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Oh, Cole. We Always Push Back… That Means Bring It.

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I’ve known Cole Camplese for some time, we’ve blogged together, presented together, hung out all night after dull conferences together, drank together, I’ve dropped in and stayed at his house several times. I can remember the first time I came across his work- I was at Maricopa in the early 2000s bouncing around the web looking at the ways these new Apple things called “iPods” were being used, and came across a post of his how he had jury rigged a “consumption” device as an assessment tool.

I had scoffed at twitter when I first came across it in late 2006, but it was his description of an idea how to use it for communications among his PSU team that pushed me over the edge to come back to it in 2007.

With all this, I have been mulling a response to his “Innovation Confusion” post in some new thang called “Medium” – and want to respond constructively, critically, to someone who is a friend and colleague (Mike Caulfield “Reply to Cole: Pushing Back vs Pushing Forward” and David Wiley (“Be Awesome Instead“) are ahead of me).

Maybe “medium” is meant for… well I don;t know. I am not even sure what it is. Is it the twitterization of blogging, smaller nuggets? I see a comment there, but no way for me to comment. Are the only comments from other medium-ers?

And I know Cole is going against the grain of MOOC criticism by trying to leverage the movement for what PSU already does at a large scale. And it’s only out of a lot of respect that I say, “if Cole is into this, it cannot be all shite.” I give him that edge over many others because of trust, reputation. I can believe [some] in MOOCs if Cole is on board.

Yet, his post really bugged me, not for what it said, but what we have to infer. Let’s move into it. The lead off sentence:

Why do those who used to push forward now push back?

I know the answer to the question even as I ask it.

Yet, I never see where that answer is shared.


Why do the same people who pushed so hard for so many years to drive innovation into the teaching and learning space now recoil at the arrival of it en masse?

now that the MOOC thing has happened the same people who built rallying calls for more open access to learning are now rejecting this movement.

He’s not naming names- who are “the same people”? I feel like/hope I am on that list. I like to mock MOOCs. Why? Because they are mockable. I and I guess the “same people who pushed so hard for so many years to drive innovation” do this as well. It’s part of discourse to disagree, and in the past I have mocked Learning Objects, Course Management Systems, Internet Explorer, Stephen Downes… This “push back” is part of the questioning. Where in our history to we just jump n a bandwagon? The process of scholarship is one of pushing back constantly.

In fact, standing up to push backs ought to be what makes things stronger.

Were we supposed just to buy into all the New York Times hyped gushing over MOOCs?

Yes, the way the current MOOC landscape is shaking out has little to do with real honest to goodness open access. MOOCs are still closed in that you have to take the time to actually enroll in a “course” and take it over a period of time. I guess the true open crowd would prefer that everything just live on the Internet within “open” spaces like youtube and blogs. The reality of that is that it didn’t work and won’t for quite some time.

That, frankly, is one of the narrowest scopes of openness- getting to the course. I can live with creating accounts, but where is the openness of sharing the process? Where is Coursera, and PSU for that matter talking about their ideas for teaching this way? Can others repurpose the MOOC raw materials? If I consider sharing my aspects of my Coursera experience, I violate the honor code. It’s non-transparent. And yes, I think it deserves push back, not as a dismissal of the idea, but in the way its been done.

I refuse to characterize MOOCs as an entity, My bits of first hand experience are a handful of courses, and ones that I found horribly designed. I have not seen them all. Its silly to lump them all into one blob.

And that “reality” is not mine. “It didn’t work” has less to do with openness and technology and more with human nature (and what is meant by “does not work”?).

To many of us, openness does work, see the long string of Connectivist MOOCs, ds106, Wikiversity, phonar, P2PU.

If we want to move the needle on the conversation of openness, in terms of access, the MOOC movement is a real catalyst. I am sorry if the same people who dreamed of this moment aren’t happy with the way it is playing out “¦ hell, it is amazing to me that it is playing out at this scale with these players at all “” and by players I mean the universities, the staff, and the faculty.

Actually I concur that it is a catalyst, in the way of making people uncomfortable, not a bad thing. But what is it catalyzing? At what point does open come with pay to enter? Does it mean we have to buy it into lock stock and course?

Why are you suggesting we need to take sides? I’m on the side of learning, period.

I want all my ed tech friends to chill out.

Thanks for your concern, but I am quite chilled out.

In fact, I am having quite a bit of fun pushing back and questioning. A lot of fun.

Why is you seem to sound a bit defensive? Kind of like, “Mom, why won’t the cool kids play with me?”

To enjoy the fact that this is progress. That this isn’t selling out. That this is a step in the right direction. That this has the attention of faculty, administrators, and boards of trustees. That without that attention, this moment wouldn’t be happening. That our job isn’t to bash the movement but to do what we have always done “” move it in the right direction using positive energy.

How is this a fact of progress? Hell I do not even know what a fact of progress here. Where are these facts, Cole? I’ve been looking high and low and have not seen anything that looks like a lot of progress. I am interesting in what is it that advances teaching and learning. And what we are seeing is by the MOOC machine is an effort to try and teach more people, many more people. And that in its way, might be advancement– but it has not shown anything near that. Enrolling more people in courses of wobbly pedagogy do not seem like progress.

If the moment were to do more than just keep trotting out numbers of enrollments or the honor card list of players, maybe.

Is there but a single right direction?

So here we go, old friend. You know I love ya, right? And we wills till sit around your patio drinking growlers and drawing diagrams of world domination?

If anything, your positivism and interest in moving MOOCs out of the bullshit hype cycle they have been on, gives me some small sense fo hope. I am looking to Penn State to break the shabby mold I have seen to date on MOOCs. But we don’t know what you are doing, because it seems to be happening behind Coursera’s So called open doors.

It’s not pushing back, its probing the question. And if “the movement” is not up to taking the heat, it ought to get out of the kitchen. If the MOOC Movement is that powerful, that catalyzed, y’all should not be worrying what naysayers say.

The way you deal with negativity is a demonstration of positive tangibles. Show me the MOOC-ey.

It’s not bashing, its not personal, it’s asking the MOOC makers to show us something. Bring it. Bring all that forward progress on.

It is saying, “Come on… bring it”


Positivism? Hell yeah, All You Need is MOOC:

Mooc, Mooc, Mooc, Mooc, Mooc, Mooc, Mooc, Mooc, Mooc.
There’s nothing you can teach that can’t be scaled.
Nothing you can grade that can’t be AI’d.
Nothing you can tweet but you can learn how to play the game
It’s easy.

There’s nothing you can lecture that can’t be video’ed.
No equation you can show that can’t be animated.
Nothing you can do but you can copy how to be you
in time – It’s easy.

All you need is Mooc, all you need is Mooc,
All you need is Mooc, Mooc, Mooc is all you need.
Mooc, Mooc, Mooc, Mooc, Mooc, Mooc, Mooc, Mooc, Mooc.
All you need is Mooc, all you need is Mooc,
All you need is Mooc, Mooc, Mooc is all you need.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff 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. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. From my perspective, the major contribution to date of xMOOCs is to bring online learning into the mainstream. Many many universities whose administrations never gave the time of day to online programs, even their own online programs are suddenly saying “What is our strategy for online?” It’s probably a good thing that replicating xMOOCs is sufficiently expensive that only the most prestigious institutions are able to participate. That leaves plenty of room for the rest of us to develop quality online programs that work for the majority of students.

    1. I agree with that as a result but it disappoints me that education is that reactive. There has been sufficient movement out there towards online learning and it takes literally this black swan to be a wake up call.

      And there is no firm evidence that MOOCs need to cost hundreds if thousands of dollars to create.

  2. “There’s nothing you can lecture that can’t be video’ed.”

    I actually found DS106 originally (two summers ago? God, that seems like a long time) because I was working on a grant-writing project that touched on education. I was reading about Khan Academy and, in the articles I was reading, there was no other side, nobody saying that maybe there was a downside. The “other side” of the article was “Maybe he can get the funding to do what he wants,” not questions about the educational model.

    But Ben Rimes had a post up about Khan Academy, and then of course he had posts, also, on Summer of Oblivion, and the rest is learning-serving history.

    Somebody has to question what direction we are going in and how fast we are running. Cole makes some very good points, and his attitude is completely reasonable, but when the atmosphere is so saturated with one viewpoint, it seems like a repeated questioning of the assumed values is important, virtuous, and necessary for a substantive national dialogue on educational values to occur.

    Great post on this topic, Alan, I really enjoyed reading it and the original.

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