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May 13, 2013 9:07 PM   Subscribe

The New Yorker takes on the MOOC: “One of the edX people said, ‘This is being sponsored by Harvard and M.I.T. They wouldn’t do anything to harm higher education!’ What came to my mind was some cautious financial analysts saying, about some of the financial instruments that were being rolled out in the late nineties or early two-thousands, ‘This is risky stuff, isn’t it?’ And being told, ‘Goldman Sachs is doing it; Lehman Brothers is doing it.’ ” Previously
posted by oinopaponton (149 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
The best thing I've read on MOOCs, and the participation of eg Harvard in this movement, is that open letter from the philosophy department at San Jose State U to Michael Sandel (a big-name philosopher at Harvard who teaches one of the very popular MOOCs being offered on edX) about why he should not participate in the MOOC.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:25 PM on May 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


Yeah, obviously giving people knowledge for free is definitely risky for the people who make money charging them for it.
posted by delmoi at 9:27 PM on May 13, 2013


Yeah, obviously giving people knowledge for free is definitely risky for the people who make money charging them for it.

Which groups are the referents of those two descriptions, in your estimation? I think part of the concern here is that MOOCs may not be very good at giving people knowledge, and that equally importantly, the people pushing MOOCs and other "disruptive innovation" in education are the ones who are chasing money.
posted by clockzero at 9:33 PM on May 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


Yeah, obviously giving people knowledge for free is definitely risky for the people who make money charging them for it.

There are real questions about how knowledge is supposed to be produced and reproduced after you've blown up our current, robust university system and replaced it with MOOCs. All of these articles handwave that part, because all of them are mired in the excitement phase of the hype cycle.
posted by gerryblog at 9:35 PM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


delmoi: "Yeah, obviously giving people knowledge for free is definitely risky for the people who make money charging them for it."

that's a naive assessment of the emerging market. There's a lot of people investing in MOOCs right now, and their reasons aren't as altruistic as "giving people knowledge for free". Think about, instead, how private industry reformed the hospital systems in the U.S. during the 80s and 90s. I think that's a better analogy.
posted by boo_radley at 9:37 PM on May 13, 2013 [21 favorites]


I agree with some of the criticisms the philosophy department makes, but in reality most university courses have gone far beyond the traditional pedagogical model. In most courses direct contact between lecturers and students is irregular, uncommon, and practically devoid of educational content. In fact, almost all undergraduate-level courses are practical, requiring little or no intellectual exploration of ideas.

The department needs to accept that universities are effectively trade schools, with a few courses (such as their own) operating as gatekeepers to further education. Let the relics of the traditional model be subsumed by online lectures and computer-evaluated testing: more people will enjoy the very real benefits of online curricula and materials; and we won't waste graduates' time in pretending that anyone actually cares about the content of undergraduates' essays.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:37 PM on May 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Joe in Australia: "The department needs to accept that universities are effectively trade schools, with a few courses (such as their own) operating as gatekeepers to further education. Let the relics of the traditional model be subsumed by online lectures and computer-evaluated testing: more people will enjoy the very real benefits of online curricula and materials; and we won't waste graduates' time in pretending that anyone actually cares about the content of undergraduates' essays."

This is fine up until you realize this means charging university rates for trade school skills. When MOOCs have sapped the traditional university systems, we'll start seeing premium/ F2L type content that those organizations will slip into their curricula.
posted by boo_radley at 9:40 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, that's a very facile statement. Now that I'm no longer working for a university, I can't just take random classes for free (after taxes). This makes the different MOOCs a relatively appealing proposition, but I can immediately think of two caveats:
  1. Without an online course, I could just pick up a textbook and look up some college syllabi for direction. The graded feedback from MOOCs is about on par with looking up answers in the back of the book.
  2. I'm under no misapprehension that a MOOC can give me anything but a fragmentary and superficial unerstanding of a topic or subject. To get a deeper understanding, I'd have to — yes — go to university.
So, a pretty decent option for people like me in situations like mine. An actual college alternative for the vast numbers of people who aren't me? Not at all.
posted by Nomyte at 9:42 PM on May 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


When MOOCs have sapped the traditional university systems, we'll start seeing premium/ F2L type content that those organizations will slip into their curricula.

Not just that -- all of these models necessarily assume the continued existence of "traditional" higher education for the very gifted and the children of elites. After all, somebody has to generate new MOOCs and update the old ones. YouTubeU is for the poors; like all of these exciting innovations in education, it's intended for other people's children.
posted by gerryblog at 9:43 PM on May 13, 2013 [26 favorites]


More open access to education is of course a good thing. Greater participation in online courses like this could benefit many people.

At the same time, everyone is looking for excuses to cut funding and costs of colleges and universities. This is going to allow Harvard to make more money while community colleges close. In the long run I'd expect that loss of in-person education will contribute to even more income inequality in the US.

This is why I'm torn about MOOCs. They sound so great, but I fear they're another reason to gut public higher education and give more money to the same few private universities.
posted by medusa at 9:43 PM on May 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


In fact, almost all undergraduate-level courses are practical, requiring little or no intellectual exploration of ideas.

Not true of philosophy courses, as the San Jose State faculty pointed out.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:46 PM on May 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, obviously giving people knowledge for free is definitely risky for the people who make money charging them for it.

I will eat my hat if you read the article before posting this completely bullshit knee-jerk comment, but in any case: MOOCs are not "giving people knowledge for free," nor are universities "charging for it." "Knowledge" is not what this discussion is about; it is about education, specifically the social and institutional world of higher education, and whether "free" (i.e. all costs externalized) recorded lectures can replace that. To which question the very obvious answer is no, because teaching underwrites the existence of the university system, with all the research and production of, yes, knowledge that it entails. Without paying faculty to teach, you don't get them to do everything else that they do "for free" — produce research, run journals and learned societies and conferences, etc. — and the whole system will slowly go by the board. To say nothing of the travesty of equating any halfway decent undergraduate education with just consuming recorded lectures and answering multiple-choice quizzes, a proposition so absurd on its face that I'm always shocked to see people ready to accept it.
posted by RogerB at 9:50 PM on May 13, 2013 [23 favorites]


It's not true in English, either.

More open access to education is of course a good thing. Greater participation in online courses like this could benefit many people.

The crucial thing here is that there are MOOCs and there are MOOCs. Harvard and Stanford releasing online courses as a vanity project for the brand isn't going to bring down higher education as a system. Replacing current curriculum at state schools and community colleges with flexible online education wholesale -- as is being piloted now in a bunch of Republican-controlled states, as well as in California -- will have potentially massive effects on the system's sustainability.
posted by gerryblog at 9:54 PM on May 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


The venture-capital sponsors of MOOCs are paying very little for a package of resources (not just course content, but the right to confer degrees, and even, as in the California example, to demand co-equal status with traditional universities). That's the first phase. When they have built up enough momentum, and secured dominance of part of the market, they will begin to choke off the parts of the university system that they don't yet control, much as Wal-Mart and Amazon have killed off the decentralized markets they "disrupted."
Anyone who thinks monopolies exist to deliver quality or value for money is probably very optimistic about this incipient takeover. Some people are taken in by the promise of free, or low-cost, knowledge. That in itself is good. But the expansion of MOOCs will come at the cost of the traditional classroom practices that are actually pretty good, and should themselves be extended to a bigger public, not replaced.
People writing about this issue should not frame it only in the language of economics (economies of scale, efficiency, sunk costs). They should frame it in terms of ecology (symbiosis of many distinct actors in a milieu that serves their different purposes relatively well, versus an environment engineered to maximize returns for one species only). On the other hand, if you like concrete and kudzu, you'll love the learning landscape of the future.
posted by homerica at 9:54 PM on May 13, 2013 [14 favorites]


MOOCs were largely the brain children of professors at elite institutions, where students need relatively little help with basic concepts or writing. A huge portion of my time is spent meeting with students and trying to help them work out how to write basic papers, or even just encouraging first generation university students to hang in there until it gets easier. Some people will thrive on Moocs, but my worry is that they're students would thrive anywhere and in any program. My other worry is that once we have all of these courses in place, it's going to provide more excuses to gut further eduction even more - after all, students can now go online. What more do you need to provide them with?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:58 PM on May 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm under no misapprehension that a MOOC can give me anything but a fragmentary and superficial unerstanding of a topic or subject. To get a deeper understanding, I'd have to — yes — go to university.

I don't know if you've ever taken the sorts of freshman/sophmore classes that MOOCs generally try to emulate, but in my experience, the best that you can hope for from such real-world classes is a fragmentary and superficial understanding.

Also, you should probably refrain from making these assessments without actually, you know, taking one of these classes, because you're just wrong. The Stanford Machine Learning and Intro to Databases courses that are available on Coursera and Stanford's own Class2Go (soon merging with edX) are very in-depth and rewarding.
posted by TypographicalError at 9:59 PM on May 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Starting when I was a little kid, all the way through post-grad, whenever I complained that the teaching was shitty I was reminded that it was my responsibility to learn the material, not theirs to teach it.

So I'm rather conflicted on this. I feel that on one hand, my life would be profoundly different if I had access to better teaching (education), especially in my early life, which was wasted on endless hours of mandatory instructional time and I can still taste the bitter, but metaphorical, tears of my teenage angst.

On the other hand, if I could have been taught earlier in life how to teach myself stuff, knowing for sure that wherever you go, you're on your own and nobody's ever going to help you would have been a hell of a lot more useful as a life lesson and the day I finally internalized that knowledge was a real sea change in my educational development.

I mean, having courses available online for free is literally the whole fucking point of the internet. God forbid we have both real universities, and wikipedia. Calamity.

Anyway my point is that there are already kids out there teaching themselves random topics off the internet and it hurts nobody to have an actual college course out there, and so far I'm not real sure where the hysteria is coming from.

If college was so great for most people then colleges really have nothing to fear. If colleges are really just cashing in on a trend then I sure as hell would rather everybody got their college degrees from Walmart (cheap, shitty) than the Kaplan (expensive, overhyped, & worthless with a reputation entirely secondary to massive amounts of resources thrown at marketing).
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 9:59 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not true of philosophy courses, as the San Jose State faculty pointed out.

And hoo boy, how people loathe philosophy students and faculty.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:02 PM on May 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


so far I'm not real sure where the hysteria is coming from

The MOOC providers parasitically skim resources that were produced as public goods (by state-run and non-profit universities) and turn them into private profit. They're then "competing" against those same public goods, despite the fact that they didn't contribute to the production of the knowledge they commodify and don't have any way to reproduce that knowledge in the absence of public and nonprofit funding. In short, MOOCs are a short-sighted money-grab that betrays the intergenerational social compact that makes universities work, and are thus the thin edge of the wedge for finally destroying higher education altogether.

People are hysterical about it because they think the knowledge produced and reproduced by universities is a good thing that should be retained rather than destroyed.
posted by gerryblog at 10:07 PM on May 13, 2013 [48 favorites]


There are real questions about how knowledge is supposed to be produced and reproduced after you've blown up our current, robust university system and replaced it with MOOCs.
I would hardly call a system that leaves most of the people who pass through it tens of thousands of dollars in debt 'robust'.

In fact, a lot of colleges have "online only" courses that are effectively no different then a MOOC with fewer students and far higher prices.
At the same time, everyone is looking for excuses to cut funding and costs of colleges and universities.
Perhaps because their costs have been exploding?
To which question the very obvious answer is no, because teaching underwrites the existence of the university system, with all the research and production of, yes, knowledge that it entails. Without paying faculty to teach, you don't get them to do everything else that they do "for free" — produce research, run journals and learned societies and conferences, etc.
And you think students should go tens of thousands of dollars into debt before entering the workforce to pay for that? How is that fair?
That's the first phase. When they have built up enough momentum, and secured dominance of part of the market, they will begin to choke off the parts of the university system that they don't yet control, much as Wal-Mart and Amazon have killed off the decentralized markets they "disrupted."
Before you can argue that MOOCs are bad because they're bad for traditional universities, you first have to show that traditional universities are a good deal. The average student in the US graduates with about $26,000 a year in student loans, and obviously half would have more. Is the current system actually worth putting everyone who wants to be a part of the "middle class" to start out in life tens of thousands of dollars in debt? Especially when now many people don't even end up getting a job with their degrees, and essentially end up doing low-skilled work at low-skilled wages and have to pay hundreds of dollars a month in loan payments?

If you think conferences and research and journals are good, fine. But how exactly do you justify making students subsidize it?

Anyway, whatever. The knowledge people get in an education isn't owned by universities. They have no right to require other people refrain from giving it away for free or for very low cost. No one is going to spend tens of thousands of dollars to subsidize your vanity.
posted by delmoi at 10:18 PM on May 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


From LobsterMitten's link:

Of course, since philosophy has traditionally been taught using the Socratic method, we are largely in agreement as to the inadequacy of lecture alone. But, after all the rhetoric questioning the effectiveness of the antiquated method of lecturing and note taking, it is telling to discover that the core of edX's JusticeX [which San Jose State bought from edX] is a series of videotaped lectures that include excerpts of Harvard students making comments and taking notes. In spite of our admiration for your ability to lecture in such an engaging way to such a large audience, we believe that having a scholar teach and engage his or her own students in person is far superior to having those students watch a video of another scholar engaging his or her students. Indeed, the videos of you lecturing to and interacting with your students is itself a compelling testament to the value of the in-person lecture/discussion.
posted by rtha at 10:20 PM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've often wondered if there really will be dreaded consequences when "born digital" kids come to prefer remote interactions. I think I know now.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:21 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The MOOC providers parasitically skim resources that were produced as public goods (by state-run and non-profit universities) and turn them into private profit.
Resources which are in the public domain.
they didn't contribute to the production of the knowledge
Knowledge only needs to be produced once.
intergenerational social compact that makes universities work, and are thus the thin edge of the wedge for finally destroying higher education altogether.
And thereby wealth inequality by $110 billion a year in the U.S. This is a problem how?
posted by delmoi at 10:22 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Knowledge only needs to be produced once.

Because all knowledge stays the same forever. All of it. It never changes and we never want to understand new things about the same old stuff. We can use those lectures forever!
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:25 PM on May 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


Kind of important to include Mr. Sandel's response to the San Jose State open letter:
From: Michael Sandel, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government, Harvard
University
To: Steven Kolowich, The Chronicle of Higher Education
I strongly believe that online courses are no substitute for the personal engagement of
teachers with students, especially in the humanities. A few years ago, with Harvard's
support, I made my course "Justice" freely available online, as an experiment in open
global access to the classroom. The goal was to enable anyone, anywhere, to have free
access to the lecture videos, a discussion blog, and other educational materials.
This year, we made a version of the course available on the edX platform. I know very
little about the arrangements edX made with San Jose State University, and nothing about
the internal discussions at SJSU. My goal is simply to make an educational resource
freely available--a resource that faculty colleagues should be free to use in whole or in
part, or not at all, as they see fit.
The worry that the widespread use of online courses will damage departments in public
universities facing budgetary pressures is a legitimate concern that deserves serious
debate, at edX and throughout higher education. The last thing I want is for my online
lectures to be used to undermine faculty colleagues at other institutions.


If you were waiting for the "but...", so was I. And it's not there, because I don't believe Michael Sandel is that kind of guy.
posted by Trochanter at 10:33 PM on May 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


I hadn't seen his reply; thank you for posting it!
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:34 PM on May 13, 2013


Because all knowledge stays the same forever. All of it. It never changes and we never want to understand new things about the same old stuff. We can use those lectures forever!
And you think it's fair to force people who aren't you with tens of thousands of debt because you want new information?

If people want new knowledge, to be produced, they can pay for it themselves. It's not like student loan debt paid for the large hadron collier, or the mars lander, or the human genome project . Governments pay huge amounts of money for scientific research.

You want X to be paid for. That's fine. But if you think the current system needs to stay, you need to justify creating $110 billion dollars a year in debt and forcing it on everyone who wants a shot at a middle class life.

This money doesn't come out of the aether. It comes from students. How can you justify forcing them to pay tens of thousands of dollars for something they could easily get for free?
posted by delmoi at 10:39 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are already public libraries, delmoi. If teaching doesn't matter, and the latest knowledge doesn't matter, these students should be able to get a perfectly great education for free there.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:46 PM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


There are already public libraries, delmoi. If teaching doesn't matter, and the latest knowledge doesn't matter, these students should be able to get a perfectly great education for free there.
So what's your point?
posted by delmoi at 10:48 PM on May 13, 2013


LobsterMitten, they could get a great education at a public library. The thing they couldn't get at the library is a piece of paper that says "I'm worthy of being employed."

But to all those convinced of the value of the higher education system, would you like to reimburse the $3000 I just spent to have someone read powerpoint slides to me for three hours/week in a dingy basement?
posted by MetalFingerz at 10:51 PM on May 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


This money doesn't come out of the aether. It comes from students. How can you justify forcing them to pay tens of thousands of dollars for something they could easily get for free?

I don't think anyone should have to go into debt for an education. But replacing professors with a video lecture with minimal help for struggling students isn't going to give students something for free. With 90%+ dropout rates, if MOOCs become expensive they're not exactly going to be a free education: they're going to be what poor kids get and pay for, while Harvard et al stay intact, because going to Harvard, the physical place, is useful for wealthy students.

It's not like student loan debt paid for the large hadron collier, or the mars lander, or the human genome project

You do rather need the people to man these things. And they come from universities, last time I looked. It's not like the government plucks kids at birth and then sends them into some programme where they're marked for the LHC or something. Plus there's the fact that out of all the costs that universities have, academic salaries are not the the greatest offender. They're a relatively small portion of institutional expenses, especially in the humanities.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:52 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Boys, boys. Stop fighting. Let's just socialize the whole fucking thing.
posted by Trochanter at 10:52 PM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


The quote from Sandel's reply helps clarify what exactly a MOOC is supposed to be, at least from the professor's point of view. Though I am sure that the economic drivers for their popularity are legitimate, I still can't quite wrap my head around that as any more than an ancillary benefit of this way of providing educational materials and the context of a course to a wider audience than just the select few who gain admission to the fancy university.

Perhaps I'm being pollyanna about this, but I really don't believe that a curriculum of MOOCs will replace the current higher educational system. I have faith that as messed up as academia is, it still ultimately values the part of education that includes discourse and interaction, and the MOOCs, as I understand them, do not generally include or emphasize this.

That said, MOOCs are different from online courses. I taught an all-online course at a public (state) university very recently, and though I never met one of my 60 students I knew each by name, and we had a lot of online interactions that fostered relationships and revealed peoples' personalities and learning styles. Again, I don't think an entire degree can or should be completed remotely, but there is a place for the hybrid model and I think it's really great that universities are trying to promote and explore this.
posted by gubenuj at 10:55 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think there's a very clear distinction between an education and a degree. Universities offer a degree. Some also offer an education, but it's not necessarily a guarantee.
posted by MetalFingerz at 10:59 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why MOOCs started this push to replace local professors. Don't books do the same thing that MOOCs do, indeed do it better? Why didn't the advocates of outsourcing education to MOOCs say, years ago, "hey we can just replace the professor with a book, and let the students read that!"

Reading a book seems pretty much identical -- actually, superior -- to watching a MOOC, a point made in the San Jose letter.

The fact that books were not viewed in this way causes me to question the good faith of the MOOC advocates. It's like they were waiting for something that was an arguable approximation of a classroom to make their move to eliminate real classrooms. The fact that they didn't just propose sending students to read books is a testament to their profound cynicism, their lack of imagination, or their bad faith ... I'm not sure which.
posted by Unified Theory at 11:04 PM on May 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


Trochanter: "If you were waiting for the "but...", so was I. And it's not there, because I don't believe Michael Sandel is that kind of guy."

Well, I was looking for the "and so I..." but didn't find one. As a result it reads fairly dismissively.
posted by pwnguin at 11:06 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone should have to go into debt for an education.
Well, that's what's happening. If you want to provide a traditional education for people for free, that's great. Most people would probably choose a free traditional education over a free online education.

But that's not what the choice is right now. It's between free, and massively expensive. If you're arguing we need to prevent the free from happening in order to preserve the massively expensive, you need to justify the massive expense.
With 90%+ dropout rates, if MOOCs become expensive they're not exactly going to be a free education
Yes, if they become expensive, they won't be free.

But right now the traditional method is expensve and these are free. Arguing that in theory the massively expensive option could be free and the free could in theory be massively expensive is not really a good argument for keeping the massively expensive option and preventing the free option as they exist in reality, today.

I also don't see how the MOOCs become expensive even in theory. The cost to create a new MOOC is low, and if edX starts trying to charge a ton of money a new entrant can come and create a new cheap version of the class.
posted by delmoi at 11:06 PM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you aren't an expert in this field, and your comments aren't evincing any particular insight on the actual FPP (a New Yorker article that you possibly haven't yet read) then it might be worth considering how much substance you can really contribute, and when you've exceeded that.
posted by cribcage at 11:15 PM on May 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


I don't understand why MOOCs started this push to replace local professors. Don't books do the same thing that MOOCs do, indeed do it better? Why didn't the advocates of outsourcing education to MOOCs say, years ago, "hey we can just replace the professor with a book, and let the students read that!"

Reading a book seems pretty much identical -- actually, superior -- to watching a MOOC, a point made in the San Jose letter.
If learning from a book is better then learning from a video lecture, then how is it that learning from a large lecture class of hundreds of students is better then just reading some books?

What the MOOC is supposed to do is actually provide a schedule and a framework to ensure you're actually learning. You might buy a book and never read it, for example. A lot of what college does, IMO is provide a structure that actually puts pressure on people actually do the work before a deadline.
posted by delmoi at 11:15 PM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


the traditional method is expensve and these are free

The free MOOCs around now will not get you a degree, though, no matter how many you take. Hence the book comparison. Taking Nagy's course for free will get you no more of a degree than reading one of his books will. If a college were to buy Nagy's course from edX and use it to replace a traditional course in a degree-granting program, it would no longer be free. The college can charge whatever it wants for tuition whether the money goes toward professors or not. edX and the other MOOC companies are not a way to make education cheaper for students, they are a way to make universities more profitable by cutting out the faculty.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:15 PM on May 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


What the MOOC is supposed to do is actually provide a schedule and a framework to ensure you're actually learning. You might buy a book and never read it, for example. A lot of what college does, IMO is provide a structure that actually puts pressure on people actually do the work before a deadline.

From the article: "When moocs are a purely online experience, dropout rates are typically more than ninety per cent." Critical reading skills are something a dedicated professor can teach you in a classroom.
posted by one_bean at 11:21 PM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


edX and the other MOOC companies are not a way to make education cheaper for students, they are a way to make universities more profitable by cutting out the faculty.

This is the heart of the matter. Higher education costs need to be lower, but that's not going to happen because of MOOCs.
posted by medusa at 11:25 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


If a college were to buy Nagy's course from edX and use it to replace a traditional course in a degree-granting program, it would no longer be free.
How much are they actually charging people for it? If the university is taking free content off the web, and charging people full tuition for it, that's obviously problematic. On the other hand if they're letting students get credit for a free class that's obviously good.

So which is it?

Also, why does the article and the letter refer to the class as "JusticeX" instead of the actual name of the class, "Justice"?
From the article: "When moocs are a purely online experience, dropout rates are typically more than ninety per cent." Critical reading skills are something a dedicated professor can teach you in a classroom.
What's the dropout rate for people learning from books? Less then 90%? More then 90%? Obviously if something doesn't cost any money a lot of people aren't going to take it seriously. That doesn't mean some of the people who do want to take it seriously won't get more benefit from it then from a book.
posted by delmoi at 11:27 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I was looking for the "and so I..." but didn't find one. As a result it reads fairly dismissively.

I don't see it that way. To me he seems to pretty much take the side of the Profs. Tough to say if there's much he can do to end his end of the deal with edX.

If you follow Michael Sandel at all, he's pretty not about money. I bet he'd be on the front lines of a fight for free education. Limiting the reach of markets into society is right at the core of his teaching.
posted by Trochanter at 11:31 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The 90% dropout rate is a bit of a furphy.

Here is Eric Haines(of Real Time Rendering fame) on the subject.

Free registration from anywhere in the world with good intentions makes the dropout rate a lot higher.

Also, MOOCs, if they do well, won't end knowledge creation. They will just make knowledge creation have to fund itself with less help from student fees.

MOOCs also have a major obstacle in getting people to take hard, proper assessment to work out if someone really knows what they say they know. The US Graduate Entrance Exams and so on might provide this.

When they do, a combination of MOOC courses & external assessment might provide 80% or whatever of what you get out of going to college at a fraction of the cost and in a massively more convenient way.

We'll see, of course, but it's surely worth a try.
posted by sien at 11:33 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, why does the article and the letter refer to the class as "JusticeX" instead of the actual name of the class, "Justice"?

This is explained in the article, but JusticeX is an edX-branded version of Harvard's course, Justice. edX was trying to sell it to San José State so that they could continue to teach the same or greater amount of students with less faculty while continuing to charge tuition. Because San José State declined edX's offer, we don't know what the effect would have been on tuition, but it certainly would not have been free.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:35 PM on May 13, 2013


Actually, I'm wrong about that -- San José State did not decline, although it's not clear what MOOCs, if any, they'll start to use in the near future. I guess we'll see what happens when these courses start to roll out.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:39 PM on May 13, 2013


This is explained in the article, but JusticeX is an edX-branded version of Harvard's course,

Except it's not. the edX branded version is also called "Justice". See?
posted by delmoi at 11:43 PM on May 13, 2013


What's the dropout rate for people learning from books? Less then 90%? More then 90%? Obviously if something doesn't cost any money a lot of people aren't going to take it seriously. That doesn't mean some of the people who do want to take it seriously won't get more benefit from it then from a book.

Yeah and the people who are able to learn on their own from books, or from MOOCs (all of those people that Will Hunting was modeled after: you know, the scholar-janitors), are still generally not the people who are suffering because of inadequate educational opportunities in this country. And this is actually more like if libraries across the country agreed to stock one book per subject, the best book that money could buy, written by the single smartest person in the world.
posted by one_bean at 11:46 PM on May 13, 2013


There is more from Professor Sandel on this topic as part of a chat he had recently with A.C. Grayling for Prospect magazine.

This issue is discussed at about 43:30 or so of the first video on the page. If you're curious about Sandel's work, the second video is a small example of the way his lectures go at Harvard.

Side note: Professor Sandel has been teaching this course for many years, and among the thousands of Harvard students who have taken it are several of the writers who worked on The Simpsons in that show's early years. It is rumoured that Professor Sandel served as a model for Montgomery Burns.
posted by Trochanter at 11:48 PM on May 13, 2013


the edX branded version is also called "Justice".

I am enrolled in Professor Sandel's class. Emails to participants were signed, "The JusticeX Teaching Team," and they included subject headings like, "JusticeX: Live Question and Answer Event."

Seriously, just randomly Googling around for information and then tossing it into the thread is not a contribution to the discussion. You don't know what you're talking about. Find a thread where you do.
posted by cribcage at 11:53 PM on May 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


The utility of MOOCs is not at all understood yet. Stats like "90% dropout rate" don't mean much outside of the context of understanding students' intentions. How many students sign up for many classes and then settle on a reasonable number to really follow? How many miss an arbitrary homework dealine but come back to the material when they can? To what extent does a structured multimodal learning framework assist students in learning more effectively than a book + syllabus notes, or a huge lecture hall + book + access to a TA? Are students trying to avhieve a basic curriculum via MOOCs or are they supplementing with subjects and perspectives that fall outside their core studies? The MOOC model has lots of potential that is yet to be rigorously explored.

However, aggressively marketing MOOCs as replacements for traditional university courses that had no problems is just skeevy. That's pursuing short-term profit and making struggling public universities beholden to elite private institutions in a way that will be difficult to unwind if the deal sours in the future. That's not good for anybody but the established elites. Wrapping our higher education system with VC money produces some frighteningly short sighted outcomes.
posted by SakuraK at 11:56 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, because your two comments telling me to STFU are such a compelling contribution.

Sandel calls the course "Justice" in his response and that's how it's listed on the website. Maybe they use the term "JusticeX" as a nickname, but that's not the official name.
posted by delmoi at 11:57 PM on May 13, 2013


[Be civil.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 11:59 PM on May 13, 2013


Rather than broadcasting a professor’s lectures out into the ether, to be watched or not, moocs are designed to insure that students are keeping up, by peppering them with comprehension and discussion tasks.

I think this illustrates the best analogy to MOOCs: Justice for Dummies. If Sandel wrote it, say. With all the best multiple choice exercises and "peppering" tasks he could think of. Which is not to knock the For Dummies series, it's just that it's pretty silly to think that it's analogous to anything but the worst gut lectures.

But in any case, I don't think the main issue is whether MOOCs should exist -- it's what our already dysfunctional educational system will do with them. And clearly these Stanford and Harvard guys are actively pursuing this:

Stanford:
“As a country we are simply trying to support too many universities that are trying to be research institutions,” Stanford’s John Hennessy has argued. “Nationally we may not be able to afford as many research institutions going forward.”

Harvard:
“Right now, if a student wants to learn What should I do if I want to become an M.D.?—well, what do they do?” he asked. “They talk to their adviser. They talk to some previous students. They get some advice. But, instead of talking to some previous students, how about they talk to ten thousand previous students?”

Harvard:
Job offers today, he said, will necessarily “be different from the ones I saw when I finished up graduate school.” Some Ph.D. students are being trained in mooc production as “HarvardX fellows.”

The gradual replacement of tenure with adjuncts and the simultaneous explosion of student-debt-financed tuition has largely destroyed the university as a tool for social justice. And the further replacement of faculty with MOOCs will just accelerate this, as the Stanford and Harvard guys clearly know. But that doesn't mean one should oppose free books and lectures in as great a quantity as possible. It just means that their place in the university system remains unanswered. As with health care, it may be that eventually the commons-destroying tendencies of the free market will force us to ultimately choose between full socialization, or the complete destruction of the institution.
posted by chortly at 12:17 AM on May 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


The notion that traditional university courses and traditional universities in general don't have problems seems contrary to the reality that a) recent college graduates have a tremendously difficult time finding relevant employment, and b) recent college graduates are burdened by significant debt. Are MOOCs the answer? Probably not, but they might be part of the answer.

The potential for someone from a low-income background to get a Harvard- or MIT-approved certification (or even just the skills) in programming at no cost is a pretty serious win. I do think that MIT is going to design a more effective curriculum than 'Local Community College X,' though I may be wrong.

And of course philosophy professors at San Jose State are against being replaced by philosophy professors at Harvard. Why wouldn't they be? The value they impart to their students (and society) is being dramatically overstated in this thread. A 22-year old with a philosophy degree from San Jose State (and almost anywhere else) will be working at Jamba Juice and/or living with their parents. Who does that benefit? Certainly not the student, even if they enjoyed the discussions. I have an English degree. I liked the coursework, I liked the discussions, I do not regret getting that degree in the least. However, it's not as if I'm on the fast track to the upper class as a result. I'm not even on the fast track to the middle class. Until employers stop viewing college as a training program for future employees, the "education" proffered by universities is meaningless to all except those who can afford to spend four years and tens of thousands of dollars reading Homer. I do think that a humanities degree can make you a more intelligent, more thoughtful, and more decent human being. But good feels don't pay the bills.

lesbiassparrow: A huge portion of my time is spent meeting with students and trying to help them work out how to write basic papers, or even just encouraging first generation university students to hang in there until it gets easier.

This is great. I really do mean that. But is that worth $40,000? $25,000?
posted by MetalFingerz at 12:44 AM on May 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Have none of you ever done a degree 'by distance'? For both my undergraduate and post-graduate degree I did modules by distance - for undergraduate much of it was back in the dark ages where we were sent hard-copy reading packs and expected to read books and then write papers and send them back. Post-graduate the reading was online. There was no need to attend a lecture and have wisdom imparted to me in person (well, in the company of lots of other students sitting there). Sure, I had some good tutes now and then, but this idea that turning up for lectures in person is somehow the only decent way to get a degree is nonsense. There are many, many people who have benefited from a university education, done well and gone on to do good work with it who never set foot on a campus, or rarely did at least.
posted by Megami at 1:45 AM on May 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


but this idea that turning up for lectures in person is somehow the only decent way to get a degree is nonsense.

And this idea that a traditional education is just about turning up for a lecture is also nonsense.

How can you justify forcing them to pay tens of thousands of dollars for something they could easily get for free?

Whether or not a student can "easily get for free" what they are currently paying for is indeed the substantive question of the day. You don't get to just assume that they can. Do you want to just tear the house down tomorrow, and I mean the whole damn thing which includes a hell of a lot more than just giving lectures, without first knowing a bit more about the consequences? Did it ever occur to you that perhaps there is something out there, some social or political condition, that just might be worse than debt?

Much of what I do as a professor has little or nothing to do with lecturing. Just one example: I know many students who got that 1st great job because of undergraduate research--which required lots of one on one time working with me in the lab. Many other students I know are now in elite graduate programs for the same reason. I know this. Employers have told me this. These students were at a fairly typical mid-sized State university that you may or may not have ever heard of. It does cost them some money, but even with a state subsidy that is now down to about 25%, that cost is about $8000 per year, not $50K. All that being said, the conversation about MOOCs is a valuable one. But if you want to have that conversation stop reducing the student experience on the path to a degree as some boring drift in and out of a large lecture hall. That might have been your experience. But it isn't the experience of every student who has acquired some debt.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 3:45 AM on May 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


I went to Harvard 30 years ago, and I can't really see much difference between the mediocre education I got there and the description of the MOOC experience everyone is criticizing. I went in all excited about getting to learn from famous professors. What I found was that the popular courses had several hundred students in a gigantic lecture hall listening to the professor speak. If it had been on video, it wouldn't have made any difference. Then we broke up into "sections", typically led by a harried grad student, where we could discuss the material. Those same grad students corrected our papers.

By sophomore year I figured out that I needed to press at the beginning of the semester to try to get into the one section that was run by the professor. I only succeeded one time out of a half a dozen attempts. I had great contact with the professors in my major, but all the other courses I took to try to get the mythical well-rounded liberal arts education left me completely disillusioned.

I've seen the MOOCs at the Open University of Catalunya in Barcelona, and the professors are on the forums answering students' questions every day. The students also maintain a lively discussion among themselves where everyone seems engaged with the material rather than just going through the motions to get the grade. Harvard taught me how to function in a large bureaucracy, but I wish I had done a MOOC or gone to a small college where I would have actually had an interactive education, instead of just being able to claim that I sat around listening to Steven Jay Gould or Simon Schama.
posted by fuzz at 4:22 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


And you think it's fair to force people who aren't you with tens of thousands of debt because you want new information?

No one is forced to go to college.
posted by cnanderson at 4:39 AM on May 14, 2013


All of this jibber jabber in this thread has been entirely focused around the degree itself, which is not the underlying cause of the problem. Take away the traditional college degree as a requirement for employment and you fix the problem.

If someone wants to get an "advanced" degree then they can weigh the pros and cons and do that. But if they just want to earn a middle class income they should be able to do that without jumping through multiple costly hoops.

I work in IT and my degrees are in Philosophy and Political Science. Even the guy who fixed my HVAC system last year has a college degree, in History. I can't tell you how many people I know in sales, that don't use one iota of their degree, but still had to pay for it to get that job in sales. In fact, most of them agree that four years of sales experience would have helped them more than the four (sometimes plus) years they spent in school.

tl;dr: The problems we have from our "education" system stem from the inherent problems in our "employment" system. Trying to fix the cost of education without even looking at the cost of employment is like trying to heal the pig, after it's been covered in sauce and served on a bun.
posted by Blue_Villain at 4:48 AM on May 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


The education system, as it currently stands, is a machine for fleecing people of their money. There are public schools that receive large subsidies from taxes, but still increase their tuition every year; there are private schools where money is used as a social gate to prevent undesirables from attending; and there are parasitic private, for-profit schools which use the current financial aid regime as a strategy for extracting maximum value from the taxpayer. Beneath this is a community college system that functions relatively well for some traditional trades, and abysmally for "college transfer" students and highly skilled trades/professions.

MOOCs may not be the perfect solution, but they are part of a solution, I believe. They offer range and depth that traditional campuses can never match. If you have never been involved in technical education, that may seem bizarre—you're likely remembering fondly the many classes you could choose from in History, English, Philosophy, or Math and Physics, the traditional university subjects—but if you have looked at a university catalogue for Computer Science, you know exactly what I mean.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:20 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


But is that worth $40,000? $25,000?

Look, if we're talking about overthrowing capitalism, I'm with you. But within capitalist terms, yes, a college degree is just about the best investment available to you. Unemployment rates for people with college degrees are massively lower than those without and have been forever. Student debt is bad -- a consequence of massive public disinvestment in higher education, of which MOOCs aren't the answer but the latest token -- but nonetheless the vast majority of people coming out of university come out with a very manageable debt (as opposed to the horror stories one always sees in the media).

MOOCs are a solution in search of a problem -- particularly in the humanities, where huge lecture classes are both comparatively rare, and where the educational model quite obviously doesn't scale.

edX and the other MOOC companies are not a way to make education cheaper for students, they are a way to make universities more profitable by cutting out the faculty.

This is indeed the case.

If people want new knowledge, to be produced, they can pay for it themselves. It's not like student loan debt paid for the large hadron collier, or the mars lander, or the human genome project. Governments pay huge amounts of money for scientific research.

There's a ton of knowledge in the sciences (which seems to be your marker of knowledge) that is directly paid for in whole or in part by student loan debt -- to say nothing of the PhDs this system produces who run all these good things. This *is* how we've chosen to produce and reproduce knowledge; this is one of the purposes for which we created and funded the public university, following WW2, in the first place. We're now seeing a long trend of disinvestment in that system as part of a general neoliberal austerity regime, replacing public funding by student debt -- and like most neoliberal "solutions," MOOCs don't solve the problem they identify but rather intensify it.

If learning from a book is better then learning from a video lecture, then how is it that learning from a large lecture class of hundreds of students is better then just reading some books?

I honestly think a lot of the dispute around this comes from the vastly differing experiences of people in different majors. Humanities classes don't work this way generally, and to the extent that they have begun to it's because of the draconian budget cuts increasingly imposed upon them. The alternative model to MOOCs is face-to-face contact and individual response of the kind I do in my classroom of 30 each semester; that sort of interactive learning experience is just not scaleable to 30,000+ people.

The cost to create a new MOOC is low, and if edX starts trying to charge a ton of money a new entrant can come and create a new cheap version of the class.

Each of these things costs tens of thousands of dollars to produce and facilitate even in its own terms, to say nothing of the salaries of professors and facilitators they pay nothing towards and the decades of knowledge they harvest as if it were just free. And new things are discovered all the time; even video formats and devices last less than half a decade. In short, they really aren't cheap at all, and if they get credentialing power the price will quickly go up to what the market will bear, just like publics, non-profits, and for-profits now.

Resources which are in the public domain.

That's not how the public domain works. In fact universities are already fighting amongst themselves and with Coursera about who really owns these things and who has the right (if anyone) to make a profit off them.

Sorry for the word dump. I fell asleep after posting last night but wanted to respond to the responses to my comment adequately.
posted by gerryblog at 5:23 AM on May 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I teach at an open access college (so I really appreciated all of the disparaging of me in the New Yorker article as harried and probably not even a real professor). Our college is very cheap (a student who goes to school full time in fall and spring can expect to pay around $7000 per year). Federal financial aid and the amazing Georgia HOPE Scholarship mean that currently for many of our students a college education is basically free. In these discussions, I always assume that my students are the supposed target that EdX and Coursera have in mind. And if that is true, then these corporations may well make a lot of money after my job and presumably our college is eliminated, but my students will not be getting an education in any way comparable to the one they get at our school.

Online education of any kind requires more discipline than in-person education. It requires, first of all, students who will actually watch the lectures and do the work on their own regularly without reminders from a professor who knows their name and cares whether they do it. It requires that they have the reading/listening and critical thinking skills to absorb the material without the dialogue of the classroom. Without a professor to answer questions during class or to meet during office hours, it requires that they'll Google or use a dictionary when they encounter a word they don't understand and do background reading/research on their own when they encounter a concept that they are assumed to already know, but don't. My students do not have these skills when they begin college. A big part of my job is helping them learn these skills.

And this is of course ignoring that once my job is eliminated, the MOOCs are going to have to find some way to replicate the upper level seminar experience, not to mention the field and lab research experience, that our little, much disparaged open access college provides to all of its students, not just an elite few.

In addition, all of this is ignoring the ever present digital divide. Many of my students don't have internet access at home because it is too expensive or because they don't own a computer at all. Of those, some of them have a smart phone, so they can check their email, but there's no way that watching MOOC videos is going to fit within their data plan. And many of the currently uncolleged who can't afford even our very inexpensive college have never had internet access and have never heard of a MOOC.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:23 AM on May 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


There are public schools that receive large subsidies from taxes, but still increase their tuition every year

I am sorry, but this is fiction. Maybe you and I have a different definition of "large" but the vast majority of public universities are being slowly privatized. At my State University the public subsidy back in the 1970's was 80%. Today it stands at about 20% and is sinking fast. And some have a public subsidy of 10% or less. Is it even fair to call those schools public institutions? The reason public schools have been raising tuition every year is because the subsidy has been decreasing every year. This is what it means to privatize a public school.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:29 AM on May 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


Just to add to hydropsyche's comment: online education in small classes is great and definitely has a place in the modern university. What's bad about MOOCs is not that they're online but that they're massive; education happens on the scale of the individual, whether it's face-to-face or in small online courses.

I feel bad for leaving that out in my celebration of face-to-face, in-person learning.
posted by gerryblog at 5:33 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am sorry, but this is fiction. Maybe you and I have a different definition of "large" but the vast majority of public universities are being slowly privatized. At my State University the public subsidy back in the 1970's was 80%. Today it stands at about 20% and is sinking fast. And some have a public subsidy of 10% or less. Is it even fair to call those schools public institutions? The reason public schools have been raising tuition every year is because the subsidy has been decreasing every year. This is what it means to privatize a public school.

That's not universally true. In my state, North Carolina, the university system has been well-funded and even during the economic crisis received budget cuts that were not particularly deep in relation to the overall budget situation. We've recently elected some right-wingers, so I expect that will change, but it's not historically true; and tuition has been rising quickly since the 90s.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:39 AM on May 14, 2013


In NC, the state contribution to the public university system is 20% of its overall budget and the system has faced considerable cuts for years.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:48 AM on May 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


In my state, North Carolina, the university system has been well-funded

State funding now accounts for less than 20% of UNC's operating budget. Those numbers have been trending ever downward even before the Republicans got in and started threatening to close campuses altogether. That's despite ever increasing enrollment.
posted by gerryblog at 5:49 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Less than 20% sounds right--and in line with most other major public (so called) universities.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:51 AM on May 14, 2013


Operating budget includes the constantly inflating tuitions, and the difference between funding and that total budget will always increase as long as the tuition continues to inflate, even in the absence of funding cuts. That does not prove that public education is inflating tuition because they need more public funding—it proves that public funding is diminishing as part of their operating budget because they are inflating tuition.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:57 AM on May 14, 2013


Yes, fair point smm. I guess to prove the connection we would need data showing the % decrease in public subsidy over time, the % increase in total operating costs over time, and a realistic model for inflation factored in. That would reveal, I think, how much the cost has increased by virtue of discretionary spending on lavish facilities, skyrocketing administrative costs, etc.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 6:10 AM on May 14, 2013


I went to Harvard 30 years ago, and I can't really see much difference between the mediocre education I got there and the description of the MOOC experience everyone is criticizing. I went in all excited about getting to learn from famous professors. What I found was that the popular courses had several hundred students in a gigantic lecture hall listening to the professor speak. If it had been on video, it wouldn't have made any difference. Then we broke up into "sections", typically led by a harried grad student, where we could discuss the material. Those same grad students corrected our papers.

I went to Harvard 20 years ago, got an extraordinary education, had close contact with many famous professors in small seminars and one-to-one interactions, and for that matter had life-changing experiences in gigantic lecture halls and grad student-led sections.

But my anecdote doesn't matter, nor does yours, because Harvard is not the kind of institution MOOCs are aiming to replace. The question is not whether there's still going to be a Harvard, the question is whether there's still going to be a University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire.
posted by escabeche at 6:13 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a repeat of a previous conversation, you know? I know I already pointed out in a previous thread about this that the smaller state schools are not as likely to have large lecture classes as, say, Harvard or a state public flagship. But this same canard keeps being brought up again and again.
posted by raysmj at 6:20 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Operating budget includes the constantly inflating tuitions, and the difference between funding and that total budget will always increase as long as the tuition continues to inflate, even in the absence of funding cuts. That does not prove that public education is inflating tuition because they need more public funding—it proves that public funding is diminishing as part of their operating budget because they are inflating tuition.

In the link above they say they've suffered some $235 million in cuts since 2008 and that a tuition hike in 2010 was explicitly permitted by the state to make up for that shortfall. I don't know the overall trajectory of their tuition increases, but it seems clear that the state is a willing partner in shifting some of the costs of the cuts directly to students and that some of the tuition increases are in direct response to cuts.

I'm not saying that universities are cheap to run and if we decide as societies that they are not something we want to fund then so be it; we can go back to the 19th century university model. But pretending that MOOCs are going to fill that gap is disingenuous IMO - as disingenuous as pretending that they have attracted venture capital funding but won't be turned into massive money makers with that cost also shifted to students.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:27 AM on May 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I also don't see how the MOOCs become expensive even in theory.

MOOC becomes a de-facto requirement for employment. Org developing MOOC realizes this, and prices accordingly.

You know, sort of why a college degree has also become so expensive. When you go from "a nice thing" to "a requirement", you can charge more.

Take away the traditional college degree as a requirement for employment and you fix the problem.

DING DING DING DING DING.
posted by eriko at 6:34 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


A 22-year old with a philosophy degree from San Jose State (and almost anywhere else) will be working at Jamba Juice and/or living with their parents. Who does that benefit? Certainly not the student, even if they enjoyed the discussions. I have an English degree. I liked the coursework, I liked the discussions, I do not regret getting that degree in the least. However, it's not as if I'm on the fast track to the upper class as a result.

I do not understand this line of thinking. The 22-year old is working at Jamba Juice because some amoral super-rich capitalists were handed the keys to our economy and invited to take it on a joy ride, not because a San Jose State philosophy degree is educationally sub-par.

To say "well, he will only be working at Jamba Juice, why invest much in his education" essentially amounts to surrendering all culture and value in the U.S. to the plans of the avaricious lunatics who have destroyed the economy and have now set their sights on the educational system.
posted by Unified Theory at 6:39 AM on May 14, 2013 [23 favorites]


This is a repeat of a previous conversation, you know? I

It's funny, right? If everyone is so good at learning on line, you'd think the conversations on this subject would show evidence of that learning. Doesn't seem to happen much, though.
posted by rtha at 6:54 AM on May 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Online education of any kind requires more discipline than in-person education. It requires, first of all, students who will actually watch the lectures and do the work on their own regularly without reminders from a professor who knows their name and cares whether they do it. It requires that they have the reading/listening and critical thinking skills to absorb the material without the dialogue of the classroom. Without a professor to answer questions during class or to meet during office hours, it requires that they'll Google or use a dictionary when they encounter a word they don't understand and do background reading/research on their own when they encounter a concept that they are assumed to already know, but don't.

I think part of the problem is that most big universities are already moving away from this kind of personalized instruction even without MOOCs coming into play. I went to a large state school for a top-ranked selective undergrad program, and the vast majority of courses I took were taught in large lecture halls with 50-200 students. I only had an actual one-on-one time with professors on rare occasions, and TAs handled most of the situations that involved students in groups of less than 20. I know it would have been technically possible for me to have spent time going to office hours and whatnot but I rarely had problems with the course material and when I did I just worked with other students to figure it out. And for students who did run into genuine difficulties, there was much more pressure for them to drop out of the program or drop out of school entirely rather than get access to more educational resources to help them make it through. When it gets to the point where literally the only thing professors do is broadcast a lecture and the rest is handled by TAs, then the idea of broadcasting that lecture to an even larger group to save money becomes appealing to the people running things.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:57 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The guy who's got the best, most recent take on the xMOOCs is Bob Meister, President of the Council of UC Faculty Associations. His open letter to Coursera founder Daphne Koller nails it. Take a few minutes and just go read it--all the way to the end, where he throws down, "PS: Would you be willing to co-teach this course with me? I’m sure that together we could reach a very large audience indeed."
posted by Gotanda at 7:05 AM on May 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


because some amoral super-rich capitalists were handed the keys to our economy...."...why invest much in his education" essentially amounts to surrendering all culture and value in the U.S. to the plans of the avaricious lunatics

This is over-driving the headlights of this argument pretty hard. Not every philosophy major is Nietzsche. The line of causation from the University of Basel to San Jose State is full of ill-conceived moves related to what people think of as education.

This can be true without making our friend at Jamba Juice either an idiot or a martyr.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:07 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel bad for people who paid sticker price to go to a big research university and sit in large classes. As mentioned above, the no-name open access schools (with the harried professors who probably aren't really professors) tend to have small class sizes. Our majors' courses are capped at 24 students (non majors' are capped at 30), and my upper level classes tend to have more like 12. I know I'm not Stephen Jay Gould, but I know all of my students' names after the first week of class. We have class discussions even in intro-level classes, we have extensive one-on-one conversations during lab, and they get an email from me if they aren't there.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:10 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and go read Audrey Watters [Expletive Deleted] Ed-Tech #Edinnovation too. Heller's total ignorance or disregard for the connectivist MOOCs that started at places like Athabasca is appalling. Go have a look at Stephen Downes too.
posted by Gotanda at 7:18 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dropped by my undergrad campus a couple of years ago and sat on the grass and watched university life happen around me for a couple if hours. The years since I graduated had seen the rise of online education abd the phenomenon of for-profit universities whose "campuses" are in office parks and who advertise on TV.

And as I sat there, I thought about how sad it was that this intellectual community where students come for a few years was being gradually phased out so that people can sit in their houses and watch streaming video that profiteers and cost-cutters are telling them are "just as good" as a traditional college education.

The elimination of traditional education represents, in my view, a really terrifying process that is pretty standard when profit begins to trump cultural value. I can imagine the same arguments being marshaled to justify selling off an art museum's holdings so that the museum space can be used for a shopping mall. The arguments sound so rational and they presuppose that you aren't really benefiting from in-person traditional education, you never really visited the library or museum that much anyway, and plus, whatever value you got from it can be replicated online at a fraction of the cost.

It is a horrible chipping away at our cultural infrastructure until there's nothing left on the spurious assertion that "you weren't really using it anyway."
posted by Unified Theory at 7:18 AM on May 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


tuition has been rising quickly since the 90s

North Carolina is a terrible example because it started with 90s with aberrantly low tuition (around $500-600/year). Any increase at all is going to be a huge increase in percentage terms.

That does not prove that public education is inflating tuition because they need more public funding—it proves that public funding is diminishing as part of their operating budget because they are inflating tuition.

Here ya go. That's only since 2008.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:45 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


A 22-year old with a philosophy degree from San Jose State (and almost anywhere else) will be working at Jamba Juice

The average starting salary for philosophy majors is about $40K, so Jamba Juice must pay pretty well.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:47 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The question is not whether there's still going to be a Harvard, the question is whether there's still going to be a University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire.

No, there will stil be a UWis. - Eau Claire, the question is whether departments will have faculty outside of the business school, or if there are faculty, whether there will be graduate students if the grant level isn't positive.

MOOCs are in particular a threat to mathematics research at 2nd tier departments since they are unlikely to bring prestige to the university and will never fund themselves by research grants. Even without MOOCs public universities are grading departments by their grant potential with a real threat they will be devolved to a purely teaching role.

But people like to rage against the machine, public education was sold out long before the rise of the MOOCs. The billionaires that run this country got rich by looting and rentierism. They don't understand that a highly educated populace is an investment rather than a liability.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:02 AM on May 14, 2013


Presumably those working at Jamba Juice aren't counted in a "starting salary" statistic, because they don't earn one. But no, you're right, everyone with a college degree is gainfully employed doing interesting and productive work and aren't in any way limited by having debt they'll be paying off into their thirties.

One of the things being discussed in this thread is the value of simply being at college. Getting to have deep conversations with your professors outside of class, enjoying all the cultural amenities at your campus, seeing distinguished lecturers come to speak, etc. But beyond the cost of tuition, it also costs money to live. A fairly conservative estimate of living with no frills for four years is something like $25,000 to $30,000. If you work while in school, rather than taking on additional debt, you're severely limited in how much access you have to the extracurricular educational aspects praised in this thread. Maybe you'd be surprised to learn that professors don't hold office hours at 10pm or on the weekends.
posted by MetalFingerz at 8:09 AM on May 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


From a recent article from the University of Pennsylvania, on its involvement with MOOCs:

“My biggest fear [is] that thinking right now about higher education, and especially public higher education, is driven by logics of efficiencies, concerns about the spiraling costs of education, et cetera. And that, too rapidly, these [MOOCs] will be seen as ways of bending the cost curve. And that efficiencies, real or imagined, will become a device for withdrawal of support from high-quality education, and replacement of that experience with something that’s perhaps adequate, but not outstanding. I’m very, very concerned with the misuse of these technologies in a way that is viewed as a cheap way out. There is no cheap way out of educating a population. It is the best public investment that any society can possibly make. And this country has benefited from critical moments in time where wise public leaders recognized that and made those investments, and they built fabulous institutions of higher learning.”

This is basically my issue with MOOCs: it feels like they're being driven by financial needs rather than educational ones, when they (potentially, hypothetically) could be useful educational tools -- if used appropriately. One of the ideas I've seen floated [er, in retrospect, in this article, actually] is that a professor teaching a class might choose a variety of different lectures to show her class, and spend her energy more on active participation in small groups -- but that's not necessarily a model that works well with pre-packaged course offerings (and it's not necessarily a good model at all, just an interesting one). Or, more in line with how libraries already work, they could be cheap ways for people who want to learn (but not to get a degree) to expand their horizons without spending a lot of money, on their own time -- as a supplement to, not a replacement of, the existing university system.

The University (not to be confused with Penn State) is both a contributor to and investor in Coursea -- so there's a split of individual interest (professors who think this is a novel and helpful way of engaging people) and institutional interest (hedging the university's bets on where education is going).
posted by cjelli at 8:19 AM on May 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you work while in school, rather than taking on additional debt, you're severely limited in how much access you have to the extracurricular educational aspects praised in this thread. Maybe you'd be surprised to learn that professors don't hold office hours at 10pm or on the weekends.

This is the standard "you weren't using it anyway" argument I was describing in my comment, that is used as justification for discarding our cultural infrastructure.
posted by Unified Theory at 8:20 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but if people can't use it, then it doesn't have value. MOOCs aren't the cause of public disinvestment in education, they're a symptom. That doesn't mean the online learning format isn't worth pursuing to some degree. People keep asserting that MOOCs are seeking to replace a system that doesn't have any problems. But the system has a TON of problems. MOOCs are far from the biggest threat to our higher education system moving forward.
posted by MetalFingerz at 8:35 AM on May 14, 2013


The high drop out rates of MOOCs (at least the free ones) are a feature not a bug. You can easily sample a class without a financial risk, and minimal time risk. Sure you can drop courses in college, but there's far more risks than with a MOOC.

Personally, while I have a college degree, if I want to learn a new skill the options are MOOCs, or wait until my kids are old enough that I can take some college classes while they're in school. It won't prevent me from going to a technical college when I'm able to, but it's nice to have a free option to add to my personal knowledge while waiting for my life to give me the option to return to school.
posted by drezdn at 8:47 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


How will employers and students value an MOOC education? I think both parties will continue to value a traditional education got at a brick and mortar, with all the student life and experiences that come along with it, more than online schooling. I'm currently taking Nagy's edX course and learning a lot. I view it as supplemental or continuing education and not a substitute for going to the classroom. Traditional colleges will most likely not fall by the wayside because of MOOCs. There's definitely an element of techno- and neophobia to a lot of people's attacks on this new system.
posted by ChuckRamone at 8:47 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


People keep asserting that MOOCs are seeking to replace a system that doesn't have any problems.

Where are people asserting this?
posted by rtha at 8:52 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's definitely an element of techno- and neophobia to a lot of people's attacks on this new system.

In my psyche, it's more what you'd call plutophobia. I strongly fear that if you give the rich (and their useful idiot free market ideologues) yet another tool to jack with the people, they will use it.
posted by Trochanter at 8:54 AM on May 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Why again are the costs of universities exploding? I'm not clear on how that's happening. Is it the cost of physical plant? Because the big-name universities seem really good at getting donors to give money in exchange for getting a name on a building. Or is it the cost of educating undergraduates? But that can't be right — undergraduate education used to be performed by highly paid professors, and now it's performed by adjuncts compensated for their work at below-minimum-wage rates.

So what are the costs that are exploding? Really, I want to know.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:10 AM on May 14, 2013


In my psyche, it's more what you'd call plutophobia.

I suppose that's part of the American way of doing things. Everything's a business - schools, churches, hospitals. Even the people who work at non-profits make a living doing it. The Internet has helped that along and gotten rid of a lot of old jobs in the process. I don't know if there's any way of stopping it. The rational way to act, if you're always trying to make everything more efficient and more profitable, is to allow these processes to take their course, if you think that technology is the answer for a better life. There will be growing pains. I guess the question is will this be for the best in the end? There's no way of knowing right now. Technological developments have always meant revolts as people lose their jobs to machines.
posted by ChuckRamone at 9:15 AM on May 14, 2013


The rational way to act, if you're always trying to make everything more efficient and more profitable, is to allow these processes to take their course, if you think that technology is the answer for a better life.

Yes, I agree: the problem is that corporate/libertarian techno-utopians think their beliefs are rational and will lead to a better world.
posted by RogerB at 9:17 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why again are the costs of universities exploding?

There are a ton of factors that go into this: state and federal disinvestment; a shift away from a grant-model of financial aid to a loan-model; explosion of student services, perks, and administration at all levels; campus building (much of it ill-considered and debt-serviced); what's called "cost disease" in which the relative cost of labor that can't be made more efficient goes up as other sectors of the economy become more productive; poor specialization and the need for every campus to do every thing; the economic collapse killing university endowments; generic, run-of-the-mill inflation; some amount of guaranteed-federal-student-loan-gouging and perverse conflict-of-interest investment schemes. And that's just the short list. The academy is a complicated ecosystem and there's not one silver bullet to fix all that's gone wrong.
posted by gerryblog at 9:24 AM on May 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


MOOCs were largely the brain children of professors at elite institutions, where students need relatively little help with basic concepts or writing....Some people will thrive on Moocs, but.... they're students would thrive anywhere and in any program.

We should use MOOCs to replace elite education!

In fact, a lot of colleges have "online only" courses that are effectively no different then a MOOC with fewer students and far higher prices.

If regular folks were educated in small classes headed by competent teachers using the Socratic method with lots of teacher student interaction, then no one would consider MOOCs a real alternative. Unfortunately education is already like a series of stage plays (for most students) and MOOCs are just taking the next step by putting the plays on TV.

I think the decision that has led us down the path to MOOCs was made decades ago.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 9:36 AM on May 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Unfortunately education is already like a series of stage plays (for most students)

A genuine question: Does anyone have data that supports this claim, or is this just something everybody knows without having to check? When I Google it, here's what comes up:

At the 266 ranked National Universities—larger institutions that offer a range of undergraduate, master's, and doctoral programs—that provided data on fall 2011 class sizes to U.S. News in the 2012 annual survey, an average of 45 percent of classes had fewer than 20 students.
posted by gerryblog at 9:43 AM on May 14, 2013


I'm actually glad that MOOCs exist. It allows me to learn about things without having to care enough about them to pay to take a course. I guess I just see them differently than the others and see them as a little starter bit into learning about a subject. The one that I am doing now is useful also. I'm getting my feet wet in programming again, which I could do by getting a book, but instead I can use a MOOC and it is cheaper. I don't see them as replacing college I see it as replacing books. The guy who teaches the class about greek hero's has probably written a book about greek hero's and you would get the same thing out of reading and thinking about the book as you would taking his MOOC.
posted by koolkat at 9:57 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


A question for MeFites from non-U.S. western countries -- are your countries swarmed with new for-profit educational institutions and new initiatives to replace campus-based in-person education with online courses and MOOCs?

Or is this just a U.S. thing?

I have a vague sense that, say, France is not full of office-park universities and pushes to water down education?
posted by Unified Theory at 10:05 AM on May 14, 2013


I don't see them as replacing college I see it as replacing books.

The problem is that many of the VCs do see them as replacing colleges. And they're spending time and money convincing legislators and educational administrators to see it that way too. It's being sold as a panacea to the issues caused by chronic underfunding of state schools.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:08 AM on May 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't see them as replacing college I see it as replacing books.

That is one way they're being used. Another way is that colleges and universities are buying these courses and using them in place of of courses taught by their own faculty. See the open letter LobsterMitten linked to in the first comment for an example.
posted by rtha at 10:10 AM on May 14, 2013


A genuine question: Does anyone have data that supports this claim, or is this just something everybody knows without having to check? When I Google it, here's what comes up:....an average of 45 percent of classes had fewer than 20 students.

I think it's just one of those things that everyone knows (perhaps from personal experience, like me), but it would be difficult to gather hard data to confirm. To get an experience that's very different from a MOOC, you need at least three things: small enough class sizes, an engaged teacher (using the right teaching style), and engaged students. Even if the class is small, a student can still get a passive MOOC-like classroom experience.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:17 AM on May 14, 2013


A question for MeFites from non-U.S. western countries -- are your countries swarmed with new for-profit educational institutions and new initiatives to replace campus-based in-person education with online courses and MOOCs?

And if the answer is no, is a university education considered an elite thing for elites or something more democratic?

If the US collectively changed its mind and decided that university is only for the rich or brilliant, I think MOOCs and for-profit universities would disappear pretty quickly.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:24 AM on May 14, 2013


If regular folks were educated in small classes headed by competent teachers using the Socratic method with lots of teacher student interaction, then no one would consider MOOCs a real alternative.

Smaller class sizes are vastly common than lecture hall ones at smaller state-supported schools, the kind disparaged throughout this thread and others repteadly (for supposedly having large lecture hall classes), as well as private liberal arts colleges. I noted this in a previous thread and repeated it here. Metafilter, I hate to say, does not do higher ed talk well.
posted by raysmj at 10:25 AM on May 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ian Bogost makes a good point about the dangers of MOOCs in his blog post The Walled Kindergarten: "If private organizations like Coursera and Udacity (and even public/private counterparts like EdX) succeed in achieving their stated mission, if they establish a platform that can reach a large audience with the new kind of "course" that a MOOC represents, then there's good reason to think that those organizations will tightly limit the properties of the courses they allow to reach that audience—including its subject matter and the types of faculty who would teach them."
posted by oulipian at 10:35 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why again are the costs of universities exploding?

...

That would reveal, I think, how much the cost has increased by virtue of discretionary spending on lavish facilities, skyrocketing administrative costs, etc.

I have no dog in this fight, but I read "Confessions of a Community College Dean," and I think he has some interesting insights about these oft-repeated theories to explain the skyrocketing costs of education (and healthcare):

Part of the increase may be nobody's fault, but a result of an economic phenomenon known as "Baumol's cost disease."

"Administrative" costs include IT infrastructure, support for students with disabilities, and education-research initiatives driven by an increasing desire to be "data driven." Much of the increase is in these areas. It is hard to characterize any of these as "bloat."

"Health care and education are exceptions to the rule that industries only spend money on innovations that are likely to pay off." In other industries, you only spend money on technologies that make money. In healthcare and education, you spend money on technologies that don't allow you to make any more money (except by possibly justifying cost increases), but do allow you to better fulfill your mission.

Part of the increase in the cost of education is the increase in the cost of health care. Health insurance is an expensive benefit, and has been driving the price of employee compensation packages up without actually driving salaries up.

Not sure what the implications of all of that are in terms of the prospects for MOOCS (I tend to agree with those who see MOOCS as just fancy textbooks), but I do think they have a lot of implications in terms of the future of higher ed in general.
posted by OnceUponATime at 11:02 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Metafilter, I hate to say, does not do higher ed talk well.

I made the same remark a year ago. I think at this point it would be easier to make a list of topics Metafilter does do well.
posted by Nomyte at 11:03 AM on May 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


A genuine question: Does anyone have data that supports this claim, or is this just something everybody knows without having to check? When I Google it, here's what comes up:

At the 266 ranked National Universities—larger institutions that offer a range of undergraduate, master's, and doctoral programs—that provided data on fall 2011 class sizes to U.S. News in the 2012 annual survey, an average of 45 percent of classes had fewer than 20 students.


Putting the statistic in the form of percentage of classes will skew the number toward obscure courses that most students don't actually take though. So Chemistry 101 which almost every undergraduate takes has 200+ students in the lecture, but Obscure Subject 423 that only grad students in Obscure Subject take has 8 students. It's much harder to calculate what the average student experiences in terms of class sizes.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:58 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's much harder to calculate what the average student experiences in terms of class sizes.

Well, it's not done very often, but it's not hard. You just weight each class by its own size.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:58 PM on May 14, 2013


Like this. Consider a weird school with one 1000-person class and 49 10-person classes, so that 98% of their courses have 10 students. Must be great!
Size	Weighted Size
1000	1000000
10	100
10	100
*45 more 10-person classes*
10	100
10	100
1490	1004900 Totals
The unweighted average class size is just 1490/50 or 29.8. The weighted average is 1004900/1490 or 674.4.

Not hard, just not usually done.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:02 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my psyche, it's more what you'd call plutophobia. I strongly fear that if you give the rich (and their useful idiot free market ideologues) yet another tool to jack with the people, they will use it. -- Trochanter
It's obvious that it's the other way around. They want to continue to jack students for the tune of tens of thousands of dollars a year. The university system is a massive, enormous wealth transfer system from students to the upper middle class (profs, university administrators). Obviously they want to protect it.

Of course, it's hard to justify that, so they are pretending that somehow all that money will end up going to "venture capitalists" rather then staying in the pockets of the student class this is done by imagining that sometime in the future MOOCs will have a monopoly and start charging out the ass. In reality, the VCs only need to make a tiny fraction of the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on college education every year

It's the same with newspapers and cragislist/google. Local papers no longer have local monopolies on national news stories or classified ads - they feel as they have some kind of proprietary right to those things, and rage about the money going to google and craigslist. But in reality, the vast majority of the money not going to them just stays in the pockets of the readers/advertisers.

Except with universities the amount of money is far, probably hundreds or even thousands of times as much what the average person would pay for a newspaper subscription over their lifetime is paid in student loan payments (both principle and interest).
There's a ton of knowledge in the sciences (which seems to be your marker of knowledge) that is directly paid for in whole or in part by student loan debt -- -- gerryblog
Exactly how much compared to government funding, over, say, the past fifty years?
to say nothing of the PhDs this system produces who run all these good things. This *is* how we've chosen to produce and reproduce knowledge; -- gerryblog
So? the south chose to produce cotton via human slavery, then they were forced to change. "This is how we've been doing things" is not an argument for continuing to do them that way. MOOCs were not technically possible in the past, and now they are. So it's time to re-evaluate. You need a solid argument that college is worth putting students into $110 billion dollars of debt each year. So far I haven't really heard one.

So far I've hears "a university education is good!" And it may be.
I honestly think a lot of the dispute around this comes from the vastly differing experiences of people in different majors. Humanities classes don't work this way generally, and to the extent that they have begun to it's because of the draconian budget cuts increasingly imposed upon them. -- gerryblog
Yet, humanities are the area where it is hardest to argue that an getting a degree is actually a worthwhile investment. Unlike a STEM degree there are tons of people working jobs that don't actually need college degrees (like Sales, HVAC repair, etc).

Employers look for people with degrees as a heuristic for employee quality, rather then hiring sociology or philosophy majors because they think the job requires sociologists or philosophers. That's a problem, but it doesn't mean the solution is for students to go tens of thousands of dollars in debt to prove they have basic literacy and study skills.

But there's no reason why employes won't be willing to take MOOC certs in the future. If that happens, the economic argument against, in terms of raw return on investment for students them will be completely void.
Each of these things costs tens of thousands of dollars to produce and facilitate even in its own terms, to say nothing of the salaries of professors and facilitators they pay nothing towards and the decades of knowledge they harvest as if it were just free. -- gerryblog
If a class costs tens of thousands of dollars, and it has tens of thousands of students, it only has to charge a few dollars to be profitable.

And secondly this idea that somehow the fact that knowledge cost money to produce means that people should pay random people who happen to have the same profession as the people who produced it is very strange. You don't have a copyright on it, no one owes you anything.

In fact, if you think it was paid for by student loan debt then the people who 'truly' own the 'knowledge' would be the students and the public at large. not the universities and professors.
To say "well, he will only be working at Jamba Juice, why invest much in his education" essentially amounts to surrendering all culture and value in the U.S. to the plans of the avaricious lunatics who have destroyed the economy and have now set their sights on the educational system. -- Unified Theory
Oh please. It's not his or anyone else's responsibility to go tens of thousands of dollars in debt before getting a job at a Jamba Juice because you, personally, think it builds character or something.
The elimination of traditional education represents, in my view, a really terrifying process that is pretty standard when profit begins to trump cultural value. I can imagine the same arguments being marshaled to justify selling off an art museum's holdings so that the museum space can be used for a shopping mall. -- Unified Theory
The vast majority of the "profit" here goes to the students, literally tens of thousands of dollars per person, $110 billion dollars a year in debt plus the interest on that debt (probably another hundred billion a year). This is more like selling off an art museums holdings and distributing the cash to the city's poor.

If you think knowledge creation is so important, why aren't you paying for it yourself? How much do you donate to knowledge creation non-profits? Why should this be the burden of the people who want to enter the workforce and get middle class jobs, instead of you, if you're the one who wants it?
A question for MeFites from non-U.S. western countries -- are your countries swarmed with new for-profit educational institutions and new initiatives to replace campus-based in-person education with online courses and MOOCs?

Or is this just a U.S. thing?
My impression is that most non-US western countries don't charge nearly as much for tuition as in the U.S, so it's less of an issue. Most of the MOOCs are available globally, as far as I know, so if people in other countries want to take them they can.
posted by delmoi at 1:17 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


delmoi, is the root problem then that US college tuition is so high?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:24 PM on May 14, 2013


If you think knowledge creation is so important, why aren't you paying for it yourself? How much do you donate to knowledge creation non-profits? Why should this be the burden of the people who want to enter the workforce and get middle class jobs, instead of you, if you're the one who wants it?

Enough with this nonsensical false dichotomy already; you're either arguing in bad faith or being truly impressively obtuse. Just like fire departments, universities are a public good that should be paid for by fair taxation, not sustained by voluntary charitable contributions. People who believe universities should continue to exist, and aren't adopting the ludicrously anti-intellectual "burn it all down" position you have adopted, are not therefore arguing for the current student-loan system to continue to exist. You're playing directly into the hand of the right-wing state legislatures that are trying to destroy the American university system by adopting this Tea Party-esque anti-student-debt-above-all-else platform; they are the ones who de-funded state universities in order to make their anti-university-worker regime more palatable by wrapping it in false populism.
posted by RogerB at 1:29 PM on May 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


The vast majority of the "profit" here goes to the students, literally tens of thousands of dollars per person, $110 billion dollars a year in debt plus the interest on that debt (probably another hundred billion a year). This is more like selling off an art museums holdings and distributing the cash to the city's poor.

What makes you believe that MOOCs are going to reduce the cost of education for students? If we look at the San Jose State use of MOOCs, for example, those philosophy students would have been paying the same tuition for the privilege of watching Michael Sandel teach a class on video. I haven't heard anything about their tuition being reduced.

Someone else in this thread also asserts that MOOCs are designed to cut costs so as to increase profits of education.

What are you relying on when you suggest that savings will be passed on to students?
posted by Unified Theory at 1:31 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The university system is a massive, enormous wealth transfer system from students to the upper middle class (profs, university administrators).

Actually, the wealth transfer is to the financial companies and, to a smaller extent, to the middle class, in the form of subsidized loans and interest deductions. The rich pay pull freight; the poor get Pell Grants. It's the middle that has to take out loans.

As for the contention that university professors are "upper middle class..." that's only true of the elite. About 70% of professors are off the tenure track, most of whom are part time. They are not raking in the big bucks.
posted by snickerdoodle at 1:34 PM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually, the wealth transfer is to the financial companies and, to a smaller extent, to the middle class, in the form of subsidized loans and interest deductions. The rich pay pull freight; the poor get Pell Grants. It's the middle that has to take out loans.

The poor get Pell Grants but in reality they do pay for universities in sorts of other ways. We all do. Universities, like their younger corporate brethren, are very good at capturing enormous public wealth via many elaborate, opaque means and then not paying any taxes on that wealth. (It's been pointed out before but institutions like Harvard are basically hedge funds with an educational operation to shield the trading profits.) As such they are very much a part of the inequality machine. A big part. Everybody pays but in reality benefits are concentrated on an elite few.

Just like fire departments, universities are a public good that should be paid for by fair taxation, not sustained by voluntary charitable contributions.

This may have once been true but it's certainly not the case today. I imagine the average Joe would in fact see real economic benefits if universities were fully privatized and no longer enjoyed their enormous government subsidies. Then, who knows, you might even get something that Joe could afford without becoming a debt slave.

That letter is pretty funny too. So much handwaving and deception. You wouldn't think any modern department would be so shameless as to pretend that watching a nameless professor show up and talk live for an hour and change and then disappear into the abyss is somehow superior than the video.
posted by nixerman at 2:55 PM on May 14, 2013


a nameless professor show up and talk live for an hour and change and then disappear into the abyss

Where does this happen?
posted by Unified Theory at 3:01 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The rich pay pull freight; the poor get Pell Grants. It's the middle that has to take out loans.
If you think Pell Grants will pay your entire tuition, you're out of your mind. The poor can end up with just as much student loan debt as the middle class kids. From Wikipedia:
For the 2010–2011 and 2011–2012 award years, the maximum amount was $5,550.[3][8] President Obama's budget for 2014 plans to increase that amount to $5,645.
The average in-state tuition for a 4 year school is $8.6k, and that's not including room and board. The average out of state tuition is $21.7k. Again, that's annual. And it appears to not even cover room and board (Unless that's included in 'fees'). And don't forget hundreds of dollars a semester in books.
posted by delmoi at 3:08 PM on May 14, 2013


delmoi, is the root problem then that US college tuition is so high? -- MisantropicPainforest
Primarily. If the universities were free and government supported, then the MOOCs would be no threat to them. The real threat right now that the MOOCs pose is to things like the university of Phoenix and Kaplan "University". It's kind of hard to imagine that a free MOOC from Harvard is much worse then a super-expensive online class from those cheap degree mills. (University of Phoenix had about a 50% loan default rate, and Kaplan had something like 90% at one point)

I think people have some rose colored glasses on about how great a lot of college classes really are. When I was in school I certainly had classes where there was a lot of hands-on instruction and interesting class discussions with other students. But there were plenty of large lecture classes that basically involved reading the textbook and then taking a test, with maybe some homework sprinkled in.

The university started experimenting with more online stuff as I was there, so when I was a senior some of the freshmen I knew were taking online versions of the early classes anyway. It seemed like a huge ripoff to me, since the tuition was the same. So honestly the experience someone gets with a MOOC may not be that different then the experience people are getting at state schools for a lot of the early classes anyway. It's not all small group talk to the professor these days. A lot of the time its "sit in your dorm room and use the computer". I don't really get why a MOOC would be worse.

I also remember taking AP physics in highschool and taking a required physics class in college. The highschool class was free, and came with a free textbook. We had maybe 20 students to start with and it gradually dropped over the year to maybe 12-14. I felt like I got a ton out of it. In the college class I had to pay however many hundreds of dollars (maybe thousands if I'd been out of state), we had the exact same textbook, just a newer version and I had to pay over $100 for it. We had a once a week lab with a grad student TA, and everything seemed so disorganized. The quality of this particular class was way lower then what I'd gotten in highschool.

A lot of people also seem to not want to put a dollar figure on the "value" of college classes or the extra value that you would get from them above MOOCs. Lets say you have a small class with good discussion vs. a MOOC with an online message board. What is the actual increase in value too the student of going the small group instead of the online class, is it more then the actual dollar cost to that student?

And then what happens if instead of a small class or a lab, it's a large lecture class? Or even a university-produced online class? I just don't see an actual justification in terms of the benefit to the student.
What makes you believe that MOOCs are going to reduce the cost of education for students? ... What are you relying on when you suggest that savings will be passed on to students? -- Unified Theory
That's how things are now, they are free for people wanting to take the classes for their own edification, and the completion certs are very cheap. Obviously there is this idea that MOOCs are going to destroy higher ed and once that happens the MOOC companies will start charging tens of thousands of dollars. I don't think that will happen for a couple of reasons.

First of all that's not at all how disruptive disintermediation has occurred in the past. Craigslist is still free, and so is google news and a huge array of online news sources. They money stayed in people's pockets. These evil "VCs" will only need to make a few dollars per student per class to make a profit. It also seems implausible to me that we'll end up with some oligopolic cartel that controls all MOOCs and charges tens of thousands of dollars for them.

So, I'm "relying" on the fact that the savings are currently being passed on to students, that there's no actual evidence that will ever change, that in the past when expensive things have been replaced by free stuff on the internet, it stayed free and that the mechanism by which it would change seems both paranoid and highly implausible.
If we look at the San Jose State use of MOOCs, for example, those philosophy students would have been paying the same tuition for the privilege of watching Michael Sandel teach a class on video. I haven't heard anything about their tuition being reduced. -- Unified Theory
If it is true that the university wanted to charge full price to the students for content they could get on the web for free, then it is actually a perfect example of how far the supposedly amazingly edifying universities are willing to go in order to completely rip off their students. It's not an example of the problem with MOOCs, it's an example of the problem with money-grubbing universities.

But actually, we haven't heard one way or the other on this. It's a pretty critical piece of data.
posted by delmoi at 3:42 PM on May 14, 2013


I was being glib, but if you're really poor, Pell and other grants do cover most of your tuition. My out of pocket expenses for my flagship state university were $1800/year; by the time my youngest sister went, she only qualified for loans thanks to my parents' economic success. Who's making money off those loans? The same familiar names you hear whenever banking shenanigans come up.

Which is not to say that it's accessible for the poor. Harvard may let those whose families don't make much go for free, but the act of getting in if you're poor is a Herculean task. But if you are sufficiently poor and going to a sufficiently good school, you will get significant financial support.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:50 PM on May 14, 2013


The highschool class was free, and came with a free textbook.

It was not free. It was paid for with tax dollars.
posted by rtha at 3:51 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


But some of your examples aren't really parallels-- The highschool class was free, and came with a free textbook.

But it wasn't-- your high school education was paid for through tax dollars through the state, and your textbook was free for you, but only because the school had already absorbed the cost. Similarly your analysis of the costs of the MOOCs neglect that the universities and colleges associated with them are assuming a lot of the costs hosting and paying for research staff and professors. Those students also don't have the benefit of access services or remedial tutoring or writing help or even basic library access. Many of them don't need or want it, especially not people with degrees popping in to test the waters. But what about the other students? What about research or citations or legal rights for articles and photos used? Students on campuses are paying for access to resources, whether they utilize them or not, whether they're federally mandated or not, that go far beyond any individual bad lecture class.

I like the idea of a lot of MOOCs. I know a lot of subjects that aren't really suitable for that format, but I have a lot of friends who have loved their exposure to programming and to other subjects. But you just seem to have this continual axe to grind with all of higher education, especially the humanities, and it seems like you're not really examining the flaws of MOOCs with the same rigor used to attack traditional educational models.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:03 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Comment removed; if you're going to be obnoxious, go do something else.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:11 PM on May 14, 2013


But it wasn't-- your high school education was paid for through tax dollars through the state, and your textbook was free for you, but only because the school had already absorbed the cost.
As I said, so what? It was free for me. And the actual cost would have been less because the school re-used the books for a few years anyway. It's not like classical physics, or super-basic quantum stuff changes much year to year.
Similarly your analysis of the costs of the MOOCs neglect that the universities and colleges associated with them are assuming a lot of the costs hosting and paying for research staff and professors.
Except for the fact that most of that money needs to be spent anyway. Not doing the MOOC wouldn't save them very much money at all. And in any event they are choosing to give it away for free.

If someone gives you a gift, you can't say it wasn't actually free because the person who gave it to you had to pay for it. That doesn't make any sense at all.

And again, the critical aspect here is that the costs are far less for a single school to produce the work then for the work to be replicated countless times all across the country. The overall costs are fundamentally far less. You're not just shifting costs, you're erasing them from existence.

A lot of the arguments against MOOCs seemed to be based on this idea that you can't actually fundamentally save money, you have to just shift it around. In reality, you actually can have things for free.
Those students also don't have the benefit of access services or remedial tutoring or writing help or even basic library access. Many of them don't need or want it, especially not people with degrees popping in to test the waters. But what about the other students?
Charging someone who needs remedial reading skills $8k, let alone $22k a year for a "college education" is a crime. They can spend far less money to get the tutoring they need from the guy with a philosophy degree working at Jamba Juice. (Now obviously there would be a matchmaking problem here, but still, it doesn't justify the cost)
What about research or citations
Well, that's why we also need open-access.
or legal rights for articles and photos used?
How often is this an issue? It seems unlikely they'd get sued over a college assignment, so doesn't seem like the reduction in liability is worth the cost.
Students on campuses are paying for access to resources, whether they utilize them or not,
I'm sure that if you gave them a choice between those resources and either $26,000 in cash, they would chose the cash. Let alone the $34k in in-state tuition or the $88k they'd be paying for out of state tuition over four years.
and it seems like you're not really examining the flaws of MOOCs with the same rigor used to attack traditional educational models.
I would agree that it would be more difficult to learn from a MOOC then from a traditional setting. My question is whether the difference in quality comes anywhere near the difference in cost
posted by delmoi at 4:54 PM on May 14, 2013


In a broadcast model of education, nobody chooses second best. Non-elite schools are doomed once the credentialing piece gets worked out.
posted by jlh at 10:10 PM on May 14, 2013


But then they aren't elite anymore, so the elite move on to something else they can use for networking. New elite schools!
posted by raysmj at 10:41 PM on May 14, 2013


Seriously. The "only elite schools will survive" bit is silly on its face.
posted by raysmj at 10:42 PM on May 14, 2013




I've actively resisted posting in this thread up to this point because of the low quality of discourse in it, but that GT announcement is pretty big news.

I was just talking about it with my adviser, and he's a pretty big advocate of the MOOC (also, that's the worst neologism in the world) movement, but he said that he was up all night thinking about the implications of it being out in the real world with the GT experiment.

Ironically the course being described is neither very massive, nor very open. And, in practice, it's not much different from an ITT tech degree, aside from the fact that Georgia Tech is a respected institution. I really can't wait to see what happens to the first cohort through the program.

If this experiment is a success, then physical schools are going to have to start thinking about what the Real affords in terms of education and start tailoring their programs to that - sooner rather than later.
posted by codacorolla at 8:24 AM on May 15, 2013


Really not quite sure how that announcement distinguishes itself from the many other online only bachelor/master degrees offered by state flagship engineering universities. It seems the key difference is using Udacity rather than Blackboard?
posted by pwnguin at 8:51 AM on May 15, 2013


It's the cost -- $6,600 for the degree, and the explicit statement they plan to scale to thousands of students while only adding 8 instructions. The model has always been to try to deliver the same experience online, charging the same tuition. Drexel's, for instance, costs $45000. This is the first reputable one that is using the MOOC model.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:00 AM on May 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Given that we've been talking about universities it's worth recalling that community colleges often bear the brunt of educational cuts, with flagship universities suffering less percentage wise and that MOOCs are also pushed there, and those are the institutions where students frequently really need hands on help.

And for the life of me, I can't fathom how you're going to teach languages properly to 50,000 people en masses. A few students will be fine, but, based on experience, most are going to need help. But maybe we've all decided that we only need a handful of foreign language speakers per region.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:47 AM on May 15, 2013


Over the last 15 years I have kept in touch with many of the teachers at my former University. We chat regularly, grab dinner, whatever.

As you might expect, there is a mix of types in that set. What I am going to describe below is my direct personal observations of actual top-15 University teachers in STEM.

What I observe is that the poor lecturers (tenured and not) that I know are deeply hostile to MOOCs and, when they don't just boil over with diffuse anger about the topic or about how "stupid" the school is being for being involved, really just radiate intense fear about the subject. It is quite obvious that they see MOOCs - or even just online supplemental materials - as both being a direct threat to them in terms of career and in terms of revealing them to have a poor grasp of the material. One of these, a friend, went on an angry tirade at a student who had apparently watched the material from another University and had identified a set of incorrect statements in my friend's content. He didn't seem able to grasp or accept that the student was actually factually correct regardless of having to point to a lecture on iTunes instead of to a part of the textbook. For these guys, MOOCs inspire fury and obvious palpable fear.

On the other hand, the great lecturers that I know are completely in favor of MOOCs as a purely pragmatic issue. On one hand, they would like to see structures like Flip Classroom go forward where they spent the same hours working more closely with students than monotonously repeating the same content over and over. Most of these guys view MOOCs primarily professional development, continuing education (both of which suffer in STEM) and as an alternate stream of explanation and discussion for their students -- in other words as a way for students to get a heterogeneous mix of lectures instead of a single take.

For these purposes, MOOCs are fantastic. They are better than plain reading or just raw videos because they have at least some notion of deadlines, a schedule and checkpoints. Especially in computer science and mathematics an alternative take is great because some concepts just don't settle in if your thinking process s different from the lecturer (and this is even worse if the lecturer is just summarizing the textbook and thus similar), just access to a different take is wonderful.

As an adult and an auditory learner who mostly listens to lectures while commuting (I revisit to look at the video content) I'm finding many of the MOOCs to be far superior to textbooks and self-scheduling and vastly superior to my normal "keep up to date by reading as much as possible on whatever topic I'm interested in at the moment" (because that lacks checkpoints).

The quality of the Stanford lectures is, as an aside, dramatically better than the lectures from the quite-well-respected University that I attended (where the lecturers were hit or miss).

I do think it is telling that the vast majority of people that I know *personally* on the poor lecturer contingent tend to put MOOCs into a context that is fundamentally not real (they compare it to rich, hands on interpersonal teaching which is, frankly, not something even most graduate students experience and is far from the experience of undergraduates in any large school) rather than to the "crappy lecture, delivered live, and not very useful lab sessions taught by barely functional grad student slaves and reluctant, inconveniently scheduled office hours with a lecturer that didn't do a good job with the material the first time" that is the reality.

TL;DR: teachers who fear MOOCs are the same as the knowledge professionals who used to get upset about their expertise being made available "free" on the internet. Screw them.
posted by rr at 1:21 PM on May 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


TL;DR: teachers who fear MOOCs are the same as the knowledge professionals who used to get upset about their expertise being made available "free" on the internet.

When I was setting up my former school's first online program way back in the late nineties, it was definitely true that the profs who were most excited to work with us were also the most engaged and enthusiastic teachers. However, I don't think it's fair to say that those who are wary of MOOCs are just bad ones who feel threatened. During the last decade, we've seen support for education drop steadily while more money gets diverted to for-profit schools, adjuncts, etc. I think it's natural, even among those who love the idea of freely available education, to question the motives of the MOOC funders, wonder who's really benefiting, and worry about the potential side effects.

Maybe working in tech has made me jaded, but any time VCs are involved, I get skeptical about whether their interests are aligned with the public good. The whole model requires a big payoff, and given the zero-sum nature of education funding, it's not hard to predict who's going to be paying for it.
posted by snickerdoodle at 1:47 PM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


And for the life of me, I can't fathom how you're going to teach languages properly to 50,000 people en masses. A few students will be fine, but, based on experience, most are going to need help. But maybe we've all decided that we only need a handful of foreign language speakers per region.
Obviously some subjects will be easier to do online and others more difficult. As far as foreign languages go, there are actually systems that hook you up to people in foreign countries to practice with, sometimes just for help with their English. I took Chinese in college, forgot a lot of it but lately I've been using spaced repetition software (Mnemosyne) to re-learn it and probably have a larger vocabulary now then when I was in school. For romance languages I think it would be really easy for people to learn that way.
posted by delmoi at 2:29 PM on May 15, 2013


TL;DR: teachers who fear MOOCs are the same as the knowledge professionals who used to get upset about their expertise being made available "free" on the internet. Screw them.

"Screw" the people who want to make a living. Nice. You know what ... there's nothing contemptible about people who have committed themselves to the profession of scholarship and teaching, and then, when technology makes it possible for snake-oil salesman to make an attractive sales pitch that, if legislators buy it, would dramatically shrink the available jobs for scholars, for these people to say "wait, think a bit before you throw out tried-and-true educational methods for what the snake-oil salesman are offering." Skepticism is very warranted here. Nothing justifies the contempt you are directing at these people.

I'm sorry, I call bullshit on the little anecdote you began your comment with:
Over the last 15 years I have kept in touch with many of the teachers at my former University. We chat regularly, grab dinner, whatever ... the poor lecturers (tenured and not) that I know are deeply hostile to MOOCs .... It is quite obvious that they see MOOCs - or even just online supplemental materials - as both being a direct threat to them in terms of career and in terms of revealing them to have a poor grasp of the material.... For these guys, MOOCs inspire fury and obvious palpable fear.
I find it hard to believe that you would describe these friends in this way. I think that's a bogus story you made up to lend credence to what you suspect or want to be true.
posted by Unified Theory at 3:14 PM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ironically the course being described is neither very massive, nor very open.

I think that's the challenge of MOOCs, finding the sweet spot. They can be massive, totally open, and completely online. How far do we go with each of those? The real question as I see it is, what's the future of MOOCs as tools in higher education, not as competition to it.

It's ironic that some MOOC providers want to go the other direction and compete as credentials. I take Heller's point that the profitable way to look at 70 percent of Americans not holding college degrees is, "How can I sell them one?" But that's driven by culture that fosters insecurity about not graduating from college. If "some college" were still a respectable education level, that 70 percent wouldn't look so much like a gold mine.

That ought to be the sphere of community colleges. Heller describes community colleges as if they're trade schools. "If you want to be trained as a medical assistant, there is a track for that. If you want to learn to operate an infrared spectrometer, there is a course to show you how." He's right, but it's not the whole story. It doesn't have to be.

What I'd like community colleges to learn from MOOCs: Attrition doesn't need to be a bad thing. Community colleges should be welcoming students who just want to take a few classes, not shaking their institutional heads at "dropout rates." They design tracks because of demand, but they streamline and refuse to design outside those tracks because we measure their success with graduation statistics. Obtaining an associate's degree shouldn't be the only reason to attend community college.

Today, those one-or-two-class students are finding MOOCs attractive. And again, I think it's ironic that some MOOC providers want to go the other direction. It may be a more obvious tack for profit, but I don't think it's a better one.
posted by cribcage at 4:19 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Screw" the people who want to make a living.

Everyone wants to make a living. No one is entitled to make a living that has become outdated or which they are not very good at.

I think you must be young because you seem to miss the point of that note. When the internet began to put knowledge online, there were a large number of professionals whose livelihood was basically acting as a parasitic man-on-the-middle. These people strongly objected to the democratization of access to information. For example, real estate agents strongly - in the sense of freaking out about it - objected to websites containing MLS listings, comparables, etc.

The point is - and yes, screw them - these people are acting in bad faith. They are not entitled to earn a living by trying to put artificial controls on information. The college lecturers and professors I'm talking about are doing exactly that. They are not noble.

I'm sorry, I call bullshit on the little anecdote you began your comment with:

Feel free. When you grow up you will realize how foolish this is:

I find it hard to believe that you would describe these friends in this way. I think that's a bogus story you made up to lend credence to what you suspect or want to be true.

You are confused. Human beings are under no obligations to fail to recognize flaws in their friends. Am I a bad friend for recognizing that one of my best friends absolutely sucks at the career he has chosen (professor of computer science)? It's not like I'm the only one who thinks this, a large number of my fellow students agree.

Look, when close friends are acting like irrational children you call them on it. I've been spending a lot of time with a mixed bag of active and retired (from teaching) education professionals and the degree to which the particular friends I am describing are acting crazy whenever the topic comes up has cost me a great deal of the respect I had for them.
posted by rr at 5:48 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


This thread is so full of firmly held opinions about drastic reforms to higher education grounded in total ignorance of how higher education actually works that it could be a Board of Trustees.
posted by RogerB at 7:30 PM on May 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


They are not entitled to earn a living by trying to put artificial controls on information. The college lecturers and professors I'm talking about are doing exactly that.

You reveal the lack of rigor of your thinking about this issue in those two sentences. It is not the case that people raising questions about MOOCs are "trying to put artificial controls on information." I haven't seen ANY critiques of MOOCs that are challenging the free flow of information. What this has to do with is the structure of an institution, not the control of information.

And one other set of questions not addressed to rr ...

Venture capitalists are free to put MOOCs online and charge students money to view them. If the value of MOOCs is so obvious, why do the venture capitalists need to be involved with existing universities? Why don't they just offer their own certifications? If their value is so obvious, why not just put the materials online, apart from existing university structures, offer their own certifications, and forget about convincing universities of their value? Won't the market sort it out if their value is so clear? Won't students pay for these programs themselves? Why worry about worming their way into university curricula?
posted by Unified Theory at 8:59 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


You reveal the lack of rigor of your thinking about this issue in those two sentences. It is not the case that people raising questions about MOOCs are "trying to put artificial controls on information." I haven't seen ANY critiques of MOOCs that are challenging the free flow of information. What this has to do with is the structure of an institution, not the control of information.

The people I am describing absolutely are opposed to MOOCs specifically because they find the other takes on the information personally threatening (see above) and because they are convinced it will end their career. They are strongly opposed to lectures being made available in a public form.

I am sure there is some non-true-scottsman educator that opposes MOOCs purely for the good of students but I have yet to meet one personally. The professors I've met who are actually highly respected love MOOCs for the reasons I described - the don't feel threatened by them at all and don't behave as such.

Since I have explicitly, multiple times noted that I am discussing people who I am dealing with directly, in real life, your assertions about rigor are ridiculous.

Venture capitalists are free to put MOOCs online and charge students money to view them

ANY COPYRIGHT HOLDER is free to put material online. This includes - long before any VC got involved with MOOCs - Stanford, MIT and others who posted courses online or on ItunesU or some equivalent. The VCs got involved with the existing players, not the other way around, and the existing players (Andrew Ng, for example) _sought VC funding for their MOOC efforts_.

You have the entire history of the process by which we got to where we are backwards.
posted by rr at 6:07 PM on May 16, 2013




Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Disruption?
After completing the eight-week course, however, I am optimistic that this kind of MOOC will not eat my job because it and I are not really in the same business. At Ursinus College, where I teach, the faculty and administration work individually and collectively to help our students cultivate judgment, the capacity to decide what to think or how to act in areas, like health policy, where no formula can generate the right answer. While we cannot help our students without demanding that they take an active role in their education, we also assume that they do not come in with their judgments already cultivated. College should be a transformative experience for them, and they will need guidance
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:21 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education describes some background about how in December 2012 a small but pretty diverse group of educators, including Audrey Watters (education writer whose thoughts on the discourse about MOOCs Gotanda linked above), and Sebastian Thrun (CEO of Udacity) drafted a Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age. In the preamble they write:
"We also recognize some broader hopes and aspirations for the best online learning. We include those principles as an integral addendum to the Bill of Rights below.

"Our broad goal is to inspire an open, learner-centered dialogue around the rights, responsibilities, and possibilities for education in the globally-connected world of the present and beyond."
posted by gubenuj at 9:48 PM on May 21, 2013



Venture capitalists are free to put MOOCs online and charge students money to view them. If the value of MOOCs is so obvious, why do the venture capitalists need to be involved with existing universities?
They don't.
Why don't they just offer their own certifications?
They do.
If their value is so obvious, why not just put the materials online, apart from existing university structures, offer their own certifications, and forget about convincing universities of their value?
Ask them?
Won't the market sort it out if their value is so clear?
I… don't care?
Won't students pay for these programs themselves?
Because they're free?
Why worry about worming their way into university curricula?
Because they like money?
posted by delmoi at 3:16 AM on May 24, 2013


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