I’m wrapping up week five of the World Music MOOC, and I have to say it’s starting to drag a little. This week was about Australian Aboriginal music, though it was another week that had very little to do with music and more to deal with the politics of oppression against indigenous peoples. I understand the obvious relevance for this being a part of the discussion of world music, but it’s all starting to feel more and more like I went to a music class and an anthropology/sociology class decided to barge in and taket things over.
I continue to be less than blown away by the quality of the presentation of class materials. Just a simple example of what I mean about the lectures: in the introduction to this week’s unit, Carol Muller gets the dates of when Australia was first “discovered” by Cook mixed up– that is, she says 1788, which was the year the British set up a penal colony in Australia, and not 1770, which is when Cook first landed in Australia. The video is interrupted and the correction is clumsily inserted, and there was even a quiz question about the error. Now, it’s not a problem per se that Muller misspoke. Lord knows I say lots of wrong stuff to my students. But isn’t that a reason why these ought to be rehearsed and organized for the screen and not just a rehash of a in-class lecture? Isn’t this one of the benefits of recorded materials in the first place?
So I’m kind of getting bored here. If I weren’t doing this thing for other academic purposes and future writing projects, I’d probably “drop out.” This brings me to this Chronicle of Higher Ed commentary from Kevin Carey, “The MOOC-Led Meritocracy.” Carey argues that the enormous drop-out rate in MOOCs is not only not a problem, but rather it allows MOOCs to operate as a meritocracy. A quote:
That meritocracy will serve as a powerful mechanism for signaling quality to an uncertain labor market. Traditional colleges rely mostly on generalized institutional reputations and, in a minority of cases, admissions selectivity to demonstrate what graduates know and can do. The opacity of most collegiate learning processes (see again, lack of standards) and the eroding force of grade inflation have left little other useful information.
MOOC credentials, by contrast, will signal achievement selectivity. Instead of running a tournament to decide who gets to take the class and very likely get an A-minus or A, they’re running tournaments to decide who did best in the class. That’s why people are already resorting to plagiarism in MOOC courses. That’s troublesome, although perhaps not distinctly so, given that the antiplagiarism software that will presumably be deployed in defense was developed in response to widespread cheating in traditional higher ed.
In a sense, this was what college was like when I was a student nearly 30 years ago. Most people who were in college 20 or more years ago can recall some kind of moment where the high drop-out rate was touted as a sign of rigor and that the earned college degree separated you from those drop-outs. This is the classic “look to your left, look to your right, because one of you won’t be here at the end of this first year” spiel. I don’t recall hearing that speech directly, but the University of Iowa at the time did have a reputation for being a fairly easy school to get into but not that easy to graduate from.
This has all changed dramatically and now one of the key markers of a successful and “good” university is its graduation rate. There are lots of reasons for this change, but one of the reasons is a direct response to cost: if you’re spending $40K plus a year for attending some quasi-fancy school (and I am aware that dollar figure is actually low for many fancy schools), you’d damn well better be able to graduate in a reasonable amount of time.
So in theory, Carey has a point: who cares if the drop-out rates from MOOCs are super-high if that means that the best and brightest are able to make it through these free courses, separating them from the many drop-outs in their wake? Maybe that could be something that employers could look at as a sign of success. But right now in practice, there are no standards governing this meritocracy and I don’t think some crappy plagiarism software is going to make these problems go away.
And that brings me to peer review.
Continue reading “MOOC Week five, and the peer review turns”