Week 4: Smith, Q8: MOOCs
  • While Smith is keen on emphasizing the democratizing potential of digitizing technologies, her work assumes access to a certain level of technology along with the means for interpreting it. Further, the democratizing aspect of digital humanities is currently under suspicion with the prevalence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). This is a big question, but how do we resolve these issues of democratization, access, and exploitation?
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  • This is such a great question. I had never really considered MOOCs as a form of editing/curating knowledge (even though now that you've raised the question it seems so natural and obvious!), and I think bringing together these discourses is a useful way to consider this topic.

    While I could never claim to be able to even approach an answer to the entire question, I think one useful way to consider trying to make MOOCs more responsible tools for editing is to complicate one aspect of Smith's article. While she rightfully lists "access" as one of the technologies new media editors should be concerned with, I wonder if we should actually differentiate between access and accessibility. For while shifting away from directly for-profit education models is providing access to information that may not have been freely available before, that doesn't mean the data is being presented in a way that is accessible on a pedagogical level for the majority of users (for reasons of teacher/student ratios, problems with the format data is presented in, etc.). As the recent issues with Udacity seem to illustrate perfectly, access does not make information inherently accessible.


  • Could you elaborate on those recent issues with Udacity Megan?
  • @adelinekoh @mfarnel I hope you don't mind me jumping in, but I thought I'd provide the link to the Chronicle's story on Udacity: http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/tenuredradical/2013/07/f-is-for-failure-or-dont-invest-your-pension-in-moocs-yet/

    Perhaps one of the most telling parts of the articles is when one of the students who failed a Udacity class states: "I am not against online learning, and I am persuaded that under the
    right conditions it can be effective. It is, however, becoming ever
    clearer that corporate methods for extracting profit from education are
    exploitative and ineffective for students.  I don’t think any of these
    providers are honest about the down side of not having a real, live
    teacher — not to mention the absence of classmates who might help you
    learn."

    The article goes on to discuss the major problems within Udacity courses: lack of direct oversight, unclear audience (full-time students, part-time students, working students, special needs students?), no flexibility (cannot change assignment due dates, take more time on a particular issue, etc.), corporate interests. Overall, these obstacles led to a 76% failure rate among Udacity courses at San Jose State.

    Thus, while many students had access to the information provided in this course, it was not accessible enough for students to succeed in these courses. This is one of the major issues with technology in the classroom, particularly in the form of MOOCS: it has to be used carefully, critically, and meaningfully. If we just let technology do all the work, the end result seems to be a massive failure.
  • Excellent, thanks so much! This is really important and interesting @cboyles

    I wonder also whether we should be considering the different definitions of access (open access, universal access, access to digital infrastructures) in thinking through @mfarnel's reaction. 
  • An interesting article on MOOCs & global access: "But, again, because the MOOC movement is dominated by providers eyeing the world “market” for education, whatever they proclaim to be their motive, their attempts to make MOOCs “accessible” to international learners goes to show that they are either ignorant or unwilling to acknowledge geopolitical dynamics that shape learning experience on a global scale." http://chronicle.com/blogs/worldwise/a-mooc-delusion-why-visions-to-educate-the-world-are-absurd/32599

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