The basic problem with the flipped classroom (and the MOOC with its reliance on video lectures), is that it continues the basic practice of the lecture hall, which presupposes compliant students following a single trajectory of instruction, which they are to then replicate in a way that can be assessed easily, that is, mechanically.
I am reminded here of Freire's critique of the "banking method" of education, to which he opposed "problem-posing" education--except that changing the mode of delivery may not at all alter the fundamental, repressive sets of practices at work.
Just a few months before the MOOC Research Initiative conference in December of 2013, Ian Bogost wrote an article for the Atlantic entitled "The Condensed Classroom," posing a skeptical glare at the move to promote flipped classrooms as a Trojan Horse for MOOCs to swarm within the high walls of Troy (my metaphor, not his).
Furthermore, Bogost explains, flipped classrooms more often than not serve to abstract the materials students would encounter prior to a traditionally delivered class. That is, rather than direct students to encounter primary materials, prepackaged lectures remediate those materials. So, in a way, the flipped classroom further removes students from the kind of chaotic, process-oriented learning experiences that a "cool" seminar-style delivery makes possible. Rather than improve instruction, the flipped classroom alters the educational experience away from the kind of "cool" (in the McLuhan sense of calling for those at the receiving end to generate their participation) delivery method of the traditional seminar.
Bogost is responding to a larger actant with this article: the ed-tech industry (MOOCs et al)/ Obama composition that already assumes that any real investment in education aside from the new online education push is already precluded:
What Bogost presents here is a interruption, a block in the pathway that the composition of MOOCs with politics still must contend with, especially after the results of the MOOC Research Initiative. And the new project transformation to follow will have to address and include the elements already trumpeted by George Siemens with the Connectivist MOOC.
In his New York Times Article "After Setbacks, Online Courses are Rethought" from December 10th, 2013, Tamar Lewin addressed the breakdown posed to the MOOC industry that resulted from the MOOC Research Initiative, funded by the Gates Foundation, and organized by George Siemens.
Taken from "The Lifecycle of a Million MOOC Users," this screen shot says it all:
Together with Alan Ruby and Robert Boruch, Laura Perna gathered data concerning over a million participants in 16 Coursera courses over a year (June 2012-June 2013). The shocking news is that only around 4% of those registered in the MOOC persisted to completion. Lewin connects this failure to Sebastian Thrun's response to the unexpectedly poor results from the San Jose State University Udacity experiment, wherein students from each of the pilot courses were outperformed by students engaged in the traditional delivery of the course.
What's interesting to note is that the conversations about the disruptive nature of MOOCs largely hinged upon their potential to reach out those who lack access to higher education, among other issues, and now, with this forced detour, a translation is in progress. Here is how Max Chafkin put it in his Fast Company article, "Udacity's Sebastian Thrun, Godfather of free Online Education, Changes Course":
The shift away from academic forms to vocational-focused learning is precisely the translation Thrun has begun given the detour required of MOOC proponents who must take heed of the cacophony of nay-sayers. Yet, with this translation, other actors may be more willing to become enrolled in the MOOC project, but under a different aegis, for instance, SPOCs instead of MOOCs.
One of the actors and stakeholders in the battle between traditional institutions and the transformative potential of MOOCs, of course, are professors: the professional class of people whose role is to cultivate and train students to become researchers, teachers, and citizens. In his blog for the Huffington Post, John T. Delaney attempts to do just that, kind of. Rather than give voice to those experts that seem to be sidelined in the race to populate the world of higher education with MOOCs, he essentially scolds those who are not getting behind the eight ball, and warns administration to work more nimbly with the recalcitrance of "entrenched interests."
The key actors in the network are all present already in the first two paragraphs: higher education, administration, observers (code for advocates for the revolutionary power of MOOCs etc.), faculty, unions ("entrenched interests"), students, and of course technology, the growth of which is inevitable.
Delaney presents the multi-barbed technological hook in a triumvirate: less prestigious schools will adopt new technologies more readily than well-established universities, effectively shifting the balance of power; the belief that students will continue to pay a premium for the brand will only add to the lag time to adopt and implement new technological forms of delivery; and faculty governance, together with union structures will slow any urgent moves to change to compete in the new technological/educational marketplace.
What is left unquestioned in Delaney's blog is the naturalized agency of each of the actors in the network, and in particular: faculty governance with unions, technology, and students. These are the intractable actors that administration (the good guy here in need of coaching) must creatively adapt to. Telling is the approach to the final paragraph, where a new actor appears: the reader.
The readers have the ears of Delaney's deliberative discourse here. His aim is political, and preparatory. There are battles to come that are bigger than what is at stake with adoption of technological modes of course delivery. These battles are hidden from view, and Delaney postures himself as having the rhetorical savvy to read the symptoms and to guess at what the symptoms point to.
I have begun to participate in my first MOOC (massive online open course) in earnest, after several other failed attempts at other MOOCs. My motives are legion: I am able to study the actor networks at work in MOOCs as the content of the course, and I will do so as part of the data gathering process for my upcoming presentation at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (March 20th, 2014). I'm hoping I've picked an angle that will work in multiple ways. We'll see.
My first assignment is to read an article within a news stream that deals with science and the humanities in some way, and to begin to identify and inventory the agents involved in defining the issues that appear as newsworthy. My first article is from The Chronicle of Higher Ed's February 13th, 2014 issue, and article by John Warner entitled "There is No Demand for Higher Education."
The inventory is as follows:
Latour's MOOC instructs me to answer these three questions:
I'm not quite sure if the sample I have chosen (as the most recent news item concerning MOOCs that came up from a Google search) deals with science in the way Latour means. It deals with the intersection of technology (MOOCs) in traditional educational spaces where certain people, the author in this case, feel they do not belong. If the technology of MOOC design and deliver may be seen as a "science," wherein there are experts who practice these methods to produce certain results, then the author of the article may indeed occur as a representative of the humanities, whose identity was forged within traditional educational frameworks that are threatened in some way by those agents advocating for the "science" of MOOCs.
What I see as a more important observation is that I have actually transitioned into a new role as an active learner within the network of this particular MOOC, engaging in the risk of failure, and actually having a bit of fun in the process.
I am an associate professor of Writing Arts at Rowan University. The views expressed here are my own.