Course Hero is hiring an ed tech critic
“The overexploitation of the edtech industry only works if we don’t raise our heads to see it, raise our hands to change it, stand in its way.”
Sean Michael Morris, director of the Digital Pedagogy Lab at the University of Colorado at Denver and editor of the journal hybrid pedagogywrote these words in March 2019, articulating his belief that educators must fight back omnivorous educational technology companies.
Today, Course Hero, the controversial online site that invites students to post and download syllabuses, worksheets, essays, past exams, and other course materials so other students can benefit (and so Course Hero can generate revenue), announced its Morris Joined team as Vice President of Academics.
Who Morris is and what Course Hero stands for makes him an eye-catcher in the world of educational technology. Morris has worked in various roles in digital learning and education for about 20 years, including as an instructional designer, before co-founding the Digital Pedagogy Lab, which brings together educators from around the world to discuss diversity, inclusion and critical digital pedagogy and the future of education, among others. He was an outspoken and frequent critic of educational technology.
Morris published a blog post explaining his decision to join an ed-tech corporate titan and admitted he expects “some excitement.” [sic] by those who have viewed me as a reliable critic of educational technology.” But, he said, his new role will allow him to continue his life’s work by advancing critical digital pedagogy and challenging online platforms to do it better. Morris has been particularly critical of plagiarism detection software, learning management systems, and supervisory services.
In an interview last week, Morris explained that these technologies “from a technological point of view directly interfere with teaching and learning and in a way try to control the teaching and learning in a certain way.” He said Course Hero was never really on his radar because “it doesn’t try to impose itself on the classroom; It’s not trying to tell a teacher how to teach or a student how to learn.”
He said he will bring an educational perspective to his work at Course Hero and help the company improve its work by helping students learn.
“It is my intention – and the intention of those who hired me at Course Hero – that I will have a direct impact on how the platform works not as an educational technology but as an educational technology,” Morris wrote in his blog post. “I look forward to advancing issues of digital literacy, student success, authorship, and of course, the student-teacher contradiction that technology only complicates.”
Morris said he’s concluded that ed tech and academia need to forge closer ties as both “put pressure on students and learning” and should no longer function as “institutions at odds with one another, with pedagogy often as common.” basis is overlooked”.
Course Hero has long been vilified by educators who see it as a breeding ground for fraud and plagiarism. An article from 2009 in Within the Higher Edtitled “Course Hero or Course Villain,” cited several professors who expressed concerns about their copyrighted course materials appearing on the site and others who called their portals “really fertile ground for plagiarism and dishonesty.”
Founded in 2006, Course Hero largely ignored educators for its first decade, but has recently wooed them by offering, among other things, a share of the proceeds if they lend course materials and host gatherings. Course Hero CEO and co-founder Andrew Grauer said in an interview that Course Hero started developing its platform about six years ago to target educators more consciously.
Morris’ hiring underscores Course Hero’s focus on learning, Grauer said, because Morris “has always been concerned with humanizing education.” Grauer pursued Morris for the role, he said after speaking and reading with leading thinkers in the field of education, including Jesse Stommel, Ben Wiggins and Sara Goldrick-Rab, all associated with Morris and his work.
“We’re really trying to create a platform that focuses on helping students succeed, help them solve, help them understand, help them practice, and help them focus on their studies prepare,” said Grauer. “How do we do this in partnership with educators?”
Grauer said Morris will be tasked with building answers to this question “into the various product development streams.”
In fact, Course Hero’s recent operations make it clear that the company believes it can capitalize on pedagogy. Last month, Course Hero announced that its valuation had tripled to $3.6 billion after a year in which it acquired CliffNotes, LitCharts, and QuillBot and more than doubled its total traffic.
In a blog post about the acquisitions at the time, Grauer said they would allow Course Hero to “ensure that we provide learners and educators with a comprehensive suite of tools and services across a wide range of subjects, geographic locations, grade levels, and types of content and.” more.”
Course Hero has made significant investments in educator engagement over the past few years, creating a faculty portal called Faculty Club where more than 80,000 educators gather to share lessons and teaching insights.
Grauer said Morris will help Course Hero better build “trust in students and trust in educators and the overlaps or gaps between them.” But he also wants Morris to help Course Hero better understand and solve the difficulties faculty members face.
“What are the different challenges in different disciplines and different contexts, be it online or hybrid learning?” asked Grauer. “What can we help with?”
Some educators interviewed for this article questioned Course Hero’s motives, citing a business model that awards students “tokens” for submitting exams and other course material on the site.
Kevin Gannon, a friend of Morris and director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Grand View University, said that while he’s “not a fan” of the site, he likes the idea that Morris is “trying from the inside out to undermine .” Gannon said that his teaching materials ended up on Course Hero and had trouble removing them.
“I give them credit for hiring Sean because he’s not subtle in his attitude and it’s a critical approach to Ed Tech,” Gannon said. “So maybe this is an opportunity to steer the ship in a different direction. And I hope that’s the case.”
Gannon said he’s optimistic that Morris’ hiring is a signal that Course Hero is becoming “more collaborative and less sly marketing.” Gannon added that many faculty members currently hate Course Hero and similar sites for allowing cheating, but he worries about the “fuddy-duddy faculty construct getting in the way of students using this important service.” He hopes that hiring Morris will provide students with an opportunity to use Course Hero “in a way that makes sense for actual education.”
Grauer said Course Hero does not encourage cheating and will remove content from the site when requested by educators or colleges. When asked if he sees it as a problem that Course Hero allows course content to be shared that nobody asked for its removal, Grauer said he thinks it’s incredibly helpful for learning if students can share assignments and quizzes.
“Our goal is how we can help students in particular to be successful,” said Grauer.
Grauer said that for Course Hero, the answer to this question was to make the site as open and accessible as possible. He said the site’s content is intentionally “indexable, searchable and available” so learners and educators can easily access what they need.
In his typically blunt manner, Morris said he was shocked when Course Hero approached him about the job and asked, “Why on earth are you coming to me? Do you know who I am? Do you understand that I have been a critic of educational technology for years?”
He said that after several interviews with Course Hero, he was convinced that Grauer and his team genuinely care about improving pedagogy. (Morris declined to say how much Course Hero will pay him).
“They’re really, really interested in essentially creating an educational platform that really emphasizes a teacher’s ability to teach and students’ ability to learn and in no way tries to manipulate or control that process,” Morris said of Course Hero. “We need to get students and teachers working together so we have student teachers and student teachers in the classroom.”