Saturday, May 05, 2012

More Questions on MOOCs

[Edited to add: As Joshua Kim points out at IHE, Brooks doesn't differentiate between MOOCs and regular online courses.]

Those questions about MOOCs just won't stop cropping up.  Jonathan Rees asks, "What's the difference between a MOOC and the University of Phoenix?" His answer is "branding" or "not much," but then he also wonders what MIT and Harvard are getting out of edX.

He and I agree on this one, which the writers in the previous post agree on as well: Eyeballs, baby.  It's all about the eyeballs.  Mark Zuckerberg and the Google team aren't the only ones who know how to measure and then monetize our increasingly tiny attention spans online.

That's the social contract of the Internet, or rather the web (since pre-web Internet didn't have this feature in the same way): you get free content, and unless the content was put there by an insanely idealistic person, what you give in return is your data. You type in personal information, and if you don't lie routinely when filling in web forms, your information gets used in ways that maybe you don't like.  Yes, there are lawsuits to prevent the more egregious abuses, but that's how it works.

Rees links to David Brooks, who like the 300+ commenters has some questions about online education. Now, Brooks has some questions but concludes that it'll be all rainbows and unicorns because the "best American colleges should be able to establish a magnetic authoritative presence online." The rest of them? Well, they'll wither away, because that's how capitalism works, but not to worry: something else magical will spring up to absorb that labor force, just like the magical jobs in manufacturing have sprung back.

But here are those pesky questions that Brooks dismisses, along with some possible answers.

Q: Many of us view the coming change with trepidation. Will online learning diminish the face-to-face community that is the heart of the college experience?

A: Maybe or yes, depending on how it's done.

Q:  Will it elevate functional courses in business and marginalize subjects that are harder to digest in an online format, like philosophy?

A. I'll let the philosophers answer this one, but what do you think? 

Q. Will fast online browsing replace deep reading?

A. That ship has sailed everywhere BUT in the traditional classroom. If we don't make deep reading   a sustained practice by teaching it, who's going to? On the other hand, Margaret Soltan appears to be teaching this in her UDEMY course on poetry.

Q.  If a few star professors can lecture to millions, what happens to the rest of the faculty?

A. As one of the commenters pointed out, a few weeks ago Brooks said those not at Harvard and MIT could become glorified graders. We'll be handmaidens to greatness. What's not to like about grading more papers without the satisfaction of teaching? Woo hoo!

Q.  Will academic standards be as rigorous?

A. Do they need to be, if no credit is being given? What's the system of checks and balances here? Who's giving credit, and to what end? Who's doing the assessment for these courses? This seems to me like asking whether you ought to fold the dinner napkin in the shape of a swan when no one has yet made a plan for buying the groceries, inviting the guests, and cooking the meal.

Q. What happens to the students who don’t have enough intrinsic motivation to stay glued to their laptop hour after hour?

A. They already have the motivation to stay glued to their laptops (or phones). The question is whether they'll watch a canned lecture when other sites beckon.

Q. How much communication is lost — gesture, mood, eye contact — when you are not actually in a room with a passionate teacher and students?

A. How would you answer this one?

2 comments:

tenthmedieval said...

That's the social contract of the Internet, or rather the web (since pre-web Internet didn't have this feature in the same way): you get free content, and unless the content was put there by an insanely idealistic person, what you give in return is your data.

I can't remember where I read this, but the other version I've seen of this is: "If you're not paying for the product, you are the product."

undine said...

Completely true, tenthmedieval.