Thursday, April 23, 2015

Today in MOOC predation: ASU specific about making a profit, vague about everything else

Here is the ASU Plan, from Inside Higher Ed. 

First, go read Jonathan Rees's article about what ASU is doing with its MOOC "Global Freshman Academy.  The basic idea is that ASU is pairing with EdX to give MOOC credit--and, for a $200/credit hour fee, ASU course credit--for those who complete its "courses." Rees rightly points out that this is a smart predation or "no honor among thieves" model, in which whoever steals first steals best.

Then read Dean Dad (Matt Reed), who asks, very sensibly, why anyone would pay $200/credit hour to get MOOC credit when credit at a CC is about $83 per credit hour AND you get access to libraries, tutoring, and other supports.  "Where's the benefit?" he asks, and I can't see one.

It's an old principle in retail and drug dealing, of course: the loss leader. Give them a taste for free or near free, and they'll come back for more.

The private college version is to give heavy financial aid in Year One so that the student attends the school and then cut that aid in subsequent years, when the student is already committed.  I have known people so embittered about this practice after going through it as students that, decades later, they won't give to the school even though they are now exactly the kind of well-off alums that the school wants to court.

Back to ASU's MOOC plan.  Many paragraphs later, here are the specifics:

  • Courses are 7.5 weeks long, or what would be half a semester at Northern Clime and most universities.
  • It will consist of a "master teacher" and teaching assistants.  No word yet on whether the "master teacher" will be immortalized on a hard drive somewhere to teach lessons in eternity, but maybe that's in a future iteration of the plan.
  • What about grading nonquantifiable subjects like, say, writing? 

  • "Mastery in some courses -- math, for example -- is easier to track through multiple-choice tests or automated grading, but those tools won’t necessarily work in a freshman composition class. “When you have 50,000 students versus 50 students, the methods of evaluation and the methods of assessment will change, but we will have both formative assessments and summative assessments at the end of the course,” Regier said. “We haven’t figured out what we’re going to do in every course yet, and we know every course is going to be different.”

    To sum up: no plan yet. For now,  ASU plans to have "actual people" grade the work. No word yet on whether those people will be tenure-track or have an otherwise stable job with health benefits, etc.  Of course, this problem isn't unique to MOOC-inspired education. 
Leaving aside the questions we've posed before about eliminating the fun parts of teaching a class and leaving us with the un-fun parts, like grading, I have to give ASU credit for not using commercial software to grade essays--yet.  But I have to wonder:

  • Won't this dilute ASU's "brand," since there are no admissions standards for the MOOCs and ASU still has them?  The elite schools' MOOCs have been quite clear that no riffraff MOOC students will be getting credit from Elite U. 
  • If they're giving ASU credit, will that appear on transcripts without any qualifiers (like "MOOC Credit")? 


sophylou said...

ASU is an aspirational school for my university, and we're in the process of "consolidating" with a community college, so I'm also set on edge by ASU stuff. :(

undine said...

sophylou--I hope that it goes better at your school than at ASU.

sophylou said...

I honestly have no idea what's going to happen. Communication is terrible; not sure if that's a university-wide thing or just my unit, or a combination of both. When the consolidation was first announced (a week before classes were back in session, so, lots of people still not on campus) there was a FAQ published which I joked was, indeed, a list of frequently-asked questions, but not so strong on answers. It doesn't seem like we've been going in a MOOC/MOOCish direction, but it's hard to know for sure.