The MOOC Research conference has resulted in some really interesting discussions that are playing out right now, and I want to take a moment to try and capture a few of them. I’ll start with Michael Feldstein’s thoughtful post “Changing the Narrative” that does an excellent job framing one of the concerns that arose in Arlington: the open education narrative being hijacked by corporate influences.
Is there a world in which an original idea like “edupunk” or “MOOC’ could both become dominant and remain true to its roots? One narrative we should be particularly careful of is the narrative of co-optation. The notion that some pure Idea is insidiously taken over by Forces and corrupted to their Evil Ends is both convenient enough to be almost inevitably wrong and simple enough to contradict the epistemological tenets that undergird the very idea of connectivism.
I think this is an excellent framing of the difficulty at the heart of the co-optation narrative—no idea is pure and the drawing of such stark visions of right and wrong tends to shut down any and all convesation. Agreed. That said, the contention surrounding the idea of open remains really important for the field right now. What the term MOOC brought to light was that, to echo Martin Weller’s post from a while pack, “openness has won now what?” Throughout the entire edtech field (whether public, private, for-profit, or corporate) the value of open educational resources, courses, and experiences as an inherent value of the digital landscape for teaching and learning—a narrative David Wiley has been laying down for fifteen years—as been almost universally acknowledged. That’s not our revolution any more. And this is exactly where Feldstein’s point about the term MOOC having helped to change the narrative is right on. But to point to a very timely article published this past weekend by Martin Weller, the battle for the narrative isn’t about MOOCs, even if it has been a very important intervention, it’s a “battle for [the] narrative taking place … around the issue of openness.”
I think that might be a really interesting starting point to consider how issues of power, capital, and culture play out around a term like MOOC. That might be the current focal point, but the longer view is how openness as a more ethos continues to pervade the work in this field, and that is where the struggle remains. As Stephen Downes notes on the topic:
I’ve watched the narrative – mine and others’ – be changed over and over the last 20 years. LMSs. Learning Objects. Educational Modeling. Content syndication. OpenID. E-Learning 2.0. EduPunk. Learning Networks. Connectivism. OERs. MOOCs. The result is always the same. Sometimes it’s ignored. More often it is co-opted and somehow becomes the property of the very institutions it targets. You can’t change the world – or the establishment – with a narrative.
It’s hard to argue just how effectively the narrative gets hijacked again and again, but I think Feldstein’s point might be that this is a demonstration of how effective the narratives have been. One continually informs the dialectic it enters, and the narrative is neither wholly co-opted or entirely pure as we imagine them—but something else. Always a sense of potential that moves us on (not necessarily forward), and for that I tend to believe narratives can change the world. So, I’m still a believer. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. There’s a lot of really smart people focusing on the importance of just this idea of narratives as they relate to open. Bon Stewart got me all excited about the idea to begin with, and Mike Caulfield was laying down some of these most brilliantly expansive bar room conversation around this idea and shipping, and big data I’ve ever been party to (more on that in my next post). I think we also forget, as Feldstein notes, just how much a few rogue bloggers have done to shape the open argument as it stands now. That said, it always feels like its on the verge of being transmorgrified into a venture capitalists’ wet dream of unbundling education from state funding. Damnit, there I go again with that narrative 😉
But why stop there?
I can think of other folks in the field that are going about openness in some really awesome and interesting ways that have been outside these narratives to some degree. The dynamic duo of Kin Lane and Audrey Watters have no institutional affiliations, and together represent a truly fascinating rogue perpetual motion machine that has been conceptualizing, narrating, and building the means to open up the technology at the level of the mind, soul, and API. I’m a huge fan of what they’re doing, and their sense of what was, what is, what’s coming, and what will be seems right on. I’ve learned a ton from them this year, and hope I learn even more next.
Also, the work Joss Winn and Mike Neary are quietly doing to transform Lincoln University is remarkable, and it certainly has a well articulated narrative of the edtech space in relationship to the political, social, and economic factors shaping it currently. Below is an excerpt from Winn’s recent post “A Co-Operative University:”
…the practice of collectively producing, owning and controlling the means of production remains a very important objective for me and any criticism I have of the free and open source software movement(s) and free culture movement in general, are so as to develop the purpose and practice of common ownership and collective production, and help defend it from being subsumed by the dominant mode of production i.e. capitalism: a highly productive form of social coercion for the private accumulation of value.
The notion of open source as a radical movement that engenders the possiblity of a culture that can re-imagine its relationship to common ownership and production is yet another narrative. On that’s a bit more difficult for corporate-sponsored rockstar professors to fully get behind, or media outlets to channel as anything other than an updated vision of the red scare. So the idea that we have intervened in the grand narrative of edtech might not account for the fact there are more than a few discourses out there in this space that would add to the dialectics.
It’s for all these arguments, approaches, and positions that have some truly intelligent, engaged people behind them that I’m really optimisitc these days. The edtech field has, interestingly enough, become a site where many of the most important discussions around the future of higher ed are taking place currently, and it takes courage to struggle with them openly and honestly. What’s more, as I noted at the MOOC Research Conference, it’s a field wherein many of the folks involved in the discourse are on the margins of traditional, tenure-track academia (which, ironically, has itself become a margin). Populated with Ph.D. dropouts, technologists, and a wide diversity of disciplins and degrees, it represents an interesting moment for the voice of higher education’s future. Although it probably won’t last. The armies of Ph.D.’s without a tenure-track position are gonna figure out how much better edtech folks have it than them (travel budgets, no teaching load, a steady paycheck, relevance, etc.)—that’s why God created the Digital Humanities and #altac! Not to mention the simple fact that, for better or worse, a terminal degree is the coin of the realm—although most folks with a terminal degree in instructional techology are about as relevant as typewriters currently.
Well, maybe I’m not that optimisitc after all? Damned if I know what the hell is going on in edtech, but this conference really got me thinking. And what I do know for sure is that this post is already too long, rambling, and incoherent. Let the record show I recognized this fact before I clicked “Publish.”