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:

Rooster Cogburn and the Educational Frontier

January 10th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

“I do not entertain hypotheticals. The world itself is vexing enough.”–Col Stonehill, from True Grit

5324372705_9b8f2270c9_nMy uncle loves Rooster Cogburn. That is to say, he loves the idea of Rooster Cogburn. My uncle is a wily old man–a retired sheriff, and he has lived a life just as rough as Cogburn. My uncle has been shot, stabbed, ran over, beat up, and suffered several heart attacks. He smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish.

Despite his many vices, I am quite fond of my uncle. He taught me a lot when I was younger. My uncle is a man of action and not one held to pretention. His word is his bond, and he is rather truthful. I’m relating this story to you because, like Cogburn, my uncle has rode through life hard and without reservation.

Vexation seems to be the treaty of thought, with MOOCs but a blip in a long line of conceptions. Those who know me know that my attitude toward MOOCs has always been suspicious and critical. I find them vexing because many of the intellectual underpinnings of MOOCs are nothing more than a rehashing of antiquated 20th century modernist thinking. Or, perhaps, it is like putting lipstick on a hog. Sure: The hog will leave kisses on your collar, but he will probably still smell of swill and mud.

What’s always fascinated me about the character of Rooster Cogburn–and subsequently  my uncle–is that practical action is always his first thought. Roaming through life with critical eye and sturdy hand, Cogburn is one more concerned with experience than “education.” For him, the world–in all it’s massivity–is his course, and it is open and linked to that specific exploration of the American West culture.

So, it is with this on my mind that I ponder exactly what a MOOC is within higher education. I make no qualms with saying that higher education in the United States is flawed or even broken. It is limping along, like a hobbled and abused dog no longer in his master’s favor. It’s pathetic and disheartening, yet, if we wish, we have the power to affect change. While I do not believe MOOCs equal change, I suppose they do at least spread informal learning to a few more people. If anything, the obsession with MOOCs has led many to wake from their proverbial slumber and realize that MOOCs may not be the way for higher education.

2492032651_cf8866374c_mBut, maybe, MOOCs are the bridge to the frontier, to the place where education is wild and untamed, to the place where educational marauders ride and marshals try to keep order, and, finally, to a place where we can build the vision of education that we always wanted. That bridge isn’t perfect. As a matter of fact, it’s rickety, old, missing nails, chipped, and wouldn’t hold up to much weight, but that’s okay; it only needs to get us across the river and into the new educational frontier–to something better.

Much like Cogburn riding into the frontier, we must cross the bridge and
recognize its limitations. The rush toward MOOCmania is damaging, especially with business interests deciding to tell educators what is and isn’t education. It seems like the only place we can truly change a system that oppresses is to leave it behind, to venture across the MOOC bridge into the frontier, where we are equally likely to fail as succeed. The institutions that hold us, contain us, and prop us up like scarecrows often are not helpful in theorizing the future and practicing in the present.

This rather lengthy thought experiment leads me to think of a future of exploration, where teachers are roaming nomads and leading sherpas. No top, no bottom. There is just the process. No more binaries, no more this way or that way, and no more students intellectually abused by their instructors. In the trajectory of history, ours must be a place of constant vigil, a place of constant safety to which learners return to challenge ideas in a space of constructive criticism and encouragement.

Even though Cogburn wasn’t always positive, he was always a realist with an idealist’s soul. That’s what we need to be. So, while I find many discussions of MOOCs irritating and lacking, I understand their appeal. I understand the main 81103845_bb9b414525_mpedagogies and concepts that undergird them. However, I also understand that they are imperfect, they are more containers for information than knowledge discovery engines, and they are not the future: They are just a way for us to get to the future, to enter that frontier and ride into the sunset.

We need more Rooster Cogburns in education. We need them because they tell us what we don’t want to hear, and we need them because they are honest in a world in desperate need of honesty. The question, then, becomes not how will MOOCs change the world, but, rather, how will MOOCs (and other online learning ventures) help us reach the point where we can build the learning spaces of our dreams–whatever they may be.


Images courtesy of Flickr users Jim_V, NIOSH, and Clinton Steeds, respectively // Creative Commons and Public Domain licensed

Green Glass and Learning to Fail

January 9th, 2013 § 3 comments § permalink

2845637227_f2dba69ea4_mI made a video for #moocmooc. I think about what learning I value most, and how I do things in my classroom. I mention my dad and trades I once engaged in. It’s fun to think about what was, what is, and what can be.

The video is uncut and raw. All I did was put a title and ending on it. So, you’ll see me thinking through my answers, stumbling a bit, and saying “um” a little. I did this on purpose because it’s authentic. I’ll do an edited video later on in the week, so I can use the opportunity to rhetorical analyze both versions, as part of an online exercise in information presentation.

Comments welcomed here and on YouTube. Enjoy!

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

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