I work at a university. I feel truly fortunate to have such a rewarding and stimulating job. I get blissfully lost thinking about the interconnections between knowledge, ignorance, media, culture, power and freedom at all sorts of inappropriate times. I believe that how we can meaningfully investigate, learn and share across our global community may well be the uber-challenge that looms over this degenerative clusterfuck we call contemporary life.
So how come I never blog about education anymore?
I’m not going to fully answer that question here… I don’t know where to begin. But rather than stew in a sense of frustration, consumed with self-loathing about my willful ignorance, I’ll toss a few random thoughts out. If I feel better when I’m done, maybe I’ll follow up with more.
Disclaimer: what follows is going to sound critical, maybe even dismissive of people I respect, admire and have affection for… My fear of non-constructively harshing on people that I like has been a big reason I have been silent on these issues.
I have to confess I have next to nothing to say on the issues that are apparently central to the identity of open education today. I followed the Downes vs. Wiley debate on whether OER’s should favour commercial use, and the participants were informed, articulate and engaging. But the whole context of the debate both frustrated me (“favour”? …really? couldn’t they find a better verb than that?) and struck me as pointless — evidently we still can’t define non-commercial in less 119 pages, so why should anyone outside our specialized community have any interest in what we think? In any event, most people clearly aren’t interested. Meanwhile, here in Canada copyright battles are raging, extortionist demand letters are issued to educators and being paid off in secret, and fear, uncertainty, and doubt loom over day-to-day practice. Similar threats exist world-wide. Is our energy being directed where it is needed?
Or take the issue of MOOC’s. I’ve read and re-read this week’s arguments between Siemens and Wiley and I just end up feeling like an idiot. Those guys know their stuff, and there must be hidden dimensions of subtlety and depth that I cannot perceive, because the core assertions strike me as either self-evident or pointless.
Do open online courses have a role in educational reform? – Well, I sure as hell hope so. Surely the benefits of sharing discourse and inviting participation from wider communities are obvious. And if people can come and go as they please, the means are inexpensive, and expectations are kept reasonable and manageable, what is the downside?
Can MOOCs be effective in supporting learning for everyone? – Are people really saying that? If they are, that’s messed up, because saying anything is effective for everyone is usually going to end up causing a lot of pain.
In any event, until we start seeing MOOCs being successfully carried off by people who are not educational technologists, I don’t see how I can make the people I see at UBC and in the local community care about them.
Finally, there’s this:
Because so many of the learning-related problems globally concern access to high quality basic education (e.g., at the tertiary level, remedial math), MOOCs are not a solution to the problem of large and growing demand for higher education for people who are less well prepared.
Well, yeah. I’ve spent a couple afternoons helping out with workshops at a local neighbourhood house. They were supposed to be ‘weblog how-to’ workshops, and we did cover that stuff. But as the workshops proceeded I could see how important it was to help the participants with far more foundational skills, such as not being afraid of those bizarre ‘security’ pop-up window threats that spew forth constantly on outdated Windows boxes with shitty ‘virus protection’ installs. It was very basic stuff, but I could see the gains almost instantly, the enthusiasm was palpable, and the experience was deeply satisfying. I would like to think about how those of us in the professional positions can make more of that sort of learning happen — maybe it’s just as simple as more of us doing more volunteer work in our neighbourhoods.
I’m just now reminded via Twitter that I’ve said that #ds106 was “one of the most fulfilling & deeply meaningful experiences I’ve ever had online”. That is undoubtedly true. Yet I would never dream of throwing those bright and eager women from the neighbourhood house workshops into the clutches of Dr. Oblivion without a whole lot of preparation. Then again, if I am fortunate enough to do more of those workshops in the future, I am sure many of the great digital storytelling activities that students have created would be big fun to do. Again, what is the downside of opening up #ds106? Because I know that opening things up has enhanced the experience for the enrolled students as well.
I believe that questions concerning how institutions of learning (and yeah, like Mike, I think institutions have a place) engage the wider world (what Scott calls ‘creating permeability‘) are central to what open education should be about. The practice of MOOCs do lots of interesting things in this respect, so I hope they keep rolling and developing. But forgive me if my eyes glaze over when you talk about them.
There are many good reasons why George Siemens and David Wiley have more authority and credibility on the subject of open education than I do. I confess to feeling a bit like a feces-throwing monkey right now. What could be constructive about raising these points? But I have selfish needs today. I want to get out of this cycle of confusion and disengagement, and all I can think to do is try to blog my way out of it. At the end of the day, I need to be the change I want to see. I respect that other people are doing what they feel is important, and if it leaves me feeling empty I gotta figure out something different. Or fail trying…
I may publish a clear and coherent argument on what really matters in the near future. This may be the last post I ever write. The most likely future is where it always seems to be… in that muddled space in the grey areas and in the margins.
UPDATE: I’ve been corrected by @StellaMeme concerning the ‘deeply meaningful’ experience I had with #ds106… as I was referring to the Radio component in my original statement. I was aware of that tweak when I wrote it in my post, but since the topic of MOOCs was under consideration as I was writing, I just thought it made contextual sense. I had presumed I had the right to misquote myself, and I consider the Radio Station as a part/partner of the broader ds106 irreality anyway. But Giulia Forsythe disagrees, hence this addendum.