Double Barrel Critique: Flipped Classrooms & MOOCs

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Tyee – The Problem with MOOCs.

Jon Beasley-Murray takes a shot at 2 currently trendy educational “innovations”.  Well said and worth the read.

First the “Flipped Classroom”:

Essentially, his pedagogical tweaks involve the use of technology to incorporate student feedback and discussion. His technique is for the lecturer to introduce a concept, then pose a question. After responses to the question have been gathered, students discuss their answers among themselves before answering the question again; the lecturer goes over the correct answer and moves on.

The point is that ideally students will have taught each other during the discussion phase, as will be demonstrated by their improved responses the second time they answer the same question. Not a bad idea per se, but hardly earth-shattering.

Mazur’s thoughts on pedagogical theory were astonishingly superficial and, frankly, uninformed.

Agreed. (!)

One of the downsides of the wonderful interwebs is that everyone now has the ability to pass themselves off as an expert – and people are (always have been) taken in by slick marketing.Besides, who doesn’t want an easy solution to life’s complex problems?

For as little as $20/year you too can access my half-baked but visually pretty idea……But WAIT, there’s MORE….

Next, he takes on MOOCs:

But I do object to the romanticized pathos invoked by Koller (here and increasingly as her talk goes on): the conceit that Coursera’s object is to lift up the impoverished in Latin America, Africa, and the Third World more generally. Or the notion that North American universities’ participation with her company is the best way to make up for lack of educational capacity in the global South. Beyond the immense condescension and ignorance that it betrays on her part, I bet she isn’t spinning this line to her venture-capital investors. And I’d rather she didn’t spin it to us.

In the end, it is the broader issues that Koller and Mazur represent that are of most concern.

The radical educational proposals of the 1960s and 1970s are being rediscovered, now that their promise is finally realizable thanks to technological innovation.

But their utopian thrust has been lost, their politics have been gutted, and everything has to be “monetized” as part of a massive round of enclosures in which for-profit start-ups and mega-corporations colonize the captive educational market.

They turn their backs on a whole field of educational theory and enquiry, in favour of the latest huckster with a fancy website. And they forget entirely what the university is supposed to be about, or what in the 1960s and 1970s we thought it could be about.

We have the means to make a previous generation’s utopian dreams real. But we have forgotten their vision, and want only to buy and sell the means as though this were an end of its own.


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