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Monday Musings: The MOOC

6 Jan

The Massive Open Online Course has been touted as the new step in evolution for Higher Education. What is it? Basically just an online course usually free. The idea being that people across the world can take courses from the top minds on academia today. The idea is exciting and seems like it could be transformational. If you follow the news about MOOCs you’ll find there is a lot debate about whether these classes will actually save higher education. I’ve never bought into the idea that the MOOC will work to completely revolutionize higher ed but I love the idea of being able to get an amazing education for free, any time and anywhere. There’s just one problem.

This past weekend I was reading the Fast Company print edition and found an article on Udacity and it’s CEO/Founder Sebastian Thurn. Thurn is considered the father (or grandfather) of the MOOC, he popularized it in 2011 & 2012. As a person who works in Higher Education and who is constantly in discussion about the most successful ways to reach students I was immediately interested. As I said the basic idea behind the MOOC and Udacity’s initial mission really appeals–Help students who may never have access to professors from Harvard or Stanford or any other ivy league get that education for nothing more than the cost of internet and a computer. The article outlines Udacity’s initial work and then it got really interesting. Despite his initial hypothesis about how successful MOOCs would be his data didn’t prove that he was helping the millions of people he was attracting to his courses:

“As Thurn was being praised by Friedman, and pretty much everyone else, for having attracted a stunning number of students–1.6 million to date–he was obsessing over a data point that was rarely mentioned in the breathless accounts about the power of new forms of free online education: the shockingly low number of students who actually finish the classes, which is fewer than 10%.”–From Fast Company

Thus is the problem of the MOOC–millions of students can sign up but only a handful will actually finish and worse only a handful of those will pass the class. I’m proof of this myself. Over the last year I have registered for maybe 20 MOOCs and every single time I have failed to complete them. Not because the subject matter is boring or the professor wasn’t interesting. It’s all a question of  time for me and what Thurn finds is a question of access. He did a study using SJSU students that I think really brings the point home. He created courses for the three levels of remedial math that he hoped would help students have a successful start to their higher education experience. This class wasn’t free but was significantly reduced from the usual SJSU price tag. His results were still pretty bad:

“Among those pupils who took remedial math during the pilot program, just 25% passed. And when the online class was compared with the in-person variety, the numbers were even more discouraging.”–From Fast Company

The medium doesn’t seem to work for students who don’t have consistent access to computers, who have additional pressures at home due to economics and while 86% of students completed the course the passing rates compared to students in the classroom are still sad.  I’d love to see the larger data that he has on this (whether thats possible or not I’m not sure)

So what is the future of the MOOC? I don’t know. I still love the medium. The idea is exciting and it speaks to my own fasination with education on a wide scope but without the buy-in that the physical classroom has (fees, face-to-face accountability, “easy” access etc) will it ever revolutionize education? I’m not sold.



The Importance of Your 20s

3 Jun

Uh What?

19 Mar

What I love about this video is the people who are justifying his statements in the comments. When is slavery ever ok? Absolutely and intrinsically never. How do you know when the emotional, spiritual and intellectual pain of an entire people is over? You don’t. You can never say to someone you have no relationship to this thing that happened to your ancestors and therefore you can’t talk about it. The truth is we should all–black, white, green, purple–feel pain that slavery is a part of our collective history. I’m sure I will garner some trolls for saying it but that’s what I think. That would be the same as telling Jewish people to stop talking about the Holocaust because they weren’t there. To be clear, that is NOT my position at all.

Life long learning

14 Mar

Have you taken the strengths test from the University of Pennsylvania Authentic Happiness project? If you haven’t you should. It can tell you a lot about the things that you value and the places where you are strongest. One of the places that I am strongest in is education. I value learning and when I’m not busy reading/learning/researching I can be a little lethargic and grumpy.

So in an interest to help my fellow education valuing friends, here are a couple of lists of great books that every person should read. Take a look and see what you’ve read and what you haven’t. Make your own list of books to read before you die/turn ##/any other mile stone.


5 Mar

Lectures can be the worst if they are boring or given in anger. Sometimes though they can be fun and interesting and well academic. Instead of my usual conversation here are two lectures/presentations I thought you might enjoy.


Black History Month: Lost

18 Feb

What keeps Black History Month alive? What keeps any heritage month alive? It’s february and it took me nearly two weeks to realize that it was Black History Month. You may be thinking “No big deal. You have a few weeks left to do something to commemorate. Why is it bothering you?” As a former Macalester Black History Month Committee member it means something to me that I forgot. It means something even more that in the week or so since I realized I’ve seen only 4 pieces of evidence to make me believe others remember as well.

To me the invisibility of black history month is a signifier of the way that activism and civil rights are being pressed into the background of American consciousness. If you are working in America today more than likely you are too focused on dealing with the work before you and the small instances of institutionalized racism that effect you personally to notice that the fight gone by is being forgotten. Students, school children and sometimes families that have small children seem to be the guiding push that keeps this particular heritage month alive. Even those purveyors of history seems to be waning. Feminists keep alive women’s history month with a call for equality for women. Where have the black activists, continuing to question the lack of black roles in hollywood or a canon that includes more than old white men and women, gone? Where are our questioners? Our button pushers?

In January the second inauguration of our first Black President reminded each of us of how far our country has come from Slavery and segregation. Yet, instead of sparking a discussion or our forefathers for the month of February, for the very least, I believe the inauguration allows Americans to pretend that we are truly colorblind. Despite the continued rhetoric about Obama’s blackness, having a black president to the majority of Americans means we’re even. We’re square. The history of black intellectuals and activists can go back to being just a single page in a textbook.

For those who continue to make a study of America and of the cultural shifts and signifiers of our current era, I would say that they know what the average American chooses to forget, there is no even. There is no color blind. While racial issues in America transform with each generation the struggles continue. And now they aren’t limited to single race issues. My mixed race friends will tell you it is a struggle to be remembered. A struggle to be heard.

This isn’t necessarily a call to action but rather a call to remembrance. Things have happened in the past. Things we can’t change and things we should never forget.  My ability to sit here in my “armchair” and observe the working of American culture as a queer, black woman are the direct result of the work done by so many leaders who have come before me. Remember what it used to be to be black in America. Remember because it wouldn’t take much to fall backward. We are just a hand out of the civil rights movement and we can easily go back to drowning in hatred and pain.

Where did I see black history month this month?

  • On the radio: Sunday nights on 106.1 KMEL they play a show that is truly community based and Black-centric.
  • At a bookstore: I went to two bookstores the last few weeks. I saw one display that was really about ten books on a table related to black history or black people. There were more books about the presidents than about black people.
  • NYSE: Did you see when they let all the black employees ring the opening bell? There were TWELVE of them. That’s it.

How can you remember? Try these books:

Books to Read in 2013

13 Feb

Yes it’s time…for the list to end all lists…the books I may or may not read this year. It’s a funny thing to make a list of books I think I want to read knowing full well that I may read all or none of these books and that would be alright. Still it’s nice to start thinking about what are the books that I have been meaning to read. There are often a lot! So here it goes:

Are you seeing a theme? 🙂

In Response to a Graduate Salary Database

21 Jan

This article#, hosted at the Huffington Post Education site when I came across it but originally run by The Hechinger Report, caught my attention. Most college graduates remember the agony of trying to sort through the myriad of colleges across the U.S. to find the one that would not only suit their intellectual interests but give them a chance at a lucrative job. Then I hit the quote by Carol Geary Schneider with the age old adage that students should “Follow their passion.”

My initial reaction to Schneider’s plea for the liberal arts education was to agree with her. Students should be allowed to chase their dreams and reach for the stars, after all isn’t that what your twenties are for. That’s what I did.#The more I considered this idea though I realized the futility of it for communities mired in the politics of being low-income and minority. Communities like the one I came from and the ones that so many of my students belong to. The ideal of earning an education in the liberal arts wasn’t even my original goal.

When I started at Macalester my plan was to study Japanese Language and Translation. I fully intended to become a translator a career which would provide me financial stability and a long running career. Certain circumstances kept me from choosing this path and I choose to run with my passion, writing. For some reason the rhetoric that I used to convince myself was just the logic that Schneider spouts in the article:

“Your college decision should be about becoming an educated person…finding something you care deeply about”

Though I’m in a great job now I’ve had my concerns as I explored my post-college options and began paying the bills for my expensive education. Was my degree worth it? The school I choose was amazing and I love the experience but what is the piece of paper worth?

To my mind the legislation stepping forward does present the obstacles that are listed. I can only imagine that these databases are extremely limited and not give a complete picture of a particular school’s alumni. However, I am encouraged that a database of schools that has to say where there students are achieving the most success in concrete numerical terms will allow students like the ones I work with to not be fooled by scam artist for-profit institutions that are simply running a cash mill rather than valuing their students.

Someday  I want my own yet-unborn children to be able to choose both a lucrative career that also allows them to follow their passions. Perhaps the answer to this is not the either/or mentality that seems to be running rampant currently but rather changing policies of higher education institutions to allow Students more room for a double major or a minor which allows this. Perhaps as a society we need to place more value on these additional titles that our graduates hold so that students are able to study Law and piano and feel that both are an essential part of their educational history. To be perfectly frank what we probably need is a database that measures salary and satisfaction. Since that is not likely to happen anytime soon I would caution educators and educational administrators to consider that background of all of the students they serve rather than a majority who can choose between cash and passion. Too many families begin to feel they must force their children to choose.

# Jon Marcus. “New Pressure on colleges to disclose grads’ earnings.” Hechinger Report. 17 Jan. 2013. Web 17 Jan 2013

#I received an expensive private liberal arts education at Macalester College and it is one of the decisions in my life that I know I will never regret. I graduated with a degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing which isn’t exactly lucrative unless you get a great book deal or become a professor.

The word is in…

5 Oct

I will not be continuing in the Teach For America admissions process. It’s really sad to me because I put a lot of energy into this and I really wanted it. Unfortunately, you can’t always get what you want. That is why we have plan B’s, C’s, D’s…and I have some. So I guess I’m not worried.

That being said, I’m sad.Today is going to be emotional and I have lots of work to do so its going to be a lot of bottling. Hopefully later I can feel something stronger.

Reflection of the Week: You can’t do everything

20 Sep

Note**Why reflect on a Tuesday you might ask? Because I said so. Actually because this is just the best time for me to write this post. In the future I hope to have great posts for you Friday or Saturday, to wrap up the week. Please let me know what you think of these reflections, if they totaly don’t work I’m willing to change. So far they are just helpful for me. ***

It’s my first full week of balancing the Y, Youth & Government, AVID and life’s general ups and downs. I started the week with shoulder pain and exhaustion and now here I am at Saturday, still with shoulder pain and with even more exhaustion. It amazes me how much people try to push and themselves and how often that isn’t possible.

What I learned about working with Youth: Often you have to be a little more outgoing then you’re used to. I have to g up to a lot of the kids in my AVID class and ask them if they need help because otherwise, they won’t ask. Not because they don’t need help but because sometimes they get so bogged down in not wanting to work/being social and being scared of what they have t do that they forget they have the help available. One thing to work on: Not feeling responsible for classroom management. If I can help someone awesome. But they pay the teachers the big bucks to manage bad behavior and they pay me to help them work. This is going to be hard from me because I’m an instinctually bossy person but until I start teaching I think it will be more valuable to watch what the pros do the to test my own techniques. Observing the different teachers is definitely informing my thoughts.

What I learned about People: People will always do as the please, no matter what they claim. At one of my places of employment I’m dealing with a supervisor who says one thing and does another and while its frustrating me to no end and making me want to leave desperately it’s also making me realize that people can be shady and you have to take people by their actions and not by what they say. One thing to work on: Communicating when something is not working. I’ve been complaining about my issues for weeks but I haven’t gone to the source of the problem. I know that having a conversation with this supervisor may not help the situation. It may make things worse but at least at the end of the day I will be able to say that I spoke my mind. I just I hopeI don’t speak my mind to the point of being fired.

What I learned about life: You can’t do everything you want. I had been planning to volunteer for this small amazing nonprofit in East Palo Alto called 10 Books A Home. Unfortunately, I realized that with everything I have going on, that simply isn’t possible right now. I don’t know if you know me in real life but I hate quitting. I despise it. It makes me feel like a loser, so I have been known to take on way to much just to avoid having to say I quit something. What I realized this week is, everything suffers when I do this because I feel like crap because I’m exhausted. One thing to work on:  You can’t do everything you want but you can do something! I’m so glad I added AVID to my plate. It’s an amazing experience. Even though I feel a little weird about my role and I’m still learning about the kids I feel so excited to be at work. I hope that this enthusiasm keeps up but thus far I am totally happy with this part of my life.

Epiphany of the week: Exercise is good for you! I went to a Zumba class on Sunday taught by a friend of mine. It was amazing and I was so ecstatic afterward that I almost couldn’t breathe. I forget how much the body loves exercise. But I’m glad I realized it! 

This is my first reflection but as I said in my note I hope it will become a regular thing. Please let me know what you thing!