Monday, November 26, 2012

Last MOOC post until 2013

I promise: no more Cassandra-like questionings of MOOC cheerleading until 2013.  Jonathan Rees at More or Less Bunk has got that covered anyway, and he's actually taking a MOOC class, so his points are more legit than mine.

This piece of MOOC cheerleading--"The End of Higher Education as We Know It?" with an implied "Yesssss! Go, Team!" at the end of it-- is from TheStreet.  It's just as uncritical and glittery as the rest, although you'd think that a publication that thinks it's based in economic reality would ask a few questions.  Here are some excerpts, with a few comments from me:
The economic problem with college, as Shirky notes, is that it's labor-intensive and does not scale. You can push down salaries to an extent [and God knows we've tried], but it still takes a lot of people, many buildings and a lot of land to produce even a mediocre college education. What makes an elite education is the unique talent of its faculty [but not, apparently, the quality of its research, its labs, or the ability to learn from other smart, highly motivated students in person], which can't be discounted because demand for it is so high.

What Udacity does is spread that limited talent across to the broadest possible audience, while doing away with those other costs. [Because developing courses, creating infrastructure, and other costs are nonexistent.] Everything else can be done through one-on-one tutoring. [Paid for by whom? Provided by whom, once local universities are gone?] Standardize on the best courseware, with the best lecturers , and use the Internet to deliver that to the widest possible audience. [See? Easy-peasy once you redefine education as the best courseware and brand-name lecturers.] 
Again, there may be value in MOOCs, and that value may even lie in the quality of education they provide--but nobody's asking the questions. With that, and with apologies to Alexander Pope, I'll shut up about this until the New Year:

Safe in the hand of one disposing Pow'r,
Or in the natal, or the mortal hour.
All MOOCness is but Art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see
All discord, harmony not understood,
All partial evil, universal good:
And, spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear, whatever MOOCs, is right


Dr. Koshary said...

Is it irony or just assholishness that the very first comment on this post is spam-trawling from a shady MOOC purveyor?

Contingent Cassandra said...

Well, obviously, I'm all for "Cassandra-like questioning" (of various things higher ed, and otherwise), but it does get tiring after a while, so perhaps a holiday hiatus is in order.

But I like your interpolations (and the Pope reworking). And while we're on the subject, Noliwe Rooks made some good points about who is most likely to benefit from technology-based learning on yesterdays's "To the Point" ( ). In a nutshell, students who already have a strong educational/cultural foundation -- though she didn't put it this way, I'd say those who have already learned how to learn -- get the most out of technological enrichment. Those with more shaky educational foundations, and/or who are in the process of trying to get their bearings in the educational system, benefit from more hands-on, face to face contact. Of course then someone suggested that community colleges could show MOOC content (and/or have students watch it outside of class), while instructors spent in-class time on more hands-on, interactive work, but that just brings us back to MOOC as textbook, or filmstrip, or whatever (which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but is a far cry from the MOOC being/delivering the class).

undine said...

Thanks, Dr. K--I took out the spam.

Contingent Cassandra--I'm channeling you :). You're right: That part about those who already have learned how to learn being the best online students is something that the research has shown over and over again. I love the idea of MOOC as filmstrip.