MOOCs for classrooms, feminists, corporations, computer science majors, etc.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, so my reading, writing, and editing about MOOCs (and pretty much everything else) has been pretty scattered to say the least. This is a post I’ve been writing off and on for about a week and a half, for example.

I think the most interesting development(s) are summed up within this CHE piece, “The MOOC ‘Revolution’ May Not Be as Disruptive as Some Had Imagined.” It’s mostly a recap of some of the ways that MOOCs have stumbled as of late– the shelved bill in California, the lack of interest in the program at Colorado State where students could have taken a MOOC for credit, etc.– but there were two other points I thought were interesting and worthy of sharing/remembering for later. First, this:

All three providers [that is, Coursera, Udacity, and EdX] have indicated that they are not satisfied to operate at the fringes of the higher-education system. They want to be a part of online education in the main. But given the institutional monopoly on credit-granting privileges, that means catering to colleges rather than attempting to undermine them.

“Credits are the coin of the academic realm,” says Russell Poulin, deputy director for research and analysis at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s Cooperative for Educational Technologies. “And if that’s where the coins are, these companies are going to drive there.”

To that end, the products and services those providers could supply colleges in the future have little to do with MOOCs. Rather, they resemble products and services that technology vendors like Blackboard and Pearson have been selling to colleges for years—”many of which,” says Mr. Horn, “are not disruptive at all.”

And this:

The closest Udacity has come to bringing MOOC-like economies of scale to the credit world is a proposed partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology on a master’s degree in computer science. Over the next three years, the program aims to enroll 10,000 students, each of whom will have the opportunity to earn a degree for less than $7,000—a fraction of the cost of a traditional master’s program. To save on faculty costs, Udacity would hire “course assistants” to help Georgia Tech instructors with “academic and nonacademic tasks,” according to a contract between the company and the Georgia Tech Research Corporation.

But that plan, too, could encounter institutional challenges. Benjamin Flowers, chair of the university’s graduate curriculum committee, says he and his colleagues have “at no point been given, to review, any written proposal for any new graduate degree program.”

Officials seem to have circumvented the committee by casting the Udacity partnership as a “modification” of an existing computer-science master’s program, says Mr. Flowers. He says his committee is not done with the Udacity proposal, and may raise the issue in the university’s faculty senate when the body reconvenes this fall.

The New York Times has a slightly more upbeat version take on the Georgia Tech computer science quasi-MOOC, “Master’s Degree Is New Frontier of Study Online.” And I recall reading someplace Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng saying that they were just an “online education platform company.”

Besides being a long LOONNNGGG way away from the initial vision of companies like Coursera and Udacity to educate the masses in South Africa or find untapped geniuses in Mongolia, Coursera is entering a market that is already pretty crowded (e.g., Blackboard, Pearson, etc.) with a platform that is frankly not very good.

As far as Georgia Tech’s computer science program goes: let’s just table for a moment the question as to whether or not this kind of program is a “good idea” in the larger sense– that is, can such programs be effective, what are the implications relative to higher education as we know it now and into the future, etc., etc. And let’s just assume that the academic bureaucracy at Georgia Tech eventually approves this MA program, though the CHE article makes that sound like it’s not exactly a sure thing.

It seems to me the hype for this online MOOC program sounds a lot like what I recall reading about online programs  a dozen years ago– that is, students from all over the world will enroll and they will prove to be profitable. That turned out to not be the case then, and it’s difficult for me to imagine how this will be any different with this program.

For one thing, as I have blogged about before, there seems to me to be a serious disconnect between the audience of students/users that are actually enrolling in MOOCs and the students/users that the MOOC providers want.  While the people enrolling in MOOCs are typically folks looking for free personal enrichment and edutainment and not for some kind of degree or credential, this Georgia Tech MOOC aims to attract students who want an advanced degree and who are willing to pay for it. That’s a little attracting would-be diners with a McDonalds but then trying to sell that same clientele $20 entrees.

For another, I think it’s still too expensive. No offense to the fine folks at Georgia Tech (a great school for sure), but if I was seeking an MA in computer science and I was willing to spend somewhere between $6,000 and $10,000 for it, then I’d probably attend a program where I was going to interact with faculty (and not “course assistants”), where I was going to have something akin to a “real” graduate experience with small classes and lots of interaction with faculty and fellow students, and where I thought there might be some chance at employment at the other end. Fundamentally, this is why students study in programs like the ones at EMU, even when those programs are online: because of geographic proximity and because of costs.

So I think we’ll be reading in a year about how this program has failed to meet expectations. Then again, my predictions are often wrong.

In other news:

“The Classroom Experience Re-Imagined,” by Mohamed Noor, which is from some Duke University magazine.  I took part of Noor’s “Introduction to Genetics and Evolution” MOOC last fall/early winter; I thought it was a pretty good textbook or supplement to an actual intro to genetics class. It turns out that was his intention:

MOOCs allow recorded video lectures to be presented asynchronously with interactive features (e.g., “in-video quizzes”). Students determine how well they understand the material through various assessments online. They can interact with other students through online discussion forums. Hence, well-constructed MOOCs offer significantly more than watching videos in, say, YouTube or Khan Academy.

For me, the “flipped class” concept is a conceptual extension of what happens in small humanities courses. My Duke students use my MOOC as a means of mastering the basic content before coming to my classroom. The video format allows me to tailor the material and make it far more approachable than through just textbook reading, and the online assessments help the students identify gaps in their comprehension. I add a question to the daily pre-class quiz specifically asking students to report concepts they found confusing. The night before the class, I receive direct feedback on student performance and understanding related to the basic class material.

Nowhere in this piece does Noor talk about the MOOC as credit in and of itself, but I suspect he wouldn’t be crazy about the idea.

“California Puts MOOC Bill on Ice” from CHE. This is old news; basically, a bill in California that would have required state schools to award credit for MOOCs and other “nonuniversity providers” has been shelved.

I don’t know if I’ve linked to this before or not, but here’s MOOC List, which is (surprise-surprise!) a list of MOOCs.

Forbes has had a couple of kind of wacky MOOC pieces as of late. A few weeks ago, Doug Guthrie (who is a business professor at George Washington University) wrote “MOOCs are Toast or at Least Should Be.” He seems to be suggesting the downfall of the corporate xMOOC in favor of “Big Data:”

Now don’t confuse MOOCs with online learning, which isn’t going to disappear and isn’t a failure. Online learning in all its many flavors will fundamentally transform higher education, bridging distances and creating access in ways that have not been possible before and have not been imagined yet.

Big Data in the online learning space will give institutions the predictive tools they need to improve learning outcomes for individual students. By designing a curriculum that collects data at every step of the student learning process, universities can address student needs with customized modules, assignments, feedback and learning trees in the curriculum that will promote better and richer learning.

I’m not completely sure what he means by “Big Data,” but you get the idea.

Meanwhile, there’s this Forbes piece by Jeanne Meister, “How MOOCs Will Revolutionize Corporate Learning And Development.” She gets some of the history of MOOCs wrong and I’m not sure Khan Academy is the source of the so-called “flipped classroom” either, but I think she has a point: MOOCs may prove to be most useful for teaching things outside of/beyond the realm of institutional credit.

Last but not least, there were a couple of articles about a feminist MOOC.  When I first read about this, I thought what was being described sounded not really that different from the first wave of “cMOOCs” about connectivity, community, flattening hierarchy, etc. But as the Inside Higher Ed article “Feminist Anti-MOOC” describes it, the “distributed open collaborative course or DOCC (pronounced “dock”)” is more than that. Here’s a quote:

The DOCC aims to challenge MOOC thinking about the role of the instructor, about the role of money, about hierarchy, about the value of “massive,” and many other things. The first DOCC will be offered for credit at 16 colleges this coming semester, as well in a more MOOC-style approach in which videos and materials are available online for anyone.

“We’re not saying bad bad MOOCs, but we’re asking how else we might innovate,” said Anne Balsamo, co-facilitator of the DOCC and dean of the School of Media Studies at the New School.


So each week, a video presentation — typically a discussion with one, two or three thinkers about feminism and technology — will set a theme for the week. The first week’s video will feature Balsamo in a discussion with Judy Wajcman, a sociologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science whose 1991 book Feminism Confronts Technology led many feminist thinkers to focus more on technology issues. That video is designed to provide a historic overview. Subsequent weeks will feature discussions about more focused topics — feminism, technology and labor one week; feminism, technology and sexuality another, and so forth.

At participating colleges, professors will base their own courses on each weekly theme, sharing course materials and assignments, but customizing them for their own students. The courses will vary, as some are undergraduate and some are graduate, and the institutions (see list at right) vary widely by mission and geography — including institutions in Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States. The class sizes will be between 15 and 30 students each, decidedly non-massive. “There is another pedagogical commitment here,” Balsamo said. “Who you learn with is as important as what you learn. Learning is a relationship, not just something that can be measured by outcomes or formal metrics.”

Kind of interesting– I could see a model like this working for first year writing too, either as a sort of “intra-MOOC” for a program or, like this one, to share ideas, lectures, materials, and discussions between institutions.

7 thoughts on “MOOCs for classrooms, feminists, corporations, computer science majors, etc.”

  1. The trend of not really consulting faculty in the design of MOOCs for credit (which is what it seems to me is going on with Georgia Tech, where the graduate advisory board doesn’t know about what’s going on, and in the California state system) is alarming to me, and is happening right now at my institution, too. There are a few faculty representatives on the design committee, but they were all appointed by administration. The faculty as a larger body is just now being made aware of the design and a plan for implementation for credit (in fact, a proposal that an entire degree may be earned this way – and that faculty would design the courses for compensation but not be involved in their teaching) in the very near future…

  2. Oh, and now there’s this:

    A quote:

    “As one example of innovation in online learning that meets students’ needs, Mr. Obama cited an online master’s program in computer science at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The program will make its debut in January and cost a fraction of a traditional on-campus degree.

    “A lot of other schools are experimenting with these ideas to keep tuition down,” Mr. Obama said. “They’ve got other ways to help students graduate in less time, at less cost, while still maintaining high quality. The point is it’s possible. And it’s time for more colleges to step up with even better ways to do it.””

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