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MOOC Mania 102

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-call-it-a-bubble-yet dept.
theodp writes "Online education has had a fifty-year road to 'overnight' success. MIT Technology Review calls the emergence of free online education, particularly massive open online courses (MOOCs), The Most Important Education Technology in 200 Years. 'If you were asked to name the most important innovation in transportation over the last 200 years,' writes Antonio Regalado, 'you might say the combustion engine, air travel, Henry Ford's Model-T production line, or even the bicycle. The list goes on. Now answer this one: what's been the single biggest innovation in education? Don't worry if you come up blank. You're supposed to.' Writing about MOOC Mania in the Communications of the ACM, Moshe Y. Vardi worries that 'the enormous buzz about MOOCs is not due to the technology's intrinsic educational value, but due to the seductive possibilities of lower costs.' And in MOOCs Will Eat Academia, Vivek Haldar writes, 'MOOCs will almost certainly hollow out the teaching component of universities as it stands today...But all is not lost, because the other thing universities do is research, and that is arguably as important, if not more, than teaching.' So, are MOOCs the best thing since sliced bread, or merely the second coming of 1920s Postal Course Mania?"
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MOOC Mania

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  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @01:41PM (#41943453)

    To bad that non college education does not get the respect is should.

    Now if tech had more of a apprenticeship / Union Hall system for IT skills.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      This comment would have had a lot of impact if you took the time to use and spell the words correctly. I make a lot of spelling mistakes on Slashdot, but if this were a post not to make them on, this is it.

      For the record, and for the most part I agree with you. I've seen too many University grads who assume that a piece of paper means they are more intelligent, wise, and skillful than someone without one even if that person has years of experience; not understanding that such an attitude belies those assump

      • by Ironchew (1069966)

        I've seen too many University grads who assume that a piece of paper means they are more intelligent, wise, and skillful than someone without one even if that person has years of experience; not understanding that such an attitude belies those assumptions.

        More specifically, employers think a piece of paper is everything and they have absolute control of decent wages.

        In the U.S., experience still seems to mean something.

        Unfortunately, with zero experience, there are hardly any employers that will hire you without a degree. Employers need to start taking responsibility for workforce training again.

        • Unfortunately, with zero experience, there are hardly any employers that will hire you without a degree. Employers need to start taking responsibility for workforce training again.

          I think MOOCs may offer exactly this. What good is a printed certificate of MOOC completion? Not much. However, a course designed by employers as an entrance exam could be pretty cool. Several years ago, our VP of engineering asked me to put together some hard problems to solve that are related to the work we do, and then dist

      • by jfengel (409917)

        Autodidacticism is under-rated by others, but it is easily over-rated by those who have done it. It is easy to assume that you have taught yourself all of the important things, and that the things you haven't learned are unimportant.

        Skills that are easily tested for are those that are matters of memorization and basic deduction, and the jobs they qualify you for are comparatively low-paying. It's better than purely mechanical or rote jobs, but the big salaries go to those who have skills beyond certificatio

        • just a drone who knows how to connect the dots

          That's what a degree says to me. Ever heard the expression, you don't need to understand the material, just know the stuff the professor wants you to get right on the tests. Or your assignment only has to say the things the professor wants to see. That's how students get good marks. Not from understanding, just mimicking back to the professor what he/she wants to see and hear.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mfwitten (1906728)

      apprenticeship / Union Hall system for IT skills.

      The capital requirements for computing are about as close to zero as anything can get; if you have a computer and an Internet connection and working brain, then what more do you need?

      If you're not motivated enough to cultivate your own personal projects, then join some open source projects, thereby learning how to communicate your ideas effectively in text (through email), work with multiple people in a distributed environment, maintain cross-platform support, etc.

      Then, in an interview:
      "We use <insert op

    • by V!NCENT (1105021)

      Looks like MOOC is based on Connectivism, in which knowledge is connected. Isn't that what Wikipedia is?

      BTW: Who gives a shit about respect?

    • Agreed and agreed.

      And I prefer to think that the lack of grammatical perfection in your post is due either to typing on a phone or to make a point. Though the Grammar Nazis are correct: A good point is made better with a little additional care as to grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

  • lunacy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jsepeta (412566) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @01:42PM (#41943461) Homepage
    this, and the many other articles I've been reading lately that decry the death of the university, completely ignores the fact that many people learn best when they have the routine of going to a physical classroom and being in a seminar-style setting where there is an instructor and other students to ask questions and round out one's understanding of a topic. i think it's all hogwash. maybe remote learning can replace certification tracks or community college, but get real. this is a load of dung.
    • many people also learn best hands on not in a pure classroom or a classroom with loads of theory and very little hands on.

      also you need instructors who have done work in the field in some areas vs ones that have been in the school system there full life.

      • many people also learn best hands on not in a pure classroom or a classroom with loads of theory and very little hands on.

        True but then university is not really designed for these people. If you want to learn hands-on skills then there are vocational training colleges which will do this far better than a university and which have better connections with the industries that you will likely end up working in. These also typically have instructors with practical experience.

        The problem with modern society is that we have achieved a very worthwhile goal that just about anyone can go to university if they work hard and want to.

        • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @05:03PM (#41945091)

          many people also learn best hands on not in a pure classroom or a classroom with loads of theory and very little hands on.

          True but then university is not really designed for these people. If you want to learn hands-on skills then there are vocational training colleges which will do this far better than a university and which have better connections with the industries that you will likely end up working in.

          I would say that most jobs are also not demanding proper skills from university graduates. Universities should not actually be seen as "theoretical" training exercises for a career. The vast majority of professions would be better learned "on the job" or perhaps in a hybrid apprenticeship with some (probably minor) academic component.

          The problem isn't just that too many people are going to universities and thinking of them as a way to get a career -- it's also that too many businesses have come to think that a 4-year degree is actually useful preparation for a job. In reality, many universities are little more than screening systems -- providing a credential that says, "yeah, I can get a minimal number of tasks done and might know a little useless information that could relate to a job in field X." Then the corporation spends a few years while that person figures out field X actually functions in the real world and acquires the skills actually necessary to perform the job.

          The whole system would be more efficient if most companies just hired people out of high school and had competitive apprenticeship programs (with some minor theoretical elements perhaps required as outside classwork as necessary). Outside of truly "academic" disciplines (liberal arts, abstract math, advanced research), I can think of very few jobs which really need years of theoretical training courses.

          The problem these days is that neither employees nor employers feel any loyalty toward each other, so a company wouldn't want to take a risk training high-school grads only to have them jump ship after they actually know what they are doing, or, worse, turn out to be a dead-beat failures. On the other hand, that's exactly the reason why it's become so hard for people straight out of college to land entry-level positions -- companies know that college education is mostly useless in terms of real-world skills, and they don't want to try to invest in someone for a few years teaching them how to actually do stuff without knowing their reliability or how committed they are to the field. In a competitive market, it's easier just to throw out any resume without at least a couple years of experience.

          • by Kjella (173770)

            The vast majority of professions would be better learned "on the job" or perhaps in a hybrid apprenticeship with some (probably minor) academic component. (...) The problem these days is that neither employees nor employers feel any loyalty toward each other, so a company wouldn't want to take a risk training high-school grads only to have them jump ship after they actually know what they are doing

            The nature of the learning curve typically means you'll "owe" the company and then work it back and that's a fairly ugly position for the employee to be in, you can be quite abused if you can't quit and find another job without some massive penalty fee. My goals and their goals are typically not the same because they're probably better off offloading all their tedious, repetitive work on the newbie to free up time for their highly experienced and productive employees. It's far better for me to make that inv

          • I agree with a lot of what you said - an apprentice-type system is really needed for a lot of jobs. However while a degree is not real-world training and may not be essentially for many jobs it does add something worthwhile while can be useful in _some_ jobs. For example in our last IT hire we took the person with the CS degree plus experience over the person with only experience (but more of it) simply because a degree provides a broader educational base so that, when confronted by some new problem, that p
      • by jsepeta (412566)
        Did I say that one should not get hands-on experience? No. In many of my classes we did get hands-on experience, plus lectures, plus discussions. I guess that's the advantage to attending a good school and not some online sham school like University of Phoenix.
    • by blade8086 (183911)

      But but .. the cliff notes ARE the book!

      There was an advertisement on my local cable recently - about grants for online universities for recent highschool grads -

      The main 'perk' they were offering ' GO TO SCHOOL IN YOUR PAJAMAS

      because that is what is important.

      That and printing out a bunch of BS MBA/MFA degrees so that corporate bs'ers can have more to grow their self reinforcing 'yes man' attitude with

    • College "learning" (Score:4, Interesting)

      by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @03:18PM (#41944307)
      Unfortunately, college learning in practice is not nearly as good as it is in theory. Here's why:
      1. Professors are under pressure to make courses easier, because students and their parents are pressuring the schools to make it easy to get a degree (which most people view as a super-special-certification that entitles them to a high-paying job).
      2. Professors and their graduate students are under pressure to publish papers; this is given considerably more weight by most universities than teaching. Graduate students who actually want to teach and who want to be teachers after graduating often discover that teaching becomes a chore for which there is no reward, and for which they are often punished (if you are an undergrad wondering why your TAs seem hurried, disconnected, or unhappy to be conducting a discussion or lab with you, this is why; it is very likely that they have a deadline to meet with their research, and the class is taking time away from that). By the time a professor has tenure and can actually focus the bulk of their time on teaching, they have spent so many years being beaten down by the publish-or-perish system that they usually forget that they actually wanted to teach.
      3. In departments with "obvious" vocational subjects, like engineering, the demand for courses that are immediately applicable to "real world jobs" vastly outweighs courses that are not immediately applicable to most jobs. In computer science, courses in theoretical topics almost always fall by the wayside, crowded out by courses like "Web Design" and "Mobile Application Development."
      4. Departments that lack an obvious vocational purposes, like humanities departments, have their budgets cut because the school wants to pour money into other departments. This results in fewer courses and lower-quality courses in such departments.
      5. Even students who want to learn are being pressured to just get out and get a job. It is hard to take courses that are interesting but that do not have clear applications to a future career when you have tens of thousands of dollars in loans to repay. This is made worse by the fact that the minority of schools that still demand students take rigorous courses are vastly more expensive than schools that focus on job placement.

      You see, academia is not the dreamworld that professors want you to think it is. In reality, academia has been corrupted by corporations, who have found that they can offload job training onto universities and thus save money. Universities cannot be too demanding when it comes to academics, because the vast majority of students are not looking for rigorous academic education, they are just looking for their ticket to a "good job" i.e. a high-paying job.

      So while I agree that online education is not better than typical college education, I cannot say that it is worse, only that it is different. College education is broken, but not for the reasons that people think. College is broken because of bureaucracy, publish-or-perish, and the fact that there are MBAs at every level demanding that departments and professors justify their continued existence in terms of dollars and papers published.

      • I agree with most of what you say, and I think it's a good summary of a lot of problems in academia. To add a few things:

        You see, academia is not the dreamworld that professors want you to think it is.

        I don't know any professor who claims that. Even those who were tenured at small colleges before the publish-or-perish escalation of the past few decades and otherwise live a charmed life are generally stuck in the mire of new administrative bureaucracy (or else have retired to get away from it).

        In reality, academia has been corrupted by corporations, who have found that they can offload job training onto universities and thus save money.

        I can't imagine it saves corporations a lot of money on job training. For example, if we ha

    • this, and the many other articles I've been reading lately that decry the death of the university, completely ignores the fact that many people learn best when they have the routine of going to a physical classroom and being in a seminar-style setting where there is an instructor and other students to ask questions and round out one's understanding of a topic.

      And not just what goes on in the classroom. In college, I learned just as much through conversations with other students who were thinking about all sorts of things (sometimes for classes, sometimes not) as I did in class. Not necessarily "learned" in the sense of acquiring specific facts or knowledge, but more about how to think and explore ideas, how to learn, how to interact socially and intellectual with others, etc.

      While some of this can be replicated through electronic communication, sometimes the

    • Re:lunacy (Score:4, Interesting)

      by epine (68316) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @05:26PM (#41945245)

      completely ignores the fact that many people ...

      Dude, I hate to break the news to you, but I sense you weren't hanging out with the smart set. But it's not your fault. You were one of the flipper kids born without pinky fingers.

      Let's see, here.

      the fact that should be revised out of every sentence in which it occurs (Strunk and White and many partisans).

      Many people reads as "Many people[who?]" (Wikipedia).

      Ignores is both a straw man and a cliche (Martin Amis, The War on Cliche).

      completely ignores the fact that reliance on adverbs of degree does not compel (Writing in the Sciences with Kristin Sainani).

      (Welcome to online education, pal.)

      But these are merely matters of form. What about your central idea? Can we salvage that? It strikes me that your idea is an ode to Survivorship bias [wikipedia.org]. You're not earning my vote.

      The truth here is that education/teaching/learning are much studied, yet rarely dented. We know that one great teacher can have a disproportionate impact, if situated in exactly the right circumstance (the nature of this circumstance seems to shift or to depend on factors as yet unknown). Lucid teachers can improve grades in the short term, but studies of long term retention (more than three years) between these teachers and calculus professors who mumble through thick accents doesn't show much difference. Most good students report having a course that "really changed my life" but there's little pattern to it. Right course at the right time, so far as we can tell. Maybe the student was high on endorphins from first love. Maybe the class wasn't scheduled at 8:30 in the morning for a person with DSPS.

      I picked up a few of these tidbits from EconTalk, among other sources.
      Hanushek on Teachers [econtalk.org]
      Ravitch on Education [econtalk.org]
      Paul Tough on How Children Succeed [econtalk.org]
      Kling on Education and the Internet [econtalk.org]

      Yes, I'm deeply invested in the business of "ignoring" plain matters of fact.

      After Francis Bacon killed himself stuffing a chicken full of ice, we had a 400 year setback in the inquisition of common sense. Recently we have the new tradition of Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine (and many others like him). Cooking cutlets, more oil equals less grease (Leidenfrost effect [wikipedia.org]). When pan frying, flipping your meat multiple times achieves more uniform heating (at the risk of forgetting your flip count). In the soup pot, finely-chopped mirepoix extracts faster (who would have guessed?)

      Two months ago I learned a new method to cook pasta (it might surprise people that I did not attend a brick and mortar course seminar to obtain this profound nugget). In this method you use half as much water, stir vigorously after adding the pasta until the water returns to boil, then pop a lid on and turn off the pot. The samizdat also recommends stirring again one minute into the cooking process, but I haven't found this necessary. My pasta never sticks (to itself or to the pot), always comes out the way I like it, uses about 1/3 as much electricity, doesn't make my kitchen swelter in the summer months, and the pot can be moved to any available ring if I need rings of certain sizes for other cooking tasks. And it only took 400 years to puzzle this out. I guess smart young minds were preoccupied paying off their educational debts.

      I think it's high time we take Myhrvold's laser cutting apparatus to the ivy walls of higher education. It's a frightfully expensive system when half the undergraduate class can not reliably string

    • by 9jack9 (607686)

      Or maybe, just maybe, the actual learning happens in the student's head. If the student is motivated, and has the materials available, nothing can stop them.

      On the other hand, the university setting provides the marginally motivated the necessary framework to execute the prescribed tasks to earn the credits to earn the degree.

      So let's be careful to not confuse getting a degree with getting an education.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      1. Offer something that's always been available, but package it in a pretty bow.
      2. Start a astroturf publicity campaign creating a non-existent strawman "crisis" that your business conveniently solves.
      3. Profit.

      Seriously: if your idea of college and university is sitting and intaking material, you either shouldn't go, should leave, or should have never gone in the first place.

      A good college education isn't about the classroom; it's not about the books; it's not about the exams. It's about the interactions w

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I raise serious eyebrows to this whole thing. Online courses can't have hands-on training using expensive lab equipment. It might make sense with liberal arts courses, but there's no way it can replace certain things about current real classrooms, labs and teachers.

    Also, everyone I've ever talked to who's taking some traditional courses and some online strongly believes that the online courses are pretty much useless when it comes to learning things. They just take them because they're required.

    If it's a

  • There are some subjects, and some students, for which the MOOC is fine. A highly-motivated student may not need the guidance of a face-to-face teacher. I have taught freshman classes where many of the students took the class only because they had to have a science course; it is possible that they learned something, and they probably would not have taken the time to dig it out on their own. I am convinced, however, that being "in residence" is extremely valuable for graduate work. Attending seminars reg
  • by gweihir (88907) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @01:58PM (#41943609)

    Unfortunately there are enough bad educators and non-educators out there without a clue. It is really obvious though: There is a small percentage of people that can learn from books by themselves. The others cannot. Whether it is printed paper or some software that is "interactive" matters very little. Motivation, ability for independent insight, etc. is not a thing that can be created. People have it or not. Those that do not have it need a real-life, competent teacher, nothing else will do.

    • by godrik (1287354)

      I find these initiave really good. We definitely NEED more online material. That being said, I aggree with you, there is still room for classrooms.

      You mention motivation, but it is not only about motivation. Some topics are easy for some people but difficult for others. If you have "natural abilities" in a topic, a book or online material might be enough. But if you don't get it, reading the same book will not help, you need somebody to explain it. He will see what you do not understand and can explain it i

  • by theodp (442580) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @02:07PM (#41943683)

    Communications of the ACM: Teaching Programming To A Highly Motivated Beginner [acm.org]

  • Online learning has its great advantages but also has huge disadvantages. Its success mostly depends on what exactly is being taught. There are sciences which you can't learn without proper hands-on and face-to-face peer discussions (philosophy); others which are useless without field experience (archaeology).

    Also. A good teacher can identify an uninterested student and make them interested. An online course can't.

  • from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mania [merriam-webster.com]

    Definition of MANIA
    1
    : excitement manifested by mental and physical hyperactivity, disorganization of behavior, and elevation of mood; specifically : the manic phase of bipolar disorder
    2
    a : excessive or unreasonable enthusiasm —often used in combination
    b : the object of such enthusiasm

    So, in conclusion: it's the object of excessive or unreasonable enthusiasm, not the best thing since sliced bread.

  • Like a lot of people, I had incredibly shitty math teachers in school who managed to completely turn me off to the subject. Later in life, once I learned what mathematics is actually good for -- which is nearly everything -- I sat down with cheap used textbooks and Schaum's guides and started with algebra and worked through calculus, and then branched out into advanced mathematics. Right now, I'm teaching myself group theory. It is a bit harder to do it on your own without someone to answer questions when y

    • by Desler (1608317)

      It is a bit harder to do it on your own without someone to answer questions when you get stuck, but I'm not sure that's actually a disadvantage in the long run: the concept you struggle to understand is remembered better than the one that is handed to you.

      Being guided and corrected when you are learning something incorrectly is not having something handed to you. Such a feedback loop is advantageous to prevent you from learning things incorrectly. It would be like claiming you can learn a foreign language purely on your own by reading a book without any feedback from other speakers of the language to point out where your grammar, pronunciation, etc. is incorrect. Video lessons and such are great supplemental education resources, but it doesn't replace the

  • by prefec2 (875483) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @02:55PM (#41944103)

    MOOC is nothing more than online learning, brought to us in the 2000s. Distant learning is an really old thing. In the last century it was done through postal service. First, shipping documents, then shipping documents and CDs. With the upcoming of the Internet. More media was delivered through that channel. As the Internet also allows to transfer video and allows synchronous and asynchronous communication (chat, audio and video chat, forum etc.).

    All previous distant learning concepts suffered from high drop-out rates. To compensate for that, real life meetings were added to the curricula. Therefore, I assume the same will happen here. However, the content of a lecture could easily be transmitted online. So yes it might kill some private companies in the education business. So be it. Education should be free and if MOOC or online learning can provide that. Fine. Universities are financed by the state and the state are the people living in that state. Therefore, all the content the universities produce is payed by those people and the content should be made available, if possible, to all of them.

    Yes, universities are also funded by companies. However, they provide money for research and the companies get their results. But, the rest is financed by the people and therefore the results belong to the people.

    • Universities are financed by the state and the state are the people living in that state. Therefore, all the content the universities produce is payed by those people and the content should be made available, if possible, to all of them.

      Most people go to college to get a degree; what outsiders do not generally realize that is that having a degree and being educated are two very different things.

      Let's put it this way: I have seen native English speakers, with bachelor's degrees, who have no idea how to compose an essay. I don't just mean the occasional grammar or spelling error (I admit to making plenty of those), I mean an inability to develop an overarching theme or idea, no understanding of connecting phrases or paragraphs, etc.

  • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @03:21PM (#41944343) Homepage Journal

    I've been "tasting" the various online courses for the last 15 months or so: started with Dr. Thrun's online AI course [ai-class.com], have contacts with people at edX [edx.org], have taken or viewed courses from a half-dozen entities.

    One salient aspect of all of the MOOCs is their overall poor quality.

    The teachers are, as a general rule: smart, familiar with the subject, nice people, and well meaning.

    The online courses are, as a general rule: boring, poorly presented, supported by poor online tools, and counter-instructive.

    Everyone realizes that education is changing, and that in ten years or so there will only be a few players left. Everyone wants desperately to be one of those players, so you have everyone frantically recording lectures and putting them online in a desperate attempt to remain relevant.

    Sebastian. Thrun's AI course never bothered to check or correct errors in content, resulting in massive frustration from the students. Anant Agarwal's electronics course had students drowning in directionless theory that suddenly uncovered a useful equation. Daphne Koller's presentation style makes the simplest concepts appear dense.

    To give an representative example, Kristin Sainani over at Coursera [coursera.org] is running a course on scientific writing [coursera.org] (writing for purposes of a published paper, or review of said paper &c). The course content is very good, but the students edit and grade each others' homework.

    Perhaps 80% of the students speak almost no English. The end result: 80% of the editing work is tediously instructing other students not on course content, but on basic English (when to use articles, which prepositions to use when, &c), while 80% of the corrections you receive for your work are utterly useless. The overall experience is "massive waste of time for a course of heavily diluted value".

    There are occasional standout exceptions [coursera.org], but the overall quality is very low. No one has quite realized that you can't just videotape a lecture and put it up on the web - you have to plan things out ahead of time, add good production value, and have good support. It's not easy, and no one group so far is doing it particularly well.

    Online learning is still in beta. Perhaps in a couple of years the technology will mature.

    • by williamhb (758070)

      I've been "tasting" the various online courses for the last 15 months or so: started with Dr. Thrun's online AI course [ai-class.com], have contacts with people at edX [edx.org], have taken or viewed courses from a half-dozen entities.

      One salient aspect of all of the MOOCs is their overall poor quality.

      While it's true most early MOOC courses are a bit limited in interaction, pedagogy, assessment, etc, they have already had an interesting effect on universities.

      I've been working on smart teaching tech on and off for nearly 10 years, including on an older project by some of the people behind edX at MIT. More recently I've been looking to bring online into the lecture theatre [blogspot.com]. For most of the time I've worked on teaching technology, I've often heard the reaction that's all well and good but no-one really c

    • by GlobalEcho (26240)

      Thank you for posting this. I teach as an adjunct faculty member (Illinois Institute of Technology) and have also once tried one of MIT's online courses. It was quite bad, but that's a sample size of just one and I lack the time to do a more thorough investigation. I'm grateful that you have expended the time and effort to do much more.

      It has always seemed to me that good online teaching may be possible but that I hadn't heard of good techniques for making it so. Your opinion that it is still in beta ma

  • by pgdave (1774092) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @03:36PM (#41944463)

    Now answer this one: what's been the single biggest innovation in education?

    The Open University, 1971 http://www8.open.ac.uk/about/main/the-ou-explained/history-the-ou [open.ac.uk]

  • Putting university courses online with the same "read this," "listen to this," "answer these questions" is NOT taking advantage of modern technology... even if they add forums & chat. This isn't a revolution, it's an aging institution's last attempt to find relevance as they continue to raise tuition fees. The only reason universities were relevant up until now, was due to the immense information hoarding. The Internet has changed everything, decentralizing the knowledge that once gave them power. If ev
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This conversation has been swirling around a lot recently, from excitement about the Khan academy to open source textbooks. The common tenet is that all people need to learn an idea or new skill is access to knowledge, and why don't we get rid of the middle man - the teacher - and free the knowledge. But the problem is that learning isn't about memorizing knowledge (if it was, this problem would have been solved long ago), but with getting rid of all the WRONG ideas and theories that people have an uncanny

  • Some people value actually learning stuff. Who knew?

  • by westlake (615356) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @04:54PM (#41945025)

    'If you were asked to name the most important innovation in transportation over the last 200 years,' writes Antonio Regalado, 'you might say the combustion engine, air travel, Henry Ford's Model-T production line, or even the bicycle. The list goes on. Now answer this one: what's been the single biggest innovation in education? Don't worry if you come up blank. You're supposed to.'

    The public school expands beyond New England and its Puritan religious roots,

    The American "Red Brick" High School, vocational school and the land grant Agricultural College.

    Correspondence courses and adult education

    The rise of the sciences in post secondary education

    Experiment and discovery vs. rote memorization

    700 Science Experiments For Everyone [arvindguptatoys.com]

    The G.I.Bill of Rights.

    Brown vs Board of Education

    The education of women, and the entry of the women into the professions.

    Pre-school education and Sesame Street

    The way Regalado frames the question almost insures that the techno-geek will come up blank.

    The first academically credentialed correspondence courses date back to London in the 1850s. The Chautauqua Institution was reaching out to rural women in the 1880s. Radio was experimenting with "distance learning" in the 1920s.

    • Very nice list.

      I'd like to propose home schooling aids. No, home schooling is not new. What is new is the large amount of help now available for parents who are willing and able to teach their own kids.

      Also: education vouchers, where parents can choose to send their children to schools outside their district.

      Both of these are politically charged innovations that try to address some problems with American education. So was Brown. Not everybody needs to approve of an innovation for it to have an impact.

  • by ryzvonusef (1151717) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @05:00PM (#41945065) Journal

    ...allow me to give an intro.

    In my country, we have a university, called Virtual University[1], that conducts it's business over the internet. Since my dad was posted to the embassy in Riyadh, and we had an year of tenure still remaining after I did my A-levels, my dad decided to enrol me in the uni, so I had *something to do*.

    Basically it works like this: You can study at home if you like (and have an internet connection), or you can visit multitudes of affiliated campuses all over the country. They have hired professional lecturers to perform in front of a camera, and these lectures are available to view in the computer lab/tv rooms of the campuses, over cable TV (four channels, as mandated by law), via video CDs you can order, or on youtube[2].

    You also get notes and slides over the site, get and submit assignments over the site, and hold study conference with the teacher or fellow students over it. As for exams, internationally they conducted the exam on the computer via video conference, but nationally, they held exams in their campuses.

    Having described the system, how was the study experience, you ask? Miserable!

    One-way video lectures never captured my attention (I tend to tune out after ~7 minutes of a continuous rant), so I never viewed them. Lecture notes were very nice, but still limited. I noticed that misconceptions were not caught in the bud but were allowed to carry on, since there was no one monitoring them. Discussions were clumsy, since they were not instantaneous or one to one.

    I was maintaining a 3+ GPA, but I realised it didn't reflect my actual knowledge level (barely). I aced assignments not because I knew what I was doing, but because my much more knowledgeable, university going siblings back in Paki pre-checked my assignment and caught errors (they too were unable to clarify just exactly was wrong, communicating over email or IM was clumsy).

    This was especially noticeable over the Compsci filler subject they shove in the earlier semesters, regardless of your stream (finance in my case), So while technically I knew HTML, JavaScript, C++, yeah, without my lecturer of a sister, I wouldn't have made the assignments or scrapped through the exams.

    But more importantly, I was missing out on the experience. No fellows to discuss with, cooped up in my room in KSA, wasn't exactly conducive to my mental state. Even back in Pak, since there was no proper class session, you never really met with course mates on campus.

    Which is why, soon after I came back to Paki, I dropped out, switched to a community college, and got my associate degree. Oh sure, it was a two instead of four year degree, but at least I was *learning* something.(then I moved to ACCA, and here I am , but never mind that)

    Basically to sum it up, such a form of education is NOT for your highschool graduate; stick them into a brick-and-mortar institute, they need not just the bookish knowledge but the interaction with their fellows. The need a person for the *immediate* interactivity, not some drone they will tune out to. Also, the degree is not worth shit. Frankly, it's considered only a step above an outright fake degree in matters of public perception and trust. Since they can't see any *visible* effort expended in gaining the degree other than money, it seems to imply that the degree was essentially bought.

    And this is why such institutes are limited. Mind you, VU is not our first *open* institute, There is an earlier one, Allama Iqbal Open University[3], which uses postal means rather electronic means to communicate with students, and It too suffers the same flaws.

    On the underhand, such universities are *perfect* for people who already have the knowledge or skill, and just need the piece of paper. For a job-goer, who prefers the flexibility over the quality of instruction, such a cheap and flexible method is heaven sent. Also, it's a government recognised university, so its valid for applying to government jobs. Finally, if you are in a place where there *is* no

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 10, 2012 @08:18PM (#41946475)

    I'm posting anonymously because I'm a Head of School at a well known university, and it probably would not do my career a whole lots of good for these comments to be attributed to me. If that makes me a coward, so be it.

    TL;DR: MOOCs are a symptom of change in higher education - the rise of university education as a business - not a cause.

    The biggest innovation in higher education in the past 50 or more years has been the commercialisation of education. Universities are not about education - they're businesses that convert a student's dreams and aspirations into cash. Education is just the nice icing on the cake that helps administrators sleep at night when they know full well that they are starting off hundreds of thousands of young people's professional careers with a debt.

    Senior university administrators are not academics, but professional managers who have anointed themselves as business leaders. Never mind the fact that their businesses are built on exploitation - of students, their families and the public purse. In the long run, as people realise what's going on, public money will disappear and the institutions that can actually run as businesses will. The rest will die - there will be a concentration of ownership. Governments will be happy with this because they'll be able to put tax dollars into something else, and students and their families will still be screwed because now the market will be free to set whatever price it wants. Oh, you want a good education? That'll cost you more. Human history has almost always been about providing the best education to the wealthiest and most powerful, we're just reverting to defaults.

    MOOCs and online learning are a symptom of changes in higher education, not a cause. They make administrators happy because they allow institutions to cover more students over a wider geographical area more cheaply. The quality of that education is totally irrelevant, as long as quantitative metrics can be shown that demonstrate that a student has 'passed' and that 'quality standards' have been adhered to. Since the system is rigged by the system to support universities as businesses, the set standards represent a pretty low bar. The only places where this bar is not set so low are the courses where poor quality graduates become hideously apparent - medicine, for example. Poor medical graduates kill people, poor CS or arts students generally don't. Ask yourself if you're ever likely to see medical graduates doing much of their course online.

    I'm not writing this as a bitter loser who resents a system that has treated me badly. I have a six figure salary and my career is on track to become one of these managers, and it makes me sick. One day I'll have to make a choice, and when that day comes, I hope I have the courage to walk away. I doubt anyone can change it.

  • A couple of my academic friends believe that MOOCs like Khan Academy will "invert" the teaching process. Instead of attending lecturers for content, and assimilating the material later while doing homework, students will view lectures offline, and assimilate the material in class, in a more lab-like environment.

    Sounds good to me.
  • While MOOCs do allow a lot of people to take courses that they might not otherwise have access to, the bigger question is can you actually learn enough from them to say that you have training in that subject? Previous posts have commented on the droning lectures, which really don't help, even in person.

    So a different question is: can a highly-motivated person, who really wants to know about x, take an online course (MOOC or Kahn Academy or whatever) and actually get something out of it. Sure! But a highl

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