Reaction 12: DIY, MOOCs, and Higher Ed

Reading this week:

Carey, K. (2012). The Siege of Academe. Washington Monthly, 34–44.

Kamenetz, A. (2010). Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Schechtman, N., DeBarger, A. H., Dornsift, C., Rosier, S., & Yarnall, L. (2013). Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century (pp. 1–126).

If there is one thing harder than revolutionizing higher education, it might be capitalistic treatment of the environment. In September, there was a report released by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate that aimed to show how governments and businesses could “improve economic growth and reduce their carbon emissions together.” (Economic Growth and Action) Instead of companies sacrificing profit for the publicity of being environmentally friendly, now there is an economic logic to reducing costs through mass transit, restoring land, renewable energy, etc. What I appreciated about at least the idea of this report was designing systems and logic to match the goals of seemingly antagonistic forces. Capitalism doesn’t have to be anti-environment if it is in the businesses best interest to maintain a healthy environment. As we improve understandings and data of ecosystems, manufacturers or refineries understand the way they negatively or positively impact the environment, which in turn hurts their profits.

How can we design systems in education where key players in institutions (in this case, educators) see that it is in their best interest to exploit the possibilities of technology? Unfortunately most of the rhetoric used is from a capitalist perspective of efficiencies and consumption, which educators, in general, are philosophically opposed to. In Peurach and Gumus (2011), in an article reviewing leadership in School Improvement Networks such as charters, I was struck by the quote, “Critics express concern that this new school improvement market will be more responsive to principles of competition and consumerism than to principles of student welfare and the public good, with student achievement potentially taking a back seat to increasing the scale of operations or (in the case of for-profit providers) showing positive returns on investment.” (p. 3) How do we design as system that is responsive to the principles of competition and consumerism but prioritizes student welfare and public good? Focusing on efficiencies and costs doesn’t get at the stubborn, “heavily regulated, culturally entrenched,” (Carey, 2012) nature of higher education.

Could data bridge the ideological gap between the Silicon Valley edupreneurial venture capitalists and traditional higher education? I think about the Houston KIPP school that is changing their policies because of they acknowledged the high teacher turnover rate and the corresponding negative affect on student learning and cost. They are now offering onsite daycare and lactation rooms, flexible schedules or shorter hours, and even staff priority in admission lotteries. (Monahan, 2014) Is it naively optimistic to think that unbundling the traditional structures of education would introduce enlightened policies like this? Or is this a capitalistic mirage? “Digital philosophers have become fascinated by the potential of a humanized use of technology to liberate people from all kinds of bureaucratic institutions that have defined modern life for more than a century.” (Kamenetz, p. 114) Will this liberation be a net improvement for all or for some?

I feel like Richard Sennett is looking over my shoulder, shaking his head, warning of those who will lose out in this fresh-page version of education. What happens to those who are not able to access this free and abundant knowledge available through the internet? What happens to those who are not driven to do-it-themelves? What happens to those who are lost in the shuffle? As Wood (2014) states about the Minerva project, “If Minerva fails, it will lay off its staff and sell its office furniture and never be heard from again.” Is this the kind of ad-hoc fail-fast try-anything culture we want for the education of our children?

But then, society today really is different. As Carey points out, “When colleges were originally built, there were only two ways to get scholarly information: read a book or talk to a smart person.” (p. 40) Connections and personal learning networks are a reality that will continue to unbundle education. If the music industry is any indication, it is the open source, networked, decentralized models that will persevere and traditional educational organizations ignore it at their peril. It is more than a little ironic that institutions for teaching and learning are not themselves flexible and adaptive to learn as organizations.

At the beginning of this class, the question was posed, “Are learning technologies the solution or the problem?” After this week’s reading, I feel like they are the reality, dominated by the rhetoric of the fresh-page sector (i.e. Silicon Valley edupreneurs). Perhaps the innovation we need is a sociotechnical system design that unifies the seemingly antagonistic domains of capitalism and education towards a common utopia. Just that 🙂

Additional Citations:

Monahan, R. (2014). Charter Schools Try to Retain Teachers with Mom-Friendly Policies. The Atlantic. November 11, 2014. Retrieved November 28, 2014.

Peurach, D. J., & Gumus, E. (2011). Executive Leadership in School Improvement Networks : A Conceptual Framework and Agenda for Research. Current Issues in Education, 14(3), 1–17.

RELEASE: Economic Growth and Action on Climate Change Can Now Be Achieved Together, Finds Global Commission. (2014). Retrieved November 28, 2014, from

Sennett, R. (2006). The Culture of the New Capitalism. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Wood, G. (2014). The Future of College. The Atlantic. September 2014. Accessed November 28th, 2014.

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