Ed Parkour

Almost two weeks ago I was invited to Kansas State University to discuss Ed Parkour, a vision for edtech and higher ed that the good folks at K-State have been playing with as a metaphor to imagine what it is we do we we teach and learn in relationship to the open web. I absolutely love the metaphor, it is so rich when it comes to the idea of re-thinking the built environment of the physical university as well as the open web to think creatively about how we might actual use the spaces we occupy imaginatively rather than resorting to lazy, over-arching statements that institutions of higher ed are irrelevant, dying, etc. I mean I like apocalyptic narratives as much as the next guy, but we have to acknowledge their limits and the potential reactionary fallout of this rhetoric (fully knowing some of which has been directly attributed to me). In that regard, I can’t begin to tell you how deeply touched I was when the inimitable Mike Wesch introduced my talk with a talk that was better than the talk. His frame of Ed Parkour was perfect and his summation of my feeble career made me feel really good about what we’ve all been doing these last few years. His ability to inspire, infuse a moment with meaning while at the same time understanding it both viscerally and intellectually is amazing. There is a very good reason why he’s so greatly respected by so many, he epitomizes everything that is great not only about higher education and edtech in our moment, but the potential for civilization to harness both together for good. I’m a big fan, I read all his blog posts and tweets 😉 What’s more, he is quite the traceur himself:

One of the real privileges of having people invite me to their campus is not necessary the talks I do—though I enjoy doing them, but I might be the only one :)—but seeing the people that make up the culture of a place. It is always readily apparent to me what cultures are ready to explode with this stuff specifically because of the people. This was true of Duke University, Penn State University, Elon University, St Lawrence College, and many more. What’s interesting to me is that like Penn State University, Kansas State University is one of those big, research one universities that has awesome people that can effect real, positive change within a culture of tens of thousands of students, and that is powerful. When I sat down to talk to the folks from the Office of Mediated Technologies (OMT? —I think that is the acronym) at K-State I was impressed by how thoughtful they were about the intersection of teaching and technology, what’s more I was amazed at how well-poised the entire organizational is to make a huge impact of the landscape of teaching and learning throughout the campus, as well beyond that.

And this idea of place, a campus, the sense of a built physical environment populated by people is crucial—it is for me one of the most attractive elements of Ed Parkour. An emphasis on the role the built environment in which we exist, learn, teach and play is essential to the educational experience—something campuses need to think harder and more creatively about moving forward because the technology and the physical space are not mutually exclusive, or even parasitic as some would frame it, but rather they are deeply symbiotic. I could go on and on about how amazing my short stay in Manhattan, Kansas was, and particularly the entire day I got to spend with some great people in their environment, but why not let one of them tell you about it.

One more point about the presentation before I close this one up. George Siemens noted that my framing of MOOCs was deeply problematic and that I was “bashing moocs as a function of scale using Stanford as an example.” I will address this, but my favorite tweet by him (you can see all of them here, here, here, and here) was when he dismisses ds106 as “a utopian world of creativity….not seeking scale.” I think ds106 pisses some folks off when it comes to the MOOC in that it is not about re-framing traditional academics, it’s about memes, creative culture, and doing. In that regard it is easy for the bias of higher ed to write it off, which makes me love it even more 🙂 As for Stanford and scale, well I think the idea of MOOCs are undergoing a process of popularity and visibility that is translating into a market—and we have to be honest in the case of Stanford’s AI MOOC and the subsequent Udacity project is that what’s driving that market is scale. The idea of massive numbers that can pay a nominal fee to take a course. And I am all for educating the world for a nominal fee, it’s a great thing, and what Siemens, Downes, and Cormier have framed and started with the MOOC is nothing short of amazing. My issue is that the focus on massive, scaling, and analytics ultimately makes the business vision that Sebastian Thrun has imagined from the beginning of his MOOC paramount. Why can;t this be done within an institution? Isn’t that part of why his business model will be successful—because he was a Stanford professor? Seems to me the celebrity, numbers, and fascination with scale of the MOOC is what is driving the popularity of the MOOC not the innovation around connecting students and teaching and learning in pwoerful ways. That is why Alan Levine’s notion of ds106 as a fractal, constantly mutating course, it is not scaling a traditionally imagined academic course to be “bigger,” but rather designing a space that is open,and grows organically over time:

This growth approach is in many ways, a parallel for the underlying, packet passing distributed structure of the internet we are all riding on. “Does it scale?” is irrelevant here, so I’d like to say, it does not have to scale- it is growing organically. Rather than taking the course as handed out by an entity, people are making it their own, meshing it with their own teaching needs, strategies.

And that is a beautiful thing, let’s make some art damnit, fractally

I can’t imagine we want to turn the potential of the MOOC into a market, we want to take education back from the markets. We want more “green spaces” for teaching and learning, to quote Brian Lamb. We need a form of open, online class expereinces that are free of venture capital and the next celebrity professor, a community of learning that leverages the resources we already have at publicly funded brick and mortar institutions and open them up to the world, and there is no reason the world can’t, in turn, directly inform what happens at institution.

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7 Responses to Ed Parkour

  1. Hi Jim – great talk – your passion and energy are as impressive as the concepts your described.

    I’m not always a huge fan of naming things. I sometimes like the boundary-less aspects of ideas that aren’t framed and confined by language. It allows us to negotiate and play with an idea without being confined to games of definition. However, names enable ideas to perpetuate (DIY, edupunks, parkour), at the expense of losing the spirit of the phenomenon being described.

    MOOCs was a term that just seemed to gain traction. Our goal with the first course (and subsequent ones) was not to scale or get huge numbers. It was just to teach and learn transparently. At times we did get a bit hooked on numbers, as I guess would happen in almost any instance where things take off more rapidly than anticipated. I frequently quoted “over 2200 learners” in presentations. However, that was more an expression of surprise that people joined and contributed the way they did. Well, and to be honest, a bit of “look what happened” pride/ego i.e. “what we did here made that happen”

    What I found frustrating in your talk was the use of mooc language – generally affiliated with the open courses Stephen and I have done – with the scaling aspect of the Stanford AI course. Our open courses are messy, hardly organized, and driven by the autonomy of individual participants. Scale has been incidental to what we’ve done.

    What you’ve found with DS106 is exactly what we’ve experienced with open online courses: people, when given permission and space to play, produce awesome stuff. The creativity in diagrams, videos, blog posts, images, etc amazes me with each course. Admittedly, we haven’t emphasized creativity to the degree that you and Alan (and others) have with DS106. The Daily Create is an awesome idea. So is radio ds106. I was a bit crotchety in my reference to ds106 being the utopia of creativity, but in reality, for open online courses, it is.

    I’m not sure who is getting pissed off about ds106, though. It is a venture in creativity, emotion, and passion. I recognize that you are not trying to reframe higher education (something that we *are* trying to do with moocs, but from the perspective of getting people to think differently about the relationships between a learner, the institution, information, and control/power). And you are right that moocs are being appropriated by startups and that the fundamental principle driving this interest is scale. However, you are as aware as anyone of the distinctions between what we’ve tried to do with moocs and what Udacity now wants to do in terms of scale. I was taken aback that you critiqued moocs using stanford AI as the means to do so.

    Now, the analytics aspect you reference, well, that’s a different post, but I should at least absolve Stephen and Dave from that. I don’t believe they share my interest in analytics to understand the learning process. And, as a means to absolve myself, I’ve always been interested in ideas in conflict, but not resolved to appease discomfort. I’m quite comfortable entertaining openness and creativity with analytics and data. The tension is where the fun stuff lies.

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