4/25/13

Against the Sunk Costs Argument for MOOC's and the Expansion of Online Education



There was a line in the book Alone Together by Sherry Turkle that encapsulated, roughly, what's at the heart of my concern about MOOC's, online, etc. 

"When we make a job rote, we are more open to having machines do it. But even when people do it, they and the people they serve feel like machines."

What this expresses to me is the fact that there is something very logical (developmentally "next step") about increasing the automated/distanced/impersonal components to our educational strategies. In other words, it's hard to argue against these components because we, ourselves, have made teaching more rote as we've created larger and larger classrooms. 

My resistance stems from the old adages "You can't derive an 'is' from an 'ought'" and "Two wrongs can't make a right." Just because we've moved education beyond further into the mass-production age doesn't make it right. Surely, there is a lot of water under the bridge--and we've built structures and systems (and technology career paths--and exploited adjunct teacher paths) premised on the mass-production approach.  But the mere fact that online/MOOC's helps us accomodate ourselves to some previous (and questionable) decisions--and indeed they help accelerate those decisions--does not constitute an argument for doing them. If they move us further in the wrong direction, then we have reason to question (even, resist) them. And, yes, doing that is an even heavier lift; but it is the right thing to do. And that's a good reason for doing something.

This is not a wholesale argument for or against any specific thing. Rather, it's against the frequently used argument that certain sunk costs commit us to further actions along those lines. My point is simple: the sunk costs argument is false and disreputable and should be discarded.

4/10/13

Computers Grading Papers? What Could Be Lost?

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/science/new-test-for-computers-grading-essays-at-college-level.html?
Notice that when the problem is efficiency and cost, the answer is always to yield to those values. If the problem is large classes, the answer is to invent a machine, not make the classes smaller. If the problem is the cost of human graders, the answer is not to find a way to pay people to do an important job, but to replace them with machines. And notice that the experts who are deciding if the software is good enough are engineers. Engineers are, for the most part, completely subordinated to the values of efficiency and cost. If they're capable of just spelling out other values, they're still highly unlikely to understand how other values could be as important as these. They are of the machine, in the machine, for the machine. And how could you not want what they want? They'll just say you're being "irrational." And so will the entrepreneurs who back them--because they, too, have subordinated themselves to the twin values of efficiency and cost. That's how you make money.

4/4/13

Massive Open Online Parenting (M.O.O.P.s)

For hundreds of years, parents have struggled to find time to enjoy life, spend time with their spouses, and complete the work intended for their talents by Destiny. But finally, with M.O.O.P's (Massive Open Online Parenting), children can get the information they need from one M.P. (Master Parent) while the remaining biological parents can reserve their time for more useful activities. The M.P. will be a parent trained by the best scholars and scientists in education and psychology (Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and other schools topping US News and World Reports' rankings) who will "info-nurture" even the youngest children using special SS (Stimulator Suits) and TP (Touch Pads).

To ward off the unfortunate side effects of disorientation and depression (an anachronistic set of emotions traceable to the early stages of human development), a MT (Master Therapist) will design a specificically engineered DC (Drug Cocktail) which can be administered by the SS to the anxious child. Funding is expected from a joint collaboration between Google, Microsoft, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Education. Additional support expected from all 50 states Chambers of Commerce.

Security by Blackwater.

And P.S. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ia02fGpUQfU