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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 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.

  • 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?

  • 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 [] 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 [] 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 [] 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 [] 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.

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