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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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  • by theshowmecanuck ( 703852 ) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @01:58PM (#41943603) Journal

    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 assumptions. Not everyone has the means to afford university or the mindset that allows them to learn in that environment. The United States seems to be less inclined this way than in Canada (where a piece of paper is everything) at least in IT. In the U.S., experience still seems to mean something. From what I've seen, equivalent time in the work place often equals or exceeds time studying for a master's degree. There are always exceptions, but it still doesn't add IQ or wisdom, just knowledge. Autodidacticism is highly under-rated.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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 []. 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 []
    Ravitch on Education []
    Paul Tough on How Children Succeed []
    Kling on Education and the Internet []

    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 []). 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

VMS must die!