Monday, October 22, 2012

TIME leads the cheering for MOOCs

"And the heavens parted, and behold, the MOOC descended from heaven and revolutionized education"--no, wait. That's not a quotation but only the tone of the author's puffy opinion piece, this week's feature article in Time.  Here is the shorter version, so you can decide whether to read it yourself.

A sample "fact": "Online classes were not, generally speaking, very good. To this day, most are dry, uninspired affairs, consisting of a patchwork of online readings, written Q&As and low-budget lecture videos" (35).

Hey, there, Ms. Author: do you have any source for that, or are we just playing straw man bingo here? Straw man bingo, you say? Okey-dokey then.  Just checking. I thought Time fancied itself a news magazine, but whatevs.

Amid the glow of the piece--the physics MOOC at Udacity was so awesome!--a piece so fulsome that I thought glitter was going to spring off the page, I did learn this tidbit from Udacity's co-founder David Stavens: "I think the top 50 schools are probably safe.  There's a magic that goes on inside a university campus that, if you can afford to live in side the bubble, is wonderful" (41). Gee, you think?

And when Author visits the University of the District of Columbia, she sees the other kind of school that is "safe": "very selective--and very unselective--colleges will continue to survive" (41).

The rest of us? Well, we're pretty much --- oh, go ahead and supply the word yourself: obsolete. Jonathan Rees has been warning us about this, in more elegant language, for months now.

And there's more! Here's the takeaway: "Ideally, Udacity and other MOOC providers will help strip away all the distractions of higher education--the brand, the price and the facilities--and remind all of us that education is about learning" (41). You don't say!  About learning? Really? Not about sports teams and the facilities that universities keep building in a desperate arms race for students? Not about creating a community of people who can learn together? Not about the connections to community, alumni, businesses, and place that can help a lot of students through internships and jobs? Not about research--for who'll do the research when professors at the Top 50 are teaching all the courses in the country? I read this and wondered idly how many graduates of the Top 50 got jobs in part through their connections, people they knew from their university experience, extra research they did by working with a professor, a project they did that an employer saw--no, that surely doesn't have an effect on a person's career. At all.

Well, since I have actual students who sent in actual papers to be graded, I have to sign off now.  Given the pace of the cheerleading, I guess I should be grateful that we still have classes and the opportunity to connect with students, since apparently that whole model is going the way of the dodo.


Contingent Cassandra said...

Is there any hope that once a phenomenon (fad?) makes Time, it is actually on the way out?

Mind you, I teach the sort of kinda boring but functional online classes the article describes, and think they serve the purposes in some cases (I teaching writing, for which the format works pretty well), and think MOOCs might be a neat update of the Harvard Five Foot Shelf of Books, or Teaching Company tapes, or any of a number of other efforts to bring big ideas well expressed to enterprising (mostly)auto-didacts. I just don't think MOOCs are going to replace traditional college classes, or even traditional approaches to online learning (is that an oxymoron? If so, so be it).

Anonymous said...

We can always hope it's a fad. But adjunct labor wasn't a fad. sadly, if there is a way to make money off of MOOCs, which I know some at least charge fees, admin will love it.

undine said...

Cassandra, I hope that someone will look at it seriously in that way, but no one seems to be doing it.
Academiccautionarytale--if there is money in it, and there will be once they start charging, then I think you may be right.