Tuesday, August 12, 2014

At NY Review of Books: The Hi-Tech Mess of Higher Ed

As a distraction from the national news, here are snippets of a review of the film The Ivory Tower  from the NY Review of Books, starring our old friend the MOOC. Below are the usual claims and the reality.

1. MOOCs will free up professors from the drudgery of lectures through the flipped classroom model and will allow them to "teach" through hands-on help with students. Professors will not become glorified teaching assistants or handmaidens to greatness. because that's just stupid fear-mongering on the part of thuggish teachers' unions. It won't happen because trust us, it won't, universities being unlike any other business in that they will provide free services for the public good once they can't charge for them.
A conventional delivery system for “the personal touch” in the MOOC format is the so-called “flipped classroom.” Here a teaching assistant circulates in a roomful of students who have watched the assigned video, and helps them to sort out questions about details. The assistant—as Ivory Tower suggests with a single understated caption—will often turn out to be somebody who was once a professor but whom economies facilitated by MOOCs have demoted to the status of section leader.
2.  Students will learn better and more efficiently in a MOOC.
 In 2013, the company [Udacity] was awarded a trial of its offerings in a contract with San Jose State University; and in July of that year, scores were posted for its spring term entry-level courses. The pass rate in elementary statistics was 50.5 percent; in college algebra, 25.4 percent; in entry-level math, 23.8 percent. Teachers have been fired en masse for results like these by administrators or politicians who would not sit for an explanation.
3.  A rock star teacher in a MOOC makes a world of difference and will do a much better job than, well, 500 ordinary teachers.
What you really want, [a Udacity adept] thinks, is the academic equivalent of a “rock star” to project knowledge onto the screens and into the brains of students without the impediment of fellow students or a teacher’s intrusive presence in the room. “Maybe,” he adds, “that rock star could do a little bit better job” than the nameless small-time academics whose fame and luster the video lecturer will rightly displace.
Note that there's no proof here, because why do you need proof when you have one anonymous stockholder's or employee's opinions? We all know that people learn from celebrities.  Maybe Kim Kardashian could teach a class.

4. MOOCs have always been about the greater good of reaching thousands with free learning. That's why university administrators, a notably starry-eyed bunch unconcerned with the bottom line, are so keen to implement them.
Still, however fanciful the conceit may be, the MOOC movement has a clear economic motive. Many universities today want to cut back drastically on the payment of classroom teachers. It is important therefore to convince us that teachers have never been the focus of real learning.

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