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The MOOC Racket

26 Jul

Widespread online-only higher ed will be disastrous for students—and most professors.

A UC–Berkeley student works on her laptop. Are online courses really the future of higher education?
[ Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images ]

By Jonathan Rees

The word mooc sounds a bit like slang from Goodfellas or the affectionate shortening of the already-affectionate name of a former outfielder for the New York Mets. In fact, a MOOC is a new kind of college-like experience that seems to possess the magical power to turn some of the smartest people in academia into followers of a faith-based cult because they want to become its idols.

MOOC stands for “massive open online course.” The term was coined by a group of Canadian academics in 2008 to represent a recently invented type of online class that depends upon small group interactions for most of the instruction. More recently, three instructors in the Stanford University computer science department appropriated that term to start two separate private education companies, Udacity and Coursera. Despite being free of charge, the MOOCs that these firms offer bear a more-than-passing resemblance to ordinary college classes—except they are delivered over the Internet to tens of thousands of people at once.

How do you teach tens of thousands of people anything at once? You don’t. What you can do over the Internet this way is deliver information, but that’s not education. Education, as any real teacher will tell you, involves more than just transmitting facts. It means teaching students what to do with those facts, as well as the skills they need to go out and learn new information themselves.

But the most common way to assess learning in the MOOCs offered by the largest providers is a single multiple-choice question after approximately five-minute chunks of pre-taped lectures. If I had told my tenure committee that I taught history this way, I’d be in another line of work right now. Anyone who has the slightest interest or expertise in education would never teach this way, even if they were paid to do so.

[ Full article available at Slate: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/07/moocs_could_be_disastrous_for_students_and_professors.html ]

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Posted by on July 26, 2013 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed

 

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