The “Guide on the Side” and Assessment in the Oppressed Classroom

January 11th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

I composed a Storify for #moocmooc. It’s an interesting act of discourse, and I often use it in my class as a way to thinking about fitting parts together.

Anyway, you’ll find it below:

An Orgy of Blistering Mediocrity?

January 7th, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

“To educate is essentially to form.”–Paulo Freire

MOOC SquadAs I write this, I’m at a terminal in LAX. I’m sitting–relaxing–and waiting for my red-eye flight home to Minneapolis. I’ve spent the last three weeks visiting my family in Santa Barbara, CA, working on a project, and meeting with some important friends and colleagues on the Central Coast. The fact that I am writing this at this moment exactly where I am is a testament to the power of the digital age. I understand that. I believe in that.

So, it is here–now–that I am thinking about #moocmooc. Well, actually, I’m thinking about all MOOCs. My areas of expertise in my field are digital rhetoric, critical pedagogy, online learning, and the Internet: It makes sense that I have something to say about MOOCs (or at least it makes sense to me). I participated in the first #moocmooc, and, honestly, I wasn’t impressed.

I can be honest with y’all, right? I’ve participated in many MOOCs (both c and x), and I have done so in simple ignorant bliss and through  hyper-aware critiquing eyes. After my time in these environments, I came to the conclusion that many–if not all–MOOCs carry out various forms of oppression and, in Freirean terms, do violence upon participants and leaders. I am very much a critical pedagogue, and I believe that critical pedagogy should be gaining momentum–not falling back. I see a lot of falling back in MOOCs. They often replicate a 20th century learning style and pedagogy that we–as 21st century pedagogues–should be running away from. We can no longer abide the teacher lecturing the students, especially when that lecture hall goes from 300 to 4000.

This is not to say that MOOCs do not have potential. They have enormous potential for informal and supplemental learning. They can never replace higher education, though they may be able to serve as a crutch to our flawed system. My main gripe with MOOCs in general is people thinking they are something new. They aren’t new. I’ve written about this before. In many ways, I feel MOOCs–or the way they are often proffered–are a step backwards. They are often engaged with uncritically and without consideration for the enormous issues of privilege surrounding them. (This is something I felt happened in the first #moocmooc.)

This lack of criticalness has led me to believe that many who offer or set up MOOCs are in serious need of a re-reading for hooks, Giroux, Freire, McLaren, and other important critical thinkers who can help us see both the supportive as well as damaging nature of the place we find ourselves: an orgy of blistering mediocrity. Scholars and business people alike are jumping into the pit of MOOCmania without the slightest thought as to the replicating nature of them.

Consider this: You enter a physical space. It’s a lecture hall, and there are 300 students in the hall. A lone bespectacled professor stands at the front of the room. He glares at the students, and then he begins to lecture. He doesn’t stop lecturing until the end of the class. You have no time to speak with the professor, and you barely know the shape of his spectacles. You leave–run, perhaps–from the hall and disappear into the fog of students outside. You didn’t matter. You didn’t change the world, and no one knows your name.

That’s a pretty bleak picture of how higher education often operates now. This isn’t 50 or 100 years ago. This is now, and we have yet to fix this problem.

Similarly, consider this: You enter a discussion space. It’s populated by people chatting about the work of the course. You smile and stretch. You see the smiling or serious faces of the course leaders. They talk, you talk, others talk, and then some leave. Some arrive too. This dance goes on for hours. But, instead of 300 students to compete with; you now have 1000 students to compete with. They all post, they all fill the discussion boards with entry after entry. They hog the time of the course leaders. They spam your email inbox with new course news. You feel like you have to comment on every discussion thread. You try. You try again. You get frustrated–burned out. You scream. You try to escape some of the reframing of issues over and over again. You can’t make it: You drown. Your lifeless body is found floating between a discussion thread about Twitter Lists and one about how to add your blog to the RSS feed.

Okay, so that’s pretty bleak too. There might be a smidgen of hyperbole in there but not too much.

These are the types of problems facing higher education today, and MOOCs have yet to alleviate any of these problems. Drop-in learning (as I like to call it) is wonderful for those who learn for pleasure and have little else to do. But, we should not only view MOOCs through rose-colored glasses. There are many things wrong with MOOCs, especially when it comes to formal learning and traditional higher education. There are also many good things about MOOCs, especially when it comes to informal and casual learning.

Perhaps the most important thing we should remember is: just because a Stanford professor puts on a (failed?) MOOC, doesn’t mean we all should or that it’s right for higher education in the digital age.

*Pardon any spelling or grammatical errors, as I jotted this down a few minutes before boarding my plane.–tmk

Image courtesy of Flickr user cogdogblog // Creative Commons licensed: CC-BY

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