Creating the Education Death Star

The damage that Coursera, EdX, Udacity and others have done to a decade of open education progress becomes more apparent by the day. In today’s installment, the kettle at SJSU comes to a full boil, with the faculty association there joining the Philosophy department in expressing opposition, not to open education, but to the badly deformed version of it that CourdacityX has produced. Some choice snippets:

“…The pedagogical infrastructure and work that has gone into the preparation of the edX material could easily be replicated if SJSU made a commitment to pedagogy and made training in pedagogy central to all faculty.”

“…In an environment where faculty are constantly reminded that fewer resources for public universities are available, CFA is disturbed that President Qayoumi is not actively lobbying Sacramento and Silicon Valley venture capitalists for more public funding of education. The people with whom he associates, members of the Silicon Valley elite, are the very people who have succeeded in privatizing the wealth generated by our society and making the rules that reduce their tax obligations to California. The partnerships with Udacity and edX will put more tax dollars into the pockets of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and at the expense of the State’s taxpayers.”

“…CFA also urges the public to write letters to the CSU Chancellor, SJSU President Qayoumi, and elected officials expressing concerns and questions regarding online education and massive open online classes, and the use of private companies for public education.”

Mark my words, within a couple weeks you’ll begin to see similar statements bubble up from larger and more influential faculty associations. After years of systematic defunding of public higher education, the brush is dry, dry, dry, and edX just lit the spark.

How the hell did we get here? Speaking about the previous statement of the philosophy faculty, David Wiley nails it:

If entities like edX and Coursera and Udacity would simply be open – meaning, use an open license for their materials – the concerns of SJSU faculty and others could be assuaged. Rather than pre-packaged, teach-as-you-receive-it collections of material meant to undermine faculty, openly licensed course frameworks empower faculty to tweak and customize and modify while still saving money. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You can have your cake and eat it, too, when you use open licenses. The either/or presented by the SJSU faculty is only true when purchased-pre-packaged courses are copyrighted – like the edX course is.

The problem is that these organization have made enclosure of public resources their business model. What’s happening here is not some trivial misunderstanding, but a very intentional closing of education. Audrey Watters:

At last week’s Ed-Tech Innovations conference in Calgary, Stephen Downes quipped that “Coursera is the last gasp of the standalone education application.” Even learning management systems — once the pinnacle of isolated and restricted education applications on the Web but never of the Web — have recognized the importance of becoming a platform and have opened up APIs in order to connect to third-party applications.

But not Coursera. It runs counter to the early MOOCs that Downes and others created that grew from and exemplified the theory of connectivism — learning on the Web, from the Web, of the Web. The Web was the original MOOC platform. Coursera seems to be the education anti-platform.

The place where Wiley, Downes, Carson, Mackintosh, Groom, and a hundred other people who have been arguing with each other for years about what web-based education should look like agree is this: locking down reuse — by students or faculty — is anti-educational. It’s anti-educational because it gets in the way of the teacher who is trying to teach, and needs to localize materials based on specific needs, personal insight, or based on all this data-based practice we keep pushing (but never want to support at the local level). It’s anti-educational because it gets in the way of students, who need to learn that education is a process of sharing and conversation, and need the power to take learning into their own hands. Students who may want to do crazy things, like discuss assignments on forums outside the course without breaking copyright law.

The sad thing to me is that all this is happening at precisely the point that open educational practice is poised for broad adoption. has put together a couple hundred classes of open material. Connectivist MOOCs demonstrated ways to pair co-creation of open resources with a peer-to-peer teaching paradigm that served many types of learning well, and changed the way we think about education. The UMW experiment has gathered so much steam that the only thing holding it back at this point is the tracks. Wiley and Thanos’ Kaleidescope Project (disclosure: of which WSUV is a part) is finally addressing the training and integration needs that have so often been ignored in institutional reuse of open resources.

When I look around at everything *but* xMOOCs, I see a open education movement coming into maturity.

But then. there’s edX. There’s Coursera. There’s Udacity. All of them seemingly dedicated to paving over faculty and students in the name of “open”.  And the backlash is just beginning.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In the hands of other actors the xMOOCs could form a core to thousands of localized experiences that dramatically rewrite what is possible in education while treating teachers as partners instead of roadblocks. In other hands, xMOOCs could empower students to rewrite their educational materials, and make their education a mashup of what works for them, instead of what the Five-Year Plan determined they should have. In other hands, xMOOCs could promote the communities of practice we want to build around education rather than destroy them.

There’s still time for edX to turn their ship around, although I doubt that will happen. In the meantime, maybe we should do something novel, like figure out how public money could support the public good?

via Hapgood

8 thoughts on “Creating the Education Death Star

  1. John Graves says:

    This need for openness and remixing is precisely the motivation for trying to build a Wikipedia-like system of crowd sourced learning materials (linked, interactive presentations) based on text-to-speech rather than on video. Perhaps the technologies and initiatives are available now to pull this off. See SlideSpeech and Mozilla’s Open Online Collaboration, Teach the Web

    • mikecaulfield says:

      Hey, John — I’m a big fan of TTS use in OER, and the way it makes things editable. I think I might have heard about this project from Jon Udell — do you know him?

  2. Rosie Redfield says:

    Not all Coursera courses (maybe not many) lock down reuse. My videos are CC-share-alike.

    • mikecaulfield says:

      Rosie — actually all Coursera courses do lock down reuse. Read the terms of service that students have to sign.

      I think it’s great that you share your videos, but if students are watching those video in the Coursera framework for a course they are taking elsewhere, or copying questions in the forums to share on Facebook for discussion or to build a study guide, they are in violation of Coursera’s ToS and subject to massive fines.

      Here’s what your students have to sign:

      “All content or other materials available on the Sites, including but not limited to code, images, text, layouts, arrangements, displays, illustrations, audio and video clips, HTML files and other content are the property of Coursera and/or its affiliates or licensors and are protected by copyright, patent and/or other proprietary intellectual property rights under the United States and foreign laws. In consideration for your agreement to the terms and conditions contained here, Coursera grants you a personal, non-exclusive, non-transferable license to access and use the Sites. You may download material from the Sites only for your own personal, non-commercial use. You may not otherwise copy, reproduce, retransmit, distribute, publish, commercially exploit or otherwise transfer any material, nor may you modify or create derivatives works of the material. The burden of determining that your use of any information, software or any other content on the Site is permissible rests with you.”

      I think the thing that’s most horrible about this is that even the people teaching for Coursera are unaware of the bait and switch that’s going on here. Teaching for Coursera is a good thing, Coursera isn’t evil, there’s plenty of good use for Coursera. But only if we’re aware of what’s going on.

  3. Rob says:

    Why should coursera, which is emerging as alternative to having to take classes in the university setting, be expected to provide material aid to their competitors, namely the universities and professors receiving money to teach similar courses? I believe there is a great need for sites like Cousera and Edx and Udacity to emerge, and I hope they aren’t torpedoed by those who let perfect the enemy of very good.

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