Wednesday, July 31, 2013

MOOCs and Missing the Point

I am not a fan of MOOCs, especially as the next step in higher education. My latest test is that I am finishing a course taught by some Aussie. I diligently followed all the lectures through number 4. It was a frustrating waste. So were the handouts. So I changed strategies. All I did was look at the exam for the week and then do what I would normally do, search the literature and prepare an answer. Instant best grade and no wast of time trying to understand Aussie or the lecture notes which rambled.

So perhaps all we need to do is set out exams. Let the students find out how to answer the questions and then you have solved the problem? Yes? No. You have not shown the student the other ways of thinking. You just reinforce the way they do it now, which may not be bad, but the Ah Ha moments all too often do not come from such intellectual inbreeding.

Now the Chronicle of Higher Education notes:

Last year, a former Princeton University president, William G. Bowen, delivered the Tanner Lectures at Stanford, continuing a long tradition of college leaders' using the top floors of the ivory tower to speak difficult truths about academe.

When the dot-com craze was sweeping the nation, back in 2000, Bowen—an author in the 1960s of the original "cost disease" diagnosis of labor-intensive industries­—kept his eyes on the evidence. He didn't yet see reason to believe that colleges could use technology to save money. But another decade of progress changed his mind. "I am today a convert," he said. (The lectures were published this year by Princeton University Press as Higher Education in the Digital Age.) Bowen's random-trial-based research suggests that "online learning, in many of its manifestations, can lead to at least comparable learning outcomes relative to face-to-face instruction at a lower cost."

I would suspect the good former president may never have taken one of these courses. There is nothing more important than the interaction in a class where one gets a glimpse of a different direction. MOOCs for the most part are canned lectures with no feedback, no way to ask a question, other than a time delayed discussion forum, which all too often become an ersatz Facebook blather page. One can evaluate the value of a posting simply by seeing if the person identifies themselves. All too often they are Anonymous.

Thus unlike the esteemed president, I am totally unimpressed. However, the questions were good and helped focu
s me on questions I would not have asked. However, many of the questions I would never have asked anyhow!