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The Rage For MOOCs

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the getting-digitally-edumicated dept.

Education 109

An anonymous reader writes "Ever since Stanford's Sebastian Thrun and Google's Peter Norvig signed up 160,000 people for their online artificial intelligence course last year, educators and entrepreneurs have been going ga-ga for 'MOOCs' — massive open online courses. A new article in Technology Review, The Crisis in Higher Education, gives a balanced overview of the pluses and minuses of MOOCs as well as some of the technical challenges they face in areas like machine learning and cheating detection. The author, Nicholas Carr, draws an interesting parallel with the 'correspondence course mania' of the 1920s, when people rushed to sign up to take courses by mail. 'Four times as many people were taking them as were enrolled in all the nation's colleges and universities combined.' That craze fizzled when investigations revealed that the quality of the teaching was poor and dropout rates astronomical. 'Is it different this time?' asks Carr. 'Has technology at last advanced to the point where the revolutionary promise of distance learning can be fulfilled?'"

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You know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41490129)

I got nothing....

Re:You know? (2)

crizh (257304) | about 2 years ago | (#41490461)

I think if nothing else the popularity of MOOC's demonstrates just how desperate people are for education.

The vast majority of humanity has no access to the training they want. Either it just isn't available or it is beyond their means.

Perhaps it is time we gave everyone that wants it free access to whatever education they desire throughout their entire lives.

It is the lack of skill-agility within the workforce that is really putting the brakes on economic growth and technological progress.

Re:You know? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#41490567)

No, it's an indication of how many people are interested in what they see as quick and easy education. Hey, that course looks cool! It's free! Okay, I'll sign up!

Then they get into the course (or even before it starts), realize learning takes some work, and either drop out or fail. That's why completion rates for correspondence and other distance learning courses, particularly cheap or free ones, are astronomically low.

Re:You know? (2)

jemenake (595948) | about 2 years ago | (#41490793)

No, it's an indication of how many people are interested in what they see as quick and easy education. Hey, that course looks cool! It's free! Okay, I'll sign up!

Then they get into the course (or even before it starts), realize learning takes some work, and either drop out or fail. That's why completion rates for correspondence and other distance learning courses, particularly cheap or free ones, are astronomically low.

I thought the same thing when I read the headline. People see "Get your degree on the internet" and they think "Hey, I learn stuff on the internet all the time. Yesterday, I used YouTube to learn what happens when you light farts. How hard could this be?". And then they discover that, lo and behold, learning valuable skills is hard. In fact, there tends to be a correlation between the value of the skill and how hard it is to learn it. So, they bail and go back to flippin' burgers.

This isn't a commentary about MOOC's or correspondence courses as much as it's about lazy or dumb humans looking for an easy way when there is none. Sure, there's plenty of room for the educational "institutions" to make it sound easier than it is, but that's standard salesmanship (for any product) of downplaying the negatives.

Re:You know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41490795)

What's the downside? Maybe the people learn something from the first few lessons. Often the subject's core assumptions and limits are delimited in the introductions. Better than nothing, right?

Correspondence courses used up a lot of dead trees. Online classes are cheaper. Where's the harm?

Re:You know? (1)

crizh (257304) | about 2 years ago | (#41490831)

So you agree that massive numbers of people are interested in education?

As opposed to getting drunk and wildly copulating as often as they possibly can.

Re:You know? (3, Interesting)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#41491193)

Interested in education. Not desperate for it. There's a difference.

Everyone in the first world ALREADY has access to all the education they want, free. They're called libraries. Learning that way is a bit difficult so there are various ways you can get someone else to do some of the hard work of teaching, frequently by paying some money.

Free online courses are a great idea, but they're not a replacement for schools, they're a supplement to books. I strongly disagree that we should make universities free to anyone who wants to go. That results in resources that are diluted and strained just to try to teach large numbers of people who aren't really interested in putting much effort into learning.

Re:You know? (1)

egamma (572162) | about 2 years ago | (#41491233)

Everyone in the first world ALREADY has access to all the education they want, free. They're called libraries.

Everyone in the first world--maybe. I suspect there are plenty of people in Idaho or Alaska who do not have a library within 20 minutes of their home or workplace.

And that is completely ignore the second and third world. What about them?

Re:You know? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#41491455)

Even rural places usually have a library not that far away (my home town in northern Canada of 800 people has a library). Libraries in very rural locations may also have a system for mailing books to individuals or the nearest general store.

Yes, people in the third world have less access to free education. They also have less access to food, water, shelter and not getting killed by warlords.

Re:You know? (2)

fbobraga (1612783) | about 2 years ago | (#41491717)

Yes, people in the third world have less access to free education. They also have less access to food, water, shelter and not getting killed by warlords.

Full agree with that - I'm from a "third world country" (Brazil): less access don't mean no access

Re:You know? (2)

crizh (257304) | about 2 years ago | (#41491765)

This whole point is facetious and I'm sure you cannot be unaware of it.

Since Andrew Carnegie invested a spectacular amount of wealth in creating them a great many of us have access to a library.

This however does not equate to all the education you could ever want or need.

Unless all the education you desire is large print Mills and Boon romances.

As to the nonsense about warlords, how does that negate the point that the vast majority does not have access to free, lifelong education opportunities?

I might go so far as to say that many of these other travails might easily be directly attributed to such a lack of educational opportunity.

Re:You know? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#41492547)

Yet another person who doesn't know how to use interlibrary loans.

Your library can very likely get you almost any book or scientific paper held in any library in your country (and perhaps beyond). When I was in high school years ago in a tiny town my local library (which didn't even have a computer) got me an obscure book I needed for a science project from a defense library on the other side of the country.

Some parts of the third world have less access to all kinds of things. That has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that much of the world, possibly the majority of people, have access to free education and don't use it. You included, evidently, since you think libraries are nothing but romance novels.

Re:You know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494115)

Online education is much more scalable than interlibrary loans. Maybe with ebooks, but see how Amazon is trying to artificially restrict that?

Re:You know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41491657)

The whole point is that online teaching scales, so it's not diluting resources. Let everyone sign up and just a few follow it through, it doesn't matter. The dropouts learn something anyway up to whatever point they followed.

To get higher completion rates, the challenge is really on the educator. Thrun in a TED talk ( ) noted that the teacher should help everyone to get to an A+ level. Weeder classes say more about the laziness of the teacher than they do about those who sign up for the class wanting to learn.

Re:You know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494565)

I strongly disagree that we should make universities free to anyone who wants to go. That results in resources that are diluted and strained just to try to teach large numbers of people who aren't really interested in putting much effort into learning.

The real world examples of making universities free to anyone that wants to go does not seem to me to support your hypothesis.

Norway, where I am from, have almost exclusively free university education, with some requirements for passing some particular high school courses to get what is called 'general study competence'. Assuming you're over 23 years old and have worked for at least five years, there are six required courses, and the cost to sit an exam for a course without being enrolled as a student is ~$60 (or ~$120 if you've tried and failed before). If you've passed those, you can participate in the university courses for free - the only limitation is that many of the courses have a grade point average requirement. There are some schools/colleges (not universities) that take tuition; I'd guess that covers about 5% of the students, and is a combination of extremely high class high schools (used to increase grade point average) and business oriented schools (MBA students and similar.)

There's also subsidies to help with cost of living while you're studying, and cheap student loans.

And there isn't any significant problem with people not putting effort into learning - even with subsidies and cheap student loans, it still costs significant amounts of money/effort to take the time needed to attend university, so you don't want to do that without getting anything out of it.

Re:You know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41492527)

Who cares how many fail? Who cares how many drop out? As long as it is going out and reaching the minority that are there to actually learn, it will still create people with legit skill sets, and they will be the ones who pass.

Re:You know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41490665)

The Open University has been running in the UK since 1969 and, until August 2012, gave British residents of insufficient means the opportunity to study at least one undergraduate degree from home at no direct cost to themselves.

It is the largest university in the UK by undergraduate student numbers.

The teaching material, comprising mostly written work, is all specifically prepared for distance learning.

There are regular tutorials every few weeks at centres distributed around the country, a tutor who is contactable on any academic matter and who marks your coursework, and examination at an examination centre at the end of the course. Some courses involve ~a week's residential attendance (e.g. lab or field work).

The British government thought this was a rather too socialist idea (indeed, it was - it was started by Harold Wilson, and I had the good fortune to be lectured by Robin Wilson, a mathematics tutor). So now it costs £5000 per year full time equivalent for tuition. Sure, you can get a student loan on reasonable terms, but only if you don't already have an undergrad degree.

Anyway, having looked at both the US offerings and the OU, the OU remains light years ahead on quality of materials and interaction with peers and knowledgeable humans. I don't understand why this *thing* is being considered as particularly new. Maybe it's that the US has really been so starved of accessible higher education, and the US == the world, as far as the US is converned.

Re:You know? (1)

crizh (257304) | about 2 years ago | (#41490777)

I was under the impression that all OU courses cost money and there is no government funding whatsoever except in Scotland.

Re:You know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41490907)

As of August 2012, for new students in England, it is £5000/year full time equivalent (so you study equivalent of half a year's credits and you pay £2500). Residents are eligible for a Student Loans Company loan if they do not already have an undergraduate degree. This does not apply to Scotland, which is keeping something like the pre-2012 rules for now. Wales and Northern Ireland, I think, have yet different arrangements - but I don't know what they are.

Before August 2012, the courses were heavily subsidised by the government in all areas of the UK, and the remainder would be paid out of public funds if you were on a low income. The rules differed depending on which country of the UK you were in - for example, Scotland IIRC also took account of your savings. If you are an existing student, transitional protection enables you to pay on the old subsidised scheme.

This all only applies to undergrad courses. Taught postgrad still receives government support and you are well advised to apply for research council funding / scholarships / whatever. The various discretional and disability costs funding schemes remain.

The main academic re-training opportunity for English adults of average means has essentially just been destroyed - and with barely a whimper.

Re:You know? (1)

crizh (257304) | about 2 years ago | (#41491207)

So, is not now and never has been free?

It is my recollection that OU courses were always way way more than I could afford to invest in re-training. Until the SNP government in Scotland began offering full subsidy to students with household incomes less than approx. £18000 in their first term in government.

Even then it is a very limited option compared to our societies need for the labour force to learn how to do something useful instead of something that has been outmoded by the inexorable march of progress.

Re:You know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41492543)

The full subsidy had, before this year's changes, been available for a long time in England to residents on low incomes - where "low" would include those on means-tested benefits or an income well above the minimum wage. It was known as "financial support" though actually meant that the government paid 100% of the fees instead of some other proportion (~2/3 IIRC).

That certainly applies back to the 1990s, but I don't have a full history of the rules since 1969. They did start and stop various other things over the last decade - e.g. yearly £250 cash grant to anyone eligible for financial support, supposedly for miscellaneous study costs (i.e. absolutely anything). For a while they gave £500 loans for same, repayable under SLC terms.

Perhaps support was more on/off patchy in Scotland? It's definitely way better in Scotland right now.

Open University (2)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about 2 years ago | (#41491943)

Yes yes yes.

It is rather disingenuous of Thrun to complain about the use of filmed lectures in online teaching, while still himself using what is essentially a lecture format, when ignoring the work of one of the world's leading distance institutions who effectively ditched the video lecture years ago in favour of carefully planned, scripted and edited pedagogical lectures. Thrun has taken a massive step back and is well behind the state of the art in many respects.

Sadly, though, the OU is buying into the online "revolution" and moving more and more of there tutorials online. They even have courses with no synchronous tutorials, instead relying on text forums.

The fact that some people take no active participation in discussion isn't acknowledged as evidence of a problem, but heralded as proof of the superiority of the medium, by invoking the unproven idea of "learning styles". Yes, "lurking" has now been redefined as a learning style in online education land.

It's sad -- the OU risks destroying itself in the name of austerity... :-(

Re:Open University (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494423)

EU economic problems show austerity doesn't work. As Dick Cheney said, "Reagan proved deficits don't matter."

Re:Open University (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about 2 years ago | (#41497415)

Oops, I didn't mean "carefully planned, scripted and edited pedagogical lectures", but "carefully planned, scripted and edited pedagogical documentaries". The OU have been fantastic in taking their experience in producing factual television for the BBC and applying it to the problems of higher education. It's a model more people should follow, but the lessons learned look more and more like lessons lost....

HEY TONY!! (1, Funny)

lemur3 (997863) | about 2 years ago | (#41490153)

Where ya been ?!! I been looking for you ya mooc!!

Re:HEY TONY!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41490177)

Are you some kind of wise guy?

Re:HEY TONY!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41490417)

Ay! He's a good fella.

Not about technology (4, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 2 years ago | (#41490185)

The issue is not technology, it is teaching methodology. It is not clear if we have developed teaching methods that are appropriate for large online courses, or even for small courses.

Re:Not about technology (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#41490439)

Technology has improved the ability of an interested individual to get their hands on all manner of published works, and how fast they can do so; but if "RTFM and figure it out." doesn't work for the student or the subject in question, it isn't clear that technology provides much to change the game.

Re:Not about technology (2)

timeOday (582209) | about 2 years ago | (#41490569)

Teaching methodology (pedagogy) is a technology. We need to develop it into a science, whereas now it is a craft - clearly is not well understood, given the never-ending debates over how to best educate people. From the article:

MIT and Harvard are designing edX to be as much a tool for educational research as a digital teaching platform, Anant Agarwal says. Scholars are already beginning to use data from the system to test hypotheses about how people learn, and as the portfolio of courses grows, the opportunities for research will proliferate.

Granted this data will be confounded with the limited, computer-based methods of instruction it requires, so your point is valid. But at least the people working in this area are well aware they are biting off several different problems at once.

Re:Not about technology (4, Insightful)

supercrisp (936036) | about 2 years ago | (#41491723)

I have to offer a mixed response to this claim that teaching must be developed into a science, so I'll comment, even though I came to this discussion to dispose of mod points. Some teaching of pedagogy is influenced by real, hard science. There are courses and teachers who are teaching pedagogy with cognitive psychology, outcomes evidence based on sufficiently large numbers of sample to be relevant, and that sort of thing. However, the _impression_ I get is that a lot of people in education departments are not basing their work on any real science. For example, there are still lots of education people talking about multiple intelligences, when there is no real evidence for it. Basically, it seems that ideology drives education pedagogy. There's a lot of marxist-lite thinking that is in actuality a sort of watered-down Romanticism. One good example of this is the belief that encouraging expressive fluency in writing will produce students who can write analytical arguments. The thinking still seems to be based on ideas like universal grammar, that we have a "language instinct" that will flourish if we nurture it and blossom into a set of skills that are actually conventional rather than innate. And, of course, there are more right-wing tinged methodologies too. My favorite example of ideologies determining pedagogical practice is the war between whole language (left) and phonics (right). Both camps are wrong because neither will accept that there's something in the other side's method, as well as because neither side is paying much attention to any actual science on the topic (the discourse seems to be more driven by marketing than anything else). That said, there was a day when a lot of science was behind universal grammar-type educational practices.... It's easy to cook your results, without even knowing it. And certainly a lot of education research is barely research, relying as it does on very small sample sizes. And, frankly, there's generally not that much funding for the good research because so much of the funding comes with the expected outcome more or less built in.

Re:Not about technology (2)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about 2 years ago | (#41492047)

Indeed. The crucial argument that gets lost in the methodology wars is between "top-down"/expressive/problem-solving and "bottom-up"/basic skills. Phonics is ostensibly a "basic skills" idea, but because it is only one basic skill and ignores the basic skill that is whole-word reading, it doesn't work, and is used to taint the whole idea of "basic skills" teaching. On the other hand, a lot of the "whole word" camp likes to call themselves "real books", claiming that they're teaching reading by a top-down approach, ignoring the fact that word recognition is indeed a basic skill in and of itself.

Instructor Sample Size (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | about 2 years ago | (#41493039)

...a lot of education research is barely research, relying as it does on very small sample sizes.

Actually I think the problem with sample size is not really solvable. If you increase the sample size of students you then must typically introduce more instructors. At this point you now have a new sample size problem: the instructor sample. Ironically MOOCs are really good at addressing this: one instructor can teach 160k students which is a large enough sample size that you can divide it randomly into several groups to act as control samples. So while I have strong doubts about the quality of the educational offerings of the current courses they do at least have the tools now to do real, scientifically meaningful, studies on the best way to teach so I have hope for significant improvements over time.

Re:Instructor Sample Size (1)

lurker1997 (2005954) | about 2 years ago | (#41495437)

Sample size is not a problem for any moderately sized university. I teach at a relatively small university but often have 100+ students in my classes and sometimes I am teaching only one of several sections of that course. Year to year and between different sections, there is tons of room to do statistically relevant research.

Re:Not about technology (2)

N0Man74 (1620447) | about 2 years ago | (#41490687)

I've signed up for a couple of the classes. Like the real world, the quality and style of classes does vary from class to class.

I've seen a few duds, but overall I'd rate most of the classes that I've looked at as being competitive, and in some cases, superior to traditional classes I've taken.

Without fail, if there was something in a lecture or assignment that I found unclear, I could pause and check the forums and find a discussion thread that addresses the point of confusion.

Many folks also organize study session meetups online or in many cities.

I am not sure how these compare to a smaller traditional classroom, but I think that it is at least as good (if not better) than the average large classes that have become increasingly common at large schools.

Re:Not about technology (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 2 years ago | (#41491089)

For starters:

Brian, reading note from his babymomma: "P.S. Will you write me a letter of recommendation for the University of Phoenix?"

Brian, aside to himself: No. No, I'm not gonna go out on a limb like that.

Re:Not about technology (2)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about 2 years ago | (#41492247)

The issue is not technology, it is teaching methodology. It is not clear if we have developed teaching methods that are appropriate for large online courses, or even for small courses.

Exactly. And to quote the article's main criticism of current universities, Dropout rates are often high, particularly at public colleges, and many graduates display little evidence that college improved their critical-thinking skills.

That's one area that is very difficult to address with distance education. I've studied the best part of 3 undergraduate degrees, 1-and-a-half face-to-face and the other 1-and-a-half at distance, and I've taught languages to people at various levels, and it's abundantly clear to me that the sort of reasoned process of problem solving that we undertake in a guided tutorial just cannot (yet) be replicated by a take-home worksheet.

Online content can therefore only be used to teach... well... content, and the intellectual skills have to be taught elsewhere. To be fair, the UK's Open University always recognised this, and would offer local face-to-face tutorials as well as specific academic skills workshops for new students. (Unfortunately, financial pressures are causing these to be increasingly delivered online.)

I would argue, then, that university-level online education is best used as a "conversion course" for people who are already academically educated, or perhaps as a replacement for the first year of a degree. Perhaps even one or two modules throughout the degree, but I don't see MOOCs ever offering anything equivalent to a full degree.

Re:Not about technology (1)

tkr (87256) | about 2 years ago | (#41494195)

"Full many a flower is born to blush unseen
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."
Thomas Gray, Elegy...

As an old, my hope is for that MOOC courses will help many "mute, inglorious Milton[s]" find their voices and improve the human condition, for no better reason than that it seems like a good idea.

The article (4, Insightful)

Puls4r (724907) | about 2 years ago | (#41490195)

It's a faulty assumption that lack of technology caused high dropout rates in during the correspondence craze of the 20's. The real issue is that a low entry cost coupled with a lack of requiring people to attend a physical room or building means that walking away doesn't involve any walking. You simply don't watch anymore. It's as easy as changing the channel on the TV. Essentially you're commoditizing education. Without a requiring a large investment of cash, all but the most serious students students feel no remorse about walking away.

Re:The article (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41490229)

And the problem with that is?

Re:The article (4, Insightful)

Gription (1006467) | about 2 years ago | (#41490445)


Who cares if you have a huge dropout rate? You'll still have a completion rate that is way more then any conventional class and even the dropouts will have learned something.

The education system has built a big blind process that isn't about learning. It is about the process. If you happen to learn at the rate that the info is fed to you and if the process intersects with your learning style then you are great. If you learn faster or slower or in a different fashion then the accepted process you are screwed.

Re:The article (2)

timeOday (582209) | about 2 years ago | (#41491627)

Give the article some credit for including facts to support that conclusion:

Of the 155,000 students who signed up for an MIT course on electronic circuits earlier this year, only 23,000 bothered to finish the first problem set. About 7,000, or 5 percent, passed the course. Shepherding thousands of students through a college class is a remarkable achievement by any measure - typically only about 175 MIT students finish the circuits course each year

7000 >> 175. QED

Re:The article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41492739)

Yes, 7000 seems like a resounding success to me.

Also 7000 is almost a third of the 23,000 who were interested enough to actually try the course (complete the first unit) as opposed to just take a peek at something novel and widely publicised. I equate the 155,000 number more with how many people look at an MIT on-campus course catalog rather than how many enroll there.

My understanding is that this is quite a demanding course. I would like to see more stats like how many on-campus students start the course, resulting in that 175 number. If I remember correctly (many years ago now), about half the students who started Engineering with me dropped out in the first year so I don't find the numbers quoted all that shocking.

As I learned in the Udacity statistics class, statistics is about interpreting data to derive meaning, not just flinging around a few selected numbers and percentages.

Re:The article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41491679)

I know I'm just being pedantic, but the completion rate of these courses is necessarily very small if the dropout rate is huge. It's the total number of completions that is potentially huge

Re:The article (1)

kkwst2 (992504) | about 2 years ago | (#41492961)

Actually no. Rate does not necessarily imply a percentage or ratio, it can be with respect to any other measure or unit. A rate can be per unit of time, which would be high. If the GP was using rate as per unit time, which is valid, then the statement is correct.

Re:The article (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#41490615)

People see things like this as a good alternative to regular classrooms. There's no problem with online courses and I think things like iTunes U is a great resource. It's when people start talking about making all education online and massive that there's a problem.

One of the biggest complaints about education is class size, whether it's a kindergarten teacher trying to deal with 30 four year olds or an undergrad professor lecturing to 600 teenagers. Having the professor instead lecture to 100,000 anonymous Internetters isn't a good solution.

Re:The article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41491063)

The bigger the class, the more likely there's a few who know more than the professor, or can explain the subject better, or part of the subject ... so the discussion forums provide the interaction that you often can't get in a physical setting.

Not to mention there are many of us who are too afraid to ask a question in a physical classroom. For us, an internet forum is much more satisfying.

Re:The article (1)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about 2 years ago | (#41490291)

Without a requiring a large investment of cash, all but the most serious students students feel no remorse about walking away.

I'd say the lack of personal connections attributes to this as well. When I'm in a physical class, I appreciate the personal attention the instructor has given me, and feel a connection with my fellow students. I dropped a course only once, and when I did I actually felt like I was letting them down somehow. When you have 100,000 classmates compared to 10, dropping doesn't seem like such a big deal (especially when you don't have a voice during class time anyway).

Re:The article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41490361)

Are you implying that the lack of cost devalues the education?

If you are ... countries with subsidized education would like to differ

Re:The article (2)

supercrisp (936036) | about 2 years ago | (#41491757)

I see this at the university where I work. Lowered barriers to entry result in a higher turnover. I can't say that out loud, at least until tenure. But it's the truth. If it has a low perceived cost, it's less valuable. Easy come, easy go.

Re:The article (2)

crizh (257304) | about 2 years ago | (#41492369)

And? So? What?

If the total number of minds receiving the knowledge increases what's the problem?

Re:The article (1)

lurker1997 (2005954) | about 2 years ago | (#41495505)

Unfortunately, in many universities (I teach in Ontario, Canada) government funding is tied to metrics like student retention. My university lets in all kinds of people that shouldn't be there, then blames the faculty members when they drop out or fail courses. We have caps on the percentagle of D's, F's and withdrawals we are 'allowed' to have in a class. In cases where the DFW rate is too high, the adminstration has converted failures to passes and blamed the teacher. The result is grade inflation and passing people who shouldn't pass. Right now this is not a problem with online universities, but once you have many businesses competing for pupils, things like dropout rate will become important to them and the numbers will be fudged.

Re:The article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41493205)

So put in place as many barriers as possible in order to have a high completion statistic? I'm all for 'barriers' useful to the student like clear prerequisites and admissions requirements to verify whether the student is ready yet or needs remedial work. In this I suspect we are in agreement based on your first sentence. It's the last couple sentences I disagree with or at least say 'so what'. I believe lowering the cost (monetary, accessibility, and convenience) is a wonderful thing regardless of what it does to some completion statistic. Or rather, the completion statistic should be how many complete, not as a percentage of how many expressed interest or made the attempt. That may seem madness for an on-campus university but when offering a massive online course, there is no limited number of seats and the incremental cost per student is near zero.

Re:The article (3, Insightful)

Quirkz (1206400) | about 2 years ago | (#41491849)

There's also the level of student interest to consider. For some classes, I don't have much interest in doing the homework and "completing" the course. As far as the instructor is concerned, I may be a dropout or a failure, but I can still be getting what I want out of the course -- the lectures, the readings, online discussion -- without completing the components (homework and exams) that a traditional student is required to. I'd never throw away good money on a physical college course that I just wanted to play with, but with a free course I have the freedom to sample what I want without having to fulfill all the requirements of a traditional course.

One of the online courses I've signed up for (a personal finance class) seems to REALLY get this point. The instructor specifically calls out the different segments of the course and suggests that some students may only be interested in certain topics, and that's perfectly fine with him if they only participate in the parts they want. From the standpoint of a traditional class, it's a "failure" if you only show up for a third of the lectures and only do a third of the homework, but it strikes me as a perfectly acceptable approach with a free online class.

As more people catch on to that kind of approach, we're going to need other kinds of metrics for determining if students had a satisfying experience from a class, based on things other than a simple "did they pass?"

Don't worry about cheating (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41490205)

Focus on knowledge advancement.

The "honor codes" try to make the desire to share information dishonorable. They promote beating around the bush, and try to penalize clear explanations.

The "Honor codes" assume that there is only one way to learn. From personal experience, however, I know that I can learn effectively from the discussions of homework questions, which often include the answers. Often the discussions contain clearer explanations than the instructors can provide.

There's also the question of "reinventing the wheel". Why have thousands of students do the same problems, which already have fixed solutions? Instead, assign unresolved problems that no one yet knows the answer to, and see if students can collaborate to advance knowledge.

Browsing MIT OCW (4, Interesting)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about 2 years ago | (#41490215)

Interesting that this pops up in my RSS feed just as I'm browsing MIT OCW for a new course to take. I've taken several already, and really enjoy augmenting my knowledge with the course materials. I've also taken most of the Stanford and Udacity courses, so I'm well aware of what they have to offer.

I'd say the value of these courses is personal growth. I do not see any possibility of using these online courses for any type of credentials, and I certainly wouldn't put my online course experience in front of my actual degree on any sort of resume or job application, but I would say "I have some experience dealing with X." In fact, I doubt I'd have the skills or base knowledge to understand most of the courses I've taken in advanced physics, mechanics, and computer science without my bachelor's degree.

What about... (2)

ilsaloving (1534307) | about 2 years ago | (#41490289)

Maybe they could teach how to run a Massive Open Online Business?

I hear MOOBs are really popular nowadays...

Re:What about just a Big Open Online Business? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41490337)

I hear BOOBs are more popular

Re:What about just a Big Open Online Business? (1)

Revotron (1115029) | about 2 years ago | (#41490377)

I suggest investing all your money in BOOBs. I hear they're great investment opportunities.

In any case, the worst ROI you could expect is -50%.

Re:What about just a Big Open Online Business? (1)

Ohrion (814105) | about 2 years ago | (#41491007)

They're really not...

Is it really not that obvious? (5, Interesting)

Revotron (1115029) | about 2 years ago | (#41490297)

Ask someone what stops them from going back to school to further their education and you'll get at least one of two responses:

1. Time
2. Money

Spending an hour or two studying at home in the evening is a lot more accessible to most regular working people than driving to their local community college and blowing their whole evening there. Money is also an issue, as taking the course in-person guarantees that you A) have to pay for it, and B) need to drive there which comes with its own costs.

Free MOOCs take care of 1) and 2) simultaneously, so all things considered, is it really that shocking that they're becoming more popular and in-demand?


'Has technology at last advanced to the point where the revolutionary promise of distance learning can be fulfilled?'"

Really? Is this an article from the 1980's? Distance learning technology has been sufficiently advanced and accessible for at least 10 years. Just because you don't have anatomically-correct personal telepresence devices in each classroom taking the place of human bodies doesn't mean distance learning technology isn't "advanced" enough. Web-based educational technology is pretty well-developed by now, and in most cases gives you the exact same amount of human interaction as you'd get today with most on-site college classes. By that I mean, if you have a question after you've listened to the professor drone on for an hour with no classroom interaction, you need to send him an email and wait for a response. At that point, the people in the classroom might as well have just stayed home and watched a video lecture in their underpants.

Re:Is it really not that obvious? (4, Interesting)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about 2 years ago | (#41490719)

Free MOOCs take care of 1) and 2) simultaneously, so all things considered, is it really that shocking that they're becoming more popular and in-demand?

But they don't actually solve the goal of advancing your education (education in the credential sense at least). The problem with a class with 100,000 students is you have to grade 100,000 assignments, midterms, exams, etc. in an efficient manner. This completely eliminates all the most valuable assignment types like hands on projects, essays, papers, proofs, group projects, etc. and basically boils down tests and homework to multiple choice. And when your homeworks and tests are multiple choice and available to 100,000 people, you are bound to have some sort of cheating ring. How exactly do you, as an MOOC provider, certify that someone who has completed a course has done so on his own merits? This is a serious problem with the model that has not been solved.

And even without solving it, in the meantime we still don't know that these multiple-choice courses are actually teaching anybody anything. I didn't have any multiple choice tests or assignments after my freshman year in college, and I can't say I remember anything from any class in which I've done multiple choice work. If MOOCs can't figure out a better homework/test model than multiple choice, I'm not really sure MOOCs will ever match more traditional forms of education.

Re:Is it really not that obvious? (2)

egoots (557276) | about 2 years ago | (#41490943)

For programming type classes (Udacity / Coursera) the assignments and tests are actual programming assignments, not multiple choice. The only Multiple choice questions are during the short lecture segments to try and help keep students engaged and reinforce (in a small way) the topic.

For other course types it is a bit more challenging. I know Coursera was using a peer review system for "Essay" type questions, but I don't have personal experience on how that worked out.

Re:Is it really not that obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41491353)

Back in the 80's and 90's, with Distance Learning, the trick was you would have to go to a local college and write the exam with other students (most in different courses) with one "teacher" being the exam administrator. You had to bring in ID to confirm who you were (I think Drivers License + Birth Certificate were required when I took some course that way). Generally, in those courses, the final exam was 60-80% of the mark, so cheating would get you 20-40% going in; and ALL of the courses required a minimum score on the Final to get a Pass (usually between 50% and 70%), so cheating may get you a pass or two in some courses, but truthfully, I would not put the cheat rate pass what goes on in real Universities.

Of course, most of those exams were open book as well, so having a good exam and letting people "pay" for just the exam to get credits should work just as well for MOOCs as it did for the Distance Learning back then.

Re:Is it really not that obvious? (2)

digitalsolo (1175321) | about 2 years ago | (#41491831)

That may be easier in a MOOC scenario, but it's pretty rampant at "real" colleges as well. A group of friends and I worked together to create spreadsheets that could answer our physics problems, each one took one one problem and then we traded equations when we were done (the homework used different numbers, but required the same equations). You would then only have to do 1 of 15 problems and the other 14 were provided for you. We were able to use scientific calculators on exams as well, so you just had to know which of your auto-equations to fill in the blanks on.

Oddly though, in retrospect, many of the programming tricks I learned in college to cheat have been much more useful to me in the work place then the endless equations that were fed to me in engineering school.

Re:Is it really not that obvious? (2)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about 2 years ago | (#41492499)

That you can cheat like you described is a function of the assignment design, not the mode of education, and easily gameable assignment designs are usually a function of class size and instructor resources. I would imagine this physics course was a low level undergraduate course with over 30 students, more likely 100+. In all my physics courses past freshman year, assignments were created from scratch each week and involved a fair amount of creativity in the derivations and proofs. Projects also became more commonplace, where copying from another student is virtually impossible. These kinds of projects and teaching scenarios are at direct odds with the structure of these "MOOCs."

In short, I'd say while it is likely that you can get through maybe cheat your way through couple lower level undergraduate courses, it's very unlikely that you'll get outstanding grades in any of those courses at any university of reputable rigor, but even more unlikely that you'd make your way through an entire degree doing as such. For MOOCs, there's really no way to sidestep the gameable assignments if they hope to offer a comprehensive educational experience (from basics through advanced topics).

Re:Is it really not that obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494753)

There is: Distributed grading. Have other students (possibly higher level students) grade, and have multiple people grade the same work. The results are about as precise as having instructors grade (ie, same correlation to instructor grading as different instructors grading have.)

Re:Is it really not that obvious? (1)

digitalsolo (1175321) | about 2 years ago | (#41494773)

Fair enough. That was a 200 level course at Purdue University for what it's worth. I would concur that later undergrad studies definitely limited easy cheating such as that.

Re:Is it really not that obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41495343)

While having other people programming your answers for you is probably not helpful, I'd have to say that writing a lisp function to derive my calculus homework for me probably did more for reinforcing the chain rule etc than deriving 50 expressions by hand would have done.

Re:Is it really not that obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41493321)

There is work being done on automated problem generation and grading. As a sibling pointed out, this already works pretty well for programming assignments. On the other hand, it is unclear how to get that out of the rut of generating the same problems with different numbers over and over again as another sibling pointed out. For education to work at this scale, those certainly are important issues: you simply can't have humans generating and grading so many problems.

Re:Is it really not that obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41494729)

Credential-chasing is probably a misplaced goal anyway.

It is a shortcut to determining whether a worker is "safe" to hire.

Here is a route where uncredentialed courses DO have a real payoff:
1. Worker has a REAL job in field X.
2. Worker takes Udacity (etc) course to improve and advance skills in field X.
3. Worker applies new skills AT work, proves to employer that he is worth promotion, a raise, (etc).
4. Worker puts promotions, new projects involving new skills, on his CV/Resume, in pursuit of new employment/advancement.

The danger of credential-chasing, is that when the ONLY value is in the credential, it becomes nothing more than a very valuable piece of paper. The U of C paper is maybe less valuable than the MIT or Harvard paper, just because of the BRAND RECOGNITION. It says NOTHING about the quality of the education, or the value of the student as a potential employee. Even a credential is no guarantee of merit. Someone passed a few tests? That system can absolutely be gamed - and we know damn well that does not automatically make someone a good employee.

However - the credential, as a value for the student, is VITAL for getting that INITIAL job, that Foot-In-The-Door position.
This is something that these schools can't really provide - (but that, the system WILL evolve - because there ARE alternatives, and I'm not talking about University of Phoenix, either). This is simply a VERY BROKEN part of our labor and hiring system. Business still does not have a very good way of evaluating the potential (and actual) quality of an employee. And there are way fewer actual jobs than people. Many businesses ramp-up hiring specifically to boost "size" for political and stock-trading purposes, (or in advance of layoffs). Hiring isn't often even always about the quality of the applicant.
Often, the only way to really know if an employee is any good - is anecdotally, if the manager likes the worker, and if the worker performs well, over time. And that's not an evaluation anyone can apply to a new-hire looking for their first job.

But someday, this "rockstar" mentality of association between job-candidate quality, and the NAME on their school, will have to break - when education certification becomes fully commoditized. When that happens, industry's going to have to find a better measuring-stick for new hires.

OR - a lot of new hires are going to sit around unemployed. (like. . .um. . . now?)

Re:Is it really not that obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41490959)

Isn't it a little ironic, complaining about lack of interactivity on the internet, on an internet forum?

Re:Is it really not that obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41491241)

I did some distance courses in the late 90's, I liked them a lot, and found them just as good as the courses I did in University. I stopped taking them, when, in less than 2 years, they went from $300 (with books) to $700 (order your books from the online book store separately) per course :(

Now, I feel like a kid in a candy store. At any one time I am fully taking 1-2 courses (doing quizes, assignments, tests, etc) and auditing 2-3 others. And I am doing this while working full time and raising 3 kids. I just love to learn, but cost was the barrier for me, so for quite a few years I just studied languages and tools (and their online tutorials) so this has been amazing for me ... and I have to assume there are more just like me out there too :)


NASA - Not Another Shitty Acronym (3)

jmerlin (1010641) | about 2 years ago | (#41490301)

Seriously. MOOC? Seriously?

To what extent has the problem been tech? (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#41490347)

There is certainly a threshold below which technology is a fairly likely candidate for your educational problem(the development and widespread availability of the printing press isn't a bad option to designate, though I'm sure one could make an argument for others); but once you hit that point, it seems like the marginal return on throwing additional technology at the problem starts to degrade pretty rapidly until you get into the realm of sci-fi stuff like pedagogical AIs or brain interfaces, or possibly-available-sooner-but-still-rather-tepid stuff like performance enhancing drugs.

This is not to say that technology hasn't made some of the logistics of education more convenient or cheaper(pushing PDFs is easier and lighter than pushing paper, email tends to arrive faster than the USPS, etc.); but something like one of these 'massively open online courses' is really a lower-latency version of what people were doing through the mail in the '20s(if you simply must have sound, bump the timeline to the cassette tape era, if you must have video, videocassette tape era).

The weak links are still people successfully reading/listening to acquire the material, with both tutoring and assessments posing a real scaling challenge because both are comparatively labor intensive(unless specifically shoehorned into a scantron type format) and frequently necessary to keep less auto-didactic members of the class on track.

I've seen a few cases that seem genuinely novel in terms of solving this problem, there's some neat music-teaching software out there that can(once a given piece and instrument is added to its library, which only has to happen once) analyze and provide feedback on a student's playback of the piece. Probably not a major producer of improv jazz geniuses; but an actual improvement over the conventional 'practice, practice, practice' with much less frequent feedback.

For any subject that hasn't been conquered by an expert system suitable for telling students useful things about how they are doing, though, all the technology we can throw at the problem seems to amount to little more than a slightly cheaper, slightly faster, book.

It's not about education, it's about credentials (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41490391)

If you just wanna learn, all you need is a good textbook, and some patience.
Or you could watch a video or read some shit on the internet, or whatever.
Learning isn't really that hard to come by.

If, on the other hand, you want to have evidence showing that you do, in fact, know the material, then it gets much trickier.
It's particularly tricky to automate, since it's intrinsically an arms race between students and testers.

The usual approach for automating decision problems is heuristic + blacklist + whitelist.

We can't really whitelist anyone, since generating a whitelist is, itself, the whole point. Your college diploma is the whitelist entry.
We can blacklist people, but only if they get caught, and it doesn't work all that well if they can just retake the course at no extra cost.
We can't use heuristics because with so much at stake, the students are highly motivated to cheat, and will exploit any weakness they can find.
The heuristic will quickly be broken and the whole thing goes to shit.

So basically, we go nothing that works here.

The traditional solution is tests taken in a controlled environment, under supervision of paid humans, with harsh punishments for cheating.
So far, I've yet to see any alternative to that, regardless of computers or the internet.
There is no breakthrough in sight.

Re:It's not about education, it's about credential (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41490577)

I think interaction contributes a lot to learning. So in the online classes, I can interact with other students in the forums. And the in-video quizzes provide some interaction while I'm learning the material.

Re:It's not about education, it's about credential (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#41490699)

Most people don't want to learn, they want to be taught. Thus the hype about interactive textbooks (the ones with actual stuff you have to read are too boring) and online videos (because reading is hard and listening is just as bad).

There's this idea that if you just hit on the magic teaching method you'll be able to pour knowledge into people's heads and they can just sit in their lazyboy watching TV, I mean, the computer, and absorb it.

Re:It's not about education, it's about credential (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about 2 years ago | (#41492375)

That's a bit harsh. Learning is much easier if you're taught.

In fact, everyone likes learning. Learning is the purest form of mental stimulation, and mental stimulation is the source of the sensation we call "fun". What people don't like is not learning. If a textbook is boring, it's because you're not learning. Most interactive textbooks fail to address this problem, and just add pointless bells and whistles that don't address the problem of poorly paced material. What online education does offer is a much tighter, better audited feedback loop, that should allow educators to build-a-better-textbook. That's what companies like Knewton are doing with their adaptive courseware. Unfortunately the big names -- Coursera, edX and Udacity aren't: they're saying "we're taking lots of data, and we'll you know, analyse it. At some point." They're not writing adaptive courses, which is a shame. They've had thousands of students follow a single iteration of the syllabus. In a real university, you'd revise the syllabus on feedback every year -- 20-100 students per iteration. If they'd iterated for every hundred students in the AI course, the course would now be damn-near optimised!

Re:It's not about education, it's about credential (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#41492677)

Absolutely. Learning is much easier if your taught, and even easier if you're taught well. Teaching, particularly good teaching, is a service that is limited in supply and I think it should be reserved for people who want to learn. Free education for all (books, videos, etc.) and someone to spend their time helping you do it for those who are willing to put some effort into it. Education should absolutely be publicly funded but should not be free.

Everyone does not like learning. Yes, it's incredible to me too, but it seems to be true. Actual scientific studies have shown that the average (adult) person much prefers "learning" things he already "knows" (believes, rather) to learning things he does not. People like watching videos online and saying "ah yes, that confirms what I already knew." Videos that do that, or are designed so that the watcher can *think* they do that, are popular. Videos that challenge incorrect beliefs and confirm that the watcher actually learned something are not.

Learning is hard. Most people prefer not to do it unless they have a very strong motivation to do so.

Dropout Rate? (1)

theakstonsXB (1075239) | about 2 years ago | (#41490519)

I didn't see a dropout rate from the Stanford class, but I'd be interested to know if it matches that of the correspondance courses. The article mentions MIT's class with a 5% completion rate. Doesn't sound that great to me. But for 'free education' it's not too bad.

Re:Dropout Rate? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41491769)

Lets see, 5% of 160,000 is 8000 students that passed.. I believe for the AI course they had a little more than that (around 9000 pass). My university had 300 CS students in the 101 course, by 3rd year, my biggest class had 12 students.

I think that 5% needs to be taken into context pending the following:
1. What is the dropout rate of a regular university?
2. How many Universities does it take to pass 8000 students for a single class? (e.g., an AI course)
3. Of the 95% that did drop/fail the course, how many were do to other complications (e.g., work, life, getting the site to work, death, accident) -- it would be interesting to see how that correlates with a regular university and how many will re-take/finish the course again later.

Yes. This time, it's different (4, Interesting)

sisukapalli1 (471175) | about 2 years ago | (#41490545)

Here are some reasons, in random order:

1. The courses are "immersive" with frequent short quizzes, explanation of answers, etc. (in case of udacity, it is almost like once every couple of minutes). This is a big plus compared to correspondence courses.
2. There is a strong online community, instant access to reference material, forums, discussions, etc., which is a big plus.
3. Most of the material is free (I do not have any experience with non-free material).
4. The teachers are top class -- I mean, really top class, and the material they teach is high class and very unique [*].
5. The classes are massively scalable, archivable, easily made available, etc. (correspondence courses aren't).
6. There is an Indian saying "knowledge is wealth". So far, the top 1% have rarely helped the bottom 99% (and made them think that they should only "occupy wall street"). The MOOCs help in making the knowledge available to the 99% (turns out, it is a simpler problem to solve than the financial one).

The only major point people make is with respect to evaluating the credentials of a student who has taken these courses (and any types of cheating)... It is not a problem of the educator -- my belief is that the job of evaluating a candidate is mostly that of the interviewer. Employers that rely on lazy interviews in hiring people help the society at large -- they take away people that game the system out of the pool! And, slashdot should be the last place where education becomes secondary to grades (mind you, there are still grades for the MOOCs, and one can repeat the courses multiple times -- so one actually learns and deserves a top grade).

[*] To give a perspective, I am old, not from comp.sci background, didn't know python as of January (and have been destined to amount to nothing much!). I completed two courses on Udacity (CS101 -- thinking they'd focus on search, but they taught me python; and Peter Norvig's course). I had a phone interview with a "big deal" company where I gave a one-line answer based on what Peter Norvig taught [which impressed the interviewer -- and I explained him that their guy taught me the stuff]. I also took a course with Tim Roughgarden on Algorithms, and that helped me re-discover the joy of math and formal treatment of problems. I met him [Roughgarden] recently when he was visiting a nearby university, and his point was, if someone spends one hour on his class and learns something, he is more than happy. Without these courses, I'd still be wondering, "where did I screw up". Not any more.

Google's Peter Norvig? (3, Interesting)

cpghost (719344) | about 2 years ago | (#41490551)

I hate repeating myself [] , but what's this craze to attribute someone with such a reputation as Peter Norvig merely to his current employer? He's much more than a mere Google employee, IMHO. Can't we credit people with their real achievements instead of their employers?

Re:Google's Peter Norvig? (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 2 years ago | (#41491947)

It's oddly topical in this case, since getting hired by a selective company is a form of accreditation - just like a degree from prestigious school.

Early days, so quality is far below par (1)

Morgaine (4316) | about 2 years ago | (#41490565)

It takes time to hone courses and online teaching methodologies into effective systems of education, so it's no huge surprise if the quality is below standard at the moment.

That first AI course of Thrun and Norvig's was nothing short of a didactic disaster, full of unexplained inconsistencies in the material, very limited coverage of the area, and no effective authoritative means of answering queries and misunderstandings. The many online fora were just the blind leading the blind. In summary, it was not a Stanford quality course. Many people still benefited from it, but that's a testament to their own individual perseverance and not to the quality of the material nor the teaching.

It will take time to get it right, and I'm sure that that particular course has improved already. But even more importantly, it will require a lot of experience to flow under the bridge before MOOCs earn significant respect, much of that experience based on trial and error. This should be no surprise. Physically attended courses didn't become perfect overnight either.

Re:Early days, so quality is far below par (1)

Quirkz (1206400) | about 2 years ago | (#41492009)

Yep, I've seen a number of different bugs and errors in my classes. A bad video here, a broken link there, misconfigured test answers that have to be fixed, small outages for which they extend deadlines, and a couple of email notices sent either too late or sent twice. Most of this stuff is relatively minor. I'd be a little nervous if I had a college degree hinging on these things and I'd paid a lot for them, but for free personal education I'm perfectly content to relax and just run with it as they work out the kinks. There's a lot of good in the classes I've taken, too, and I would think even the second time around they would likely fix 90% of the problems I'm seeing in the first run.

What about efficacy? (1)

mcrbids (148650) | about 2 years ago | (#41490575)

I know two women well, my wife, and a family friend. My family friend got a credential attending Phoenix University, while my wife is getting the same credential attendance a California State University. The University my wife is attending is a mid-range school, nothing particularly special, and definitely not a first tier school.

The difference between the two is rather stark. Wife is easily passing exams for accreditation that Family Friend (a very sharp gal, mind you) struggles with, making multiple attempts at without passing. Family friend is frustrated and in debt, Wife is blazing through excitedly. (Still in debt, but it's pretty clear she'll be able to handle the debt load when out in the field)

My respect for the CSU system has risen dramatically, and my contempt for the college system has vanished. I still think that the combination of computer technology and education holds tremendous progress, but it's pretty clear to me that online-only learning is still a work in progress.

We should be using computers as a way of transferring information, as a richer replacement to textbooks, but teachers very clearly still need to be a robust part of the mix.

Wanring! Warning! Danger Will Robinson! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41490649)

Someone posts an article on slashdot saying it is balanced. That is enough to determine it is highly biased.

( No Ihaven't read it. I have no idea which way it is slanted. I stopped reading when I saw the word "balanced". )

You Are Not Paying For An Education (1)

sackvillian (1476885) | about 2 years ago | (#41491023)

College has become far more about the degree than the experience, sadly. You can meet scores of graduates that have shining transcripts and dismal educations. And this is one of the reason the cost is so obscene -- as Thomas Frank said, "An annual pass to Disneyland would also cost $54,000 if society believed that what it took to make you eligible for success was a great many hours spent absorbing the subtle lessons of the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage."

Until there is prestige associated with online learning, an online education will never be as valuable or acceptable as a brick-and-mortar degree mill experience. However, to those who actually want to learn and to do, access to high quality education experiences from anywhere in the world is fantastic and will only continue to improve with better technology and pedagogy. Though it's no surprising that the breakthrough course was in a geeky subject that attracts genuine curiosity.

Re:You Are Not Paying For An Education (1)

supercrisp (936036) | about 2 years ago | (#41492083)

Aphorism's like Frank's sound so smart because they're glib. The value of a university education is not just based on belief. Yes, Charles Murray and other conservatives really, really want you to believe that. And they will flat-out state that we need more ditch-diggers and fewer college-educated people. But the wealthy aren't lining up to become ditch-diggers, so what they're talking about is reducing opportunities for upward mobility. But, the value? Well, how do you measure it? What do you measure? If you say "skills," the what skills? As I got my degree at a brick and mortar institution I not only learned various forms of math, science, and other crap I don't use all that much, I also learned things about how to dress, how to speak, how to carry myself in ways that don't reveal that I'm from a town of less than a 1,000 in the rural South. I learned to tolerate, accept, even like gay people, black people, foreign people, even though what I'd be taught and what is still taught in my home community is very different. I was also exposed to, by force, a wide range of topics and fields, some of which inform my life today. Sure, I don't use science much at my job, but I remember enough to read science articles with interest, to immediately know that something like the Star Wars missile shield was not going to work without some unobtainium and flux capacitors, &c &c. And having exhausted all those things, I'll return to the skills we can measure, "book larnin'." I can think of four people who changed my life as a learner, as a scholar, my mind, and of whose provocations I think at least weekly. And those interactions occurred, and I do not think could occur outside of, "meatspace" interactions. One example was a person saying to me "I don't think he cares what you think." Such a mundane, common thing to say. But in the context and in person, where I could not shrug it off or be angry at it, the impact was profound. I had to actually sit there, on the spot, in front of a witness and absorb an unpleasant fact about how I was letting my narcissism impact my scholarship. Of course scholar X didn't care that I disapproved of his ideas. If I wanted to challenge him, I would have to.... And of course today, much of my research is based on the work of scholar X, who has himself become one of my mentors. I don't think you can get that in these MOOCs or other online environments because largely and necessarily they are based on a mass-production model. It's an option, an alternative, but one that, I believe, is meant to be a palliative alternative, a sort of sop to disguise the fact that the best learning and interaction is taking place elsewhere and is more and more for those with the social clout and real capital to acquire it. Basically, to me, these things are what ketchup packets are to vegetable servings. And I'm damned sorry, but no option I pursue will preserve paragraphs in my postings.

Re:You Are Not Paying For An Education (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41495419)

And I'm damned sorry, but no option I pursue will preserve paragraphs in my postings.

In the future, choose "plain old text" and hit enter twice between paragraphs, or else learn HTML. Also note that slashcode hates paragraphs that start or end with some kinds of punctuation (ellipsis never works) so you have to abuse the fuck out of paragraph tags to get it to work in some cases.

experience oriented account of Norvig/Thrun course (1)

fortunatus (445210) | about 2 years ago | (#41491357)

Article by a professor who took the course along with a small group:

Balanced overview? (1)

starfishsystems (834319) | about 2 years ago | (#41491715)

Nicholas Carr offering a "balanced overview" of anything?


The old degree system needs reworking. More trades (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#41491741)

The old degree system needs reworking.

It need to move to a more of trades / tech / badges like system.

The older systems is in big blocks loaded with lot's of fluff and filler and is slow to update to new ideas in fast moving areas.

in a older colleges lot's of the teaching staff has been in education for all of life and have little real world experience of what they are teaching in some areas.

We need a system that is

* not tied to the college time table.
* is open to drop in / continuing education
* more skills based / trades like
* real apprenticeships in the tech field not internships tied to college

Coursera heavy on math (1)

scruffy (29773) | about 2 years ago | (#41491793)

After taking a few courses from Coursera, a high dropout rate is not surprising. The CS courses are mainly math courses in disguise, which works when you are teaching CS students at the high end of the intelligence spectrum, like at Stanford and other top-tier colleges, but simply loses most students otherwise. Even the NLP course was very focused on the mathematical models, much less so on the linguistics.

I suppose many might say it's not computer science without the math, but you can still teach much about computer technology and software design while being gentler with the math.

Personally, I've enjoyed the courses because I like math (except the quantum computation course, which was dreadful), but I know most of our CS students would be buried by the math. For the record, I'm at a state univ with some good research, but nowhere near a flagship. We do want to graduate some students, and the students we do graduate are in demand in our area.

Re:Coursera heavy on math (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41492769)

I am enrolled in the Coursera Machine Learning class and my biggest problem is that I don't have the math skills that the course requires. I am working like crazy to get caught up, but the online lectures, course material, student genetated discussions, and environment make me think the approach, for this class has much to offer.

I just need one or two lower level classes to get my maths up to snuff. That and not having a wildly unreasonable project thrust upon me the third week into the course. What was it the other commenter said about time and money?

Depth (1)

wjousts (1529427) | about 2 years ago | (#41492135)

One think I've noticed so far, it seems that pretty much all the courses on offer are introductory. And when you think about the drop out rate, this kinda makes sense. If only 10% of people starting your course finishes it, what's the point of putting up a follow-up course? Already the market for that course is tiny in comparison to the introductory course. You can probably expect a lower drop-out rate on the follow-up course, but it'll be less than 100%. And not even all the students finishing your first course will take the second. So maybe 10% finish the first course, 75% of them take the second class, and maybe 50% of them finish it. Now what's the point of the third class in the series? You pretty rapidly go from MOOC to TOOC (tiny open online class) with a handful of students.

So my fear is, while this is a great way to get a broad introduction to a lot of different topics, you'll never see it really get into depth. For that, you will absolutely still need a traditional university.

BTW, I took the original AI class, the Udacity web engineering class, and I'm currently taking the gamification course of Coursera. I've also done the traditional university thing in the past for far too many years to get a Ph.D.

Is it different this time? (1)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | about 2 years ago | (#41492399)

The answer to this is an obvious YES. For MOOCs like Udacity or even Codecademy, the lessons are free. That's really all that's needed to make it different, but there's more to it than that. Students can communicate with each other and get feedback much more easily and quickly than with 1920's correspondence courses too.

You don't need to wait for a MOOC to learn (1)

CuteSteveJobs (1343851) | about 2 years ago | (#41494999)

You don't need a course to be a "MOOC". In America many Universities offer videos of their lectures and some offer notes and exercises too. Buy the textbook - secondhand, show some gritm put aside the time and you can learn anything. If you get stuck there are forums like 'mad scientists' where people will help you. Connect with others interested in learning the same thing. If you get stuck on a particular concept, check another textbook for an alternate explanation or check out Kahn Academy. Many tutors post short clips explaining concepts on Youtube too.

Some people ask if you get credit for these. Of course you don't, and I question the motives of those people: If you're more interested in buying a piece of paper, then buy the piece of paper. But if you want to learn, yes, it can be done. [] [] [] []
Some universities only make the podcasts available only on ITunes, but there are alternatives to Apple's walled garden: []

Can I add: A Pox on Australian degree factories (also known as 'Universities') who won't make their content available online because they are more interested in squeezing every last cent out of their students. The idea of accidentally helping someone terrifies them.
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