MOOCs: Not dead yet.

I come here not to praise MOOCs, but to bury them. Or at the very least to get someone else to bonk them on the head so that we don’t have to wait until next Thursday for someone else to do the job. Because contrary to everything you’ve heard about MOOCs being a “lousy product,” they remain very much alive.

How do I know? Here’s Justin Reich from HarvardX summarizing the stats in that neck of the woods:

For the 790 days encompassed in the report, new participants entered at a rate of about 1,300 per day.

More importantly, here’s Anant Agarwal of edX on LinkedIn turning lemons into some rather funny-tasting lemonade:

As MOOCs have evolved, they now offer a more personal experience for students. What we’re finding is that students really enjoy the interactive self-paced technologies like short videos that you can pause and rewind, virtual game-like laboratories, discussion forums, and instantly graded exercises. Referring to the Sal Khan-style videos I used in my Circuits MOOC, a student once wrote me saying he felt as if I was sitting next to him scribbling a personal tutorial. These technologies are only expected to continue to evolve, and learning will further personalize, offering multiple pathways to navigate courses that fit specific learning styles, needs and speeds.

Unfortunately, “personalized” and “personal” do not mean the same thing. As Agarwal himself points out, the first word describes a “choose your own adventure” book. The second word describes talking about the book over dinner with the author.

Here’s why no faculty member should let this mistake go uncorrected: It might stick. As Nick Carr explained earlier today:

Computers and people work in different ways. When any task is shifted from a person to a computer, therefore, the task changes in order to be made suitable for the computer. As the process of automation continues, the context in which the task is performed also changes, in order to be made amenable to automation. The enterprise changes, the school changes, the hospital changes, the household changes, the economy changes, the society changes.

With respect to schools at the very least, this is not a change for the better. In a face-to-face college class, it actually is possible to share a conversation with the author of the book over dinner. A MOOC is like going to see a Michael Jackson concert and getting his hologram instead.

Perhaps there is a place for hologram teachers in industrial education – assuming that corporations don’t really care about critical thinking and only want their employees to be familiar with content. If that’s the case, then maybe we don’t have to actually kill them. We could just banish them to some remote corner of the higher education kingdom so that real educators will never have to worry about them again.

However, as long as any kind of all-MOOC education remains a viable degree-granting option, then the work of dedicated faculty runs the risk of being defined out of existence.  Then who’s going to carry who to the mass grave?

“How do you know he’s a superprofessor?”

“He hasn’t got shit all over him.”

Posted by Jonathan Rees

Professor of History, Colorado State University - Pueblo.

5 comments

Sadly, I know MOOCs are not dead at my school because we are still offering the HistoryChannel-branded History MOOC at OU for Gen. Ed. credit at a cost much less than the cost of regular OU classes, and now there is even a compressed 4-week summer version, just in time for people who want their Gen. Ed. History as fast and as cheap as possible:
https://historychannel.ou.edu/
Normally, a 3-credit online course in-state is around $1000 and out-of-state around $2500, but this is just $500 for anybody, in-state or out-of-state. How OU and HistoryChannel divide up that money is a mystery to me.
Rumor had it that more courses like this were to come, but I haven’t seen them… yet…
BTW you’ve got to know it was the marketing team that wrote this up because it actually says “price point” there:
“$500 for credit – Any student around the world can take this course for three hours of credit from The University of Oklahoma, which is transferrable to another institution. Students will take quizzes and write papers for graded and transcripted credit. This price point is a very low cost to students interested in modern United States history.”

“With respect to schools at the very least, this is not a change for the better. In a face-to-face college class, it actually is possible to share a conversation with the author of the book over dinner. A MOOC is like going to see a Michael Jackson concert and getting his hologram instead.”

The more appropriate analogy would be watching a Michael Jackson concert on Pay-Per-View.

Some of us can’t afford tickets and travel to the live concert.

The even more appropriate analogy is watching the concert in snippets on YouTube. Some of us can’t afford cable.

It’s also possible to share conversations in a GOOD online class, too.

I’m the author of a book on Aesop, and my students and I talk about Aesop all the time. Online. :-)

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