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MOOCs and Beyond

22 Aug

By Dan Butin

By now we know that MOOCs are not the final answer. Higher education will not be saved (or destroyed) by these massive open online courses that splashed into everyone’s consciousness about three years ago. Yes, they provide some fascinating opportunities for expanding access to higher education, for helping us to rethink how teaching and learning works, and for revitalizing the debate about the role of faculty and the power (or futility) of going to college. But most pundits and educators have moved on to the next shiny new fad.

This is a mistake.

For underneath and behind the scenes, much progress continues to be made.* In fact, I would suggest that it is only now – after three frustrating years where expectations were raised way too high and subsequently plummeted way too low – are we starting to see the real opportunities.

This can be seen in the recent announcement by MIT that one of its popular MOOCs (on philosophy) will introduce “instructor grading.” As the press release proclaims, “having a trained philosopher [will] provide individual feedback [which] is crucial to knowing how much of the material was truly understood. That engagement is an essential part of the pedagogical experience — just not one learners from Boston to Bangladesh can typically experience together.”

This is a fascinating development. By now it is crystal clear that MOOCs cannot be compared to traditional courses. Yes, they may replace and/or supplement existing courses, but they are fundamentally different. And that difference is exactly the kind of interactivity – of engagement, feedback, grading – that is at the heart of the give and take of deep learning in higher education. Without such engagement, MOOCs might as well be (and have been compared to) the correspondence courses of the 1800s or your local public radio or TV station. It’s just information transfer; not true knowledge development.

Until now the MOOC world has created multiple workarounds attempting to get around this more or less impassable obstacle of one of the foundational aspects of a course. The simplest solution, of course, was just to pretend that such feedback and engagement were not truly relevant to something being a course. But such a perspective, and pundit-fueled euphoria, was short-lived. More plausible solutions have included everything from automated assessment to competency-based education to differing permutations of peer feedback. But each of these solutions has always been dogged (not fairly in some cases) by the seeming lack of quality of such engagement.

This is where MIT’s announcement enters the picture. Their solution – of using “professional philosophers” – solves the really important problem of the seeming lack of quality. This solution appears simple and obvious, but until recently it did not seem plausible to do so on the massive scale of MOOCs, not least because of the costs involved. So what MIT has nicely done is connect this solution to their certificate program – which will cost $300 – such that students can, according to their website, “verify your achievement and increase your job prospects.”

So let’s do the math.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/higher-ed-gamma/moocs-and-beyond ]

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Posted by on August 22, 2016 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed

 

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