Welcome to DIY U

February 14, 2010

I’m Anya.

This is my site about the future of education. In the spirit of DIY U, I made it myself–with help from friends, colleagues, and Twitterfolks.

You might also be interested in my new free ebook and website The Edupunks’ Guide full of resources for independent learners, my Fast Company column Life In Beta, my Tribune Media column The Savings Game, my Book DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of  Higher Education, my Twitter feed@Anya1anya, or in having me come speak at a campus or gathering near you.

We’re at a curious point in the hype cycle of educational innovation, where the hottest concept of the past year–Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs–is simultaneously being discovered by the mainstream media, even as the education-focused press is declaring them dead. “More Proof MOOCs are Hot,” and “MOOCs Embraced By Top Universities,” said the Wall Street Journal and USA Today last week upon the announcement that Coursera had received a $43 million round of funding to expand its offerings;
“Beyond MOOC Hype” was the nearly simultaneous headline in Inside Higher Ed.

Can MOOCs really be growing and dying at the same time?

The best way to resolve these contradictory signals is probably to accept that the MOOC, itself still an evolving innovation, is little more than a rhetorical catchall for a set of anxieties around teaching, learning, funding and connecting higher education to the digital world. This is a moment of cultural transition. Access to higher education is strained. The prices just keep rising. Questions about relevance are growing. The idea of millions of students from around the world learning from the worlds’ most famous professors at very small marginal cost, using the latest in artificial intelligence and high-bandwidth communications, is a captivating one that has drawn tens of millions in venture capital. Yet, partnerships between MOOC platforms and public institutions like SUNY and the University of California to create self-paced blended courses and multiple paths to degrees look like a sensible next step for the MOOC, but they are far from that revolutionary future. Separate ideas like blended learning and plain old online delivery seem to be blurring with and overtaking the MOOC–even Blackboard is using the term.

The time seems to be ripe for a reconsideration of the “Massive” impact of “Online” and “Open” learning. The Reclaim Open Learning initiative is a growing community of teachers, researchers and learners in higher education dedicated to this reconsideration. Supporters include the MIT Media Lab and the MacArthur Foundation-supported Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. I am honored to be associated with the project as a documentarian and beater of the drum.

Entries are currently open for our Innovation Contest, offering a $2000 incentive to either teachers or students who have projects to transform higher education in a direction that is connected and creative, is open as in open content and open as in open access, that is participatory, that takes advantage of some of the forms and practices that the MOOC also does but is not beholden to the narrow mainstream MOOC format (referring instead to some of the earlier iterations of student-created, distributed MOOCscreated by Dave Cormier, George Siemens, Stephen Downes and others.)

Current entries include a platform to facilitate peer to peer language learning, a Skype-based open-access seminar with guests from around the world, and a student-created course in educational technology. Go here to add your entry! Deadline is August 2. Our judges include Cathy Davidson (HASTAC), Joi Ito (MIT), and Paul Kim (Stanford).

Reclaim Open Learning earlier sponsored a hackathon at the MIT Media Lab. This fall, September 27 and 28, our judges and contest winners will join us at a series of conversations and demo days to Reclaim Open Learning at the University of California, Irvine. If you’re interested in continuing the conversation, join us there or check us out online.

The mushrooming of university-sponsored Massive Open Online Courses, also known as MOOCs or xMOOCs, over the last year and a half has pushed the conversation about innovations in higher education from the sidelines into the national spotlight.

Millions have enrolled. Thousands have completed. MOOCs are raising as much excitement outside the academy as trepidation and antipathy within it. Whether used in blended learning settings, as part of an in-person class, or as standalone online offerings, MOOCs threaten to accelerate the postwar trend toward “casualization” of the teaching profession, rendering some professors “glorified teaching assistants” even as they turn others into “rock stars.”

But what about the learning? Many observers have noted the irony that in their current form, xMOOCs seem to be loosely modeled after the least interesting instructional modes of the age of mass higher education. They are structured as synchronous, several-week courses featuring short lecture video clips paired with rapid-recall multiple choice questions, plus some form of exams, papers, and project assignments, and a small amount of reading.

Even as the “massiveness” of enrollment and “online-ness” of delivery in the MOOC may be new (or somewhat new), in other words, the “course” piece is all too familiar.

And what about the Open?

Open learning can mean many things to many people. It can mean learning that takes advantage of Creative Commons-licensed open educational resources or OER (of the major MOOC platforms, EDx is open-source, but none have open content). It can mean learning that is self-organized, experimental, peer-to-peer, DIY, badged or otherwise nontraditionally accredited. It takes place where theory meets practice, in communities of practice, in bar camps, hackathons, hacker spaces, Maker Faires, chat rooms, virtual worlds, archaeological digs, libraries, on Twitter, on Vine, on Instructables, on Vimeo, at the after-afterparty to the conference, at the Occupy encampment, in abandoned churches in Pittsburgh, coworking spaces in Nairobi or the Museum of Modern Art.

xMOOCs have never been and will never be the sum total or even the best example of experimentation with truly open learning.

But what are the best examples?

That’s what my teammates and I are trying to find out. And we need your help!

Reclaim Open Learning is a small innovation contest, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, the Digital Media and Learning Hub, and the MIT Media Lab with a humble mission. We want to find the five best examples of innovation happening right now in higher ed.

The best of truly open, online and networked learning + The knowledge and expertise represented by institutions of higher education = Reclaim Open Learning.

We’re trying to find out:

  • What are independent learners and innovative teachers doing now that deserves support, recognition, and scaling up?

  • How can colleges and universities engage with the social, participatory, and open learning ecology of the Internet in ways that go beyond making, using, or resisting xMOOCs?

  • What kinds of infrastructures, policies, and business models can support more participatory and peer-based forms of post-secondary learning?

  • What kind of programs and platforms could meld the grassroots capacity and peer-based learning of the net with the knowledge, expertise, and credibility of institutionalized research and education?

If you think you have an answer to these questions, or you just want to talk to us about it, submit an entry form here. Entries are due August 2, 2013. Winners will receive a small prize and Winners will recieve a $2000 honorarium and be invited to present at a summit on Reclaiming Open Learning at UC Irvine on September 26-27, 2013.

For more info, go to the official site here.

The latest and last (lasting) installment of the Edupunks Guide is a searchable, sortable, dynamic and updatable graphic titled The Edupunks’ Atlas. (Thanks go out to Larry Buchanan for the design).

It went live last week. It’s intended to bring to life the amazing universe of options out there for lifelong, independent, and unconventional learners, and is searchable by online/offline or hybrid, by the mix of benefits offered (Content, Socialization or Accreditation, any 2 or all 3), by the intended audience (elite to mass) by the business model (not for profit or for-profit).

And the best part: It’s instantly updatable by Google Doc, so if you have any suggestions or additions, let me know right away and I’ll put them in!

If you’ve been missing my updates over here, I blog twice a week on technology and K-12 for the Hechinger Report. You can find the blog here. I also write several times a week for Fast Company, often covering topics related to the future of education.

I am going to start collecting all the pieces I publish on the future of education and related interesting topics, and sending them to interested people in a batch. I’m starting with once every two weeks so it doesn’t get too overwhelming for you or for me.

Sign up here:

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Where I Am At

March 4, 2013

Here’s a video of me on February 19 with the very intelligent Canadian Gabe Zicherman, Mr. Gamification.

Great conversation and connections. Impressive event. Wish I’d blocked out more time for it.

On the 22nd I was at Ashoka U Exchange’s TEDx event in San Diego speaking on “finding your place in the universe.” Here’s their coverage. Here’s what it sparked for me–reflection on the role of the university itself as a social enterprise.

I also spoke at Boston College on the 26th. Here’s an incredibly thoughtful response from from L.B. Carfagna who I met when she volunteered as a facilitator on the P2PU DIY U group. And who showed me a lot of kindness by waiting for me at the T stop and conveying me across the campus to the library.

This Saturday back in NYC I was at Enstitute’s Dreamers, Doers and Dropouts panel featuring Albert Wenger and Sasha Laundy (who I was personally really impressed by) and Tony Waggoner, who killed it as usual.

And today I hopped on Google Hangout with Alan Webb, Alison Jean Cole and the participants in the Open Masters Project, who have formed a community to pursue some truly fascinating research projects while also pushing forward the concept of community and DIY U.

And tomorrow I’m headed to SXSWEdu to put my arms around the highly caffeinated, venture funded world where learners are blending with consumers and everyone will be delivered into superinformed nirvana. Sample annoying question: if online learning and community building are so great why did you fly to Texas to stand in line for Shiner Bock?

So that’s literally the last two weeks in my life. My goal for March is to continue working on my new book proposal and send out my first monthly email newsletter.

A Florida high school student wrote to Diane Ravitch that her school’s computer lab is being used for taking standardized tests for 124 out of 180 days in the school year.

Why all this test madness in schools?
Somewhere along the way, as is human nature, the tests shifted from being a way to measure something important, to the ends in themselves.

Few argue that the millions of hours and millions of dollars devoted to preparing for and taking tests inside and outside of school is really improving our children’s learning. But no one seems to have figured out a way to move beyond the tyranny of the bubble test bubble.

Until now.

The tests we choose will determine the kinds of educational outcomes we have. If we want to shift our purpose, the answer lies in an entirely different approach to testing: one that uses more information, not less. The way forward is suggested in educational theory, which speaks of “summative” and “formative” assessment.

Summative assessments are the kinds of tests we have far too many of right now. They are the same for every student. They are simply the bar you must clear to determine whether you get to move up or not. They are Procrustean: students who are far smarter and better prepared than the norm aren’t depicted adequately by their scores, and neither are students who are too far behind, are dyslexic, get nervous, have an undiagnosed learning disability, need glasses, arrived in the country four months ago, or didn’t get breakfast this morning. Students learn almost nothing from taking a summative assessment except that they are good enough or not good enough.

Formative assessments are different. They are given “for” the student not “to” the student. They are designed to help the student as well as the authority figures giving the tests. Diagnostic assessments, a type of formative assessment given before you start learning, create a picture of individual strengths and weaknesses: a map of what to do next. Formative assessments provide ongoing feedback that directs the course of learning. They work like the leaderboards and dashboards on video games: A social, fun, ongoing competition that tells you and others who you are, what you are good at, and how you are doing right now. Since formative assessments are ongoing, they are inherently more fluid. They always offer the chance to try again and do better next time, and there is a built-in assumption that you will have better days and worse days: failure is part of the process. But they are also more rich. They tell you the story of the semester and the school year and the student herself, not of six hours on one Saturday morning.

Until now, formative assessments have been too unwieldy to inform big decisions in education. But for the first time in the history of education, technologies being developed and tested right now provide the means to continuously collect and usefully read the records that students leave of their learning every day, whether they are engaged in traditional subjects, project-based collaborations, experiential learning, or anything else. This means we no longer need to spend millions of dollars and millions of hours pushing students toward artificial summative test experiences.

Changing the tests changes everything, because the test is how we know how we are doing.

MOOCs are Infrastructure

February 6, 2013

I’m in this weird space right now where it seems like there’s a lot of public conversations going on around topics I’ve been immersed in for years, like student loan debt, college access and quality, and educational innovation. I’m trying to stay fresh by moving into the world of K-12 but of course I also want to be part of these conversations, without feeling like I’m repeating myself.

I’ve also been working a ton, because I’ve finally been released to freelance on education topics and at the same time shifted to contributing a lot more to Fast Company’s website. Here’s my cover story on charter schools in the Village Voice. Here’s two pieces in the American Prospect on higher education aid and student loans. Here’s an op-ed in Inside Higher Ed. Here’s my last ten pieces in Fast Company. All of that in the last month. And I have three feature stories going on right now. Whew.

But I have something to say about MOOCs. Specifically about the quality of pedagogy in MOOCs as offered by platforms like Coursera and Udacity and edX. David Wiley, who has taught me a lot of stuff, said this at least five years ago, actually. MOOCs are content. Content is infrastructure. Infrastructure is just the first step.

MOOCs are content = a MOOC is not a course. A sage-on-stage lecture-based course is not particularly innovative, I know. But take those same lectures, chop them up into short segments, make them fastforwardable, pausable, allow people to add comments, ask a question in the forums, start and stop any time they want, work examples in realtime alongside the instructor, go to Wikipedia to look something up–

–you have changed the fundamental nature of the experience. The power relationship is different. The talking head is shrunk to the size of a thumbnail. She speaks at the whim of the student. And her truth is represented as one among many hundreds of options, all of which are accessible for free.

Content is infrastructure = If you look at it this way, a MOOC is really more like a glorified (really glorified) textbook. It’s not an end-to-end solution. It’s the basis of an experience that people have individually and collectively. Interaction with other people around the ideas is always going to be the important part of what happens to people when they are engaged with any kind of educational content.

Infrastructure is just the first step = People give MOOCs too much credit and too much blame. Obviously there are better and worse ways to design them. But more important to look at the system they’re a part of.

What’s the most important thing about MOOCs? The people who are engaging in them. The numbers — the volume– the scale–the impact. This is what blows peoples’ minds. It’s not what is in the MOOC, it is who is in the MOOC that matters. It’s the way that they engage with each other and the ideas. And it’s what they do with it next.

Schools and Failure

January 29, 2013

There’s a lot of ways to describe the education debate, and it just occurred to me that one of them is to examine the different understandings of the word failure.

Some people like failure and some people hate it. Let me explain:

Failure : the cons.
Success IS the American dream. it’s a tautology. Failure, the opposite of success, is to be avoided at all costs.
With centralized planning (large bureaucracy, large corporation, large governments) failure is a disaster. You have cascading failures. Network failure. Too big to fail. It’s hard to turn big enterprises around. Risks are too high. Consequences are disastrous and visited on successive generations. Our school system is failing children: it’s not living up to its promises. Families are failing. Marriages fail. Children fail tests, they fail out of school, then they fail in their lives.
Failing is humiliating. It’s unjust. “Failure is not an option.” Reject any excuses for failure.
Success means going from success to success, thus avoiding failure along the way.
Avoid failure=achieve success.

Failure: The pros.
In the most successful, innovative areas of our economy, “Fail fast” is the mantra. How can that be? Iteration. Big risk means big reward. Move quickly and slaughter the ideas that don’t work before they grow up into big, unwieldy bad ideas.

Same is true in education. Our brains can’t learn properly if we never fail. If I hold my baby daughter up and never let her fall, she then has no idea how gravity works and she can’t walk. You can’t learn to ski if you don’t fall. Children who are overparented never fail, they then lose all internal motivation and stop trying. Our schools aren’t failing enough children: they are too safe, too structured, and there’s grade inflation at the college levels–not enough Fs.
Never fail=never succeed.

What we have in the US is a misallocation of chances. A few people get a million chances and most people barely get one.  IF you get one chance or no chances, failure is not an option. If you get too many chances, you can’t learn from failure.

I’ve been busy writing as much as possible for FastCompany.com and Co.exist, both excellent websites. Here’s a post on the emails back and forth from the City of Newark over the Mark Zuckerberg $100 million donation. Here’s one on brain scans of entrepreneurs. I’ve also been freelancing and some exciting stories will appear soon, in new places!

I had a chance to chat quite a bit with Mimi Ito this past Thursday and Friday on her important new report on Connected Learning. This report pretty much lays down the gauntlet on what 21st century learning is, could and should be: something that hooks in with young people’s interests, meets them where they are at, gets them involved with peers and mentors, draws them deeper into academic (and civic) engagement and forward into a professional calling, and uses digital skills and media to make it all possible.