C+W 2013 MOOCs as filmic texts

C+W2013: Roundtable on the Futures of Composition
MOOCs as filmic texts
Hello. I’m Virginia Kuhn. I wish I could be physically present but I thank my colleagues for allowing me to participate in this way. I am an Associate Professor of Cinema in the newly formed Media Arts + Practice Division of the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

One of the key questions around which this panel was organized concerned MOOCs—massively open online courses—and their impact on FYC. And it’s no wonder: Even the most cursory search of the Chronicle of Higher Education uncovers copious articles that reference MOOCs. But what is even more revealing is when these references occur: 3 years ago there were 12, but in the last year, there have been 290. A search of Inside Higher Ed reveals quite similar results.

Whether it’s Coursera, Udacity, or Kahn Academy, MOOCs have captured the pedagogical imaginary across all disciplines in a way that is fairly unprecedented. MOOC mania does, however, bear some resemblance to the hype surrounding initial computer integration into schools. Like those early sound bites, MOOCs will either revolutionize education or ruin it. They will democratize access or stratify university education widening the chasm between elite institutions and all others. Beside this hype though, there is little evidence that these private companies are applying the principles of connectedness and distributed learning that George Siemens and Stephen Downes pioneered in 2008.

These issues are complex and compelling but for me, the more interesting area of inquiry centers on the actual ‘texts’ that comprise a MOOC. The architecture of computer networks [CLOUD] has only recently been able to accommodate the advances in graphics processing units [GPUs] which allow online hosting and streaming of big fat video files. But the impact is enormous. And I don’t think that is hyperbole. Video is everywhere. Not only do we view it [reading], we produce it [writing].

Indeed, much of my work centers on the premise that digital technologies endow filmic texts with book-like qualities. Unlike the ephemerality and broadcast nature of early television and cinema, video texts can be analyzed in a sustained way—they can be stopped, started, and studied with relative ease. They can also be created by anyone with a cell phone. In this light, we might view MOOCs as libraries that house these video-texts; flipping the classroom—a term that has been bandied about for assigning a video as homework and reserving class time for discussion. But this flipping is based on a lecture model: if we instead view these videos as the textbook that students are assigned to read in preparation for class work and discussion, then this flipped classroom is pretty much business as usual.

And this seems to be what Coursera has recently realized: on May 29, they announced a shift in their approach: they will partner with 10 public institutions to explore “campus-based MOOCs” or blended learning. As one astute article notes [screen shot of Jump the shark article], rather than competing with state universities as originally planned by inserting their rock star faculty’s lectures, they will now compete with Blackboard and other course management systems.

It is the composition of these video-texts that should concern us, just as the composition of alphabetic texts has been our focus to date.

A number of companies are in the video-making business and many see educational videos as a huge market. Indeed Kaltura, the video platform that offers both hosting and online editing, is holding a summit next week. The promotional materials explicating link commercial video with educational video. It’s not that there are no overlaps, however, pedagogy and advertising are (or should be) rhetorically discrete. Moreover, rhetoricians ought to be actively weighing in on the ideology inherent in cinematic language.

And some are. Kahn Academy videos have been called out by subject matter experts as being flawed and have given rise to Mystery Theatre style parody videos.

Or take the case of Common Craft educational videos. The Common Craft goal is explained in a book called The Art of Explanation in which the CC founder makes a case for creating videos that explain complex ideas in "Plain English." Lee Lefever notes that Common Craft has been hired by educational institutions, and the "Common Craft style" has emerged. It is worth mentioning that nowhere in this art of explanation is the word rhetoric mentioned.

But what happens when complexity cannot be represented in "Plain English" and/or when such companies, who work with little if any scholarly input simply get it wrong? There are numerous examples of flawed logic in the in the downhome style narrative of Common Crafts educational videos that cover topics such as plagiarism, RSS and Twitter.

Perhaps the most egregious example comes in the advice for constructing a video explanation. The recommended 3 minute length includes

If we consider writing with video as an extension and evolution of the academic essay, then the implications of this provocation for writing studies are numerous.

Thank you!

Works Cited

Common Craft educational videos:

Coursera jumps the shark, Higher Education Strategy Associates: http://higheredstrategy.com/coursera-jumps-the-shark/

Coursera Blog. http://blog.coursera.org/post/51696469860/10-us-state-university-systems-and-public-institutions

Inside Higher Ed: http://www.insidehighered.com/search/site/MOOCs

Kaltura’s video summit with recommendations for educational video based on business video: http://site.kaltura.com/KEVS-2013.html?mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRoivK7AZKXonjHpfsXw4%2BQlWLHr08Yy0EZ5VunJEUWy2YIBRdQ%2FcOedCQkZHblFnVUATq2mWK0NoqAE

Lefever, Lee. The Art of Explanation: Making Your Ideas, Products, and Services easier to understand. New Jersey: Wiley and Sons. 2013

The Trouble with Khan Academy: http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/castingoutnines/2012/07/03/the-trouble-with-khan-academy/