cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by nicola.albertini

Thinking back on the 10 year mark of this blog, I’ve noticed the decades for years ending on “3” have been pivotal for me stumbling into some good things, in the usual unexpected ways. So I am due. Oh, I am supposed to be no expecting.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

1993 was my second wet behind the ears year as a budding instructional technologist at the Maricopa Community Colleges (technically, I was a “programmer analyst/instructional systems”). It was October when my colleague Jim Walters from Phoenix College called me over at at event we were doing ther and said, “Alan, you’ve been tinkering with that Gopher server, here’s something you might like”. He handed me a floppy disk (old age marker) that was just labeled “Mosaic”.

That moment is indelible on me since he had a hunch, but did not try to sell me on a technology, he offered me a sly invitation to figure it out.

I was hooked on the visual web browser from first click. It was a short step from there to find the HTML tutorial from NCSA, the MacHTTP server, and I was running my first web server in November, 1993.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

That was how I learned about the web- on the web. Hah, in that photo, my handwriting lists the first web server address I managed — things were so open then, I could plug any machine into the network and make it a server. All the computers were assigned domains, and given my geology background, all the machines in my office were geological. There was topaz, garnet, sphalerite, quartz, galena…

A lucky early jump, a nudge by a colleague, and my path was started.

But here’s a funny thing about that early time– almost any new web server plugged in was worth announcing. There was a place to go to find out what the newest thing on the web, a hand coded page The NCSA What’s New page. The web was so new that one could almsot keep track of the major sites in your head. After submitting the URL for the server I had set up, our traffic jumped from 80 hits a month to over 100:

The first non-maricopa access was January 17, 1994 from the UK (, followed shortly by a few government labs, and early (, and look who visited at 7:30 PM on January 17 (, author David Halberstam clicking in from MIT. Wonder what he found.

The accesses continued to climb, 83 hits (Dec 1993), 1111 (January 1994), 2174 (July 1994), and the big jump to 24405 in August 1994 (These days, we get about 100,000- 120,000 each day).

Again, the web was small enough that just to say “We Have a Web Site” was big news.

It got big in 1994, the first book about the web (maybe, I am guessing if it was first, but John December’s The World Wide Web Unleashed was early:

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

And my MCLU webs site had a 2 page spread in it.

But the next 10 year leap… from 1993 first on the web, where all web servers are new, to 2003..

cdb apr19 2003

That’s right, the next nig blast was starting a blog. Like being handed a key to the web 10 years ago, I was nudged here by colleagues Brian Lamb and D’Arcy Norman, who were there blogging before me.

And like the web’s first days, just saying “I have a blog!” was new, novel, and something not many people were doing it. The “blogosphere”, like the early web, was a small place.

that wave carried me a loooong wave.

Both the 1993 and 2003 events were ones centered on something made possible by the unknown potential of the open web.

So now its, 2013, what is going to be the followup to those two cornerstone events? What will be the thing that happens this year, that I look back and marvel at how small and novel it felt, so innocent.

I just cannot accept that it will be MOOCs, but it does seem like it’s just enough to spout out, “WE’RE DOING A MOOC on _______”, as if that aline is novel enough to generate interest.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by *King of the Ants*

I can’t buy it.

Yet, I have to consider closely if Mike Caulfield expresses positive vibes for Yet Another MOOC. And I nodded agreement with the initial assertions of Cathy Davidson’s announcement What I Hope To Learn By Teaching a MOOC on “History and Future of Higher Ed”… yet something is wafting in the air.

And her attitude is to poke at the beast by engaging in it:

Personally, I’m skeptical of many MOOCs as they are structured now. This is precisely why I am planning to teach one. I am not someone who criticizes alternatives before I’ve explored them. And I really do not like to criticize nascent new alternatives when the existing system is not working to solve existing problems: by “existing problems” I mean the one I’ve outlined (higher education is unavailable to millions who want it), as well as the problem of much current education being out of touch with the needs, possibilities, methods, and modes of learning that students use out of school and that they need to use well for the world of work they will inhabit once they graduate.

Yet I am left with this question- why does she need Coursera? When I read the methodology, it’s the same old same old- video lectures and pushing the communication to discussion forums, plus multiple choice quizzes:

Can you imagine if 90,000 or even a measly 9000 people from all around the world filed such an ethnography of past education and present? Think about what we will all learn from this array of experiences.

Can you imagine the mayhem of trying as an individual to make sense of 90,000 people in a forum? I start reaching for the barf bag when there’s activity from a few 100. Have we not advanced at all past this communication technology of the 1980s? Yes, I read that she is trying to construct some different modes of prompts and different ways to structure multiple choice questions–

And this is always taken as a given:

Do MOOCs today bring down the cost of higher education? Not even close at present–it’s insanely expensive to build a MOOC.


My colleague Dan Ariely estimates it took about 150 hours of work by his team to build 1 hour of actual MOOC.

Why is it so freaking expensive? Maybe one order of magnitude less, but Alec Couros did it on a shoe string for ETMOOC.

Why does it take so many people so much time? Sure, in ds106, I am not trying to teach 90,000, but I’m doing an open course as a one man show. My weekly videos take about 2 hours or prep only because I insist on creating the silly intros that no one cares about.

I am just gobsmoacked to understand how an online class can cost millions to produce. Is it gold plated? Does it have dancing bears balanced on a jet plane? What am I not seeing in the picture?

So here is my 2 pesos of insight. When they talk about the scalability of MOOCs, what scales is the teaching by packaging it into fixed bits, by reducing the interaction a teacher provides students (most MOOC profs have disclaimers promising that they cannot communicate directly to students), by reducing assessment to simplistic measures.

I am not really seeing the potential for learning as scaling as much as the teaching. And maybe that does not matter when all of this becomes since sick giant lumbering machine meant to pop badges and certificates out the rear end of the thing.

So here we are in 2013. Just saying “We Are Doing a MOOC!” is going to lose its punch as the flood levels increase.

And so, I am hanging in here for something else to be the Big Thing For Decades that End in 3.

Case I am sure as anything, that for me, at least, it ain’t MOOCs.

And if it is, well, I’m looking to find work at some place like Home Depot.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


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