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MOOC Mania 102

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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  • 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.
  • 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 mfwitten ( 1906728 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @02:08PM (#41943687)

    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 open source project> as the core of our system. Do you know anything about it?"
    "Yeah. I wrote a lot of it."
    That opens the door much wider than any snooty beaver ring.

  • 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 []

  • 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 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.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming