"You" and community

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letter U for udacity user user
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On the surface, edX’s Honor Code differs from the other two providers' agreements in the way it frames participation. For instance, edX claims,

By enrolling in a course on edX, you are joining a special worldwide community of learners. The aspiration of edX is to provide anyone in the world who has the motivation and ability to engage coursework from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley the opportunity to attain the best MIT, Harvard and UC Berkeley-based educational experience that internet technology enables. You are part of the community who will help edX achieve this goal.

Aside from the elitist pedigree listed here, and the tone of utopian aspirations, what follows these statements are rules of conduct nearly identical to the other two providers' statements previously discussed (don’t cheat; report people who do cheat). What counts as evidence, then, of a special or distinct opportunity for participation is elided by the more general commitment to sustaining the most ambiguous and commonly used of Critel’s commonplaces: the appeal to or desire for creating community. As Critel shows us, ambiguous views of participation reveal unethical and distorted conceptions of the students, pedagogy, and technologies that make participatory learning environments possible. This distorted view depends, to some extent, on our willingness to rely on commonplaces of participation rather than articulating achievable learning outcomes and reliable methods of assessment to evaluate student interaction in online learning environments.

Of course, the differences between Udacity’s and Coursera’s user agreements, on the one hand, and edX’s honor code on the other, may have a lot to do with edX’s affiliation with Berkeley, MIT, and Harvard. Despite differences in the levels of contextualization, each provider’s user policy presents poorly defined views of participation. In edX’s case, Critel’s commonplace of community frames the entire honor code, invoking the one appeal that no one, in our current technological moment, can disagree with (who isn’t a fan of community?). Although some may contend that building community through student participation is a sufficient aim for MOOCs, our view, which is an extension of Critel’s argument, is that the ends toward which a community is directed determine the value of the actions that make a community possible. In edX’s case, despite possessing the wholesome aim of creating what they describe as a “special” community, which specific behaviors constitute the type of participation that will create this community remain unclear. The burden of knowledge construction, communication, and collaboration—the work of edX itself—is reified by Critel’s commonplaces of participation. In user agreements and course syllabi, "special" belongs solely to the vaguely defined community—users lost in a sea of poorly defined outcomes and expectations.

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