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  • Mark 9:30 am on June 11, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ben Williamson, , digital schools, ed tech, ,   

    Silicon startup schools 

    My notes on Williamson, B. (2018). Silicon startup schools: technocracy, algorithmic imaginaries and venture philanthropy in corporate education reform. Critical studies in education, 59(2), 218-236.

    The technology sector has turned its gaze towards education in recent years, manifesting in a whole range of initiatives as well as the increasing prominence of education in how digital elites imagine disruptive change. In this paper Ben Williamson analyses four new schools as embodiments of this trend, prototypical examples of how digital elites imagine a future in which scalable technical platforms meet pressing social needs. They move beyond bringing technology into schools and instead place “schools into private hands as testbeds for a model of schooling that is rooted in the embedded technological knowledges, assump- tions, and practices of corporate technology culture” (219). As he goes on to describe them later on 219:

    These new schools are being designed as scalable technical platforms, underpinned by software engineering expertise; they are funded by commercial and venture capital and philanthropic sources; staffed and managed by entrepreneurs, executives and engineers from some of Silicon Valley’s most successful startups and web companies; and proposed to reinvent, reimagine and rebuild education in the mould of Silicon Valley itself.

    He identifies a number of pertinent features through his exploration of the websites and branding associated with each fo the four schools:

    • P-TECH, AltSchool, Kahn Lab School and XQ Super School combine venture capital with philanthropic giving in a novel combination. Business backed foundations fund advocacy (the ‘demand’ side) and directly funding charter schools (the ‘supply’ side) with digital elites figuring prominently amongst them. The charter schools framework “enable private organizations to penetrate the publicly funded education sector, govern institutions directly, and to advocate more competitive, deregulated models for public education” (220).
    • Digital technology is a central part of this movement to ‘reform’ schools e.g. learning analytics, personalised learning etc. Williamson argues that these startup schools need to be understanding as the next stage of this movement, marrying its corporate agenda to a new technoutopian impulse: “Rather than tinkering in the margins of state schooling to increase efficiencies and effectiveness by implanting new technologies in classrooms, Silicon Valley is seeking to ‘radically disrupt’ the established model of the school through both its technical practices and its venture philanthropic modes of governance” (221)
    • There is a distinctive socio-technical imaginary (“collectively held, institutionally stabilized and publicly performed visions of desirable futures that are animated by shared understandings of forms of social life and social order and made attainable through the design of technological projects” – 221/222) underpinning these developments. This algorithmic imaginary embodies an ideal of calculability, rendering a datafied world legible and susceptible to real time intervention through machine learning. This imaginary is becoming the lived reality of education.
    • Code is central to the operation of these new schools and this offers a conceptual and methodological challenge for established ways of understanding educational organisations and systems. Furthermore, as he observes on pg 231, ”

      The Silicon Valley discourse of innovation, entrepreneurship, startup culture, makerspaces, crowdsourced solutions, platforms and philanthrocapital is becoming a new language of schooling”. Schools are become different sorts of objects with important consequences for educational research. The language used by advocates shuts down debate and analysis of the complexity of what they are doing: “The language of an eduOS – a technical operating system for education – ignores the messy complexity of social context, and implies that technical solutions can be applied as software patches or upgrades to outdated and buggy systems.” (232). 

    These are the distinctive characteristics of the schools he analyses:

    • The P-TECH approach was initiated by IBM in collaboration with the New York City government, before encouraging others tech firms to launch their own with their own skills needs as the focus, legitimated in terms of providing a pipeline of skilled labour from diverse communities. These are used for real time analytics of the educational ecosystem as an  intensified expression of their smart city agenda, offering a living laboratory in which IBM can test out new products and initiatives.
    • Maker schools teach through a hacker ethos of experimentation rather than formalise learning, increasingly popular with digital elites for educating their own children outside of a school system they see as fundamentally broken. The difficulty with scaling these initiatives has led to the creation of hybrid schools such as AltSchool, “described as a new ‘central operating system for education’, a scalable technical infrastructure that can be transported to new sites.” (225). The AltSchool “encourages greater exploration, inquiry and problem-solving through the active con- struction of knowledge and understanding, whilst monitoring and regulating the experience through learning analytics and adaptive learning software” (226). The Lab School founded by Khan Academy embodies a similar progressivist impulse: “teaches math, literacy and computer programming – in line with its tech sector roots – but also emphasizes ‘real world’ projects, personalized learning, student-centred learning, and a strong commitment to building children’s ‘character’ and ‘wellness’ through, for example, ‘mindfulness’ meditation training(227). But it also positions itself as “an experimental R&D lab for testing different educational approaches and technologies, and aspires to contribute to the production of new theories of learning itself” (227) including welcoming outside organisations for research. Both of these schools project a front door of character education & self-realisation, coupled with a backdoor of learning analytics & applied behavioural science. The contingent compatibility between these two things is a very important point in this analysis by Williamson. 
    • A similar relation can be seen in the XQ Super School Project with its heavy focus on how ‘brain science’ can be a means for empowering students to take control of their learning. This crowd sourcing initiative seeks to solicit radical new ideas for school design, within the narrow ideological constraints found elsewhere in this paper. As he puts it, “The promise here appears to be of activating human capital through brain-targeted pedagogies” (230). 
  • Mark 2:09 pm on June 9, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ed tech,   

    The cruel optimism of educational technology 

    My notes on Macgilchrist, F. (2019). Cruel optimism in edtech: when the digital data practices of educational technology providers inadvertently hinder educational equityLearning, Media and Technology44(1), 77-86.

    It is now widely affirmed that overcoming the ‘digital divide’ is crucial to ameliorating inequality, providing everyone with the digital skills and access they need to fully participate in an increasingly digitalised society. However the constant reproduction of that divide, with such a wide range of well document implications for inequality, suggests something is seriously amiss in how we think about tech and politics. This paper uses qualitative interviews to explore how those working within educational technology (12 participants, including CEOs and CTOs of startups and managers at major educational publishing houses) talk about data practices, as well as their understanding and orientation towards the ethical and political dimensions of them. It explores these through the notion of cruel optimism. From pg 78:

    To analyse the interviews, the concept of ‘cruel optimism’ became relevant. Berlant describes ‘cruel optimism’ as those moments in which something we desire is actually hindering our ability to attain it (Berlant 2011, 1): Optimistic is the animating, sustaining, energising belief in ‘the good life’, and in the struggles and change required to reach this good life: in the case of educational technology, the good life would be the equity and social justice enabled through the use of digital technology. This optimism is cruel when it is tied to fraying fantasies of the good life, e.g., when people remain attached to the fantasies of romantic love, upward mobility or the solidarity of political systems despite their fragility (Berlant 2011, 21).

    It uses three ‘data stories’ to explore the complexity of data practices and how actors orientate themselves to them. I wasn’t convinced this was a particularly useful analytical framework. Effectively, it identifies ways in which ed tech products are invested with optimism as well as how they fail to live up to these (self-interested?) expectations. Its findings are about the rhetorical structure of ed tech optimism and how they get in the way of unpacking the political economy. What’s interesting in this paper and why I will refer back to it is the first-hand accounts from senior figures in the ed tech world of that rhetorical structure and how they orientate themselves to it. But the framing gets in the way of the findings and makes it oddly hard to read. In many ways I think this is an interesting example of an over-theorised piece of qualitative research.

    It nonetheless does a good job of explaining how this optimism is depoliticising. From pg 84:

    They also show how the fantasy of equality is projected onto a socio-technical mediator (a personalised literacy platform, data privacy practices, an active parent armed with data visualisations) which enables a small interruption in inequality, but also blocks attention to the weakening of the fantasy of an equitable life in today’s increasingly post-democratic world.

  • Mark 8:18 pm on April 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ed tech,   

    Why education and technology is full of bullshit 

    My notes on Selwyn, N. (2016). Minding our language: why education and technology is full of bullshit… and what might be done about it.

    This wonderfully title editorial takes issue with the tendency for educational uses of digital technology to be “discussed in enthusiastic and often exaggerated terms”, leaving “idealistic and impassioned talk” proliferating in an “area awash with bold assertions and confident claims” (1). This has gone hand-in-hand with a rebranding from ‘computer-based instruction’ and ‘computer-assisted learning’ in the 1980s to ‘technology-enhanced learning’ and ‘connected learning’ in the 2000s, building in the assumption that learning is taking place and that technology is responsible for it. This language can be easy to diagnose in isolation, yet risks washing over us when we encounter it on a daily basis. They “should not be treated simply as benign or neutral words, terms, phrases and statements” because they are “powerful means of advancing the interests and agendas of some social groups over the interests of others” (2).

    They operate by fixing outcomes as certain, squeezing out the messy realities of on the ground implementation and the possibilities which the technology could be applied for other purposes. They render unambiguous, treating as a technology to enhance learning, what in reality is profoundly ambiguous and should be treated as such. As Selwyn puts it, “the possibility of technology not leading to learning and/or other educational gains is rarely a matter for consideration.” (2-3). They render the process in active terms of the learner and learning, with technology impacting upon or transforming pre-existing educational activities and processes. Their confidence in bringing about a transformation is belied by “a cloying tone, involving the use of playful, homespun and self-consciously childlike language” (3). Unfortunately for them, “the past 100 years show that education has been largely un-transformed and un-disrupted by successive waves of techno- logical innovation” (3).

    There is little evidence base for these grandiose claims. So why do these simplistic ways of talking about educational technology persists? Drawing on Frankfurt, Selwyn argues that bullshit involves a cynical disdain for the way things are, as opposed to lying which implicitly entails the recognition of a truth. Bullshit about educational technology is “the result of people talking loudly, confidently and with sincerity regardless of accuracy, nuance and/or sensitivity to the realities of which they speak” (4). So much is missed out and the politics of educational technology is deeply shaped by these omissions. From pg 4:

    For example, it is surely not satis- factory that the dominant framing of education and technology blithely margin- alizes, ignores and/or denies the complex and compounded inequalities of the digital age. Similarly, it is surely not helpful to avoid proper discussion of the political economy of digital education, and the corporate reforms of public education through privately sponsored technological means. The limited language of education and technology therefore needs to be challenged by anyone concerned with matters of fairness, equality and genuine empower- ment through digital education.

    He suggests a recoding in response to these trends, “encouraging a counter-lexicon that reflects more accurately the conflicts, compromises and exclusions at play” (5). This would be a “language of education and technology that unpacks more aptly” (6). It would involve debate being “prised away from celebrity musings and privileged pronouncements, and towards the voices, opinions and direct experiences of the various real-life ‘publics’ of edu- cation and technology – for example, students, educators, parents, employers, administrators, designers and developer” (6).

  • Mark 11:55 am on April 22, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ed tech, , educational research, , neil selwyn,   

    Social media and education… now the dust has settled 

    My notes on Selwyn, N., & Stirling, E. (2016). Social media and education… now the dust has settled. Learning, media and technology, 41(1), 1-5.

    This special issue of Learning, Media and Technology is a sequel to a 2009 issue which began to inquire into the emergence of ‘social software’ and what it meant for teaching. Seven years later with social media platforms ubiquitous, the online/offline distinction having collapsed and a ‘social’ element being a standard feature of new technology, it asks how social media platforms are actually being used in educational setting, what the implications of this use, their interaction with their institutional context and how they are transforming it in the process.

    The main difference they see between 2009 and 2015 is “the extent to which social media have become part of mainstream digital practices and everyday life in general” (2). They make the interesting point that this means the term itself now lacks resonance outside of the academy, as platforms have faded into the background of everyday life:

    “The pervasiveness of social media is illustrated neatly by the lack of resonance that the term now has with the general population. The characteristics and qualities that made social media such a distinct and exciting ‘thing’ in 2009 are now normalized to the point of not being an obvious topic of conversation, let alone meriting a specific label” (2)

    Yet their uptake is far from uniform. Many people don’t have internet access, many are subject to a ‘device divide’ in which they are only able to access platforms through phones and/or non-broadband connections. These divides are profoundly regionalised. They also note how significant it is that the study of social media has grown in the way that it has, with approaches as different as platform studies and computational social sciences illustrating how wide this field is if indeed it constitutes a feed at all.

    Social media has been an increasingly prominent topic in education journals. However, as the put it, “many of the most interesting (and, we would argue, most important) questions about social media and education remain largely ignored by education researchers” who tend “to look primarily for good news, ‘best practice’ and examples of ‘what works’”. There is much hope still that social media will be “the ‘Killer App’ capable of initiating significant shifts in how people learn and engage with education”. However the social media research outside of education has shown us that its use by young people is complex, contradictory and contested. We need educational research that confronts this multifaceted character head on. There are exception to this but these studies “remain overshadowed by broad-brush accounts of social media use in the classroom” (4).

  • Mark 11:07 am on March 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ed tech, , , Ivan Illich, ,   

    The dream of reducing learning to teaching 

    I was struck by this phrase by Ivan Illich in Deschooling Society, conveying his scepticism of the promise of educational technology in the 1970s. On pg 67 he writes of an “attempt to escalate an old dream into fact, and to finally make all valuable learning the result of professional teaching”. It left me wondering whether the contemporary ed tech bubble can be understood in terms of a dream to reduce learning to the professional: stripping teachers out of the process and replacing them with platforms which facilitate ‘personalised’ learning, analysed and overseen by a cohort of professionals. It would represent what Emmanuel Lazega describes as the final victory of bureaucracy over collegiality, as the agency of teachers which school has long depended on is finally dispensed with so that the logic of schooling can be reduced into the platform and the class of engineers who maintain it.

    • Patrick Ainley 11:23 am on March 19, 2019 Permalink

      The behaviourist dream is to reduce teaching to training, teachers to trainers and students to trainees. Of course, you can’t have education without training but you can and increasingly do have training without education!

    • Learnography 11:56 am on March 19, 2019 Permalink

      Thanks for the educational writing! All types of learning are converted into the motor knowledge of brain circuits. Therefore, classroom technology can not reduce the roles of subject teacher. In fact, the teaching theories of learning transfer will be changed in future classroom and the teacher will act as the smart moderator of book to brain knowledge transfer. It is obvious that engineers are working to enhance the teaching system of education but their technology can’t conduct learning transfer to student’s brain circuits. We have to apply the learning dimensions of brain science in classroom instead of teaching performance. Thanks again

    • Mark 8:27 am on March 20, 2019 Permalink

      Sorry to do this for second time in two days but can you suggest any reading??

    • Patrick Ainley 1:38 pm on March 20, 2019 Permalink

      Dear Learnographer, You make ‘book to brain knowledge transfer’ sound very unproblematic and I wonder what you mean by ‘applying the learning dimensions of brain science in the classroom’. Also, whether you have taught any ‘books’ to any students?

    • Patrick Ainley 1:40 pm on March 20, 2019 Permalink

      I thought I sent recommendation of M.Polnyi’s ‘Tacit Dimension’ + Mike Cooley’s ‘Architect or Bee?’ (+ more recent ‘Delinquent Genius’) also something I wrote of knowledgeskills. (Let me know by email if you did not receive.)

    • Mark 6:23 pm on March 21, 2019 Permalink

      Yep I meant on the specific argument you made in the comment rather than the broad topic

  • Mark 3:08 pm on January 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ed tech, ,   

    Capturing the classroom: the Google Agenda 

    My notes on this report by Google Transparency Project 

    There are many reasons to be cautious about the educational ambitions of tech firms. If these firms seem likely to be the dominant actors of the global economy over the coming decades, how will shape the influence they exercise over education. To offer the most concrete example I can think of: if tech firms shape the curriculum for digital citizenship and digital safety, will they present themselves as sources of digital risk? I doubt it and it’s one of many reasons why their projects and initiatives need to be carefully scrutinised. Capturing the Classroom by the Google Transparency Project is an important contribution to precisely this agenda.

    It investigate how technology procurement has been upended in American schools, with “a rigorous and competitive process that carefully weighed factors including cost, usefulness and safeguards on children’s privacy” being radically transformed by Google “directly enlisting teachers to push their products into the classroom”. This has been undertaken through the recruitment of teacher evangelists and organisation of teaching summits (pg 2) with existing professional development budgets bearing the cost of helping teachers adapt to this new technological infrastructure. It is a process which “focused on teachers and their power to spread the word about Google’s classroom potential—all while bypassing the administrators that typically make decisions about technology and other educational tools” (pg 7). In some cases, the teacher trainers win consultancy contracts with no disclosure terms attached, echoing the established practice of Big Pharma offering paid speaking gigs to doctors in the expectation they act as advocates for their products.

    It has also sparked the proliferation of an ecosystem of blogs, resources and consultancies “among educators and administrators looking to cash in on school districts’ technology craze” (pg 12). In some cases, these businesses then work with other tech firms, creating a sustained mobilisation of big tech advocacy within education. Third party firms can place a distance between a teacher and Google, blunting the appearance of a conflict of interest.

    The authors draw the contrast to Coke and Pepsi’s ambition to produce customers for life by placing vending machines in every school. They suggest Google have already seen considerable success:

    Today, 25 million students worldwide use Google’s Chromebooks at school, 30 million teachers and students use Google Classroom, and more than 80 million people use G Suite for Education. (Pg 2)

    The success of their initiatives has inspired other firms to follow their lead, described on pg 5:

    Google isn’t the only technology company trying to push its products into the classroom. Microsoft, Amazon and Apple, as well as other device manufacturers and software developers, all have aggressive programs targeted at classrooms. Many, such as Amazon Inspire, Microsoft’s Certified Educator program19 and Apple’s Distinguished Educator program, take a page directly from Google’s playbook, also courting teachers and administrators with free trips, software and, increasingly, lucrative consulting gigs moonlighting for EdTech companies. (Pg 5)

    However they note that Google has a crucial advantage, in that it can offer hardware as loss leaders in a way that its competitors cannot. Many questions remain unanswered about the commercial significance of this, including whether student profiles built up in school are ‘switched on’ when students enter adult life (pg 7).

    • Patrick Ainley 11:32 am on January 28, 2019 Permalink

      This was – probably still is – Gove’s part of plan for schools in his frequent meetings with Murdoch!

    • Mark 5:56 pm on January 30, 2019 Permalink

      sure you’re right!

  • Mark 5:07 pm on February 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , ed tech, , , , ,   

    Educational technology in an age of Trump: a risk to students? 

    I find this suggestion by Audrey Watters extremely plausible. Full interview here.

    I think that education data should be a top priority under the new Trump regime. Schools are wildly obsessed with collecting data. They have been for a very long time, but new digital technologies have compelled them to collect even more, all with the promise of better insights into teaching and learning. By and large, I think a lot of that promise is overstated. Now, particularly under Trump, we have to consider if, instead of “helping students”, we’re actually putting them more at risk. I don’t simply mean a risk of hacking, although schools do have notoriously poor information security. Rather, I’m deeply concerned that, by enabling such expansive profiling, we are furthering a dangerous climate of surveillance – a climate that Trump seems quite ready to exploit regarding undocumented immigrants, Muslims, and political dissidents.


    • Dave Ashelman 5:34 pm on February 8, 2017 Permalink

      Yes, it is plausible. However, it is “complicated” in America. A lot of people outside of America (including Canada) don’t realize how American education works – or rather doesn’t work. It is highly racialized, and will become more racialized with the new legislation before congress with the new education secretary.

      First is that Public primary education USED to produce a lot of Ph.D.s and Noble winners. Then came the 1980s. Today, most students in public schools are in urban ghettos made up of primarily African-Americans, and are highly segregated. There are several school boards that are still (in 2017) under federal court order to desegregate from the 1954 Brown v Board Supreme Court decision.

      Today, most school teachers are required to have Masters degrees. Most urban public school teachers, with their Masters degrees earn about $20,000 per year or less. Many are on social assistance. Many public school boards struggle just to buy textbooks because of funding cuts since the 1980s. Some are using textbooks that are decades old. Those school certainly do not have computers; and if they do, they are old, and not securable.

      The main complaint about public education in America is that they aren’t producing educated children (as measured with standardized testing). What is almost NEVER talked about is that they used to produce Ph.D.s and Nobel winners – until teachers had to go on welfare and not have textbooks.

      Any changes to public education are much more likely to impact African-American students. Currently, with the advent of Trump, there is legislation to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education entirely, and completely de-fund public schools – giving parents “vouchers” instead, to enroll their children in the private school of their choice. Which for urban African Americans, there are nearly none.

      So while plausible, if public schools cannot afford textbooks, are segregated, put teachers on welfare, and are about to be shut down, what’s the point?

    • Mark 9:47 pm on February 17, 2017 Permalink

      This sounds very plausible but not sure where that leaves you in relation to what Watters is arguing

    • Dave Ashelman 8:45 pm on February 20, 2017 Permalink

      In relation to what Watters is arguing is two-fold: 1) if schools cannot invest in textbooks, how are they going to invest in data-gathering, and 2) it assumes that political institutions are actually concerned with facts, when the facts have been clear about how schools are operating (and why), yet continue to starve schools out of existence.

      Should there be a concern for data-gathering? Sure. There should also be a concern that most public schools do not have textbooks. There should also be a concern that most public school teachers are so underpaid that they have to receive social assistance. Any data gathered to gain insights of teaching and learning will automatically be flawed in this backdrop. You cannot gain accurate insights into teaching and learning models when both kids and teachers are physically hungry, while teaching and learning with no (or at least substandard) materials. Do we want data, or do we want “accurate” data?

    • Mark 4:20 pm on February 25, 2017 Permalink

      I think you’re operating with a much thicker conception of accuracy than the vast majority of the ed-tech people.

    • Dave Ashelman 1:45 pm on March 4, 2017 Permalink

      I think you are correct in your assessment of me. Is that a bad thing? In my economic master’s program I got a “B” on a paper because I didn’t perform enough “mathematical gymnastics” in a regression to get the results to reject the null. The teacher admitted that there was nothing wrong with my model, and the results were solid based on the model. Instead, I worked with the results I had, and not the results that were “expected.” This is a methodological issue that I stood my ground on; I would not engage in what I call “Machiavellian data manipulation” – where the ends justify the means. I ended up with an “A” in the course, no no harm, no foul for me. However, this methodological thinking is symptomatic of data gathering today. From p-hacking to over-weighting variables, we often create the social facts that we want instead of analyzing social facts as they are.

      We know as a social and medical fact that child’s learning outcome is lower when they’re physically hungry as a stand-alone variable all by itself. If we look at student-teacher outcomes without considering that antagonizing variable of hunger, then all we’re really doing is a “Machiavellian data manipulation” to create the social facts that we want, instead of seeing the social facts as they actually are.

      My apologies for my “thickness!” But thank you for reminding me of that! 🙂

    • Mark 4:52 pm on March 8, 2017 Permalink

      Not a bad thing but I think it’s always important to remind ourselves of it.

  • Mark 10:08 pm on January 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ed tech, , ,   

    The MOOC as a trojan horse 

    I’ve long had an ambivalent relationship to MOOCs. In principle, I don’t see anything wrong with the idea of distance learning of this sort and they are something that I’ve personally enjoyed in the past. This is far from a ringing endorsement, in fact MOOCs leave me lukewarm in many respects, but I think it’s important to be clear about what exactly we’re opposed to when we oppose the MOOC.

    The hype surrounding them is a good place to start. The absurd overstatement of their implications, as well as the wilful disregard for history which critics like Audrey Watters have ceaseless pulled apart. These ‘groundbreaking innovations’ can only be constructed as groundbreaking and innovative by systematically obscuring a longer and messier history of educational technology which there is value in our recovering. But as Aaron Bady points out, what’s offensive about the hype is the way it gives voice to speculative interests seeking to ‘disrupt’ higher education:

    In the last year, MOOCs have gotten a tremendous amount of publicity. Last November, the New York Times decided that 2012 was “the Year of the MOOC,” and columnists like David Brooks and Thomas Friedman have proclaimed ad nauseum that the MOOC “revolution” is a “tsunami” that will soon transform higher education. As a Time cover article on MOOCs put it—in a rhetorical flourish that has become a truly dead cliché—“College is Dead. Long Live College!”

    Where is the hype coming from? On the one hand, higher education is ripe for “disruption”—to use Clayton Christensen’s theory of “disruptive innovation”—because there is a real, systemic crisis in higher education, one that offers no apparent or immanent solution. It’s hard to imagine how the status quo can survive if you extend current trends forward into the future: how does higher education as we know it continue if tuition fees and student debt continue to skyrocket while state funding continues to plunge? At what point does the system simply break down? Something has to give.

    At the same time, the speed at which an obscure form of non-credit-based online pedagogy has gone so massively mainstream demonstrates the level of investment that a variety of powerful people and institutions have made in it. The MOOC revolution, if it comes, will not be the result of a groundswell of dissatisfaction felicitously finding a technology that naturally solves problems, nor some version of the market’s invisible hand. It’s a tsunami powered by the interested speculation of interested parties in a particular industry. MOOCs are, and will be, big business, and the way that their makers see profitability at the end of the tunnel is what gives them their particular shape.


    The ideology of innovation obscures the interests vested in what is deemed to be innovative. Not only is it dishonest, shutting down debate through the breathless invocation of technological inevitability, it also crowds out earlier and worthier experiments in digitally mediated distance learning. These communal and collaborative projects were focused on empowering networks rather than facilitating individuals. As Bady goes on to compare:

    The MOOCs that emerged in 2012 look very different, starting with their central narratives of “disruption” and “un-bundling.” Instead of building networks, the neoliberal MOOC is driven by a desire to liberate and empower the individual, breaking apart actually-existing academic communities and refocusing on the individual’s acquisition of knowledge.


    These connective technologies have been pushed out by what Audrey Watters describes as a ‘content-delivery model’. On loc 2256 of her The Monsters of Educational Technology, she describes what it is like to be on the receiving end of such a model, having content delivered to you as a distance learner:

    Receiving this box of materials in the mail was a literalization of the idea that education involves “content delivery.” That is, the courseware for Intro to Statistics was quite literally delivered to my doorstep. I’d insert the videotapes into the VCR, and the content would be delivered to my living room and purportedly into my brain. “Content delivery” is not always quite so literally enacted, of course, but it’s still the paradigm education largely operates within. This is not a new paradigm, of course. But for me this was the moment –looking with frustration at this this box of videotapes –in which I realized that that’s what education privileges. Whether it’s in a textbook or in a video-taped lecture, it’s long been the content that matters most in school. The content is central. It’s what you go to school to be exposed to. Content. The student must study it, comprehend it, and demonstrate that in turn for the teacher. That is what we expect an education to do, to be: the acquisition of content that becomes transmogrified into knowledge. (The focus is certain content, of course and thus certain knowledge –that which has been decreed significant by a host of institutional, cultural, historical, political, intellectual forces.)

    The MOOC dresses up the most uninspiring and uninspired aspects of actually existing educational initiatives in the cloak of technological progress. As Bady puts it, these start-ups “aim to do exactly the same thing that traditional courses have always done—transfer course content from expert to student—only to do so massively more cheaply and on a much larger scale”. These are technologies of modernisation rather than progress, intended to lock in existing arrangements in a way that disempowers those who might impede their smooth operation. They are technologies of scale and control, masquerading as tools of liberation. They represent, as Audrey Watters puts it on loc 3443, a trojan horse which we need to resist:

    Education technology is the Trojan Horse poised to dismantle public education, to outsource and unbundle and disrupt and destroy. Those who tell you that education technology promises personalization don’t actually care about student autonomy or agency. They want surveillance and standardization and control. You have been warned.   Education technology is full of monsters. We’ve given birth to some of them. We’ve given birth to the “everyone should learn to code” narrative. We’ve given birth to the “everyone should be online” story too. We’ve demanded that everyone have their own device. Education technology requires our love and our care so as to not become even more monstrous, so that it can become marvelous instead. It demands we resist and we fight and we build and tell a different story. Folks like Seymour Papert started a powerful storytelling for us. We just need to pick up that tale.

    But doing so effectively necessitates unpacking the technology, the interests expressed through it and the context within which these are being pursued. We can still reclaim educational technology, but doing so necessitates that we don’t condemn technology by the uses to which it is being put.

    • lenandlar 12:56 pm on January 23, 2017 Permalink

      Would your views shift at all if you were to separate cMOOCs from xMOOCs

    • Mark 8:10 pm on January 23, 2017 Permalink

      yes, perhaps we shouldn’t even talk about them as the same thing

    • lenandlar 8:15 pm on January 23, 2017 Permalink

      But you know what has happened Mark; the big players have owned up MOOCs and completely crowd out the narrative on cMOOCs. They even claim the origins of the term MOOC. cMOOCs is not even a thing according to those guys. It’s the narrative stuff that Audrey speaks of at play here.

    • Mark 8:17 pm on January 23, 2017 Permalink

      yes! frustrating…

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