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What Professors Can Learn From "Hard Core" MOOC Students 141

Posted by samzenpus
from the get-your-learn-on dept.
jyosim writes "Hundreds of people are spending 20 or 30 hours a week just taking free Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. They're not looking for credit, just the challenge of learning. This Chronicle of Higher Ed story looks at whether these MOOC addicts think they're learning as much as they would in a traditional college course. From the article: 'Consider Anna Nachesa, a 42-year-old single mother in a village near Amsterdam who logs on to MOOCs for several hours each night after dinner with her teenage kids. She has always found TV boring, she says, and for her, MOOCs replace reading books. She is a physicist by training, with a degree from Moscow State University, and she works as a software developer. "This stuff is actually addictive," she says. In some ways the lure is like Everest: Some want to climb it to see if they can. "The Dutch have the proverb 'If you never shoot, you already missed,'" she says.'"
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What Professors Can Learn From "Hard Core" MOOC Students

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  • by Latent Heat (558884) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:06PM (#43775135)
    OK, people are "addicted to MOOCs" much as people are "addicted" to TV or to the Internet.

    How does this help me teach people to be engineers?

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:11PM (#43775173) Journal
      The first thing you should learn is to read the article. There, you will find these four points listed:

      1) Clarity and organization are key.
      2)Professors are the stars (the university name isn't so important)
      3)Text still matters. (because videos aren't searchable)
      4)Passion matters most. (you don't have to be a pretty movie star)
      • by sanman2 (928866) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:27PM (#43775277)

        5) It's all about ACCESS

        There are plenty of people out there who have the desire and the ability to improve themselves, but for one reason or another can't take time out of their lives to leave their jobs and go back to school. The MOOC is the great new solution to their dilemma. Now anyone and everyone can get access to training and education, to better themselves in their spare time. After all, we're now in the 21st century, and shouldn't have to be constrained by old limits on things like classroom size, etc.

        What's needed going forward, are paths to accreditation so that MOOC students can merge themselves into the mainstream of education and qualification. Hey, as long as a student can genuinely pass the tests and examinations which authentically gauge their prowess, then why should it matter whether they got their education face-to-face in a classroom vs online? In the end, it's knowledge and ability which count.

        We may be entering into a new age of "Social Learning" whereby our social circles and our study groups become one and the same. We will increasingly spend more of our time communicating with study peers through whom we can advance our knowledge, so that any ultimate interaction with the instructor will be more efficient and productive.

        • Plus you don't have to deal with the politics and 'personalities' that inevitably emerge in third level institutions. Just pure knowledge baby, that will do nicely. It's also very exciting in terms of collaborative learning, after a few cycles you'd be left with something like stackexchange and TAs would be redundant. I guess eventually a lot of professors would be too if they were to release texts or videos and compete with one another. The best and most informative would rise to the top, and the energies

          • by Miseph (979059) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:22PM (#43775765) Journal

            "Children being born today will have access to far more and better education than any generation ever, if we don't mess it up in some way."

            No need to worry, we will definitely find a way to mess it up.

          • by jlar (584848)

            "I guess eventually a lot of professors would be too if they were to release texts or videos and compete with one another."

            I believe that this is why the top universities are betting on this. My expectation is that the top universities will provide cheap education for the masses in the future. In other words: The MOOC revolution will be similar to how TV took over from movie theatres.

            Second tier universities will simply disappear or the professors will be relegated to teaching assistants for the top profess

        • by zmaragdus (1686342) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:17PM (#43775727)
          One of the bigger problems with accreditation is the scope of examination needed to determine suitability for official certification. If I were to certify someone as an electrical engineer without any knowledge of what their education was, I'd want to spend a full week working one-on-one with them to fully evaluate their knowledge and skills. This is why universities get accreditation from a group like ABET [abet.org]. Now you can tell graduates to have several years of work experience, take the FE and PE exams [ncees.org], and be able to tell with a reasonable amount of certainty whether or not the individual is worthy to be called a Professional Engineer with a good efficiency in the process (vs. the aforementioned one-on-one situation). Does anyone have any better ideas for large-scale, education-irrelevant accreditation?
          • by Miseph (979059)

            Sounds like a great reason to bring back the middle class trade guild as a meaningful part of professional development.

            You can get in so long as you can pass the tests, then once you've worked under an experienced professional with genuine, demonstrated knowledge of how things happen in the real world for a period of time you get the stamp of approval to strike out on your own, and eventually take neophytes under your wing as well.

            Of course anything even remotely resembling a union is "communist", so we can

            • by PoolOfThought (1492445) on Monday May 20, 2013 @04:55PM (#43776445)

              A: Of course anything even remotely resembling a union is "communist"...

              Maybe. But it doesn't really matter.

              B: ..., so we can rule that option right out.

              Wrong. Why? Because what described in your first and second paragraphs doesn't resemble the unions of which you speak of in the last. (B) has nothing to do with (A). Therefore, you SHOULD be happy that what you described is not only possible, but quite preferable for many professions. For some reason I doubt you will be happy though.

              And just so you know, electricians already do this. And plumbers. You know, those middle class, hard working professionals. Even independent contractors go through the same process for these professions. The practice isn't gone. Again, you should be happy with me pointing this out, but I doubt you will be.

            • Of course anything even remotely resembling a union is "communist", so we can rule that option right out.

              Private sector unions are a perfectly reasonable expression of the right to assemble.
              It's when they distort the market and drive jobs away that achieve that full "solution in search of a problem" state.
              Public sector unions, like mutinies and rabid dogs, need to be put down.

          • I think there is a large question in there: To what degree do we feel like we can forego the standard educational requirements and simply allow people to learn by whatever methods, and take tests to prove knowledge/ability?

            To take it to an extreme, should we allow anyone to become a lawyer if they can pass a Bar exam? How about allowing someone to be a doctor just by passing a series of medical exams, but without going to med school?

            Is there a value to sending people to school beyond testable knowledge?

            • maybe doctors can just get into med school with out needing a full 4 year bs / ba. Why not an 2-3 year aa / as and then? (mix years 2-4 into med school) Also MED school does have a residency part that is basically an apprenticeship.

              standard educational requirements in places like IT need have some kind of hands on tech / trades part to them maybe 2 years MAX up front class room. And then have apprenticeship part with on going classes that are not tied down to the college time table.

            • by Kjella (173770)

              Is there a value to sending people to school beyond testable knowledge? That's a big question.

              No, because the obvious answer is yes. But do you have to lump it together with tests to measure specific knowledge? I've had years of regular full time onsite university education, if what I need is to prove my ability in a specific topic then that should be possible without requiring a meager and largely irrelevant addition to my general interpersonal skills, particularly if my available hours, location or other duties make it impractical or impossible. At least anything that can be reasonably accomplishe

          • IT / Tech needs an apprenticeship system mixed with maybe some kind of reworking of the certifications systems in place now. (maybe add more common stuff with less vendor based certifications and regroup vendors stuff)

          • In order to more thoroughly test students' knowledge, AI software should be used which will sense where the student is weakest through their answers, and then pile on more questions in the weaker areas, or perhaps even provide supplementary learning materials which address the students' weak points.

        • by Nemyst (1383049)
          It's all about access, but in more than one way. On top of the ability to access courses at all, MOOC greatly facilitate having access to excellent professors. This matters tremendously.

          An unfortunate problem with many high-level courses right now is that there are few people competent enough to give them, and even fewer to give them in an engaging, interesting and understandable manner. With MOOCs, you only need one great person doing the course online for everybody to benefit. That's a huge difference c
          • by Gorobei (127755)

            It's not a bug, it's a feature!

            Once a course goes online, you can't get feedback from the online tests and fix the teacher's exposition where stuff went wrong. You wind up with two or three great online courses, perhaps with a guest teacher giving a talk on a point where the main teacher can't explain well.

            Ideally, you separate the course from the final tests: students watch the lectures, do the homework for the course, but take a final competency test that is designed by a certification body, not the teach

            • Ideally, you separate the course from the final tests: students watch the lectures, do the homework for the course, but take a final competency test that is designed by a certification body, not the teacher of the class. It's a much better model for all involved: I waste a ton of my time and interview candidates' time seeing if they have basic skills I need: I'd love an off-the-shelf test for that combined with teachers trying to teach the skills required to pass that test. I'd pay real money to put a screening test online and have college professors respond by teaching to that test.

              ...at which point you've completely destroyed the business case for each and every university. Why should I study with an expert in a niche field if he can't teach me about it because I have to pass a bunch of standardised questions chosen by a committee? The life would be dragged out of university teaching much as it has been out of school teaching.

              What you are proposing is not university, and to those of you who don't like university, I say this: instead of trying to appropriate the term "university" an

        • by AuMatar (183847)

          I don't know anyone taking MOOCs who give a crap about accreditation. We're all professionals in that or other fields taking them out of pure interest in knowledge. Accreditation isn't needed, and in fact isn't really wanted- we'd then have to pay, have to care about taking the test, doing work on time (not always easy with a full time job, family, etc). All for credit in some course in a field we have no desire to enter. No thanks.

          What I think is needed is actual community building- local communities

        • Now anyone and everyone can get access to training and education, to better themselves in their spare time.

          Just like anyone could previously by reading a gorram book at the public library.

          Calling a set of taped lectures a "massive open on-line course" is just another silly bit of overhyping "X, but on the Interwebz!" Yes, it is nice that the net makes more content available more efficiently, but this is an evolutionary step, not any sort of revolution.

      • by Mikkeles (698461)

        I would suggest that they left out the most important one: have only students who are eager to learn and want to be there.

        I have found that even mediocre teachers often seem to shine when given such a class.

    • the best MOOC out there is the cyypto one from Dan Boneh: http://www.mooc-list.com/instructor/dan-boneh [mooc-list.com] you get a Stanford Professor! Free!
      • by suutar (1860506)
        I like his class, though I find it easy to get confused between the 4... levels? types? of cryptographic security. But the algorithm classes from Tim Roughgarden are my favorites.
  • Get the book? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by internerdj (1319281) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:11PM (#43775177)
    "'If you want to become an expert in the field,' he says, 'I think you need the book.'" My first assignment in my current PhD program was to come up with a list of errata from the textbook to submit back to the collegue of the instructor to fix for the next edition. It was one of the most informative assignments of my entire academic career.
    • Sounds like a good way to increase the professors revenue. Granted it sounds like it was a good learnign experience but I hope that you were at least listed as a coauthor.
    • so that's why they make so meany updates part of it is a way to test people now how many updates make into the next up date? and why do the questions changes? where the old ones filled with errors?

    • by swillden (191260)

      Heh.

      It's at the other end of the college curriculum, but I had a somewhat similar experience. I arrived at college having passed AP Calculus but without having taken any trigonometry. After a couple of semesters I realized I really needed to address my lack of trig knowledge, so I enrolled in a course. The prof who was teaching it recognized my name and asked me to come talk to her. She suggested that I drop the course and instead spend the semester grading papers for the class, rather than taking it.

      I

  • 99.97% dropout rate (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:30PM (#43775315) Homepage

    So out of 3 million people signed up with Coursera, only 900 have completed 10 or more courses, comparable to roughly a year of full-time schooling. Only 100 have completed 20 or more. That's a 99.97% dropout rate after one year.

    This isn't going to replace other forms of education with stats like that.

    • by neminem (561346) <neminem@gmai l . c om> on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:37PM (#43775375) Homepage

      If you could start a semester at college by signing up for every class that looked remotely interesting, show up to the first lecture or two, decide whether it was, then only take the classes you wanted, you'd probably see rates more like that. If you could do that and also college was *free*, then you'd really see rates like that. I'm not seeing why either of those things are bad.

      Now, you can argue that an online-only approach is inherently not going to be as good for a lot of subjects as an approach that involves some hands-on work under the direct supervision with a professor you can talk to directly, and I would agree with that argument. But then again, in a lot of (larger) schools, a lot of classes that would benefit from that sort of approach wouldn't get it anyway - they'd get mostly large classroom lectures taught by TAs, in which case, you could hardly argue that's terribly different from a Coursera course, other than in the relative difficulty and cost of signing up for the class.

    • by Quirkz (1206400)

      I've taken about 10 courses, and haven't "completed" any of them by the traditional academic standard of doing all the homework and tests. But I don't care, I'm not worried about that. I'm at a busy period in my life, definitely don't have a good schedule, and tend to get behind. I'm still enjoying the lectures, doing readings as I feel like it, sometimes doing quizzes or assignments, and often wrapping up the class weeks after it's officially over. I'm still 100% satisfied with this process, still feel lik

    • by citizenr (871508)

      Define dropout.
      I signed up for >30 courses in total. I have 7 certs of accomplishment, all with 95-100% score. The rest I didnt bother doing quizzes/assignments, I downloaded all the videos and learn at my own pace for myself, I dont need any more diplomas.
      I only failed in one class I was doing quizzes/assignments, by 3% (at first they send me cert and said i passed, but later revoked it after recount/quiz fixes or something).

      Im sure I am destroying their stats taking all those courses and not doing any

    • Easy access, high standards and high completion rate. Pick any two.

      Although, I teach at a place with high standards and a high completion rate, but with a very selective admissions policy, I think that another good strategy is to have easy access and high standards, even at the cost of a high completion rate. That's what these sort of courses might provide.

      I'm not keen on dropping standards in favour of easy access and a high completion rate. However, there is always a pressure to improve the completion

      • Although, I teach at a place with high standards and a high completion rate, but with a very selective admissions policy, I think that another good strategy is to have easy access and high standards, even at the cost of a high completion rate.

        Surely having high standards in teaching means making yourself a better teacher, naturally resulting in a high completion rate and pass rate? Low completion rate means there's gaps in your teaching. Yes, there's gaps in everybody's teaching, and it's our job to fill the gaps...

        That said, you're correct about the problem of "admissions policy" -- Coursera has no model for course progression, and "open access" doesn't need to mean "access to everything", but rather "access to everything at your level"....

        • Surely having high standards in teaching means making yourself a better teacher, naturally resulting in a high completion rate and pass rate? Low completion rate means there's gaps in your teaching. Yes, there's gaps in everybody's teaching, and it's our job to fill the gaps...

          Many courses have prerequisites and/or require a certain ability or talent. Not everyone will have the require prerequisites, ability and talent. Even good teaching can't overcome a lack of all of these.

          Having easy access means that people can have a go, even if it looks, on paper, that they aren't qualified for the particular course. What matters is that they think they can do the work, or, at least, they hope they can do the work. The hope educationally is that some will succeed who wouldn't meet stan

          • Well here's a suggestion, then. Have students tick to self-certify "prerequisites", then have two pass rates, one for those who meet the prerequisites, one for those who don't.
    • by tverbeek (457094)
      A while back I signed up for a MOOC in a subject that I find very interesting. The structure of the "learning" environment, with no way to engage in any kind of discussion without first navigating the colossal trainwreck of a message board cluttered with hundreds (thousands?) of introductory messages that no human being could possibly sort through, was such a huge turn-off that I can't imagine why I'd ever want to look at one of them again. They actually recommended Twitter - the most superficial, badly-t
  • What about stuff that is a poor fit in to an traditional college setting.

    Stuff that is a better fit for hands on?

    Stuff that is better in a trade school / tech school setting.

    traditional college needs to change as well.

    • Stuff that is a better fit for hands on?

      The Internet is the greatest thing for Do-It-Yourselfers since power tools were invented.

      • be nice if you can get a credit or an badge that means something with not having to go collgle for 2-4+ years with big bill and lot's of theory.

        • by tlambert (566799)

          be nice if you can get a credit or an badge that means something with not having to go collgle for 2-4+ years with big bill and lot's of theory.

          Issuing credit/"badges" for technical fields makes no sense, if you lack the common vocabulary to be able to communicate with your peers about complex topics, or lack the theory necessary to be able to generalize a solution and apply it to an entirely new problem.

          If you are talking instead about society valuing blue collar labor less than white collar labor, then the educational system or trade school system is not the place to fix what society does or does not value, or for something it values, how highly.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Traditional college doesn't need to change. Most of the things people complain about are the result of the changes and reforms put into place over the last hundred years.

      Things which are generally better at trade/tech schools are usually taught there for a reason. One of the big problems is that people don't seem to understand the difference between vocational certification and a college degree. The former is supposed to set you up for a specific job and the latter is supposed to set you up to think in an a

      • but we are putting to much into the college degree and field like tech / IT more trades / hands on are needed. Maybe some kind of mix of the 2 ideas is needed but not 4 years pure class room.

        College misses the mark in a few ways. Some people think that CS is one size fit's all, Some degrees have to much theory, With some stuff by the time you are out of collgle when you learned is out of date. Some college professors have been in academics to much and they have little to no real IT knowledge or its very out

        • by hedwards (940851)

          Perhaps IT shouldn't be at college, it should be a vocational program the way that being an electrician or a plumber is a vocational matter rather than one that's taught at college.

          But, it's not the level of the degree that determines that, it's whether it's focused on vocational training or on understanding things in a more broad way. Every time the topic comes up there's a bunch of luddites that comes to bash college because it's not laser focused on the job. Well, guess what, that's what college is. If a

  • by saforrest (184929) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:31PM (#43775325) Homepage Journal

    This Chronicle of Higher Ed story looks at whether these MOOC addicts think they're learning as much as they would in a traditional college course.

    It's been psychologically demonstrated that people who volunteer their time up-front to some activity for which they're not receiving other rewards (e.g. payment) are biased towards finding the activity fulfilling, even if it wasn't really, simply so they don't feel foolish for having wasted their time.

    I have no doubt many of these people are learning things and they would probably drop out if they weren't, but self-reporting is no way to measure the efficacy of MOOCs as learning tools.

    • by JAS0NH0NG (87634)
      The description you have is sort of backwards. That is, fulfillment is an example of an intrinsic motivation [wikipedia.org], and intrinsic motivations are one way of getting people to do certain activities. The people who do a lot of these MOOCs have a strong intrinsic motivation to want to learn, what to challenge themselves, and have fun doing so. These are also classic examples of intrinsic motivation.

      I think you're referring to cognitive dissonance [wikipedia.org] instead (do a search for "boring task" in the linked Wikipedia artic
    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:05PM (#43775633) Homepage

      My overall take is similar:
      1. I'm guessing these folks are learning stuff. I certainly did when I started watching some Yale's course lectures [youtube.com].

      2. The educational value is somewhere between a History or Discovery Channel bit and an actual college course: I learned a bunch of stuff I hadn't learned before, but I don't by any stretch of the imagination think that I've done the equivalent of an undergraduate course.

      3. I can think of far worse hobbies and bigger wastes of time. If you believe, as I do, that education and knowledge is valuable in its own right and not just a way to increase potential earnings and productivity, then at worst these folks are stretching their brains a bit and having more ideas to draw on.

      So a worthwhile effort, but probably not the equivalent of the full college experience. Although I'm guessing there are a lot of Open University graduates who would be happy to contest the idea that distance learning can't work really well.

      • by Quirkz (1206400) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:18PM (#43775739) Homepage

        I agree 100%. Many of the classes I've taken have been light to moderate, a couple fairly rigorous, but none of them matched the demands of any of my undergraduate courses (admittedly at a tough private college). The rigorous ones might have come close to a couple of big-lecture entry-level classes I audited at a state university which weren't particularly demanding, but even there I think the total amount of education and challenge still goes to the traditional school.

        That said, it is still learning. Engaging, educational, entertaining, and satisfying. I do read nonfiction books on my own, but changing the pace with lectures and quizzes is refreshing. I'm getting a lot out of the experience. How it compares to a traditional college environment is mostly irrelevant for me now; in the future, if they're talking about accredited classes and full degrees in MOOCs, that may be a different issue.

        • by AuMatar (183847)

          Have you tried the MITX engineering classes? They were on par or above anything I took at a respected undergrad (UIUC).

          • by Quirkz (1206400)

            I have not. But I'm not really in the market for anything especially challenging at the moment. I'll keep it in mind for later, though. The toughest one I've had so far was a Stanford databases class. I thought that one was pretty challenging until a student pointed to a copy of a midterm from the traditional version of the class the same instructor teaches in person, and I was surprised by the much greater difference in difficulty. I got an 80% on the MOOC midterm without applying a lot of effort, but I co

            • by AuMatar (183847)

              One of the nice things about MITX is that the homework and tests are the same they take at the actual school. No watering down. Of course the negative is that you don't have all the resources you would on campus (fellow students, office hours, etc), making it harder.

      • by Nemyst (1383049)
        To be perfectly honest, I call bullshit. There are many courses at university where I haven't been at any class and just read the book and passed easily. I think those courses (and they made up a significant proportion of all my undergrad courses) would've benefited from being structured like MOOCs instead of traditional courses. Textbooks are boring, rarely give insights and generally are only there to fall back on when the teacher wasn't clear on something. To rely on them entirely can work, but it's a lo
    • by hedwards (940851)

      That was one of my thoughts, nothing in the article would lead a professor to change his or her practices as there's nothing in the article at all to go by. The students that do well in these MOOCs are probably already doing so well in normal classes that they don't really need a professor. The students that the professors are supposed to worry about are the lower achievers and the middle of the class. Those are the ones where the professor is likely to be able to make a difference.

      I'm extremely skeptical t

  • by Fosterocalypse (2650263) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:41PM (#43775401)
    to teach a niche or particular subject they find incredibly interesting and the university may not sign off on it. For example I took and Algorithms course, and a cryptography course. Both applicable to the CompSci field and degree programs but not really incorporated in the bulk of programs offered.
  • by JTsyo (1338447) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:46PM (#43775437) Journal
    I think what she meant was "You can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket".
    • I think what she meant was "You can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket".

      Yes, but you always save a $1 (or more) every time you don't buy a lottery ticket. ;-)

    • by citizenr (871508)

      I think what she meant was "You can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket".

      Actually you win lottery EVERY TIME you dont buy a ticket, but only 1 in few hundred millions if you do buy it.

  • by drwho (4190) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:53PM (#43775517) Homepage Journal

    There's more to education than listening to lectures and taking the final exam (though the Chinese and many European schools don't seem to understand this). College education involves lectures, Q&A, homework, feedback from the teacher, projects, interaction with classmates...all in some personal manner. I am not suggesting that everyone needs one-on-one training as provided by a tutor, but interactivity is important. In mega-classrooms this is impossible. Sure, you'll get graders and TAs, but they often are unable to answer more than the most basic questions. It's not only about receiving information from the professor, it's also about responding back in turn - to improve the professor's understanding of the field, his or her teaching methodology, and to build a repor which lasts beyond the classroom.

    For some years now, Wall-street and wannabee wall-street types having being trying to rebuild higher education along the lines of a business, with assembly lines and workers as interchangeable parts. It doesn't work. The quality of education is suffering. There's a race to the bottom as students are taught only how to pass the multiple-choice, computer graded exam. While understanding of certain facts is key, and rote memorization and replay have their value, it is not sufficient as part of a quality education. Small classrooms and interpersonal relations are required. This is best done in the traditional university environment.

    Disclaimer; no, I am not any part of this teaching machine, either of the mass-production or hand-crafted ones.

    • by rastos1 (601318)

      College education involves ... interaction with classmates...

      While I'm too far to go out with any of my classmates to pub, I certainly did interact with them. There are forums, IRC channels, e-mails, FB groups, ... While we've never met face-to-face, I certainly could recognize several nicknames after a few forum threads and they would recognize me. For sure you can make more friends (with similar interests) there as here in the woods.

  • An educator does not deal with driven, curious, and happily intelligent people all day. Her job is instead to take the lazy, complacent, and dull-minded and instill knowledge and analytical ability.

    "Hundreds of people are spending 20 or 30 hours a week just taking free Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. They're not looking for credit, just the challenge of learning."

    Hundreds, huh? Out of MILLIONS? They are the outliers within the outliers!

    MOOC addicts are not the norm.
    iPad owners with 4G connections are

    • by Nemyst (1383049)
      This brings up a question I've been pondering... What's wrong with lazy, complacent and dull-minded people to just be let to their own devices a bit? In a MOOC framework, they'd have easy, painless access to all require course material, including exercises and a discussion forum when they need help. If they can't be bothered to do it, then sucks to be them.

      I'm being serious here: we're wasting valuable resources trying to keep mediocre people from entirely failing, only for them to get mediocre grades tha
      • I'm being serious here: we're wasting valuable resources trying to keep mediocre people from entirely failing, only for them to get mediocre grades that barely give them their diploma so that they can go on to be mediocre employees with brains so numbed and dull that they're basically automata. If we let them fail (yes, letting people fail, the horror!) early on, it could act as a wake up call.

        Except it wouldn't: it would act as a "you're useless" call. The problem we have is not that students are "mediocre", it is that our teaching is massively suboptimal. Poor teaching turns people off learning. The challenge is for the teachers to improve in order to capture the students being failed by the system.

        Unfortunately, this is extraordinarily difficult to do, and it also presents us teachers with the uncomfortable reality that we're not as good as we like to think we are. This leads us to protect

      • by eepok (545733)

        Hi Nemyst,

        I love this question and I appreciate your forwardness and honesty in asking it.

        The problem with "lazy, complacent, and dull-minded people" just being left to their own devices is that we assume that they are also kind and want for little. But then there's strain (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strain_theory_%28sociology%29).

        Strain theory suggest (rather aptly) that people who want (or feel they deserve) more than to what they have legitimate access will find illegitimate means to obtain their wants

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:04PM (#43775613)

    Last year I decided to go back to school 8 years after graduating High School, even though I had made it as a Software Developer in a fairly large company. I wanted to get a CS degree, mainly for added job security. I worked myself up from lowly tech support to the companies R&D group (where I still work,) and there was no way I was going to do that again. Trouble is that the degree program started with Calc I, no pre-calc unless I wanted to take it without it counting toward the degree credit wide, and I had only gotten up to mid level algebra before then. To top it off, my arithmetic was rusty when it came to unused subjects like negative and fractional exponents, I had no idea what they meant.

    Enter Khan Academy and Coursera, I fully completed all of the Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Trig and Pre-Calc sections they had in about 2 months and started college. It was really addictive to have a progress bar showing how close you are to completion. I've since taken and passed Calc I and II, and passed both with a 96 and a 91. Next Semester is Calc III and Discrete Math. The point I am trying to make is that they really are effective tools, and I wouldnt have made it this far without them.

    • To top it off, my arithmetic was rusty when it came to unused subjects like negative and fractional exponents, I had no idea what they meant.

      OK, this is a slightly random off topic rant, and I promise I'm not ragging on you personally. (this is also quire well reflected in Lockhart's lament).

      So much of maths at school is learning fact after fact after fact after fact. That is not maths: it's the opposite of maths. Maths is not about facts and application of rules. It's about making up the smallest amount of

      • by alexo (9335)

        Or in general: a^b * a^c = a^(b+c) (typo fixed)
        What happens if we make c negative? Is there any interpretation which makes sense without introducing any new rules, just applying the ones we know.
        After a bit of fiddling, one can come to the usual conclusion as to what negative exponents mean.

        Here's how I explained it to my son (I think he was in 5th grade at the time):

        1. Draw a table: one column contains the exponents, the other - a number raised to that power (a small number, like 2, works best).
        2. Fill it with exponents 1 to 5
        3. Try to find the pattern.
        4. Using the pattern you found, continue filling the rows, counting upwards with exponents 6, 7, 8...
        5. Using the pattern you found, continue filling the rows, counting downwards with exponents 0, -1, -2...
        6. [most important step] Generalize.

        No

  • Eh (Score:3, Funny)

    by sociocapitalist (2471722) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:17PM (#43775725)

    Who you callin' a MOOC?

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:26PM (#43775781)
    I love MOOCs (I hate the word mooc when pronounced Mook though) I have little doubt that many courses go into way less depth than a traditional collage course. But my motivations for learning are entirely different than your typical collage student (not all just the typical). I am picking and choosing my courses based upon what I want to know so that I can put it to use tomorrow. Passing the tests in the MOOC are motivated by the fact that if I can't pass them then I haven't really been paying attention. Your typical collage student is learning many subjects where they follow a "flip-card" learning strategy so that they can pound the knowledge into their head long enough to regurgitate it onto a test. Some material will be built upon and potentially kept for life such as the core subjects for the person's degree. So an Engineer will potentially keep much of the math that they then proceed to use over the next few years but few will remember much from their mandatory arts course. The same even within specialties. Accountants who go on to become advanced bookkeepers will most likely forget their stats course material within months of learning it. I have taken and passed 3 courses from Coursera and loved all three. In every case I have proceeded to put what I learned into action. So my guess is that in 1 year I will have taken what they have given me and run much farther than your typical student taking the same university level courses unless that student chooses a path that will put that material in to regular use. But this is the advantage of my being able to cherry-pick the courses I want and need.

    But comparing MOOCs to their University classroom counterparts are like comparing Radio to TV. They are different beasties. A MOOC takes a different form of discipline to take it. They have certain disadvantages in that I doubt anyone took any of the courses I took within a 100 miles of my location making physical grouping almost impossible at this point. University courses are taught by whatever professor is at hand, be they good or bad. Eventually some of the best professors are going to do MOOCs (I wish Feynman could have cooked up one as his lectures were pretty awesome) resulting in a faster more efficient learning experience. MOOCs are bringing world class courses to my desk from institutions I couldn't have gotten into. Also the prices for many MOOCs are perfect for people in parts of the world where they have no access to higher education.

    But what it really boils down to for me is that a world with MOOCs is going to be a better world for so many people. I suspect that there will be a few casualties but that overall the number of winners will be incomprehensible. Also keep in mind that this is really the beginning for MOOCs so who knows how much better they will get?
    • I am picking and choosing my courses based upon what I want to know so that I can put it to use tomorrow.

      You have inadvertently highlighted one of the weaknesses of MOOCs: the tight time-bound nature of them. When I get a whim to learn something, I sign up to a Coursera module... but it's not starting for another 8 months. I see 5 courses I like... but they all start the same week. With thousands of people signing up for each, why don't we have a choice of start dates? Why not assemble cohorts of just (!) a few hundred and let each module run once or twice a month? I can't imagine this degrading the quali

  • Quality (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BlackSupra (742450) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:37PM (#43775893)

    An IMDB like database scoring online course quality is currently missing from the equation.

    • by bdot2 (164812)

      Actually there is a site that does scoring of MOOCs:

      http://coursetalk.org/

      Personally, I don't think there are enough reviews there to be statistically significant yet, but there is a basic rating as well as reviews.

  • "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

    -Wayne Gretzky

    -Michael Scott

    -The Dutch

    • by TeknoHog (164938)

      "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

      -Wayne Gretzky

      -Michael Scott

      -The Dutch

      -nine-times

  • Anyone use The Great Courses DVDs from the Teaching Company? I find that stuff pretty addictive. And it's good quality too, they have qualified tutors from real colleges including Ivy League schools.

  • my two cents (Score:5, Informative)

    by ashalynd (2928053) on Monday May 20, 2013 @06:35PM (#43777135) Homepage

    As one of the persons mentioned in this article, I can't help saying that I felt uneasy being identified by my family status (as opposed to everyone else, who were described by their professional affiliation), after all I work in SW dev longer than that journalist has been writing his articles. Didn't expect the Chronicles of High Ed be that gender biased.

    In any case, for me main drives for getting involved with Coursera (and a couple of other MOOCs) were professional interests (for the stuff that was related to my work, eg computer science) and curiosity ( for the stuff that was not), combined with some free time I had available. (the bit about addiction was supposed to be a joke, but apparently that's the stuff journalists tend to pick. Lesson learned :) )

    I still wonder for how long the whole MOOC frenzy will continue in its current form. One of the concerns (which is often shared by the MOOC students themselves) is that the courses might become "watered down" so that more people will be able to pass them, but there will be less value in taking them. (If everyone wins in a lottery what's the point?). Another worry is monetization and which form it will eventually take (if things come to that point at all).

    In any case, there are now some courses well worth taking, even though they can't be seen as the equivalents of the "real" education, it's too experimental for that. What they can do (at least the good ones) is to provide a structured introduction to the field, which is quite valuable if you want to learn something new.

    On the other side, there might be some indirect (and hopefully, positive) effect of MOOCs which isn't measured by the percentage of those who successfully finished the course, but we might not be able to see it yet. From the fact that many of the people I know follow these courses now, I would assume that there is at least a demand, and it seems to grow. OTOH, it might be just a fashion which will pass after a while. So the best strategy seems to be using it while it lasts :)

    • One of the concerns (which is often shared by the MOOC students themselves) is that the courses might become "watered down" so that more people will be able to pass them, but there will be less value in taking them. (If everyone wins in a lottery what's the point?)

      But that same problem affects traditional education as well. The goal of any teaching should be to ensure that as many people as possible learn the material, but it's easier to ensure that people pass the exam instead. It's a downward trend that has been noted in schools and universities the world over.

      The promise of MOOCs is to use massive data to improve the education, but it's an empty promise, because having thousands of people sit exactly the same course provides no useful data on what works and what

  • by LetterRip (30937) on Monday May 20, 2013 @06:41PM (#43777173)

    I'm signed up for almost every coursera MOOC.

    I've only officially completed 1, and watched every video for about 30 others, and have downloaded videos 'to watch' for most of the others.

    A few things I've found are that

    1) Professors seem to like to assign waste of time busy work.

    There are lots of classes that require essays or projects where it is essentially a giant waste of the students time. This includes doing videos and presentations for almost any course (a really well taught audio production course wanted every stuent to do a video essentially repeating a subset of the same material he just did. Others have wanted various large scale projects.) Since there would only be 'peer' evaluation of the material, this was all essentially busy work. There are areas where peer evaluation can be useful (some writing with rubrics and such), but mostly it was stuff that wouldn't matter at all from improving learning. Or the amount of learning improved versus the time invested was drastically out of proportion.

    The math, science, programming and finance classes tend to 'get it right', only assigning an amount and type of assignment required to understand the material well, not wasting students time.

    2) Science, Programming, Finance, Engineering, and Math courses are real courses, courses from Bschool and other sections are often ridiculously simple.

    Of course testing and evaluating understanding of computer and science courses is quite easy, but still the quality and type of questions asked in reviews and homework and the type of assignments made sense for the Science/Tech classes; whereas I was sometimes wondering why the other courses had even bother to do a quiz the questions were so ridiculously simple minded.

    • 2) Science, Programming, Finance, Engineering, and Math courses are real courses, courses from Bschool and other sections are often ridiculously simple.

      Sadly, the same thing largely holds true in meat-space, as well.

    • by ccp (127147)

      There are lots of classes that require essays or projects where it is essentially a giant waste of the students time. This includes doing videos and presentations for almost any course (a really well taught audio production course wanted every student to do a video essentially repeating a subset of the same material he just did.

      Same here. When I realised we were expected to do a video presentation, my only reaction was What the fuck???. I still can't understand the purpose of this.

      On the other side, the co

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