I admit it, I'm slow on the uptake, but I had a lightbulb moment David Kernohan pointed me at Donald Clark's post on MOOCs "More action in 1 year than 1000" (no hype there then). As Brian Lamb has reported a wikipedia edit battle around MOOCs to remove the early MOOCers such as David Wiley and George Siemens from the picture has also taken place. Initially I thought this was just a bit of ignorance, but Clark's post made me understand – it is part of a wider narrative to portray MOOCs as a commercial solution that is sweeping away the complacency of higher education.
So Clark dismisses the impact of early MOOCers, claiming it was Khan that caused it all: "It took a hedge fund manager to shake up education because he didn’t have any HE baggage." Why? Because it appeals to the narrative to have a saviour riding in from outside HE to save education. If you acknowledge that these ideas may have come from within HE then that could look like venture capitalists latching on to a good idea in universities and trying to make money from it. That doesn't sound as sexy and brave.
This is more than historical pedantry. I'm not saying all mentions of MOOCs must start with an agreed paragraph that acknowledges Downes, Wiley, Siemens, Couros, Cormier. The intention here is to create an explicit narrative, and as narratives are founded in history, it requires a careful construction of this to support the ongoing story. The narrative goes something like:
- Higher education is irretrievably broken
- MOOCs have come along from outside and shown how it can be done for free and at scale
- MOOCs can answer all your education issues and make a profit
Why do people like this narrative? For three reasons I'd suggest:
- It's sexy and revolutionary
- They have a commercial interest in it being accepted
- It appeals to their ego ("I'm such a revolutionary thinker, give me a keynote")
Of course it falls apart at any detailed inspection. Clark calls MOOCs a sustainable model. Are they? At the moment they rely on those boring, haven't changed in a 1000 years universities to pay the staff to create the courses. How sustainable is that when you've had the glorious revolution? Can they really meet all educational needs? The drop-out rate is high as we know, and they tend to suit experienced learners. They meet some needs and can be very exciting, but as the new universal solution they'd create a lot of problems for a lot of learners (which some brave company would then arise to meet).
Open education wasn't sexy, it was about giving stuff away. Entrepreneurs don't like that model, hence Clark's dismissal of the OER movement (which, at the OU anyway is actually proving itself to be sustainable and part of normal business, but hey, we don't want to hear that). Universities have been around 1000 years – that must be bad, right? If a company had been around for 1000 years, I think we'd be saying it must have a pretty good model. And of course, no innovation ever comes from inside universities.
And all this takes away from the really good stuff in MOOCs. I love MOOCs, they advance open education, they allow experimentation, they do shake up thinking in a good way, they raise the profile of teaching. This is good, exciting stuff.
On Twitter Mike Caulfield said it reminded him of this clip:
So I know Clark is just trolling for attention and one shouldn't respond, but it's worth highlighting this nonsense when it arises because it seeps in and reinforces the new narrative. Don't be mistaken, there is a genuine battle for the future happening here, and it starts by rewriting the past.