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MOOCs: E-Learning Run Amok

03/05/2013
Classes like upper level mathematics just don't translate well to elearning environments.

Classes like upper level mathematics or philosophy just don’t translate well to elearning environments.

I can name on one hand the number of online courses that I’ve had that I enjoyed and really felt like I was part of the class. While a few have been decent, my experience with them on the whole has been less that admirable. In the right hands, and with the right professors, online courses can be good learning tools, but they invariably felt distant (not just physically) and left me wondering whether I really understood the material.

When I was given a choice of colleges I made sure that I focused on brick-and-mortar schools that I could get the bulk, if not all, of my education by showing up to an actual classroom with actual classes. But with any education nowadays, you’re going to run into classes that are unavoidably online only. For the most part, that’s fine. Not every class needs the one-on-one focus of an actual classroom and I can understand that.

I stated all the above as sort of a disclaimer about my position on the subject of distance learning. Put quite simply, I think that all-distance learning degrees (ones that are online from 100-level to completion) are junk.* Now, there’s a new trend of of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) which are classes that can be taken, for free or very little cost, by anyone, even those who are not necessarily students of an educational system.

If a college or university devalues the degrees for the current students, it affects all past and future students, too.

If a college or university devalues the degrees for the current students, it affects all past and future students, too.

And to me this seems fine and interesting. There was an MOOC Stanford class a few months back on artificial intelligence that I thought was interesting. I might have taken it myself if I weren’t knee-deep in my own college classes at the time. However, now it is being considered that these courses should be college credit-worthy. Color me sceptical.

Color a whole bunch of professors sceptical as well. Whole departments of colleges and universities have flat-out told the administration that they will not participate. In the article below, they argue that the material cannot be presented properly and the class size is too big to be effective.

The AI class from Stanford that I talked about before drew 160,000 students. Did they all get a college credit’s worth of education? Call me a cynic, but I seriously doubt it. America should have a free or low-cost education system, as our current one is too costly to be useful or fair, but this is not the way to go about it. I fear we may devalue our higher education system and drive smaller schools into the dirt. MOOCs seem like a great idea in moderation, but we can’t see them as a substitute for “real” classes.

From GIGAOM:

San Jose State University, one of the biggest academic supporters of the growing MOOC (massive open online course) movement, apparently has some vocal dissenters in its ranks.

In the past year, the university has welcomed MOOC providers like edX and Udacity with open arms — in addition to launching a first-of-its kind program with Udacity to award college credit for courses taken on its platform. The school has a growing partnership with edX and plans to create a dedicated resource center for California State University faculty statewide who are interested in online content.

But discord seems to brewing among some faculty.  This week, professors in the Philosophy department said they refuse to teach an edX course on “justice” developed by a Harvard University professor, arguing that MOOCs come at “great peril” to their university.

Read More…

-CJ Julius

*Again, I want to point out that I recently took a few online classes. In the hands of the right professor, class size and with the right subject, individual classes might be able to be done properly. This is the exception rather than the rule.

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