Disruptions: If You Announce It, They Won’t Come

Everyone thought the iPhone would flop. That same group of “everyone” also thought that Google Wave would kill email and disrupt how we communicate online.

One thing I have learned in my few years in Ed Tech is that the “everyones” are usually dead wrong. If you announce a disruption before it happens, it usually doesn’t. I would argue that something is technically not disruptive if you actually see it coming. That seems to be against the very definition of the word disruption.

So I guess Coursera jumped the shark today and did what I have predicted for a while. But as Alex Usher says in the article, “nobody ever got rich telling people that the revolution wasn’t coming.” Amen to that. For the record, I personally would like to see disruption in the higher ed field. I just don’t think the current ideas that are getting press are going to do it.

Instead, I like to look to things like University of Mary Washington’s work with Jim Groom and company.  The right Reverend Groom is often the public face of the whole movement, but he freely gives credit to many on his team. I want to ponder for a minute what the team is doing:

Domain of One’s Own. Wow. I mean – talk about massive. Look, anyone can attract hundreds of thousands of people by giving stuff away for free. I could pack dirt in plastic bags and still give away thousands if I advertise it is free. To me, the whole “M” in xMOOCs is pure gimmick because it is free. And you want to pat yourself on the back for attracting big crowds? Try starting something like Domain of One’s Own – that is massive in scope (even if few sign up for it). Everyone gets a space of their own to control their own online presence? Massive. Don’t give me free stuff that attracts thousands of sheep all to do the same cookie cutter thing. That’s not education. That is factoid distribution.

UMW Blogs. So you open your course up to anyone and you think that is the be-all-end-all to openness online? Hogwash, as they used to say. I can do that with a few clicks in Blackboard, Moodle, Desire2Learn, or any other LMS. If you still have one controlled access point to the content, there is still a feeling of being closed in. When content creation is as open as the distribution, then that is getting closer to true openness online. Giving people a blogging platform to create content and present as they want? Yes. Sticking a bunch of videos of one star professor speaking online for everyone to watch? Not quite.

DS106. I have said it before and I will say it again: digitizing bad pedagogy is not a revolution. It is borg assimilation. Online courses should be dynamic just like the platform they utilize (the interwebs). They should be different every time they are offered, they should be open, distributive, innovative, and… well… they should be like ds106. To me, xMOOCs seem like they are just sticking the same old same old in a box that will stay the same for everyone taking them, but just open up the door for anyone that wants to come in. Sound familiar?

ThinkLab. This, to me, is the ace-in-hole that many innovators are missing. Basically, a place to experiment with new ideas. They have a 3D printer for crying out loud! I would like to see it expand to online experimentation – but so much of that is going on with the other three that it is probably not necessary. Harriet and I have been championing an experiential space to explore emerging technology in education for years now at conferences and other venues, but mostly this has been falling on deaf ears. Glad to see someone out there is actually open to the idea.

To be honest, what UMW is doing is truly the logical extension of cMOOCs – the original flavor of MOOCs that got lost in the general conversation. Which is a good thing, because I would hate to see what would have happened to cMOOCs if the “everyones” got a hold of it instead the underdogs. Or maybe xMOOCs are what happened when the “everyones” stepped in?

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

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