Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why MOOCs fail

Thoreau at High Clearing has been going on for some time about MOOCs and why he thinks they are a failing fad. He proposes a new buzzword, Hight-Touch Engagements, e.g. small classes,
Online tools won’t go anywhere* (despite my bitching, I use a few of them to supplement my evil in-person class, I just don’t go around preaching that I’m saving the world with some new religion), but in a few years the fad will switch from sending everybody to college on their sofa with an LCD to some sort of opposite extreme.  I predict, on the basis of zero evidence**, that the fad will be something like “High-Touch Engagement.”  We’ll be told that traditional education has been predicated on a factory model, with faculty focusing on lectures and avoiding one-on-one mentoring and interaction, and we need to change this.

At this point some of you are saying “That’s not true!  A lot of faculty want a model of small classes, mentored research projects, etc.  In fact, isn’t that what a lot of STEM pipeline programs are about?  Isn’t that what small liberal arts colleges are about?”  And my answer is:  Shhhh!  I’m trying to start a new fad to counter the push to move college to the couch with an LCD.
Eli doesn't exactly disagree.  To the Bunny, the danger of the MOOCs is that in a disengaged class it is too easy for students to find a simple entry to some Rabett Hole that leads them nowhere, e.g. there is no experienced person to say, whoa, you got that bass ackwards Bunny.  But there is also another reason why universities will not prosper by MOOCs alone and it is encapsulated in the Urban Dictionary definition of Rabbi
By metaphor from the Jewish religious role, an older, more powerful or higher-ranking person in the corporation where one works (but usually not in the chain of command) who can give good advice about office politics, and may be able to pull strings, remove heads, or otherwise provide protection from hostile forces.
You don't get that in a 10,000 student MOOC.  IEHO, the real opportunity is for colleges and community colleges to run MOOC recitations for small groups of 10-15 students for money, of course.

Poster from Michael Branson Smith


Jeffrey Davis said...

I went to a liberal arts college with class sizes in the teens and finished at a state school with classes in auditoriums. In that time, I heard of exactly one student getting close support for his work. What we now call "mentoring". And I suspect that was because my friend was a wrestler with long blond hair and that the teacher's interest wasn't strictly pedagogical.

If people want to strike a blow for education, try to get rid of the indentured servitude of debt waiting for students at the end. Everything else is just ribbons on a box.

Anonymous said...

I'm currently pursuing a masters in mathematics from a smallish branch of our state university. To date, I've found a real lack in the use of tools (matlab, SAS, R, python, etc), not only to supplement learning, but to prepare students in techniques used in "the real world." Not just an emphasis on analytics over application, but an overemphasis. At least from my POV as a working sw engineer.

Coursera has been valuable in filling that gap for me. Providing courses that emphasize application and act as a supplement to my more traditional brick-and-mortar education. Providing a variety of specialized courses in subjects that I just wouldn't get much of a shot at in the traditional graduate course rotation.

I feel my education would be missing something if I didn't have both - even though my final degree and transcript will likely lack any mention of the just-as-valuable online course work.

There are problems. I notice that a lot of online students are frustrated at the mismatch between the 'prereqs' (usually not well documented) and the students own level of knowledge.

But it's pretty fascinating to chat with students from Brazil, China, India, Europe in the forums.

Anyway, it's working for me as a supplement to a traditional education.

Anonymous said...

I see a business opportunity.

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Pete Dunkelberg