Tuesday, April 30, 2013

NY Times: MOOC Press Release or Reporting? You decide.

At the New York Times, we learn more about "the future of education." Hint: It's not live instructors in live classrooms.

And on Wednesday, San Jose State announced that next fall, it will pay a licensing fee to offer three to five more blended edX courses, probably including Harvard’s “Ancient Greek Heroes” and Berkeley’s “Artificial Intelligence.” And over the summer, it will train 11 other California State campuses to use the blended M.I.T. circuits course.  
Dr. Qayoumi favors the blended model for upper-level courses, but fully online courses like Udacity’s for lower-level classes, which could be expanded to serve many more students at low cost. Traditional teaching will be disappearing in five to seven years, he predicts, as more professors come to realize that lectures are not the best route to student engagement, and cash-strapped universities continue to seek cheaper instruction.
Comment: Never enough money for instructors; always enough money for licensing content from a private provider.

But students will have access to live tutors in Mountain View :
The online mentors work in shifts at Udacity’s offices in nearby Mountain View, Calif., waiting at their laptops for the “bing” that signals a question, and answering immediately.
Comment: Mountain View for now, until it's cheaper to outsource them to another country. I predict they'll be outsourced within 3-5 years, just as accounting firms, software companies, radiology practices, and other professional firms have moved their basic reading/preparing/customer service tasks to India. Remember, this is a for-profit business, not an educational institution.

Near the end, an acknowledgment, of sorts, that some naysayers are trying to rain on the parade:

Any wholesale online expansion raises the specter of professors being laid off, turned into glorified teaching assistants or relegated to second-tier status, with only academic stars giving the lectures. Indeed, the faculty unions at all three California higher education systems oppose the legislation requiring credit for MOOCs for students shut out of on-campus classes. The state, they say, should restore state financing for public universities, rather than turning to unaccredited private vendors.
Rhetorical sleight of hand #1: Is there any part of the "specter" that isn't a real threat? Yet calling it a "specter" pokes fun at those possibilities as irrational fears instead of what is an actual business plan--star professors, glorified tutors, and all of it.

Sleight of hand #2: There are those professorial thugs, the "faculty unions,"  again, wanting to restore state financing instead of, I don't know, giving the money to for-profit companies and dismantling the university system into the bargain. Translation: "they" want to cost you, the reader, money in the form of hard-earned tax dollars, and they don't care about those poor "shut out" students, as "we" do.

Sleight of hand #3: "They say" that, do "they"? See that rhetorical move? The MOOC cheerleaders in the article are the right-thinking people who believe that "students come first," the implicit "we as readers," unlike the union thugs, the "they."

But who cares, right?

And if short videos and embedded quizzes with instant feedback can improve student outcomes, why should professors go on writing and delivering their own lectures?
Sleight of hand #4:  "Delivering their own lectures"--as if this is the sum total of teaching. First of all, WHO LECTURES IN THAT WAY any more (in the humanities, anyway)?  Second, this confirms that the business model is to break the profession of teaching into discrete tasks, assign one superstar, outsource the grading and tutoring to drones, and boom, you're done.

Now the extra credit question:

Are MOOC providers going to hire their own graduates--for they will have graduates, now that they have accreditation? I keep asking this, and I keep being deafened by the silence.

And an extra credit comment (h/t to Jonathan Rees)  and also a link to a prior post:

Percentage of MOOC professors who think that students completing a MOOC should not receive credit at their institution: 72%.  


Fretful Porpentine said...

Finding better ways to move students through the start of college is crucial, said Josh Jarrett, a higher education officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which in the past year has given grants to develop massive open online courses for basic and remedial courses.

Have any of these people ever TAUGHT a remedial course? Do they have a clue that the student population involved 1) often does not have access to a computer at home; 2) is sometimes spectacularly computer-illiterate (and I'm talking things like hitting "return" at the end of every line because they don't know how to double-space a document); 3) tends to misunderstand written instructions, and sometimes even spoken instructions, and will not ask for clarification (either because they don't understand that they don't understand, or because they're used to keeping their heads down and hoping no one will notice)? I truly cannot think of a worse set of courses to take online.

undine said...

Fretful, they bring it up and brush it aside. I love the phrasing "move students through"--not "encourage student learning."

See, that's where the handmaidens to greatness, aka glorified tutors, aka the artists formerly known as professors come in: to help with these issues until the state defunds the university entirely.

sophylou said...

"Traditional teaching will be disappearing in five to seven years, he predicts, as more professors come to realize that lectures are not the best route to student engagement, and cash-strapped universities continue to seek cheaper instruction."

This sentence does not make sense to me. Aren't MOOCs heavily on... um... video lectures?

Anonymous said...

This blog really is academic now as it is being cited. I am writing an opinion column for the Faculty Senate newsletter of LSU Baton Rouge and I am citing this piece.

Anonymous said...

And here is another piece promoting MOOCs: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2013/04/29/essay-nature-change-american-higher-education

undine said...

sophylou--That's one of the puzzling parts. Video lectures are good in MOOCspeak, but in-person lectures are very bad.

profacero--Thank you, and thanks for posting that link, too. I would like to keep an open mind about MOOCs, but I really do want someone to answer the questions they raise (like sophylou's good one above).

sophylou said...

I keep wondering if the whole MOOC thing, including the bizarro logic of lecture bad when in person, good when in video, signals some larger meta-crisis in critical thinking skills....?