Platformizing higher education : computer science and the making of MOOC infrastructures
Computer science and the making of Massive Open Online Course infrastructures
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society.
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This dissertation investigates the role of software in institutional transformation using the example of Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs. It ethnographically tracks the development of the software infrastructure being built for MOOCs, focusing on three communities-programmers, instructors, and researchers-who centrally participate in the MOOC start-ups' stated mission of reinventing higher education. It argues that MOOC infrastructures are best viewed as an example of a heterogeneous software assemblage that I call the "software-as-platform," that is today being widely deployed and used in a number of industries and institutions. The software-as-platform consists primarily of software that holds together a variety of normative logics: open-endedness; fast, iterative, production processes; data-driven decision-making; governance for emergent effects; scalability; and personalization. Of these, the most important is that its creators give to it an open-endedness as to its ultimate purpose: thus, the assemblage is often framed using the language of "tools" or "platform." I then argue that the software-as-platform is a vehicle through which the norms and practices of Silicon Valley are making their way into other institutions, a process I call "platformization." Finally, I suggest that the software-as-platform enables the emergence of a new form of expertise: tool-making. Tool-makers see themselves as building software tools, whose ultimate purpose comes from their users. The tools themselves draw on many other kinds of expert knowledge chosen at the discretion of the tool-builders. The dissertation consists of four chapters bookended by an Introduction and a Conclusion. Chapter 2 is an analysis of the public discourse around MOOCs. Chapter 3 describes MOOC infrastructures, showing how a cluster of institutions, software, and people are organized to produce the plethora of courses as well knowledge about education. Chapter 4 tells the story about how edX, a MOOC start-up, turned itself from an educational organization into a software organization by deploying the software-as-platform, thereby transforming and displacing particular institutional roles. In Chapter 5, I analyze the practices of a rising class of tool-makers, computer scientists, and describe how they are able to draw on other kinds of expertise, and intervene in new domains, while still presenting themselves as neutral system-builders.
Thesis: Ph. D. in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society (HASTS), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Program in Science, Technology and Society, 2016.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (pages 211-223).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Program in Science, Technology and Society.