MOOC conversation

MOOC is an anacronym for Massive Open Online Courses.  Fred and I attended the meeting of the Presidential Council at Wesleyan this past week.  The topic of conversation was around MOOCs.  It was a fascinating conversation.

Wesleyan offers six courses through Coursera.  There are more than several of the best schools in the world offering courses on Coursera.  At a glance it appears that most of the courses offered are unique ones taught at each individual school vs the standard Economics 101.  Several thousand people signed up for each individual course taught by each of the Wesleyan professors although not all end up attending.  The numbers are still huge for attendance as in something over 20,000. 

What each professor learned was consistent.  You are teaching a course online so it is different than teaching to an audience that is sitting in the same room as you are.  The lectures need to be shorter.  Videos need to be made in advance.  The currriculum is a bit different.  The tests need to be true/false vs long essays.  You can start the conversation flowing but many times the crowd takes it to another level.  Some students find each other and meet in cafes where they live to discuss the class.  I thought that was incredibly cool. 

Michael Roth, who run Wesleyan is not only teaching a course on Coursera he is also taking classes from other Universities to educate himself about MOOCs. Impressive.

The million dollar question is how will MOOCs change the undergraduate experience.  Will these courses complement the curriculum already being taught at universities and colleges.  Will there be a time when you can get a degree from Coursera because each of these classes will become accredited although not the same as the ones taught in-between the four walls of an institution.  As online education evolves what will be the repercussions for a standard undergraduate experience. 

Personally I am don't believe that taking four years of classes online is ever going to be a substitute for a four year institution where you take classes and interact with professors and other students in person.  The social experience is unique and can be essential to the growth of an individual.  It isn't for everyone and certainly the cost of an education is huge.  To take on that kind of debt for many makes one wonder do the benefits outweigh the costs. No doubt going to college is a privilege.

What is great is that through MOOCs people around the globe who do not have the ability to leave their countries or have access to a fine education can take classes and learn.  That makes for a flatter globe and education is a good thing at every level. 

My father who is a sponge for knowledge is going to love Coursera.  I just told him about it this past weekend and I am a bit concerned he might not come up for air for a year.  Wouldn't it be great if through MOOCs we can engage every young person across the world that is hungry for knowledge and through the Internet we can provide it. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. Lisa Abeyta

    Our public school is launching an online school next year – a creative approach to bring advanced classes to schools where they don’t exist today and to give opportunities for a better matched to some of the gifted kids who are not challenged in their current peer setting. I am a huge fan of MOOC.

    1. Susan Rubinsky

      I am thinking that this is great for gifted and talented young people on one hand but on the other, it is not. I am a mother of a 16 year old who is gifted and he spends far too much time online and not enough time making real friends. While he has some amazing online friendships (a home schooled boy whom he skypes with to discuss Robotics, a boy in Hong Kong whom he met at a summer program for talented youth a few years ago, etc.), the social experience of talented/gifted youth needs to happen in the real world. I see college as a gateway for young people like my son to finally be among his true peers.

      1. Gotham Gal

        Relationships in a social experience are definitely different but the beauty of the Internet is the ability to reach far and wide to connect with people who, quite frankly you can connect with. For so many kids who have felt that in their own community that they feel disconnected because there are not others like them from the music they enjoy to the geeky things they love to do that the Internet provides access and comfort to realize that there are others out there just like them.

        1. Lisa Abeyta

          Of my three kids, all are gifted IQ with two of them qualifying as twice exceptional (gifted IQ with learning disabilities). My youngest is also my quirkiest – creates dub step by tweaking sound effects in Garage Band, can’t read music but creates his own sings with multiple tracks of accompaniment, taught himself Klingon, watches MIT lectures online after school rather than something on Hulu, but he still can’t memorize his times tables, spell, or remember his address where he’s lived for over a decade. He’s in mid-school and has a pile of friends, but his teachers will all say that their class is not a good fit. I’m not sure we’ll pull him out of his brick and mortar school, but if he can enhance his learning online during the school day for a few of those classes, I’ll be thrilled.

  2. JLM

    .Learning is the core concept here. Whether it occurs with the imprimatur of a university attached is almost totally irrelevant.What is the real takeaway?We inform our lives and are more intimately aware of what is really going on in the world and thus able to navigate more surely and make better decisions.This is, of course, not really novel as “readers” have been informing their lives for centuries.I personally am an expert on the Finnish-Russian War of 1939 (Finns came in first, Russians came in second — which lead to the Finns allying themselves with Hitler in WWII, the biggest bugger on Finnish history) as well as the composition of archaic Irish castle masonry mortars (used lots of lime for flexibility which is why you cannot repair an Irish castle’s walls with modern mortars they are too hard and fall out) — a couple of very useful and insightful bits of expertise.[This is a joke for those who cannot see my wicked little smile. However, it is also true. I have some modestly arcane interests.]The breadth and depth of education is incredible. As big as the delivery system itself.A great time to be alive.JLM.

  3. GermanTutorNYC

    A student who takes classes online needs to be very aware of the fact that he or she needs to get the ‘real life experience’ and get out of the building regularly! Online classes are great for me because I have always seen university education as a guide. I agree that very fresh students right after high school need some sort of general basis but 4 years is a little too long.I take online classes and work and also manage to get all the supplementary, practical, social experience related to my studies. My school happens to be in New York City where I live, so I can always schedule an appointment with a professor.It is so exciting and for me logical to be able to design/shape the program because you know it all depends on you.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thats cool

  4. ag

    It seems to me that MOOCs serve a very different purpose than college. I’m really unconvinced that anything can replace the college experience, which stands for so much more than learning. It’s a time when kids break away from the nest, grow up, find more about who they are, and where they make friends and connections that will last a lifetime. Learning can become more accessible, but the college experience can never be replaced through the internet.–I dont think

    1. Gotham Gal

      I completely agree. How MOOCs develop over time will be interesting. The cost of college is huge and many walk away with debt for years to come. Many moving parts.

    2. Cam MacRae

      Agreed. The value of my undergraduate degree wasn’t realised in the lecture theatre, but in the common room.

  5. Jill Stern

    I took one last November thru Stanford U and next year my high schooler and a few of his friends will do an independent study using a MOOC course and get high school credit. How great is that!

  6. andyidsinga

    re this : “The tests need to be true/false vs long essays”…is that because of the time it takes for a single instructor to grade all the essays, or another less obvious reason?also, re moocs replacing the 4 year in-person experience: i agree that they wont replace, but probably morph into the “inverted classroom” Albert had a good post / discussion about that :……which totally jibes with students meeting in cafes to discusss the class – need that social experience in learning :)cheers

    1. Cam MacRae

      Yes. It takes me about 12 minutes to grade a 3-4 page assignment on average. Should be reasonably obvious that for a class of 50 it takes about a day and a half to get through them. If you set an assignment a week… well…