“Video killed the radio star.”

29 07 2013

As you might imagine, I’ve been reading a lot of insufferable technological determinism aimed in my direction ever since that Slate article came out. Of course, there’s been, “How dare you resist progress?” and “Don’t you understand business history?,” or, my favorite…well, let’s just say it gets even worse from there. Since I only title blog posts in order to amuse Ian Petrie now, I’ve decided to call the belief system that motivates these kinds of arguments, “The Buggles Theory of the History of Technology.”

Under this system, progress marches on from one technology to another (like video killing the radio star), always getting better. Under this system, the people who lose out need to just stand aside and accept their obsolescence without making a peep since the dead are silent. No mention of political decisions (like chronically underfunding higher education) or power structures (cough…contingent faculty…cough) or even the actual history of technology will be tolerated! And God forbid you mention the self-interest of your own profession, because that will invalidate your argument immediately since it proves that you’re biased.

Of course, MTV no longer plays any videos anymore, but that just proves their point doesn’t it? After all, if the people want “Teen Wolf” or “Buckwild” or reruns of “Jersey Shore,” then the history of MTV proves that capitalism works. After all, I can still watch any video I want on YouTube (such as “Video Killed the Radio Star”) whenever I want to see it. I can even embed it in a blog post. Therefore, the people have spoken!

That’s all well and good, but how do we know that students actually want MOOCs? Sure, tens of thousands of people will sign up to access MOOCs for free, but what evidence do we have that anybody, especially college-age students, will actually pay for them? I’ve covered potential problems with the MOOC business model in this post. What I want to do here is expand on what was point #3 there: Whether paying college students will be willing to put up with being treated like faces in the crowd.

In just the last few weeks, I’ve seen a lot more evidence that they won’t. For instance, here’s Rob Jenkins writing in the Chronicle:

It’s true that during the past decade, the number of students enrolled in online courses grew at a significant rate. But according to a recent study, that growth started leveling off in the fall of 2010, when about 31 percent of all postsecondary students were taking at least one online class. Researchers concluded that “the slower rate of growth … compared to previous years may be the first sign that the upward rise in online enrollments is approaching a plateau.”

Moreover, a survey conducted this year by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University found that students at two-year campuses, in particular, prefer face-to-face over online instruction, especially for courses they deem difficult.

So while some students want, need, and benefit from online classes, the argument that students in general are clamoring for them doesn’t exactly hold up.

This is just for online courses, the ones in which students can actually be treated as individuals. Student attitudes towards MOOCs inevitably have to be worse since they aren’t treated as individuals at all. [Don’t worry, MOOC Messiah Squad, you can always just hold your hands over your ears and chant “access” until all the bad news goes away.]

Then there’s what happened in my own state. My friend, fellow cog in the CSU system machine and future debate partner Historiann reminds of this in her most recent post on MOOC Madness. Here she quotes an absolutely appalling op-ed from the Washington Post:

What about that experiment to offer dramatically reduced tuition for MOOCwork courses at Baa Ram U.? It’s even more hilarious than you can guess [Historiann’s emphasis]:

Colorado State’s Global Campus advertised last year that it would give credit to enrolled students who passed a MOOC in computer science. This would cost students $89 instead of the $1,050 for a comparable course. There were no takers. Seven additional institutions are set to make similar offerings in the coming year. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, they expect only hundreds, not thousands, of takers.

But why are prospective students so reluctant to jump on the MOOC bandwagon when 10% of them stand to learn so much? Why is it only a few tenured edupreneurs at prestigious universities who are pushing MOOCs by reassuring us that they’re inevitable “for good or ill?” But why? Santy Claus, why? Why are you taking our Christmas tree? Why? Even the not-very-intelligent commenters at the Washington Post have called bull$hit on this advertorial: my favorite is the one that says “Yeah, and blow up dolls are a good substitute for a wife…”

I still think this is more an indictment of online education in general than MOOCs in particular, but students aren’t stupid. That’s why I wonder how much market research any of these schools are doing. What if “hundreds” turns out to be “a handful?” Where will that leave the Buggles Theory of the History of Technology?

Unfortunately, there’s one way that the Buggles Theory of the History of Technology can be rescued from the dustbin of horrible edtech punditry: Make sure that most students have no other option but MOOCs, and the people running the show can still make money even if many students do forego college in droves. However, that doesn’t have to happen.

It’s still early yet in the process of MOOC-ification. We can still rewind. We haven’t gone too far. Those of us who haven’t given themselves over to the Cult of MOOCs simply have to make sure that anti-MOOC remains the new black until the providers all come crashing down courtesy of their non-existent business plans. Cathy Davidson is right. If all the MOOCs went away tomorrow, higher ed would still be in a world of hurt, but at least those problems couldn’t get much, much worse much, much faster than anybody imagined before MOOC Mania began.


The emperor has no clothes.

10 11 2011

I saw this in IHE yesterday:

“Though it did not sample faculty opinion directly, responses from those same academic leaders suggest that professors have also been slow to completely come around on online education. Since 2003, the proportion of respondents who agree that their faculty “fully accept” the “value and legitimacy of online education” has edged up from 30.4 percent to 32 percent.”

I’ve seen surveys like this before, but that was just a survey of and about college presidents – not a survey of professors and certainly not a survey of college professors guessing what their professors think.

Despite the implication of progress in this language, 32 percent still strikes me as being unbelievably low when you consider the fact that presidents have every reason in the world to overestimate faculty acceptance of online classes and most faculty have every incentive in the world not to tell their university’s president what they really think.

Leslie M-B, however, has told us all exactly what she thinks of the online classes at her institution:

* online classes are about faculty relinquishing control of their “content” and allowing for the greater adjunctification of the university;

* the university has a narrow view of online teaching as content to be acquired by students;

* the university is not really invested in best practices in online learning.

Did I mention that she’s untenured?

If you read her entire monologue, you’ll see that her employer has a lot of quirks with respect to what they consider online learning. Nevertheless, if you read this blog regularly you know that there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that this critique is hardly unique among faculty. The funny thing is that there’s plenty of evidence that the online arms of traditional universities know that the education they offer is inferior too. Here’s another gem from last Sunday’s online education takedown in the NYT:

One bonus for students in programs connected to traditional universities: diplomas likely won’t mention that the degree was earned online.

Gee, I wonder why they might want to hide that fact? I guess the only people who don’t realize that online education is an inferior product are tech reporters and college presidents.

The Baffler is back!

3 02 2010

So George Packer hates Twitter. I’m right there with you buddy, but the much more important news in this post is that The Baffler has returned. [I actually hadn’t realized that it died, but then what do I know anyway?]

If you don’t know The Baffler, it was founded by the historian turned journalist Thomas Frank and was famous for its cultural analysis of economic issues long before Frank became famous for doing the same with politics in What’s the Matter With Kansas?.

The website offers free access to a lot of great material, including their awesome archives. If you don’t know anything about the magazine, but are looking for a place to start reading try their labor issue from 1997. It’s pure genius.

Excuse me for cutting this post short, but I have to go renew my long-dormant subscription.

Dear _New York Times_:

10 07 2009

You haven’t asked me how charging a $5/month fee for access to your web site would affect my reading habits, but I’ll tell you anyways. I would indeed cough it up, but I would also cancel my Sunday subscription so fast it would make your head swim.

I’ll even do the math for you. $5 – $20 = -$15.



Swine flu panic (in 1976).

27 04 2009

It scares me that I have to read Gawker for historical perspective on today’s headlines.

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