November 4, 2012

MOOCs — Massive open online courses...

"... have caught fire in academia." 
They offer, at no charge to anyone with Internet access, what was until now exclusive to those who earn college admission and pay tuition. Thirty-three prominent schools, including the universities of Virginia and Maryland, have enlisted to provide classes via Coursera.

For his seven-week course — which covers advanced math and statistics in the context of public health and biomedical sciences — [Brian] Caffo posts video lectures, gives quizzes and homework, and monitors a student discussion forum. On the first day, the forum lit up with greetings from around the world. Heady stuff for a 39-year-old associate professor who is accomplished in his field but hardly a global academic celebrity.

“I can’t use another word than unbelievable,” Caffo said. Then he found some more: “Crazy . . . surreal . . . heartwarming.”
A crazy, surreal, heatwarming, graduate-level math class.
“The real question is, if you start to get very good online MOOCs, why do you need a university?” said Joseph A. Burns, dean of faculty at Cornell University. “And what does an Ivy League university bring to the table? What do you give to students that they can’t get sitting at home and eating potato chips?” The campus ideal, he said, “of a teacher and five students crowded around their feet on a sunny lawn or something like that — that’s gone.["]

45 comments:

New York said...

Nifty.

I wonder if there is going to be much interest in humanities courses, and if so which ones will be popular.

Maybe the profs who actually teach Shakespeare and Plato will get the students and not the postmmodernists.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

This is news?

You've been teaching us Con-Law and Critical Breast Theory online for how many years now?

Mitchell the Bat said...

My first compsci class was Intro to FORTRAN and the instructor (who was literally a rocket scientist) told us the first day that he wasn't going to teach us anything that we couldn't teach ourselves "but let's face it, how many of you ever would?"

That was in 1983.

Expat(ish) said...

I've been watching this stuff for a while now and I think it's going to make hiring people a lot harder for lazy bosses and a lot more interesting for the rest of us.

Before a degree in math from Cornell meant, at the least, that you were talking to a smart person.

What does it mean to get an "A" from half a dozen open internet universities? You can't use the marker of the college/degree, you've got to figure out the smart on your own.

Which is much more interesting.

-XC

PS - I worked my way through an excellent traditional college (UNC-CH), so I have a different view on the institution than most.

Erika said...

Speaking as the mother of four bright kids with tiny college accounts--woo hoo! As Insty would say: faster, please.

Bob Ellison said...

I hereby proffer my graduate-level course in Forgetting Your Keys Every Time You Go Out to the Car. We will survey strategies and tactics in the cognitive, procrastinative, and laundry realms.

Ali Karim Bey said...

The problems with MOOC are the following:
-No learning assessment;
-No formal certification;
-Limited/none face-to-face connection (which supports the building of communities of practice).

The benefits include more fame for school/profs and money for registration (few who charge).

None of the MOOCs directors are experts in learning pedagogy or instructional science. They simply believe they know how people learn.

Is this arrogance? Yes, but the economy is in shambles due to Obama.

So, we are still learning the impact of this MOOC fad.

Rob said...

Russ Roberts and guest discussed MOOCs on a recent Econtalk episode (among other innovations in online education). Instead of trying to replicate the traditional classroom online, they concluded that Internet based education would be more innovative if it was more like a one-on-one tutorial. They also thought the idea of turning professors into global education celebrities was going in the wrong direction. Anyway, good show. I'm sure many of the people who read this blog would like Econtalk. Give it a go. Russ is quite entertaining!

Pogo said...

People always flock to high quality free stuff.

But how does a teacher of a massive free course pay his mortgage, much less manage the IT required for a MOOC?

I'm thinking of how to do this for a medical project, but it all seems to end up like Facebook. Free stuff that no me will pay you for.

The ROI makes no sense to me.

rhhardin said...

Arnold Kling has a criticism, that it's a pretty much the old lecture model, here.

"...the lecture is one of the least important components of education.."

but I am a robot said...

Critical Breast Theory?

I'm kinda new here, and I'd like to know what that is.

creeley23 said...

I'm a reader and a mull-it-over-and-fool-with-it learner. I have never understood the lecture method. If what somebody has to say is so darned important, why didn't they write it down?

Lectures seem much more about the convenience and prestige of the lecturer.

Maguro said...

rhardin, did you just link to a lecture on the unimportance of the lecture?

Rick67 said...

Both are right. On the one hand, many large classes are not dissimilar from MOOCs. On the other hand, surely there is something else besides showing up and watching/listening - interaction with professor, TAs (who should not be ignored in this discussion), and classmates.

Ask someone who went to say Oxford if this discussion makes much sense.

And "the worker is worth his wages". Does the MOOC lecturer get compensated for her time and effort? Not to mention the years and effort into getting the degree, the education, and expertise/stature in her field?

The higher education system is in desperate need of reform (how much of a bachelor's degree is a waste of time and money?) but should not be thrown out altogether.

Roy Lofquist said...

The major problem with book larnin, and lectures in person or online, is that sometimes the student misunderstands something and is then lost. At that point an instructor is vital.

With online video chat a tutor/instructor could serve many more students much less expensively. No physical facilities to speak of, no travel time or time constraints, etc.

I envision a Coursera type lecture with a number of TA's or equivalent to answer individual questions.

Drew said...

You learn best by that which you teach yourself.

Sorun said...

The cat's out of the bag now.

Erika said...

MOOCs as described are not perfect nor a replacement for face to face interaction, but I applaud innovation and pressure to change the current bloated, inefficient, entrenced university system.

No offense, Professor; I'd pay for your expertise being personally available to my kids, but not for resort dorms, resplendent gyms or the salary and bennies for the Deputy Assistant to the Assistant Deputy Provost of Diversity Outreach Programs.

bpm4532 said...

It won't be a smooth path to a new model. One of the reasons for a focus on getting a degree has not been for learning, but for earning.

Employers have been using a college degree as a filter for qualifications instead of actually evaluating their applicants via tests. Years ago, it used to be standard practice, but after so many lawsuits for discriminatory practices most companies were advised by their lawyers it would be less expensive to up the published qualifications (ie, college degree) for the job to increase the likelihood the application is qualified or has necessary potential.

How many jobs really require that BA? Of course, by upping the demand for a product without the ability to rapidly expand the market's ability to meet that demand, the price only goes up to reach an equilibrium. In response, the government whines and complains, increasing grants and loan which only increase the demand without increasing the market's ability to supply. So the price just goes up further.

Insert lawyer and government jokes..., but it's really not that funny.

MaxTruth said...

The first step in bring education into 2st century. The next is to fire all but the best instructors and replace with a world class instructor via online presentation.

Shorten course time. We don't use manual typewriters and visit the library anymore.

Run a course at a time, 4 days a week, 6 hours a day, for 2 weeks. Then start next course. Finish a BA or BS in 2 years.

Michael K said...

Pogo said...
People always flock to high quality free stuff.

But how does a teacher of a massive free course pay his mortgage, much less manage the IT required for a MOOC?

I'm thinking of how to do this for a medical project, but it all seems to end up like Facebook. Free stuff that no me will pay you for.

The ROI makes no sense to me.


I was working on a somewhat similar idea about ten years ago. I teach medical students basic interview skills and physical diagnosis, then later on basic diagnosis and decision tree stuff.

I worked on a program to, for example, teach students to hear heart murmurs. At that time, there was a study that showed 30% of cardiology fellows could not distinguish systolic murmurs.

Anyway I was taking compsci and animation courses and working on the idea, for example, of using a CD to carry the big files (this was before broadband was common) and having students take a course online. They would go through the online course, sort of like the current SESAP or MEDSAP courses only with online graphics and online testing.

Then some guys not far from where I live sold a similar idea to MedWeb for $400 million.

What you do is charge for the course, like nurses' recert, with a credit card. The whole course could be $10 instead of $150.

Phil 3:14 said...

The lecture (didactic presentation) can work if its short, succinct and then applied. Qualities that were in short supply in my college and medical education.

Chuck Currie said...

Some of us are interested in learning, not in acquiring a degree. I'm 66 and have no need of a degree, but I'm still interested in learning new things, and not always interested in reading a text book, or attend classes.

Wiki, YouTube and podcasts have expanded my knowledge of biology and physiology, as well as economics (yes, EconTalk is very good), things I've become very interested in, without the expense, and need of a rigid class schedule that attending classes at the local college would entail.

"The campus ideal, he said, “of a teacher and five students crowded around their feet on a sunny lawn or something like that — that’s gone.["]"

I disagree, what's gone is the lecture hall with a couple hundred uninterested students.

Cheers

PatCA said...

They have caught fire in exclusive, private universities, I think, because they are selling a brand to the thousands of students who would like to go there but can't get in.

For state universities, it's a different story. They're a high volume business, and tenured professors are resisting MOOCs. Their jobs are on the line.

Ignorance is Bliss said...


but I am a robot said...

I'm kinda new here, and I'd like to know what that is.

Critical Breast Theory

edutcher said...

It's why people are making places like Strayer and University of Phoenix hugely successful. No Lefty profs who demand you regurgitate their theories in exchange for a grade.

A complete violation of Stantz' Law*:

"Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn't have to produce anything! You've never been out of college! You don't know what it's like out there! I've worked in the private sector. They expect results."

To succeed, you must produce.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

This is news?

You've been teaching us Con-Law and Critical Breast Theory online for how many years now?


I love it!

There should be a new Althouse t-shirt.

"I majored in Con-Law and Critical Breast Theory".

Gahrie said...

As a teacher, my dream is that technology allows us in some way to return to the old ways.....a teacher and a half dozen students gathered together (perhaps in a virtual environment?) learning through discussion and example.

somefeller said...

It's why people are making places like Strayer and University of Phoenix hugely successful. No Lefty profs who demand you regurgitate their theories in exchange for a grade.

Actually, Strayer and U of Phoenix are successful because they are open enrollment and are fed almost completely by student loans. Almost no one there pays their own way and they don't have endowment scholarships, and no one goes there for political reasons. They also have abysmal graduation and loan default rates and most serious employers don't give much respect to their degrees. But other than that, yes they are great places and are completely challenging the mainstream of higher education.

Gahrie said...

As a teacher, my dream is that technology allows us in some way to return to the old ways.....a teacher and a half dozen students gathered together (perhaps in a virtual environment?) learning through discussion and example.

somefeller said...

MOOCs are an interesting concept, particularly for big survey courses that have little student-professor interaction anyway. The business plan to make them financially successful is still unclear, but they are still a very new phenomenon. I doubt they will threaten elite universities (which have embraced them thus far) or those that have something special to sell (like religious schools), but some form of online education could supplant a lot of lower-level classes and non-research or non-religious institutions. Time will tell.

Chip S. said...

MOOCs can't offer the most critical part of the undergraduate experience--easy access to lots of 18-22 year-olds away from home for the first time and ready to party. People have had the option of staying home and reading textbooks since Gutenberg, yet universities have managed to go on.

I do think this is bad news for places like Strayer, or commuter schools, tho.

Gabriel Hanna said...

No way to get a certification, because cheating online is too easy. If all you are interested in is learning, the MOOC concept is great for you--but so was the public library. If you expect to get paid based on what you know, it is hard to get a second look without any certification.

bagoh20 said...

Agreed, Expatish),

A college degree tells you almost nothing about the fitness of a prospective employee today. Test them with real world problems before you hire, or immediately after hiring and you can tell pretty quick if this person knows what you need. Don't be afraid to let unqualified people go immediately when you discover it. It is unfair and unwise to hang on to people once you realize they are unqualified for the job you have. Find out as soon as possible.

bagoh20 said...

MOOCs can't offer the most critical part of the undergraduate experience--easy access to lots of 18-22 year-olds away from home for the first time and ready to party.

Yea, I remember some people doing something else back then regarding books or something, but I can't recall what they were up to.

Michael K said...

"They also have abysmal graduation and loan default rates and most serious employers don't give much respect to their degrees. But other than that, yes they are great places and are completely challenging the mainstream of higher education."

Any data you have to offer on that ? My ex-wife got her BSN and MSN in extension settings much like Phoenix (I don't know the other one). These are working nurses who need the degree for bureaucracy reasons.

The old saying from Vietnam was, "If it isn't worth doing, it isn't worth doing well." Much of the push for BSN is absolute garbage but administrators are in love with college degrees. Getting any supervisory position requires a degree and hours sitting in useless and boring meetings. The nursing associations are run by nurses who have degrees and hated working as nurses.

SteveR said...

Organizations, like the federal government, will still cling to the formal education model for hiring. Its a CYA thing. But there is no doubt that the system will change, probably faster than many anticipate.

MikeR said...

Yes! I just finished taking a Coursera class, Quantum Computing from Vazirani at Berkeley. Loved it. 26 thousand of us started, 2000 made it to the final.

There were two or three sets of lectures per week, plus homeworks to be filled out online, plus pdfs of course notes. We had discussion groups to help each other with the homework.

I really liked learning the material. I have a lot of background in physics and math, but it's thirty years old, and quantum computing didn't exist. I don't need it for my profession (database programmer) at all, but I wanted to see what's up.

It was free.

Couple of mistakes here in the comments: We did get a certification; I have a signed certificate that I passed (with distinction :) ) signed by Vazirani.

There is talk of hooking up with test-giving companies like the one that gives SATs, in case people want to take the tests there - and thereby prove their identity - and get a higher-quality certification.

One thing that was quite imperfect was the quality of the online homeworks. It is really hard to have a physics course where the only problems you can give are multiple choice and the like. There has been talk, though, of setting up some kind of peer grading system where groups of people grade other people's HW randomly. That would allow problems where you "show your work".

There were also various technical issues, for instance it happened twice that there was a two week period where no info of any kind showed up from the professor or TA. It was as if they dropped off the face of the earth, and of course there was absolutely no way provided to contact them.

All in all, highly recommended. Much better than plain vanilla online material, because there was a group of us taking the course at the same time, and some of the students were extremely helpful to the rest of us. I have no idea why anyone would pay megabucks for college when this is available (once certification becomes acceptable), and I have no idea why any employer would prefer to hire someone from Midlevel U when they can get someone who took these courses from Berkeley or MIT.

That course completed, I've now started the edx.org course in Solid State Chemistry from Cima at MIT. No background required, and my last chemistry course was as a junior in high school.

gbarto said...

I'm taking Harvard CS50x (Intro to Computer Science with C, PHP and Javascript) through edx.org. There are lectures, walkthroughs showing you how to do the problems and the homework is mainly turning in working programs that meet the specifications. At the end, you get a certificate of completion. This course is free, but next semester at least some classes will be charged. They're still working on the pricing model so I'm not sure what tuition will be.

The two things I've found with this course: 1) It's better than a lot of the stuff I've found at, say, the Open University website. 2) There's a lot more to it than reading and watching videos.

The big question, of course, is credentialing. I wonder how this is going to work out. I note that on LinkedIn, one of the categories is certifications and courses. While I don't thinking having this course listed on my certifications alone would get me a job, will employers start looking for people whose online courses make sense alongside a certification like PMP/CAPM or one of the Java certifications? We could be headed for interesting times, especially when an employer needs someone with skills, not connections.

Methadras said...

People figured out how to do things on their own long before institutions of higher learning come onto the scene. Usually under adverse conditions. The idea that MOOC's are something new, and grand, and wonderful is because it's a form of advertising for those respective uni's. You can't get the paper without paying, but you can get some level of understanding.

HT said...

It's not gone. The differential is the quality of attention. You don't believe this stuff do you??

I have signed up for a Coursera course, so I will have more to say.

But the classroom is not dead.

raf said...

@Ali Karem Bey: ... None of the MOOCs directors are experts in learning pedagogy or instructional science....

I wouldn't say that the "experts in learning pedagogy" have demonstrated much in the way of actual results in our K-12 "educational" system. Which is worse? Someone who knows pedagogy but not the subject matter or the opposite? Ideally, you have both but, if I had to choose, I might be willing to give the subject expert a try for awhile.

Andy Freeman said...

See Glenn Kelman's "Never Work for a Stanford Student Again" talk at http://norfolk.cs.washington.edu/htbin-post/unrestricted/colloq/details.cgi?id=948 for one answer.

Mark Taylor said...

Many students can grasp through online but some cannot, Institutes have different ways of teaching the students, Specially the concentration , even though you watch a video for 15 min continuously you loose the interest but colleges/institutes have different way to teach the students, the Concept of online is great , but as my personal experience , Institutes have great option of learning

http://www.collegeinfo.com

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