“They mean to win Wimbledon!”

22 04 2013

Since this blog is getting kind of popular, I think it’s time for me to scare off as many readers as possible with an extended Monty Python analogy. And rather than go for a scene from a movie that almost everybody’s seen like “Life of Brian” or “Holy Grail,” I’m going to discuss a skit from the Flying Circus that only diehard fans like me can remember (since it comes from the season after John Cleese left the show), let alone quote without watching the whole thing again.

Here’s the video:

And part II:

And part III:

If you want the short version: Giant blancmanges from the planet Skyron in the Galaxy of Andromeda are turning Englishmen into Scotsmen. Why? Because Scotsmen are the worst tennis players in the entire world. When the blancmanges are discovered practicing on tennis courts throughout the country, the Graham Chapman scientist character logically concludes in a very alarmed voice, “They mean to win Wimbledon!”

This is a long way of saying that I thought of that line on Friday morning when I read a similarly absurd but obvious conclusion in the IHE article about Amherst College rejecting MOOCs:

“They came in and they said, ‘Here’s a machine grader that can grade just as perceptively as you, but by the way, even though it can replace your labor, it’s not going to take your job,’” [Adam] Sitze [Assistant Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought] said. “I found that funny and I think other people may have realized at that point that there was not a good fit.”

Gee, ya think? The Amherst faculty are like that plucky Scotsman, Angus Podgorny, fighting off the scourge of the alien blancmanges at Wimbledon before they get a chance to eat us all.

But I also have a more serious point to make here that’s a little less obvious. The blancmanges could only win Wimbledon once all the real competition had disappeared (either by being eaten or being turned into Scotsmen). Similarly, I think Amherst’s liberal arts college model is a threat to the MOOCification taking hold nearly everywhere else in academia.

In order to take over, MOOCs have to worm there way into places where they might not obviously belong. That requires something that has come to be called wrap-around. [Kind of reminds me of a boa constrictor, now that I think of it.] As Michael Feldstein recently wrote:

I was able to ask edX’s Howard Lurie about whether the course design for the blended classes in the SJSU project will be the same as the fully online one. He acknowledged that there would have to be a variant. We’re going to see more of that. To the degree that MOOCs are going to used in this way, they need to (1) have the curricular wrap-around that scaffolds the classroom use, and (2) be designed to be modular so that faculty using them in their own classrooms can customize them to the local needs of their students. In other words, we need to be able to draw different and more flexible lines between where the course-as-artifact ends and human-directed course experience begins.

In one way, this would be a pretty good future. MOOCs as textbooks would restrict MOOCs to the role of tools and professors couldn’t possibly replaced by tools, but what if we don’t need MOOCs at all? Why should we blow up the entire concept of courses [Feldstein calls the concept of the course an "artifact."] just to facilitate a technology that plenty of professors don’t want and won’t use? Indeed, if we’re going to go ahead and question everything, then the need for professors at all would inevitably find its way onto the table.

This seems to be what bothered the faculty at Amherst most. From that IHE article again:

Some Amherst faculty concerns about edX were specific to Amherst. For instance, faculty asked, are MOOCs, which enroll tens of thousands of students, compatible with Amherst’s mission to provide education in a “purposefully small residential community” and “through close colloquy?”

Yes, there’s a reason tuition at Amherst is so expensive. An Amherst education is labor-intensive because faculty there are primarily concerned with educational quality rather than price. Yet partnering with edX has the potential to make Amherst even more expensive! That makes as much sense as blancmanges playing tennis.

For people without access to higher education, the ability to enroll in MOOCs is certainly better than no higher education at all. If you’re already in college, then the question becomes whether the cost saving that MOOCs might offer can offset the inevitable decline in quality. [Claiming there's no decline in quality is just a way to justify the unjustifiable.] Amherst students who have the qualifications and the means to attend that school have little to gain from MOOCs.

MOOC providers are in a different position entirely. If they want to convince the public that their education is not just sufficient, but somehow superior to face-to-face instruction, liberal arts colleges become a nagging reminder to everyone who cares about such things of the road not taken. In other words, they can never win Wimbledon as long as this kind of competitive counterexample remains MOOC-free.

About these ads

Actions

Information

8 responses

22 04 2013
Historiann

Thanks for the link–and the excellent Python reference! I think your point about the elimination of the competition is important.

22 04 2013
Nick Hirsch

Angus Pudgorney, ye stoopid Scotsman! Aliens from the planet Skyron came to register with 4 million MOOC credits, and you believed them???

22 04 2013
Week 5 of English Composition 1 | stevendkrause.com

[...] “They mean to win Wimbledon!” is a post by Jonathan Rees that circles around an obscure Monty Python sketch to make the point about MOOCs being this invasive species trying to take over higher education. Interesting enough reading, but…. [...]

22 04 2013
VanessaVaile

does this mean they will send an alien force to invade Amherst?

________________________________ From: More or Less Bunk To: vcrary@yahoo.com Sent: Monday, April 22, 2013 7:01 AM Subject: [New post] “They mean to win Wimbledon!”

WordPress.com Jonathan Rees posted: “Since this blog is getting kind of popular, I think it’s time for me to scare off as many readers as possible with an extended Monty Python analogy. And rather than go for a scene from a movie that almost everybody’s seen like “Life of Brian” or “Holy Gr” Respond to this post by replying above this line New post on More or Less Bunk “They mean to win Wimbledon!”by Jonathan Rees Since this blog is getting kind of popular, I think it’s time for me to scare off as many readers as possible with an extended Monty Python analogy. And rather than go for a scene from a movie that almost everybody’s seen like “Life of Brian” or “Holy Grail,” I’m going to discuss a skit from the Flying Circus that only diehard fans like me can remember (since it comes from the season after John Cleese left the show), let alone quote without watching the whole thing again. Here’s the video: And part II: And part III: If you want the short version: Giant blancmanges from the planet Skyron in the Galaxy of Andromeda are turning Englishmen into Scotsmen. Why? Because Scotsmen are the worse tennis players in the entire world. When the blancmanges are discovered practicing on tennis courts throughout the country, the Graham Chapman scientist character logically concludes in a very alarmed voice, “They mean to win Wimbledon!” This is a long way of saying that I thought of that line on Friday morning when I read a similarly absurd but obvious conclusion in the IHE article about Amherst College rejecting MOOCs: “They came in and they said, ‘Here’s a machine grader that can grade just as perceptively as you, but by the way, even though it can replace your labor, it’s not going to take your job,’” [Adam] Sitze [Assistant Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought] said. “I found that funny and I think other people may have realized at that point that there was not a good fit.” Gee, ya think? The Amherst faculty are like that plucky Scotsman, Angus Podgorny, fighting off the scourge of the alien blancmanges at Wimbledon before they get a chance to eat us all. But I also have a more serious point to make here that’s a little less obvious. The blancmanges could only win Wimbledon once all the real competition had disappeared (either by being eaten or being turned into Scotsmen). Similarly, I think Amherst’s liberal arts college model is a threat to the MOOCification taking hold nearly everywhere else in academia.

22 04 2013
Lisa M Lane

You can’t scare me – we used to dream of living in a corridor…

I was also proud of the Amherst faculty, but what occurred to me was how few faculty have this kind of pull, can meet in a group and vote and say no. And they were able to use a financial argument. But most places can’t, when the idea is to create larger classes and eliminate the perceived need for experienced faculty. It has to be about knowledge (not just information, not just community) – there needs to be a full-blown defense of what we have that works in the current model, emphasizing rational discourse on the larger purpose of education, to prevent blancmange incursion.

23 04 2013
Like automating your wedding or the birth of your first child. | More or Less Bunk

[...] working adjunct jobs in academia (who could get a significant raise and still be cheaper than a wrap-around contract with Coursera), I’d take the adjuncts any day of the [...]

24 04 2013
Parker

I’m left wondering how all of this MOOC-ness will leave Business Schools. In the UK and France they are particularly keen to satisfy the requirements of accreditation bodies. Are these bodies going to be happy with such a poor standard of education?

Presumably there are other subject areas that require some form of accreditation.

26 04 2013
The MOOC monster will never be satisfied. | More or Less Bunk

[...] poses a potential problem.  Inviting an insatiable, giant, man-eating, tennis-playing blancmange to your party is stupid enough, but if you have to be that dumb then at least lay down some ground [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,277 other followers

%d bloggers like this: