MOOCs are Not the Enemy. Sorta.

So. I stood up in front of a whole room of academics and theorists and grad students with funky glasses this weekend and said the word “MOOC.” And nobody threw a single tomato, which surprised me.

My presentation for Theorizing the Web 13 at CUNY was entitled “MOOCs are Not the Enemy: Networked, Non-Imperialist MOOC models.” Or in simplest terms, “cMOOC is for cyborg.” Ahem.

The Cliff Notes version:
My base premises are these: privatization is bad and colonialism is bad and globalization is as shady as it’s always been and there are lots of totalizing systems at work in higher ed these days, old and new. But talking about these things through the lens of MOOCs increasingly seems to devolve into binary arguments against one totality while half-defending another, until it feels like the proverb about the seven old blind men and the elephant. A MOOC is a snake! cries the one holding the tail. No! It’s a sail! shouts the one with the ear in hand.

More Than is Dreamt of In Your Philosophy, Horatio
Both the elephant and the MOOC defy simple metaphors, because they’re huge. MOOCs make visible the intersection of a snarl of complicated axes of change and power relations in higher ed, so reifying them into a single axis – even if it’s the dominant one – leaves too much of the picture out. A MOOC is a course that is massive and open and online in some way and beyond that, for the moment, I’m agnostic.

Not because I’m not aligned: I am aligned. But because I think the conversation is too important to foreclose. There are a host of valid criticisms of MOOCs of all kinds, even the ones I really enjoy, and I want to be having those conversations and talking about the forces driving different MOOC models and driving change in higher ed. A lot of these forces scare the shit out of me, for the record. But I think – as I’ve heard other people say (I’d thought it was Cathy Davidson but I can’t seem to find a link) – that MOOCs are a symptom of these forces rather than the problem in and of themselves.

So dismissing MOOCs outright, or insisting on talking about all MOOCs as if they were one hegemonic thing rather than a still new and shifting collection of phenomena, shuts down the possibility of doing something more with them.

It gives the conversation over. I’m not ready to do that. I don’t want to give over – yet, at least – to the idea that anything about MOOCs is inevitable.

Beyond the Borg Complex
To be sure, we can’t be in higher ed today without being to some extent subject to the changes being wrought by privatization and globalization and the undermining of the narrative of public ed and the public good. These logics constrain budgets, shape policy, affect how what we do is taken up and the roles available to us.

The most dominant MOOC models embody a lot of these forces and logics. So they inspire vitriolic response: we don’t  want to be the kind of subjects they seem to impose on us.

Or some of us don’t. In the ongoing Shirky/Bady back & forth about which end of the elephant is more equal than others, Bady pegs Shirky’s “it’s happening anyway, might as well adapt” response as a form of what Sacasas calls the Borg Complex, a determinist “resistance is futile” fatalism combined with a neoliberal identity approach.

But that conversation is still a binary. And leaves Bady to some extent defending the traditions of that other totalizing system, the conventional patriarchal and elitist mythology of “schooling” that many open online educational efforts exist to challenge.

I end up nodding hopelessly at the beautiful prose of the both of them and thinking about narrative escalation in pre-World War I Europe. With all this grandiose buildup, the Triple MOOC Entente and the Triple MOOC Alliance carve out increasingly opposed territories until I wonder if Archduke Ferdinand’s been shot yet and the bloody inevitability can just start, already.

Or we could explore MOOCs from a cyborg perspective.

A cyborg is not Borg
The Borg is an all-swallowing collective that cannot be resisted, a totalizing force.

Haraway‘s cyborg, on the other hand, is what might be termed a networked individual, illegitimate offspring of what Haraway calls the “informatics of domination,” but still subversive to the very forces that created her. S/he is an ironic hybrid of human and technology who breaks down binaries that otherwise seem naturalized and totalizing. The cyborg recognizes in technologies the possibility of “great human satisfaction, as well as a matrix of complex dominations. Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves.” (1991) The cyborg is complicit, a part of this digital world. But s/he is never entirely subject to its terms: s/he is not without agency.

The cMOOC as cyborg
So on the plane down to Theorizing the Web, as I finalized my slides, I decided that the first c in cMOOC stands for cyborg.

(I mean, I know it *actually* stands for connectivist. That’s as it should be. MOOCs were founded on the connectivist principles that knowledge is distributed and generative, and I think for MOOCs to actually capitalize in any sense on the affordances of digital technologies and not merely transfer traditional approaches to learning into the online space, those two concepts are important lodestars. And the original MOOC was built not only on George Siemens‘ and Stephen Downes‘ work developing connectivism but was actually a course ON connectivism and connected knowledge: the cMOOC model is connectivism incarnate.)

Because I’ve had the (sometimes admittedly discombobulating) pleasure of working with and in and around this grassroots model of MOOC for a few years now, I have a vantage point that many of MOOCs’ detractors don’t: I have lived experience of a model of MOOC that isn’t corporate, or colonial, or – most importantly – totalizing. And I think cMOOCs and other networked online learning opportunities and efforts that attempt to destabilize some of the institutional or corporate or globalizing tendencies that dominate much of the MOOC conversation (and many MOOCs themselves) may offer a cyborg approach to massive, open, online learning: it may offer a model of subversion.

cMOOCs, even as cyborg, are neither a perfect model or a panacea for all the challenges higher education faces. But  they emphasize participatory, networked, distributed approaches to learning that challenge and subvert many of our inherited cultural concepts of schooling. They encourage learners to generate knowledge, in addition to simply mastering it. They are a way to re-vision the conversation in terms that neither deny the possibilities of technology and networks nor give over entirely to the logics and informatics of domination.

They are MOOCs that undermine some of what MOOCs seems to be coming to mean, and in that, I think there is both power and potential.

***
current/ongoing/historical cMOOCs & their open/online/hybrid kin:
(including even a Coursera course that tries very hard to subvert its own conditions of production)

#etmooc (Educational Technologies MOOC – ongoing and amazing, just entering topic 4: check it & join in)
#moocmooc archives (two separate week-long MOOCs on MOOCs)
#ds106 (not a MOOC, but an ongoing, open, public course in digital storytelling via University of Mary Washington)
@dukesurprise (a for-credit Duke course with an open, public component)
#inq13 (a POOC or Participatory Open Online Course through CUNY on inequalities, with an East Harlem focus)
#edcmooc (a Coursera course in Elearning & Digital Cultures offered by University of Edinburgh that runs more like a cMOOC)
The MOOC Guide – Stephen Downes’ master resource of most cMOOC-ish offerings from the beginning
#change11 archive (the mother of all cMOOCs: 35 facilitators each took a week to explore change in higher ed)

There are lots more, I’m sure – happy to add if people want to send examples.

 

hybrids & subversives: the cyborg as teacher


I began teaching online in 1998, the same year I encountered Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (1991) for the first time. Her cyborg – partial, ironic, always hybrid – offered a model for identity that helped me navigate that new environment. The cyborg’s emphasis on breaking down (and de-naturalizing) binaries enabled and encouraged me to grapple with some of the institutional and technocratic power relations that shaped our online learning context, in ways that have continued to influence my understanding of my educational practice and my research to this day.

The cyborg teacher is a hybrid, both an instrument of the schooling system and yet subversive to it: the cyborg teacher is a learner too. Teaching from the cyborg point of view helped me frame my digital classroom not as “less” or “more” than conventional learning spaces, but instead as a site for building ties of curiosity and affinity. It helped me escape the concept of the virtual and approach my online work very much as real; human and technological, both.

Now, fifteen years down the road, I see the cyborg particularly as a metaphor for networked identities. These are the kinds of selves cultivated when people integrate online social networks into their personal and professional practices not just as consumers but producers: when they blog, tweet, filter, curate, and share ideas within networks of shared interests.

In a time when our technological platforms are primarily corporate-owned and even mundane daily practices like bank card usage expose us to constant digital surveillance, the cyborg strikes me as a particularly important figure. A teacher by example, she collapses the binary distinctions our media narratives are so eager to create about social technologies.

The message of the cyborg, as I see it, is that we are complicit, part of this digital world. But we are not necessarily subject to its terms: in an age in which human agency can seem dwarfed by the innumerable invisible digital systems we interact with, the cyborg – illegitimate offspring of the very things she subverts – stands for me as a figure of hope.

Connected Learning: Getting Beyond Technological Determinism

Life lately has felt like one of those dreams where you’re in a cab with your third-grade teacher on the way to a conference presentation you forgot to prepare for and then suddenly the cab morphs into a giant recycling plant and everything is spinning and…

What? You don’t have those dreams?

I have them when things get busy. It’s like a grand exercise in convergence: everything blurs together.

From the midst of the blur, though, there’s a thread I want to try to untangle from the early weeks of #etmooc (Educational Technology and Media, a collaboratively-hosted connectivist MOOC) and #edcmooc (E-learning and Digital Cultures, my first Coursera effort, offered through the University of Edinburgh). I’m taking both at once, in admittedly a bit of a peripheral way.

But the ideas are starting to bounce off each other and amplify…and then weave back together around this thread of technological determinism. Or, as I like to call it, the spectre haunting networked culture.
***

Technological Determinism 101
We live in a culture saturated with the idea that technologies are, effectively, things in themselves, in spite of the fact that they arise from and are utilized and therefore given meaning within particular social and cultural contexts. We tend to see technologies in terms of their “thingness” – their shiny gadget glory – rather than in terms of the affordances or action possibilities they enable in different societal situations. This separation of thing from context and possibility leads  to determinism, or the belief that machines have the capacity to act on us and do things to us in and of themselves.

Determinism has a long and fairly star-studded history: from Socrates’ laments about what writing would do to memory through Marshall McLuhan and down to Nicholas Carr’s present-day ideas about Google making us stupid, lots of smart and famous people have forwarded rather deterministic views of the technologies of their times, during those times. Determinism tends towards answers in times of change. Could be why it’s popular?

Now, I’m not saying all determinist conclusions about technologies are wrong. What I am saying is that the way determinism gets to them creates problems. Determinism tends towards a reductionist view of what technologies are and do, assuming direct cause-effect relationships between technologies and what they make possible. Determinism also tends to attribute social phenomena that occur around given technologies to the technologies themselves, rather than what they stand for or enable or afford. Therefore, it renders the perspective on those phenomena forever skewed and tech-focused, so long as the determinist lens is still in place.

What’s wrong with that? Lots.

Technologies Don’t Connect People: Networked Relationships Connect People
The current American gun control debate is perhaps the most dramatic lens through which to illustrate the ways in which technological determinism makes for stupid arguments. On both sides of the fence.

Determinism is, in effect, a world view; one that reduces societal phenomena to “technology x did thing y.” The rest of the factors involved in the conversation get obscured or intentionally dismissed: the power of the technology to act is assumed, even when the determinist is arguing against the statement being put forward. Thus the anti-gun-control maxim “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” isn’t knee-jerk anti-determinism but actually determinism at work. It effectively controls and reduces the conversation to an assertion that guns get up by themselves and commit murder, and then smacks that down.

Now, maybe some people actually believe guns act like the brooms in Fantasia, multiplying and sweeping all by themselves. Most arguments for gun control and gun bans don’t actually operate that way, though. Those that do are determinist, and not very convincing, IMO. Guns and their availability absolutely DO lead to increased numbers of deaths, but no, generally not without people to pull the triggers.

What determinism does, though, is keep the conversation focused around a simple if specious cause-effect assertion and away from the whole host of demographic factors and identity factors and cultural factors that put people at risk from guns and support the arguments for restricted access. Determinism dismisses complexity and reinforces the idea that societal equations are simple, even when it’s pressed into service against simple equations few people are actually making. Culturally, we are trained and conditioned to accept technological determinism as common sense. So the very presence of determinism makes an important conversation hard to have, because effectively…the parties aren’t IN the same conversation, much of the time.

What does this have to do with networks and the admittedly less urgent issues around connected learning and the MOOCs I’m hanging out in? I think determinism and its prevalence as a cultural worldview are a very big part of what make the whole purpose and point of networking essentially invisible to those who aren’t immersed in it.

And I have #edcmooc and #etmooc to thank for converging to point that out to me.

Tech Utopias and Tech Dystopias are All Determinism
The very first week of #etcmooc boldly opened the conversation about digital cultures from an exploration of both Utopian and Dystopian perspectives on digital technologies within cultures, as well as a great foundational reading arguing against determinism. Part of me is tickled by this, because it’s making for great imagination fodder in the tweets and discussion, but I also note that the flights of (really artistically compelling) determinism represented by the best Dystopias and Utopias tend to reinforce the same worldview . Like the “guns don’t kill people” mantra, Dystopian and Utopian narratives frame thinking about technologies in their own binary good/bad terms. So it’ll be interesting to see if and how the class actually breaks down those binaries as we carry on, or if we get stuck there, endlessly debating whether digital culture is Utopic or Dystopic.

For my part, I think digital culture – and particularly networked culture – is neither. It has elements of good and bad, but good or bad is, from my non-determinist’s lens, the wrong question to even be asking.

But I do think determinism gets in the way of many of the conversations I try to have about networked culture, as a teacher and a scholar and a blogger whose work is largely about framing this complex set of practices within various non-networked contexts.

How the Add-On Perspective Misses the Point
I saw this again last night, when I tuned into George Couros‘ #etmooc discussion of connected leadership. George is an actively networked Division Principal who shares his learning and his educational practice, and who advocates for encouraging this type of connection across educational communities and between stakeholders.

In the backchannel chat on Collaborate, there was a lot of anecdotal discussion of the differences connection – ie building networked professional profiles via social media – has made for many of us, as well as a particularly skeptical response from one participant who kept saying things along the lines of, “but we didn’t have social networking sites when I was a kid, and I turned out fine.”

In my life outside of MOOCs, I meet a lot of people with these kinds of positions on social media. Many of them are my loved ones, my good friends, my colleagues and teachers. Many of them have also never really tried the things they dismiss so easily, so kudos to the dude in the #etmooc chat for being willing to engage in the networked environment of the MOOC long enough to make the point, at least.

But it is a point that tends to miss the point. It’s a point that assumes social networks are an add-on, an extra…essentially a tech toy or a diversion from the “real” work or “real” sociality that makes the world go round. This is digital dualism, but it’s also determinism at work. It hears all this enthusiasm about connection as about the social networking platforms themselves – “yay blog!’ or “yay Twitter!” – and not about the connections and actions and forms of identity that those networked environments make possible.

Determinism reduces conversation about social networks to a conversation about platforms and tech, not about people and the ways in which they intersect with those platforms and tech to create new possibilities. It effectively mutes those latter parts of the conversation; refuses them admittance. It insists that a conversation about technologies’ effects is a conversation about the technologies themselves.

Twitter is not a Ferrari
Subtle distinction, maybe. And one that we’ve been acculturated to miss: enthusiasm related to technologies WAS mostly about the tech platform itself, back in the mechanical and even early digital ages. If I’m excited about driving a Ferrari, for instance, it’s likely not the fact that I’m off to see Grandma or wide open spaces that is actually the focus of my excitement, but rather the Ferrari itself.

Now, Twitter is no Ferrari, but early – and pervasive – geek culture stereotypes tend to perpetuate this narrative of the hard-on for the thing in itself rather than what it affords. And those of us who don’t self-identify as geeks – I’m one, for all my immersion in the digitally networked sphere – are trained to recognize this narrative as Other and thus reject it.

Thus to those who’ve never really used a social network other than FB, where you’re pretty much talking to people you know, the chatter about how marvellous being a connected educator or scholar or simply human can be probably sounds a lot like “yay Twitter!” They look at us, and think, “man, those people get TOO excited about 140-character-limits on expression” and we all go about our merry business still completely misunderstanding each other.

Does Connection Minimize Technological Determinism?
The narratives we have around technologies and society and their intersections aren’t hugely visible to most of us. And they tend to shift with use: I have yet to see anyone deeply embedded within networked culture – whether as an educator or a momblogger or a poet – who has a determinist view of technologies. This isn’t a matter of chicken-egg…over nearly seven years, I’ve watched even people who started out quite convinced that their online lives were an add-on utterly separate from their real lives and that blog platforms were fun in and of themselves move to deeply embedded networked identities.

But many don’t start. And I’m thinking maybe being able to recognize technological determinism and address it directly might give those of us who find value in networked connections and connected learning an important tool for building better conversations about this, and therefore better connections.

A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age

I’m one of the people who collaborated on and signed the document below.

It grew out of a small gathering in California last month, where there was much raucous debate about online learning and the future of higher ed. Our conversation initially centered around MOOCs, but shifted, as MOOC conversations tend to. See the story in The Chronicle. 

One of the ideas it shifted to was that of a Bill of Rights for Learners in the myriad online/hybrid courses and enterprises that MOOCs seem to be spawning. Not every institution of higher ed will be jumping into partnership with Coursera or Udacity, but many are having to rethink online learning-  the IHE today says 47% of provosts think MOOCs threaten the business model of their institutions – and in this flurry to get in the game, the pedagogy/peeragogy aspects of online learning aren’t always front and centre. Nor is the nearly two decades of solid educational research in this area (I’m waving at you, Open University!) always well-known.

The key point of the Bill is that as online learning suddenly seems to be hitting the mainstream of administrative and faculty conversations, against the backdrop of MOOCs and fiscal pressures, it’s important that changes be made with learners at their centre.

I was – and still am, to be honest – a bit uncomfortable with the Bill of Rights language, and haven’t fully unpacked that. It may just be my Canadian ears. It may be that I’d rather stay away from Enlightenment language like “rights” for other people, even if I *am* a student and a learner both. Matters not, now: it’s named…at least for the moment. And open for edits and input and hacks, in hopes that it becomes something more than it is.

In the next year, many of us in higher ed will find ourselves designing some form of MOOC or hybrid or online course. For me, that’s exciting. I’ve taught online since 1998. MOOCs are an opportunity for me to actually focus my teaching and research expertise into the same piece of course design. But for most in higher ed that’s not the case. So perhaps this Bill will start some conversations and provide/provoke some ideas for those pressed into service on this “new” frontier. It will not solve the majority of the issues MOOCs raise. But it may help re-focus the conversation on learners and learning, which matters.

And it may – I hope – foreground the importance of learners as teachers and peer teachers, beginning to shift the power relations that schooling has tended to reinforce.

Preamble

Work on this Bill of Rights & Principles began in Palo Alto, California, on December 14, 2012. We convened a group of people passionate about learning, about serving today’s students, and about using every tool we could imagine to respond better to the needs of students in a global, interactive, digitally connected world.

The Internet has made it possible for anyone on the planet to be a student, a teacher, and a creative collaborator at virtually no cost.  Novel technologies that can catalyze learning are bubbling up in less time than it takes to read this sentence.  Some have emerged from universities, some from the private sector, some from individuals and digital communities.  In the past year, Massive Online Open Courseware, or MOOCs, have become the darling of the moment–lauded by the media, embraced by millions–so new, so promising in possibility, and yet so ripe for exploitation.

We believe that online learning represents a powerful and potentially awe-inspiring opportunity to make new forms of learning available to all students worldwide, whether young or old, learning for credit, self-improvement, employment, or just pleasure.  We believe that online courses can create “meaningful” as well as “massive” learning opportunities.

We are aware of how much we don’t know: that we have yet to explore the full pedagogical potential of learning online, of how it can change the ways we teach, the ways we learn, and the ways we connect.

And we worry that this moment is fragile, that history frequently and painfully repeats itself. Think of television in the 1950s or even correspondence courses in the 1920s. As we begin to experiment with how novel technologies might change learning and teaching, powerful forces threaten to neuter or constrain technology, propping up outdated educational practices rather than unfolding transformative ones.

All too often, during such wrenching transitions, the voice of the learner gets muffled.

For that reason, we feel compelled to articulate the opportunities for students in this brave electronic world, to assert their needs and–we dare say–rights.

We also recognize some broader hopes and aspirations for the best online learning. We include those principles as an integral addendum to the Bill of Rights below.

Our broad goal is to inspire an open, learner-centered dialogue around the rights, responsibilities, and possibilities for education in the globally-connected world of the present and beyond.

I.  Bill of Rights

We believe that our culture is increasingly one in which learning, unlearning and relearning are as fundamental to our survival and prosperity as breathing. To that end, we believe that all students have inalienable rights which transfer to new and emerging digital environments. They include:

The right to access
Everyone should have the right to learn: traditional students, non-traditional students, adults, children, and teachers, independent of age, gender, race, social status, sexual orientation, economic status, national origin, bodily ability, and environment anywhere and everywhere in the world. To ensure the right to access, learning should be affordable and available, offered in myriad formats, to students located in a specific place and students working remotely, adapting itself to people’s different lifestyles, mobility needs, and schedules.  Online learning has the potential to ensure that this right is a reality for a greater percentage of the world’s population than has ever been realizable before.

The right to privacy
Student privacy is an inalienable right regardless of whether learning takes place in a brick-and-mortar institution or online.  Students have a right to know how data collected about their participation in the online system will be used by the organization and made available to others.  The provider should offer clear explanations of the privacy implications of students’ choices.

The right to create public knowledge
Learners within a global, digital commons have the right to work, network, and contribute to knowledge in public; to share their ideas and their learning in visible and connected ways if they so choose.  Courses should encourage open participation and meaningful engagement with real audiences where possible, including peers and the broader public.

The right to own one’s personal data and intellectual property
Students also have the right to create and own intellectual property and data associated with their participation in online courses. Online programs should encourage openness and sharing, while working to educate students about the various ways they can protect and license their data and creative work.  Any changes in terms of service should be clearly communicated by the provider, and they should never erode the original terms of privacy or the intellectual property rights to which the student agreed.

The right to financial transparency
Students have a right to know how their participation supports the financial health of the online system in which they are participating.  They have a right to fairness, honesty, and transparent financial accounting.  This is also true of courses that are “free.”  The provider should offer clear explanations of the financial implications of students’ choices.

The right to pedagogical transparency
Students have the right to understand the intended outcomes–educational, vocational, even philosophical–of an online program or initiative.  If a credential or badge or certification is promised by the provider, its authenticity, meaning, and intended or historical recognition by others (such as employers or academic institutions) should be clearly established and explained.

The right to quality and care
Students have the right to care, diligence, commitment, honesty and innovation.  They are not being sold a product–nor are they the product being sold.  They are not just consumers. Education is also about trust.  Learning–not corporate profit–is the principal purpose of all education.

The right to have great teachers
All students need thoughtful teachers, facilitators, mentors and partners in learning, and learning environments that are attentive to their specific learning goals and needs.  While some of us favor peer learning communities, all of us recognize that, in formal educational settings, students should expect–indeed demand–that the people arranging, mentoring and facilitating their learning online be financially, intellectually and pedagogically valued and supported by institutions of higher learning and by society.  Teachers’ know-how and working conditions are students’ learning conditions.

The right to be teachers
In an online environment, teachers no longer need to be sole authority figures but instead should share responsibility with learners at almost every turn.  Students can participate and shape one another’s learning through peer interaction, new content, enhancement of learning materials and by forming virtual and real-world networks. Students have the right to engaged participation in the construction of their own learning. Students are makers, doers, thinkers, contributors, not just passive recipients of someone else’s lecture notes or methods.  They are critical contributors to their disciplines, fields, and to the larger enterprise of education.

II.  Principles

The following are principles to which the best online learning should aspire.  We believe the merit of specific courses, programs, or initiatives can be judged on the strength of their adherence to these principles and encourage students and professors to seek out and create digital learning environments that follow and embody them.

Global contribution
Online learning should originate from everywhere on the globe, not just from the U.S. and other technologically advantaged countries.  The best courses will be global in design and contribution, offering multiple and multinational perspectives.  They should maximize opportunities for students from different countries to collaborate with one another, to contribute local knowledge and histories and to learn one another’s methods, assumptions, values, knowledge and points of view.  

Value
The function of learning is to allow students to equip themselves to address the challenges and requirements of life and work. Online learning can serve as a vehicle for skills development, retraining, marketable expertise.  It can also support self-improvement, community engagement, intellectual challenge, or play.  All of these functions are valid. The best programs and initiatives should clearly state the potential contexts in which they offer value.

Flexibility
Students should have many options for online learning, not simply a digitized replication of the majors, minors, requirements, courses, schedules and institutional arrangements of conventional universities.  The best online learning programs will not simply mirror existing forms of university teaching but offer students a range of flexible learning opportunities that take advantage of new digital tools and pedagogies to widen these traditional horizons, thereby better addressing 21st-century learner interests, styles and lifelong learning needs. Ideally, they will also suggest and support new forms of interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary inquiry that are independent of old gatekeepers such as academic institutions or disciplines, certification agencies, time-to-degree measurements, etc.  

Hybrid learning
Freed from time and place, online learning should nonetheless be connected back to multiple locations around the world and not tethered exclusively to the digital realm.  This can happen by building in apprenticeships, internships and real-world applications of online problem sets.  Problem sets might be rooted in real-world dilemmas or comparative historical and cultural perspectives.  (Examples might include: “Organizing Disaster Response and Relief for Hurricane Sandy” or “Women’s Rights, Rape, and Culture” or “Designing and Implementing Gun Control:  A Global Perspective.”)   

Persistence
Learning is emergent, a lifelong pursuit, not relegated to the brick walls of an institution or to a narrow window of time during life; it has no specific end point. The artificial divisions of work, play and education cease to be relevant in the 21st century.  Learning begins on a playground and continues perpetually in other playgrounds, individual and shared workspaces, communities and more.  Learning can be assessed but doesn’t aim itself exclusively toward assessment.

Innovation
Both technical and pedagogical innovation should be hallmarks of the best learning environments.  A wide variety of pedagogical approaches, learning tools, methods and practices should support students’ diverse learning modes.  Online learning should be flexible, dynamic, and individualized rather than canned or standardized.  One size or approach does not fit all.

Formative assessment
Students should have the opportunity to revise and relearn until they achieve the level of mastery they desire in a subject or a skill.  Online learning programs or initiatives should strive to transform assessment into a rich, learner-oriented feedback system where students are constantly receiving information aimed at guiding their learning paths.  In pedagogical terms, this means emphasizing individualized and timely (formative) rather than end-of-learning (summative) assessment.  Similarly, instructors should use such feedback to improve their teaching practices.  Assessment is only useful insofar as it helps to foster a culture of success and enjoyment in learning.

Experimentation
Experimentation should be an acknowledged affordance and benefit of online learning. Students should be able to try a course and drop it without incurring derogatory labels such as failure (for either the student or the institution offering the course).  Through open discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of programs, the industry should develop crowd-sourced evaluative guides to help learners choose the online learning that best fits their needs.

Civility
Courses should encourage interaction and collaboration between students wherever it enhances the learning experience. Such programs should encourage student contributions of content, perspectives, methods, reflecting their own cultural and individual perspectives. Online learning programs or initiatives have a responsibility to share those contributions in an atmosphere of integrity and respect. Students have the right and responsibility to promote and participate in generous, kind, constructive communication within their learning environment.

Play
Open online education should inspire the unexpected, experimentation, and questioning–in other words, encourage play. Play allows us to make new things familiar, to perfect new skills, to experiment with moves and crucially to embrace change–a key disposition for succeeding in the 21st century. We must cultivate the imagination and the dispositions of questing, tinkering and connecting. We must remember that the best learning, above all, imparts the gift of curiosity, the wonder of accomplishment, and the passion to know and learn even more.  

* * *

DATE:  January 23, 2013

SIGNATURES:

John Seely Brown, University of Southern California and Deloitte Center for the Edge
Betsy Corcoran,
Co-founder, CEO, EdSurge
Cathy N. Davidson,
Distinguished Professor of English and Interdisciplinary Studies, Co-Director PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge, Duke University, and cofounder Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (hastac.org)
Petra Dierkes-Thrun,
Lecturer in Comparative Literature, Stanford University
Todd Edebohls,
CEO of careers and education service Inside Jobs (insidejobs.com)
Mark J. Gierl,
Professor of Educational Psychology, Canada Research Chair in Educational Measurement, and Director, Centre for Research in Applied Measurement and Evaluation, University of Alberta, Canada
Sean Michael Morris,
Educational Outreach for Hybrid Pedagogy (hybridpedagogy.com) and Part-time Faculty in the English and Digital Humanities Program at Marylhurst University in Portland, OR
(Jan) Philipp Schmidt,
Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) and MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow
Bonnie Stewart,
Ph.D candidate and Sessional Lecturer, Faculty of Education, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada
Jesse Stommel,
Director of Hybrid Pedagogy (hybridpedagogy.com) and Director of English and Digital Humanities at Marylhurst University in Portland, OR
Sebastian Thrun,
CEO of Udacity, Google Fellow and Research Professor in Computer Science, Stanford University
Audrey Watters,
Writer, Hack Education

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Invitation:
To join the discussion, visit one of the many platforms where this Bill of Rights and Principles is being published and blogged about (each of us, and each of the platforms, will likely create a different sort of engagement).  We invite further discussion, hacking, and forking of this document.  Use #learnersrights when you share your versions and responses.  Finally, and most importantly, this document can’t be complete (can never be complete) without continuous and dynamic contributions and revising by students.  We invite students everywhere to read this beginning, to talk about it, to add to it.  

Additional resources:  
We have not included reading resources here but invite you to add the ones most meaningful to you in the public, crowd-sourced version of the Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age.  That collective contribution is the principle we espouse in this document. We look forward to your participation.

Education for a Digital Age?

Do MOOCs inherently help develop digital literacies?

I’ve been thinking about this…and I think they can – even in xMOOC format – IF they are built on platforms that enable peer-to-peer networking.

I sat down to do an experiment for this week’s #moocmooc – a kind of short video essay exploring some of my thoughts on MOOCs and their capacity for developing digital literacies in the form of decentering (gasp!) teachers – and 28 hours later, after life and meetings and childrearing and my own occasionally stunning levels of technical idiocy interfered and I decided to conflate Tuesday’s video assignment with Wednesday’s peer pedagogies assignment, kinda, I emerged with a $*&($#&%$*)! video essay that is nearly 28 hours long.

Okay, 11+ minutes.

Apparently I *don’t* think better out loud. I *do* think better in the round, though, so I’m going to try another experiment right here, and rather than expanding in my usual prosaic format about my ideas, I’m gonna try to condense them. And then open them up for critique and improvement.

You can follow along while watching the video (alas, this version doesn’t feature my cat Clementine, as two cutting-room floor drafts did, but does feature sound, which another sleek 9 minute run-through did not. Please to enjoy the fruits of my, uh, compromise. Ignore the fact that my head bobs around a whole lot. This was Take #23 or something.)

Key Ideas & Assumptions:
1. The early MOOCs DID develop digital literacies, inherently.
I always thought of MOOCs as helping to develop digital literacies because my first MOOCs were all connectivist, and focused on the generative knowledge of networks, and the principles of aggregation, remix, repurpose and feed-forward: in them, learners worked to expand on and connect with the ideas of others by creating and sharing ideas of our own.

2. Then xMOOCs came along.
The big xMOOC startups seem to have been taken up as if the transformational thing about them is that they’re massive But really, massively-scaled education was tried back in the 20th century with TV broadcast models and never really lived up to the hype (side-note: a lot of educational TV initiatives evolved into what became known as “distance learning,” which I worked in back in 1998 when it was morphing to online ed). Broadcast education at scale has never been particularly effective. Or revolutionary. And the capacity to educate at scale is not inherently digital.

3. Ergo, if MOOCs are simply massive (& open in the sense of registration), that is NOT scaling education for the digital age.
That is, in fact, what Cathy Davidson calls scaling what’s broken in education. Taking a transmission model of teaching and broadcasting it via the internet does not create digital literacies, or citizens of the Internet.

4. But if MOOCs are built on platforms that enable (and preferably coax or encourage) the digital affordance of networked participation, connecting peer to peer, they *will* teach at least one key digital literacy. Especially if they’re big.
Traditional models of education have the teacher at the centre, providing knowledge, structure, care and validation (hopefully), among other things. Learning and value can come from this, but the model has become hegemonic and leads people to approach learning situations as if they are vessels to be filled, rather than active, central participants in their own learning. But at scale, with 20,000 students, teachers can’t humanly fulfill the validation needs, in particular, of learners to know whether they’re learning and making sense. The more students, the harder that is. So what networked MOOCs at scale do is decenter teachers. Not devalue. Just decenter.

5. Unlike broadcast models of scale, networked platforms need not leave learners hanging for validation, though. Peers can and will step into collaborative validation and knowledge-building roles if they have the means to connect and share.
At first, being in any course where you’re not performing directly – and predominantly – for the teacher is disorienting. Gradually, however, so long as the facilitator still provides structure and serves to lead continued movement and step in where thorny spots or challenges become evident, this freedom to lead and explore within peer networks can be pretty heady. The extent to which a facilitator encourages this depends on the content and assessment structure of the course; if it’s a mastery-based course with testing at the end, peer-generated knowledge may not be a goal. But peer networks of shared idea validation, like free-form networked study groups, have a place in almost any learning model. Even xMOOCs.

6. So if the network capacity is present, even conventional delivery of content – whether xMOOC or cMOOC or anywhere on the spectrum in between – can implicitly help learners to learn to look to networks rather than lone teachers or facilitators. 
And this IS a key digital orientation towards the world and the practice of learning.

So maybe, with millions of registrants around the world, MOOCs *can* be a key part of education for the digital age, by help learners unlearn the passive “schooling” model of transmission education that many still seem to struggle to shed. But ONLY if they utilize networked platforms that enable and encourage communications and connections between learners.

That’s my two cents. There’s something hopeful here, I think.

What do you think #MOOCMOOC? This is – even at Take #23 – just a draft of a thesis. Have at it. :)