Bonus post: About some recent MOOCs in the news

There are many other things I should be doing other than posting here again today, but there were a couple of things that came through the intertubes at me about MOOCs that I have to note here. If nothing else, I suspect both topics will figure into upcoming MOOC talks.

First, from CHE comes “Professor Leaves a MOOC in Mid-Course in Dispute Over Teaching.” It seems to be an emerging story, but here’s a quote from the lead:

Students regularly drop out of massive open online courses before they come to term. For a professor to drop out is less common.

But that is what happened on Saturday in “Microeconomics for Managers,” a MOOC offered by the University of California at Irvine through Coursera. Richard A. McKenzie, an emeritus professor of enterprise and society at the university’s business school, sent a note to his students announcing that he would no longer be teaching the course, which was about to enter its fifth week.

“Because of disagreements over how to best conduct this course, I’ve agreed to disengage from it, with regret,” Mr. McKenzie wrote.

I’m going to assume that this is again evidence that the people who are teaching these MOOCs are doing it out of the ego boost they get for teaching a class of tens of thousands er, I mean the joy they get from extending education learning to tens of thousands around the world and to participate in the experiment. I would assume that if McKenzie were being paid to do this, Coursera or UC-Irvine or both would have not allowed him to simply quit like this.

But it would appear that McKenzie was having a hard time with the “uninformed” and “superfluous” responses in the discussion forums, the fewer than 2% of students who participated in the discussions, and the complaints students had about his assigning a textbook that cost money and the workload requirements.  In other words, McKenzie was trying to maintain the same standards for his MOOC as he would for the same college class at UC Irvine.

Some of the comments in the discussion on the CHE piece suggest that he’s being naive if he thinks/thought that students taking this free MOOC ought to be held to the same standards as students in a regular course, that he’s being unreasonable, etc. Now, I don’t know anything about Richard McKenzie— I don’t know if he is/was considered one of the great professors of economics at UC Irvine, if he’s considered a grumpy crank who teaches classes no one can pass, or what. He’s obviously a well-published scholar.  But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a college professor teaching a MOOC with the premise that the class ought to be every bit as rigorous and “real” as any other class.  And it is again another example to me of how Coursera et al aren’t ready for “prime-time.”

Second, there’s this post from Cathy Davidson, “If MOOCs are the answer, what is the question?” and this response from Sui Fai John Mak, “Discourse on MOOCs: where should it be heading?” Among other things, Davidson points out that the problems of the rising costs of higher education predate MOOCs by a long time and there is no evidence at all that MOOCs will have any impact to change that, either.  At the same time, MOOCs demonstrate that people want higher education, and not just in applied stuff like computer programming. Here’s a quote:

Enter the MOOC: whatever else one may think about MOOCS, their vast popularity proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt that seemingly everyone wants–really, really wants–more not less higher learning. Has anyone else noticed that the tone of the conversation has now shifted from “is college worth it?” to “how can we make necessary, important, invaluable learning available to the widest number of people for the lowest cost”?    I certainly have.

Those who hate MOOCs and reduce them solely and only to a device by the neoliberal rich to diminish the role of the tenured professor should at least be using the vast popularity of online courses to argue the value of a college education.   It’s demonstrable.  It’s massive.

And here’s a good quote from Mak’s response that I think makes a lot of sense:

The current scenario indicates that we are at a state of fragmentation in the midst of Higher Education, where MOOCs, OERs, privatization, partnerships, alliances, and co-operation and collaboration are just part of these fragmentation and disruption movement.  The actual tsunami may not even be the MOOCs, but the technological, economic and social “revolution” uprising for fundamental human rights to Higher Education at a free or affordable cost and a quest for innovative and improved Higher Education.

George Siemens in his response to the fragmentation of Higher Education highlights the current trend of MOOCs and the possible future scenarios of Higher Education.

And I include that link to the George Siemens talk because that’s just more smart stuff to listen to/think about.


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