar business motivated more by profits than quality education for students.
The research is telling us how bad these MOOCs really are. If you are isolated, poor and enamored of the prestigious MOOC university offering, the MOOC you're taking, you are less likely to complete it et cetera, et cetera. (Kolowich, 2014) But of course the sort of MOOCs that these critics are criticizing are the MOOCs created by the same people. In some cases exactly the same people like Richard Levin, for example, who wanted to raise money selling courses online, and who also gave the impression during interviews that they don't really know what the software they're pushing does. (Hill, Partial Transcript: Richard Levin (new Coursera CEO) on Charlie Rose, 2014)
We need to understand that MOOCs as they were designed are different, that they're not traditional courses, that they're not these moneymaking scams. They're not intended to be anyway. And we can begin by dropping the labels and the value points that we attach to traditional learning, for example, the label 'dropout,' (Wolfman-Arent, Study of MOOCs Suggests Dropping the Label ‘Dropout’, 2014) and characterize people by the actual impact they have on the system: uploaders, commenter, subscribers, viewers, lurkers. All the names you would normally associate with day-to-day Internet practice.
Because that's what the MOOCs are based on. It's true that one thing that characterizes the MOOCs is the sheer scale of participation. “1,162 students taking the final exam at this course,” writes one person, “is more students than I've taught at Wellesley College over the last 10 years.” (Rogers, 2014 May) Quite so. These numbers are not telling the story about MOOCs.
Michael Feldstein asks of MOOC analytics, did they look at any information giving us a clue of whether students desired to complete the course? The answer, no. Or get a good grade? The answer, no. Get a certificate? Well, some. Sample some material. No, that's not one of the questions they asked in these surveys. (Hill, What Harvard and MIT could learn, 2014)
And what we’re finding - this is research from the MOOC Research Institute, George Siemens is saying at the University of Texas at Arlington (Siemens, 2014) - the bulk of MOOCs are created in the image of traditional courses. And eventually, I would say, they will be given the prices of traditional courses. And indeed the retrenchment has to be done. The institution is saying MOOCs will not replace the traditional course. They will only supplement them (the phenomenon they call the ‘wrapped MOOC’). (Christensen, Alcorn, & Emanuel, 2014; Kelly, 2014)
We are told that everything is negotiable. Remember that. That is the retrenchment. From my perspective none of it is negotiable. Especially the most important part: open. But traditional education, we are told, will simple absorb the MOOCs (Hollands & Tirthali, 2014), as it has absorbed, or as we say co-opted so many things in the past – rap, punk, the list goes on. That institutions feel that they would simply absorb the MOOCs doesn't surprise me. These institutions have had very different goals and ambitions all along.
The mission has shifted completely away from MOOC, completely away from open learning, and to the support of the university's prosperity. (Hill, Coursera shifts focus, 2014) Does that sound familiar? They want to build a new marketplace. And they even think it's a new idea. (Goodwin, 2014) This is the next land rush of online learning, the move to marketplace. (European Multiple MOOC Aggregator, 2014) If you hear the word 'federation' in a talk this is what they're referring to: “a coalition of interdependent universities providing an LMS, content repository, and learning analytics system” which might connect maybe, if they supported single sign-on, to some external systems. (Feldstein, 2014)
What's important here is that MOOCs are not second rate, they're not disappearing, they're not being absorbed, or anything else. They are, to borrow that horribly hackneyed phrase, disruptive. (Christensen & Weise, 2014)They're going to be disruptive on price, technology, even pedagogy. That's because they're disruptive in terms of approach. And that approach is that MOOCs are designed, and built, and intended to be free and open. The one thing universities have always struggled with.
The idea of a national network for free learning is something that can endure, and eventually become entrenched. (Kamenetz, 2014) And it is becoming entrenched, but mostly outside the university system. We're beginning to see the importance of this: Matt Crosslin's been trying to design a hybrid MOOC presentation. All the connective bits of a connectivist MOOC, the way we designed it, and mix it up with traditional X-MOOC of traditional academic courses. The idea of free and open here as he recognizes is linked to the importance of dialog and interaction. (Crosslin, 2014)
But why would you build a hybrid? What part of dialog and interaction actually requires that a university system and lectures and the works? We looked at and analyzed the nature of conversation, and it turns out we can do it all by ourselves.
So people like Alan Levine, and many others, said, "Let's build mesh networks of people instead." (Levine, 2014) Let's imagine what we could do on a limited budget with free resources that are already out there that we can share, that we can use to communicate, that we can have other people take and run with to solve their own issues, their own problems, their own needs. (McGregor, 2014) Open content plus conversation equals learning networks, and the original MOOCs were not intended to be high-priced or even free university courses, they were intended to be learning networks.
The idea that professors tell students what to believe: that's the old model. And it's wrong. (Jaschik, 2014) And we're learning more as time goes by with the work of these MOOCs about what does work in these learning networks. Things like the principles for dynamic networks. Some draw from Deleuze and Guattari. (Mackness, 2014) I've identified four principles: autonomy, openness, diversity and interactivity.
We've seen the existence and influence of networks in social life. I've seen, for example, by Harrison C. White. The multiple change overlapping nets with no clear boundaries. (Azarian, 2000) Exactly, again, the opposite of universities, especially one with a big fence around it. The structure of MOOC is the structure of a network. The principles of the MOOC are the principles of the network. (Grabher, 2006)
There's no such thing as a generic resource. There's no such thing as a generic person. There's no such thing as a generic neuron. (Hall, 2014) Networks require and thrive on diversity. Different content created by different individuals, not single content created by an institution or professor. Far from curriculum, we're learning that we should be emphasizing diversity, be emphasizing experience, be emphasizing autonomy and learning. (Lunau, 2014) The idea of the MOOC is not the idea of open resources, or even the idea of open teaching.
It goes beyond that. It's about living openly. (Funes, 2014) It's not about teaching. It's about sharing the process of thought.
If you look at my works ignore these talks. Look at the works as a whole and see the example of the MOOC instantiated literally on a day-to-day basis. Sharing with things like Board Thing. (BoardThing, 2014) Sharing with things like MOOCopoly, the game (Levine, MOOCopoly, 2014). Sharing with things that are decentralized, not centralized. (Cox, 2014) Of course decentralized is exactly what the institutions are clamping down on. Decentralized is why Internet access is being sold to the highest bidder. (Singel, 2014) Decentralized is why the open content movement is beginning to address open policy. (Open Policy Network, 2014) Although of course they released it under a content embargo.
We need to be open not in the big things, but also the little thing , like embargos. (Confederation of Open Access Repositories, 2014) The little things like this talk. The little things like this slide. The little things like this picture of boats shooting at each other. Open content, open access, open learning. These are not only a part of democracy, a part of the free exchange of ideas, a part of the culture of learning, but they define all of these, and they define our system of free and open government. (Jarche, 2014) These things depend on them. When I say the institution has different values from us, it's important to understand exactly what it is that the institution has different values from. Thank you.
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