SJSU Talk on The MOOC Moment: Ethics, Discourse, and Promises

I had the privilege of speaking to the San Jose State University community at two talks hosted by the California Faculty Association, Department of Philosophy and Center for Ethics yesterday.

For such talks I often provide resources and materials in a post before I lecture as to free up the audience to engage rather than record. However, I teach after noon for a reason. Mornings aren’t great for me. I had to wake up quite early to get to San Jose on time and the post was sacrificed for the greater good. I promised both audiences I would get that post up for them.

First, a few thoughts on the talks. I’ve give some version of this one a few times before and I have never had an audience as deeply engaged in the nuances of the subject. Both talks had more the usual number of undergraduates in attendance. And the audience members came from across the university and even from the greater community. The depth and breadth of the Q&A reflected this. In just over an hour or so of post-talk conversation we covered ideology, history, imperialism, data rights, privacy, technocratic theory of solutionism, accreditation, the funding environment, education psychology, IT and sociology. Few audiences have put me through the intellectual paces like this one. It was a gift.

I continue to hit on my pet concern about data as a civil rights issue in the information age. Who owns the individual level data collected by third-party providers like Udacity, Coursera, and edX on the millions who take these classes? Without independent access to this data what do we know about  race, class, and gender in what is being sold as the future of higher education? Researchers do not own it. The universities do not own it. Private companies own it and there is no moral or institutional appeal to gaining access to that data. I think that’s a problem. If you know the history of social science research, Brown versus Board of Education, and the Civil Rights Movement you might see my problem. To think more about that:

From Open Data to Information Justice by Jeffrey Alan Johnson.

What ethical, legal, and civil rights issues are transformed when students become end users? See Jade Davis’ talk  from the Microsoft Lab.

Data is the New Oil by Audrey Watters.

Someone asked, we know a lot about how non-linear and inefficient the cognitive process of learning is so what do MOOCs do to respond to what we know? It’s a great question. Primarily MOOCs understand the messiness of learning as a delivery issue. The right content, with the right platform should be able to intervene in these processes to the benefit of learning. Some thoughts on that:

Joseph Jay Williams considers what cognitive science can do to improve MOOCs.

A blog post on cognitive strategies offers questions, not answers. But the questions are informative way to think about what we do not yet know about MOOCs and learning.

Cathy Davidson considering what MOOCs can teach us about learning.

Someone asked about components of MOOCs that hold potential but escape tensions of corporate MOOCs and solutionism. This is a good primer of some of the things I sketched out in briefly in response:

Science blog considers variations within MOOC universe considering consequences for learning.

There was a discussion of grading that brought to mind research on content versus context and reverse engineering perfect score algorithms on computer graded exams. Lessons from standardized testing in K-12 and follow the citation trail on higher ed work in this area with this paper.

I had to dig deep into my background in English and rely heavily on my friend Aaron Bady’s work to respond to questions about imperialism and the MOOC missionary zeal. Also see Jonathan Rees.

And an example of how this MOOC moment is being translated into arena of historically black colleges, as an audience member asked, is this article. I noted that I will never publish on HBCUs, for-profits, and/or MOOCs. However, I am in final stages of preparing a manuscript on the Post Racial Promise and Delusions of the MOOC moment. It explores my problems with the technocratic solutionism being adopted as a post-racial framework that obscures institutional racism by selling a race-blind future. Indeed, the only way MOOCs can work as promised is if ours is a post-racial society. I suspect I have more evidence against that hypothesis than MOOCs have in support of it.

I will try to add to this post as I review notes from the talks.

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