Be Awesome Instead

Cole Camplese, for whom I have great respect, recently wrote a wonderful essay about the negative response to MOOCs from many voices in the open ed space:

Just a couple of years ago we were all trying so hard to get people to accept the idea that open access to learning was a great thing. Hell, some of the best conversations I’ve ever had in this field have centered around the ideals of openness, but now that the MOOC thing has happened the same people who built rallying calls for more open access to learning are now rejecting this movement. Why? Because it is driven by corporations trying to make money? Because it isn’t really open? Because the press isn’t giving a few people the credit they believe they deserve?

I’ve had a few great conversations with Cole in the past, and as I read his piece my planet-sized ego quietly suggested that I was one of the people Cole is disappointed in. And it’s true that I went through a brief phase of disappointment that I was written out of the history of MOOCs. But I feel like I successfully got over that years ago – before the so-called xMOOCs ever hit the scene.

I try very hard to apply the motto “There’s no limit to the amount of good you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit” when I can think clearly enough to do so. Would I rather spend my time making a difference in the world, or making sure people understood my role in the early history of MOOCs? It’s a stupid, embarrassingly self-aggrandizing question to even have to ask. That humbled me for a while.

And then, just as I was overcoming these petty feelings of being ignored, the xMOOCs emerged. At this point, I moved into my “righteous indignation” phase. No, MOOCs are not open – not in the same sense that I’ve been fighting to help people understand that word for the last 15 years. With the xMOOCs, almost literally over night, the primary effort of my professional career seemed to be undercut. The term “open” entered the popular mind meaning something very different, something severely watered down from the meaning I (and others, but this post is about me) had been working so diligently to establish. My feelings were hurt yet again.

The immaturity of those feelings was thrown back in my face by Cole’s post. For the last 48 hours, the question that has haunted me has been:

Why do those who used to push forward now push back?

And I find that I must ask myself the terrible question again. Would I rather spend my time making a difference in the world, or spending my time railing against MOOCs because they aren’t really “open”? And I find myself humbled again. And the little voice inside me says, “suck it up, Wiley. Yes, MOOCs have overrun the popular imagination. Yes, they are founded upon a severely impoverished definition of ‘open.’ So what are you going to do about it? Complain? Really? How about spending your time figuring out how to leverage MOOCs to move the ‘open’ agenda forward, rather than spending your time whining about how MOOCs have derailed it?”

So, I ask, how can the popularity of MOOCs be used to move the open agenda forward?

Whether you referring to me or not, Cole, I owe you a sincere thank you for this terrific piece of writing. As my kids say, “some people just need a high five, in the head, with a folding chair.” Your essay was the chair to the head for me. Time to follow Neil Patrick Harris’ excellent advice:

Time to be awesome instead.

I’ll share some thoughts on how the popularity of MOOCs can be used to move the open agenda forward later this evening.

5 thoughts on “Be Awesome Instead”

  1. In my mind, the best way to move forward is to recognize that the information and knowledge are already free. People do not need college to get information, MOOCs or otherwise. What schools and colleges do (that must be vastly improved) is validate/certify knowledge and skills gained. That is their place, and they do not embrace it. They are still obsessed with dispensing information in the information age. What a colossal waste.

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  2. Talk about “straw men.” Cole’s piece conflates all critiques of xMOOCs as if they were the same, and argues unequivocally that they will make education more accessible. Personally, I see almost no one arguing against the new developments from a petty position of needing personal credit (though a number have made good arguments about the re-writing of history) but MANY arguing against the new developments as a symptom of the latest in a 40 year effort to undermine public education. It might be different if the upstarts were simply proposing to serve unserved populations, but they aren’t; last I looked, Coursera was trying to get int the business of selling courseware to institutions. I’m not arguing for the preservation of the status quo, but is disingenuous to argue that this latest wave of xMOOCs share the same set of values as earlier efforts. It’s all shits and giggles until the VCs start asking to see returns, then just wait. We have a long litany of “free” services that ended up doing some nefarious things to their users once the profit man cometh.

    “Open” isn’t an end, it’s a means, but it’s NOT simply a means to openning access, if in doing that we end up destroying the very pieces we are trying to open up access to.

  3. Exactly – I complained but am now as weary of the complaints as I’ve been weary of the lack of openness, emphasis on profit, and the xMOOC effort to outshine the cMOOCs. I too worked for the real history of MOOC on Wikipedia (making sure your name among others was there as a founder) but to no avail. Forward is open education, in the sense that without capital letters or an acronym it can’t be taken away, only explored in various meanings and expanded upon.

  4. I have no idea what the intentions are behind these new MOOCx – I welcome them myself: the more free education the better. My concern is that because we deify well branded stuff, we may automatically accept their model as the “Right” way to do MOOCs and ignore that this technology did not just spring up out of the ether and that it continues to evolve. Moreover, we run the risk of associating MOOCx model as that most appropriate for Distance Education in general.
    MOOCx, or rather our reaction to them, have not disrupted the Academy at all. To the contrary they reinforce the established academic canon in a sphere where a new, more egalitarian dispensation was gaining a foothold.

    To an extent these MOOCx and the automatic legitimacy they have been granted may have the result of delegitimising of all else before them. Of course, this too often is a necessary by product of “progress”: early innovators – true believers – often get trampled underfoot when the big boys join the party.
    So we accept it, bitterly maybe, but happy that open and distance learning is finally getting the recognition it deserves. This alone will disrupt the established order. I welcome these developments with critical eyes wide open.

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