You can replace university with MOOCs, because Sesame Street

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Published by Matthew Davidson on Fri, 07/08/2015 - 9:41pm in

This is really reaching:

An analysis of the effectiveness of Sesame Street can potentially also inform current discussions regarding the ability of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to deliver educational improvements. In essence, Sesame Street was the first MOOC. Although MOOCs differ in what they entail, Sesame Street satisfies the basic feature of electronic transmission of online educational material. Both Sesame Street and MOOCs provide educational interventions at a fraction of the cost of more traditional classroom settings. Most (but not all) MOOCs exist at the level of higher education, which clearly differs from a preschool intervention. Our knowledge of the ability of MOOCs to improve outcomes for its participants is so limited, though, that any proper evaluation of the impact of electronic transmission of educational content is beneficial.

Where do you even start? What definition of "online" includes broadcast television? Even setting that major quibble aside, if "electronic transmission of educational material" equals MOOC, what isn't a MOOC? I've learned that Coca Cola is the pause that refreshes, and that Coke adds life; where's my diploma? And what does my excessive consumption of fizzy sugar water say about the educational outcomes of MOOCs? Is it really the case that because "our knowledge of the ability of MOOCs to improve outcomes for its participants is so limited" that almost anything involving electricity and information counts as evidence?

Let us set aside, for a moment, my antiquated expectations of higher education. Purely as somebody who can't count to twelve without experiencing visions of funky psychedelic pinball machines, this egregious case of false equivalence is particularly galling. Sesame Street is Sesame Street. It's brilliant. But it is not online kindergarden. It is certainly not blanket evidence that teachers can be replaced by software, at any level of education, to the benefit of all concerned.

I would do something about this outrage, but I can't. I have a purple hand.

UPDATE: In breaking Sesame Street news, Why Sesame Street’s Move to HBO Is Both Great and Extremely Depressing:

Sesame Street was founded to help low-income kids keep up with their more affluent peers. That is literally why it exists. It succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. And now it is becoming the property of a premium cable network, so that a program launched to help poor kids keep up with rich kids is now being paywalled so that rich kids can watch it before poor kids can.

UPDATED UPDATE: Clearly,  I should devote my life to telling people how great Sesame Street is, before I miss the zeitgeist. Sayeth Cory Doctorow:

When Sesame Street first launched, it was all about kids: the whole thing was designed to be as compelling as possible for children, especially the vulnerable kids of the job-juggling urban poor who were finding themselves being babysat by the TV. But Jim Henson and the Children’s Television Workshop scrapped that whole design and started over, remaking the show as something that had jokes that parents would enjoy, songs that could please the adult ear as well as the kid’s.

The key insight was that whatever pedagogical value Sesame Street held, it would be multiplied if it opened a conversation between kids and their carers. The kid might enjoy singing the ABCs along with Big Bird, but what if Dad or Mum could be persuaded to sing along with her, after the show was over, reinforcing the lessons and shaping them around the kids’ own life and circumstances.

This is the gold standard of kids’ media.

Mind you, I can't stand Elmo. Annoying, over-merched purple newbie. You weren't there when we lost Mister Hooper!

UPDATED UPDATE UPDATE: Now Mark Thoma is piling on! I didn't want to do this, but I'm forced to bring out the Slippery Slope ("By Milton Bradley. Incremental fun for ages 8 and up! Contains choking hazard at pointy end."). If Sesame Street is a MOOC, Dr. Seuss is a MOOC about repetition, assonance, and rhyme. Enid Blyton is a MOOC on the evils of smuggling and the importance of keeping hydrated with lashings of ginger beer. Need I go on…?