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Education The Internet

Is Remote Instruction the Future of College? 81

An anonymous reader writes: The Atlantic reports on a new online learning venture called Project Minerva. Its goal is to blend the most effective parts of online and real-life college education. The problem with most online courses is that the vast majority of people who sign up for them never finish — they aren't engaged enough. Minerva is set up to encourage more interaction between a live professor and other students. Quoting: "[A]t first it reminded me of the opening credits of The Brady Bunch: a grid of images of the professor and eight "students" (the others were all Minerva employees) appeared on the screen before me, and we introduced ourselves. ... Within a few minutes, though, the experience got more intense.

Bonabeau began by polling us on our understanding of the reading, a Nature article about the sudden depletion of North Atlantic cod in the early 1990s. He asked us which of four possible interpretations of the article was the most accurate. In an ordinary undergraduate seminar, this might have been an occasion for timid silence, until the class's biggest loudmouth or most caffeinated student ventured a guess. But the Minerva class extended no refuge for the timid, nor privilege for the garrulous. Within seconds, every student had to provide an answer, and Bonabeau displayed our choices so that we could be called upon to defend them." The professor has fine-grained control over the class, and can easily divide students into groups, or link up directly for one-on-one advice. The project hopes that having a professor directly involved (and using modern tools) will bring the online learning experience up to speed with more traditional methods.
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Is Remote Instruction the Future of College?

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  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Friday August 15, 2014 @11:08AM (#47677869)

    I had to endure 4 years of theoretical and very occasionally practical training that has nothing to do with my job, and only tangentially related to my field. I believe the same is true for most IT-related professionals. Despite course load irrelevance, I would not be able to do what I do without such education.
    Getting education is not about mastering subjects, they are frequently irrelevant to what you end up doing. It is about developing ability to independently study abstract problem outside your knowledge domain and providing you with just enough bare-minimum knowledge that it is possible to self-educate yourself. It is also about ability to cooperate with others to reach a common goal, but that is unfortunately less emphasized aspect. Last but not least, it is about introducing notions that you could fail at something and that you can't be good at everything no matter how hard you try, something our trophies and gold stars grade system miserably fails at.

    • All of that shit about independent study and problem solving could be taught much more efficiently. I learned those things outside college by studying Project Management, learning about Operational Risk Management, and reading up on various Problem Analysis and Decision Analysis strategies.

      Project Management brings a lot of useful base skills, such as hierarchical decomposition: you can decompose work, risks, and organizations into complete sets of components, which each further decompose. Building a

      • The problem is that isn't taught as part of most project management courses - sure, the theory is, but the actual HOW is something you have to learn on your own. And that's the hard part.
        • Experience is just more information. Every situation contains piles of information; every recording of that situation cuts out piles of information. Even a POV recording with explained though paths and feelings would cut off the actual sensations a project manager has when dealing with his team--his knowledge and understanding of their feelings, his prior experience understanding human behavior, his gut feelings and what that tingle actually felt like at the time, and so on.

          Of course you have to learn

      • Since we're on personal anecdotes, that's great that it worked for you, but if you want to guarantee that N people learn some baseline

        independent study and problem solving

        skills, then the OP's observation is move valid IMHO.

        • No, it's not.

          The OP's observation is this: Sit through a bunch of boring classes that have nothing to do with anything of note, try to get a passing grade, and you'll learn how to solve problems.

          What you'll learn is how to memorize facts long enough to pass a test. You don't face real-world problems, you face nothing on a large scale. All you do is muddle. I've been through the REAL WORLD, and all I learned was how to muddle; I also learned nobody else knows what the fuck they're doing.

          Kepner and

      • I assure you that I am neither hot nor Asian. Perhaps that would have helped you to get over the priaprism and pay attention.
        • Doesn't change the fact that math isn't problem solving; it's simple computation. Often lots of it, i.e. statistics or calculus.
          • You clearly took very poor math classes. The only time I ever teach calculus as "simple computation" is when I am teaching business calculus for business majors. Mathematics is about logic and, as such, should be almost nothing but problem solving (generally in the form of proofs and model construction).
            • Formal proofs are simply analytical. Every application of technical analytical skills is not "problem solving". Building a bridge is not "problem solving"; identifying why a bridge is not meeting performance requirements (i.e. why does it sway or resonate too much in the wind?) is problem solving.

              It's not problem solving until there's a performance deviation from an established baseline, either a quality guideline or a prior performance measurement.

    • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Friday August 15, 2014 @11:46AM (#47678291)

      Trophies and gold stars are not what is wrong with college.

      In the past company's used to do in house training and some of the tech / trades schools where spinned off of that.

      And we did not have the college for all push even in the 80's tech / trades schools did not have the as bad of a rap that they have now and they where not trying to be colleges as much as they are now as well.

      We have Community Colleges as well maybe it's time to have the same K-12 cost levels for at least 2 years at them and or offer non degrees classes at the same costs as well.

      The big 4+ year colleges have been picky about college transfer credits and some seem to have profit driven ways of saying you have to retake classes. In some states they have laws saying that they MUST TAKE Community Colleges credits.

      Aso the big Colleges are trying and doing a poor job of trying to be more like tech / trades school to fill the gap from the lack of company's doing in house training.

      At some of the big colleges are loaded with filler and fluff classes as well in the past when costs where lower they where nice to have and well rounded was good but today the costs are to high and the time is to long. At some schools due to way the classes fall and fill up it's hard to get a 4 year degree in 4 years. Some of the filler / fluff is old departments that are useing that keep them relevant.

      There is to much theory and to much put on climbing the Ivory tower at some of the Colleges at the cost of more relevant / hands on skills. At least some of the big colleges do have more relevant / hands on skills with less theory.

      The tech schools do have some theory with more hands on skills and just about no filler / fluff. (other then gen edu)

      • YES! I am a university professor, and I can tell you that books are written saying this same thing. They go back to the early 1900s. The basic argument, from the academic side in the early days (like 1930s), runs like this: "University is for theory and cultural polish, community college is theory/polish for poorer or less-prepared people. Sure, industry wants us to do their training for them in junior colleges, but they should do it themselves. Besides, professors aren't good at professional training becau
    • by pubwvj ( 1045960 )

      Ergo, homeschooling is the way to go.

    • by PJ6 ( 1151747 )

      Getting education is not about mastering subjects, they are frequently irrelevant to what you end up doing. It is about developing ability to independently study abstract problem outside your knowledge domain and providing you with just enough bare-minimum knowledge that it is possible to self-educate yourself.

      I'm going to have to disagree with you there. Maybe other colleges are different, but I learned nothing of the sort at MIT - I didn't learn how to learn, I didn't learn how to work hard. I got in (and graduated) because I already had these traits. And when I successfully went on to very technical work, it became clear almost immediately that I could have gone there strait from of high school, save for the fact that most employers expect you to first trade a large amount of money, and years of your life, for

  • by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Friday August 15, 2014 @11:08AM (#47677877) Homepage Journal

    Every college already uses remote instruction in the form of textbooks written by someone not at the college. Now computers are allowing for even more interesting things to be done from far away. I expect the future will have computers playing a greater role in education, allowing for students to self-pace and improving the education of both gifted and special needs students. Though some will be happy enough not to have a physically present instructors, others will still want one and more traditional classes will be around for a long time. However, more choices are a good thing, and in this case will also allow for a great increase in part-time students.

  • If the prof has to interact in real time with actual humans this won't save the universities any money. Their only interest in all this is figuring out how to automate millions of student credit hours while using cheap labor. This approach isn't going to be the future of anything except servicing home bound students in remote areas, which some responsible universities have been quietly doing for a century.
    • It also ignores the real reason many students opt for online only classes, which is asynchronous learning. Prof answers emails in the morning, goes to a committee meeting. One student eats lunch at work and does the homework during the rbeak. Another student starts during the afternoon while her baby is asleep. Yet another one doesn't get to dig into the assignment until after he's returned from working in an area with no Internet access. Prof can answer all their emails and questions in the evening, g
  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Friday August 15, 2014 @11:25AM (#47678057)

    I think one of the things they're missing about college is the overall experience. Adults going back for a degree might want a stripped down experience like this, but I think that students going through their first post-high school education experience benefit from "being somewhere." I graduated about 15 years ago, but even with all the change in the world, there's still no shortage of immature, directionless high school seniors.

    Going somewhere to college and dealing with all that this entails gives a student that bridge into the real world. Especially if a student was helicoptered over by their parents and wasn't challenged by K-12 education, gaining experience with failure, stress and dealing with people is very important so you don't get fired from your first job. Some of the things a student has to do during their college career that an online classroom can't provide are:
    - Dealing with dorm living and roommates (interpersonal skills, uncomfortable situations, etc.)
    - Working to hard deadlines that don't get extended just because you ask
    - Getting that first awful set of exam results that makes you realize you actually have to study for the first time in your life
    - Getting exposed to classes outside their comfort zone
    - Dealing with bad professors, toxic classmates, etc (perfect prep for a real world job)
    - Navigating social situations, drinking, partying, drugs, all that stuff
    - Learning basic self-care if they live away from home (laundry, cooking)
    - Most likely, learning how to hold down a job while balancing all your other responsibilities
    - Living on an incredibly limited budget (I remember thinking I was the richest man alive when I got my first real world job after school.)
    - Especially if you're at a large state university like I was, learning how to work within a system. (Everything outside the classroom is similar to dealing with a state agency...if you approach it like that it becomes a lot less frustrating.)

    So, yes college is incredibly expensive, tuition has to come down, etc. etc. -- but other than the military, how does a high school student make the transition from being a dumb kid to being a responsible adult?

    • So, yes college is incredibly expensive, tuition has to come down, etc. etc. -- but other than the military, how does a high school student make the transition from being a dumb kid to being a responsible adult?

      Getting a job and an apartment?

    • Eh all of that stuff you'll pick up when you move out whether or not you physically go to college. Even learning how to work within a system is something you've been doing all your life.

  • The first thing to keep in mind here, "online instruction" doesn't mean the same thing as "MOOC". MOOCs may have an insanely high dropout rate, but that doesn't hold true for "normal" scale classes hosted through an online learning management system.

    Second, not everyone likes or does well in online courses. I would use myself as an example of that - I count as exactly the sort of person you would expect to like and do well in online courses, as someone both tech-savvy and educationally self-motivated (n
  • > eight students
    > one-on-one advice
    If THIS is the future of college, then yeah, it totally is. I'll have high hopes for the results, and expect the feedback to blaze inquiry-based learning, the most productive kind by far.

    If it's just a stream of someone talking with time maybe for a lucky winner or two (questions), they're posturing for spotlight using old "tech" that ain't shit.
    If it's video recordings, they can fuck themselves with a rake.
  • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Friday August 15, 2014 @11:39AM (#47678217) Homepage Journal

    People sign up and never finish because the courses are downright awful. And there's no mind nor incentive for them to get better. Instructors think that just recording a lecture and putting it online is good education, but it isn't.

    Watch Daphne Koller [coursera.org] droning on about graphical models as the video shows her standing at a lectern talking, or showing a powerpoint-style frame while she reads the text on the frame to us.

    Watch Anant Agarwal [mit.edu] go through a *hugely* dense and boring derivation, only to stop before the end and say "but this derivation is too hard, there's an easier way". Twice. For the same result.

    Try to figure out how many degrees of freedom a soccer ball has, then argue with Sebastian Thrun [udacity.com] because the answer he thought you should have entered is not the mathematically correct one. (Also, see if you can figure out what this has to do with AI.)

    For a breath of fresh air, watch Donald Sadoway [mit.edu] take you through a delightful and satisfying explanation of chemistry. (Ignore the 1st lecture which is about class scheduling.) It's wonderful.

    I could cite two dozen *major* problems with selected online courses - things that go counter to the fundamental goal of learning that would be obvious to someone familiar with human learning mechanisms or a testing group or even a member of Toastmasters. When I point these out to the chief scientist at edX, he responds with "we can't change the way we do things because of X".

    Let me repeat that: the *chief scientist* at edX has no control over teaching techniques or video methods or course quality.

    Some people (ie - Dr. Sadoway in the link above) have figured out how to do it right, but the vast majority aren't interested in quality. It's unfortunate that edX got all those millions in seed money, because we'll have to wait until they burn through it before they get hungry enough to worry about quality and effectiveness.

    It's insane.

    • by gnordli ( 4863 )

      When I read the artlicle the biggest change I see there is how they use fear to increase interaction. Students are expected to write their answers to questions which everyone can see. Students can also be called on to expand on their thoughts. There is no hiding in this type of setup.

  • the idea of having a teacher be somewhere *not* in the physical presence of the student has been around forever

    they *always* say it will "revolutionize education"

    it never does

    at best, it helps extend and improve the experience for people who ****already couldn't attend class****

    that's great, but it's absolutely not any kind of revolutionary step in tech

    search the Popular Science archives...this stuff has been around since the radio was invented and it's all bunk

    sure, working remote using tech is a benefit,

  • by MacTO ( 1161105 ) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:00PM (#47678407)

    I recall reading an article in a university rag about 10 years back that was discussing how their campus was designed around telepresence for instruction many decades prior. Unfortunately things didn't go that way because it proved to be ineffective and not what the students wanted. But never fear, it was a great boon in our modern age because TV studios could easily be repurposed to server rooms and the buildings could easily be rewired for computer networks for the age of online learning.

    While they were right about it being easy to repurpose that old infrastructure, they also missed the point: people want to learn on campuses and they learn more effectively on campuses. (At least that seems to be the case for programs of study. Learning particular skills is likely a different matter.) In otherwords, university administrators were forgot the lessons of the 60's and 70's while choosing to believe in some technology utopia.

    That isn't to say that education should be devoid of technology. Computers and networks are clearly valuable learning tools. They have applications ranging from research to simulation, and from content delivery to content creation. The thing is that they're just a tool in the process, and not the core of the process itself.

    Think of it this way: would we go around praising the merits of pencil based learning? Or, to choose something less absurd, textbook based learning? Of course we wouldn't. So why are we going crazy over computer based learning?

    • Good post, valid points. I do want to comment on "would we go around praising the merits of pencil based learning?" because it's nice turn of phrase.


      I remember reading something about the history of pencils, and there were benefactors out there singing the praises of pencils, and producing funding to provide "a pencil for every child", or something about that.

      I have to get to work now, else I'd look it up myself for the details in the Font of All Knowledge.

      This of course, takes nothing away from your co

    • In otherwords, university administrators were forgot the lessons of the 60's and 70's while choosing to believe in some technology utopia.

      Yeah, this is even a MUCH older idea. Technology, and better ways to distribute knowledge, and better more efficient methods for communication, have been argued to be "the future of higher education" for at least a couple centuries [wikipedia.org]. Just about every generation since the mid-1800s has thought that "distance learning" would be a democratizing influence that would change everything. (Correspondence courses go back centuries, and the first distance-learning degrees began to be offered in the 1860s.)

      And eve

  • One of the major drivers of online was for scalability/cost. Do the bulk stuff asynchronously online with some minimal in person or synchronous work. If this is an instructor led , real time course they might as well be 'in the building' anyway. How would 200 people take a course like this? All you need is 23 professors, easy right?

  • "The problem with most online courses is that the vast majority of people who sign up for them never finish — they aren't engaged " - Exactly.

    As an educator who pioneered online courses: http://www.cadvision.com/blanc... [cadvision.com], I see the same issues being repeated over and over again. It is very difficult to deliver online courses effectively. In my 20 years of experience, I have seen only one effective online delivery and that is from The SIP School who provides certification for the Session Information Pr

  • Online deliver is but one method that nearly every University offers for some number of its classes, and that number and ratio varies by program. Some classes are full classroom delivery, some are full lecture delivery, some are hybrid. I believe that's OK. The future is in whatever combination proves most effective and economical as demonstrated by some metrics that include testing and quality of subsequent work. It is best to avoid extreme positions of all or nothing.
  • i had classes with 60-200 students at a name-brand private university. must be nice to have 9 participants with webcams aimed at their faces, so nobody can get away with reading the newspaper during class.

  • I sign up for this and that course on Coursera on a whim; but there are certain courses that I really intend on completing if possible; yet my real life does intrude. But these courses, while extremely good and extremely satisfying to complete, are meaningless to me. I own my own company and am not working toward some sort of degree(not that coursera courses add up to a degree). Nor do I need to impress the HR department.

    But if I were a dedicated student who needed these course to complete some sort of de
  • Remote education such as the internet is very good at distributing materials and information. However, it is very bad at testing individuals' comprehension and understanding for a variety of reasons. Currently, Universities do both and they bundle the costs together in one large tuition package. I think a good solution going forward would be one that offers these two services separately.
    • by m00sh ( 2538182 )

      Remote education such as the internet is very good at distributing materials and information. However, it is very bad at testing individuals' comprehension and understanding for a variety of reasons. Currently, Universities do both and they bundle the costs together in one large tuition package. I think a good solution going forward would be one that offers these two services separately.

      If you mean testing at the end of the semester, then the school will still have to test students during the semester to give them feedback.

      If yo mean weekly testing or testing after each lecture, then what is the point of decoupling education with testing at this point? There is no way all universities are going to agree on a weekly or daily course guideline. It makes every curriculum the same.

  • The decision is driven by economics. Don't want to go into huge debt? Need to live at home? Don't want to pay for a quaint archaic infrastructure of unnecessary buildings and offices for professors and administration? You'll go to digi-school!

    It may only be half as good, but if it's 1/10th the cost, this is where students will go. Excellent students will excel anywhere, of course. This structure favors autodidacts.

  • ...In exactly the same way as medicine. This makes both industries ripe for disruption. Go for it, Silicon Valley!

    I can see traditional higher ed being replaced by a series of quantized certifications for 'units' of study (I'll leave it to academe to come up with a more portentous phrase of their choosing), applying in both the STEM and liberal arts realms. Some units can be taken purely online, others might require physical presence on a campus, while still others might take a combination of both. Let each

  • Erm, is this news? We've had web conferencing for at least a decade and thousands of colleges and universities around the world are already using it. Perhaps it's news that these people have only just discovered it? Plus there's way more to distance learning than web conferencing and putting up assignments and tests.

    And MOOCs, by design, only incorporate a fraction of the elements that make up effective online learning. That's why they've been failing so spectacularly. Fully featured and professionally run

Garbage In -- Gospel Out.