Saturday, February 23, 2013

Why bother calling it "college" at all?

Jonathan Rees has another MOOC post guaranteed to make your blood boil, and he promises another post soon. From via More or Less Bunk:
Koller believes that with the right grading “rubric” students can grade each other’s papers even on issues of critical reasoning and grammar, thus solving seemingly daunting logistics problems.
Well, I can "believe" in unicorns, but that doesn't mean that they're about to descend to earth and shower us with magical kisses.  Anyway, the ETS thinks that it has that problem licked with its e-rater essay software, so why don't all these corporate types get together, merge all their software solutions, and eliminate the pesky professors altogether? (Oh, wait . . . )

Of course, e-rater has a few glitches:
Les Perelman, a director of writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was allowed to test e-rater. He told Winerip that the system has biases that can be easily gamed.
E-Rater prefers long essays. A 716-word essay [Perelman] wrote that was padded with more than a dozen nonsensical sentences received a top score of 6; a well-argued, well-written essay of 567 words was scored a 5.
"You could say the War of 1812 started in 1925," Winerip says. "There are all kinds of things you could say that have little or nothing to do in reality that could receive a high score."
The thing I can't figure out is why the various MOOC providers are so intent on aligning themselves with colleges and universities.

  • The high-status universities that started the whole thing want no part of diluting their brands by actually granting credit from their illustrious institutions.  They know that the real graduates of their institutions will have the high-status jobs anyway. 
  • There's an incessant MOOC bashing of a straw man--the large lecture class--because it isn't modern and shiny and technologically interesting in the way that a taped lecture delivered over the internet can be. Traditional college is too "old-school" (heh) to be of interest to digital natives, blah blah blah. 
  • Unlike those nasty colleges that require students to show up and earn credits, the for-profit MOOCs are interested in monetizing education at the expense of quality profits bringing everyone together to sing "Kumbaya" and learn for the sake of learning.  Granted, I think that this really is the idealistic vision of MOOC professors and some MOOC initiators--that they want to share their knowledge with everyone. But for-profits are harvesting and selling that freely given expertise, or if they aren't yet, they will be soon.  
  • The political factions that are starving public universities to death and touting MOOCs apparently despise colleges, or the humanities, anyway. From Salon.com  "Conservatives don’t like big government and they don’t like taxes, and increasingly, they don’t even like the entire way that the humanities are taught in the United States." It's a two-fer: college is government (hated) and also humanities (hated), so why wouldn't you love what gets rid of both? 
If we are in the midst of a Great Divide that will return in-person education to its pre-WWII status of educating the few, the proud, and the wealthy, with lesser alternatives for the rest, why define the form of education being proposed as "college"?  In other words, if you hate it, why do you want to wear its credentials? 


Fretful Porpentine said...

Because you want to convince the people who are getting the cheap, Wal-Mart version of education that it is the real thing. If you get the rhetoric right, you can even convince them that it is superior to the real thing -- that degrees in, say, Paralegal Studies or Human Resources Management are practical and sensible, while degrees in actual academic subjects are a waste of time and money.

undine said...

Fretful Porpentine, this makes sense. It's a kind of Gresham's Law of education.