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MOOC Mania

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the don't-call-it-a-bubble-yet dept.

Education 102

theodp writes "Online education has had a fifty-year road to 'overnight' success. MIT Technology Review calls the emergence of free online education, particularly massive open online courses (MOOCs), The Most Important Education Technology in 200 Years. 'If you were asked to name the most important innovation in transportation over the last 200 years,' writes Antonio Regalado, 'you might say the combustion engine, air travel, Henry Ford's Model-T production line, or even the bicycle. The list goes on. Now answer this one: what's been the single biggest innovation in education? Don't worry if you come up blank. You're supposed to.' Writing about MOOC Mania in the Communications of the ACM, Moshe Y. Vardi worries that 'the enormous buzz about MOOCs is not due to the technology's intrinsic educational value, but due to the seductive possibilities of lower costs.' And in MOOCs Will Eat Academia, Vivek Haldar writes, 'MOOCs will almost certainly hollow out the teaching component of universities as it stands today...But all is not lost, because the other thing universities do is research, and that is arguably as important, if not more, than teaching.' So, are MOOCs the best thing since sliced bread, or merely the second coming of 1920s Postal Course Mania?"

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To bad that non college education does not respect (2)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#41943453)

To bad that non college education does not get the respect is should.

Now if tech had more of a apprenticeship / Union Hall system for IT skills.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1, Interesting)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | about 2 years ago | (#41943603)

This comment would have had a lot of impact if you took the time to use and spell the words correctly. I make a lot of spelling mistakes on Slashdot, but if this were a post not to make them on, this is it.

For the record, and for the most part I agree with you. I've seen too many University grads who assume that a piece of paper means they are more intelligent, wise, and skillful than someone without one even if that person has years of experience; not understanding that such an attitude belies those assumptions. Not everyone has the means to afford university or the mindset that allows them to learn in that environment. The United States seems to be less inclined this way than in Canada (where a piece of paper is everything) at least in IT. In the U.S., experience still seems to mean something. From what I've seen, equivalent time in the work place often equals or exceeds time studying for a master's degree. There are always exceptions, but it still doesn't add IQ or wisdom, just knowledge. Autodidacticism is highly under-rated.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41943797)

As an English teacher, I applaud your effort to chastise the GP for his inability to spell common homonyms, but your inability to use commas correctly - I found disconcerting. Not to mention, the incorrect use of the semicolon. Please edit your post to reflect the misused commas and semicolon.

Thank you

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41944369)

Here we go criticizing the critics while ourselves making critical language mistakes.

Shouldn't ineffective English teachers be the ones held responsible for the inability of the populace to have good English in the first place? If you feel like criticizing someone, just look into the mirror.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#41944573)

Shouldn't ineffective English teachers be the ones held responsible for the inability of the populace to have good English in the first place?

Nah, just bash them into the head with the Chicago Manual of Style (NOT the electronic edition!) every time you find a mistake, they'll learn eventually (or ask for a transfer). :-)

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1, Troll)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 2 years ago | (#41944475)

As an English teacher, I applaud your effort to chastise the GP for his inability to spell common homonyms, but your inability to use commas correctly - I found disconcerting.

Good lord. You're an English teacher? Try learning to write a sentence that flows well. How about: "As an English teacher, I applaud your effort to chastise the GP for his inability to spell common homonyms, but I found your inability to use commas correctly [to be] disconcerting" or simply "... but your inability to use commas correctly is disconcerting."

Abrupt unnecessary dashes often signal an inability to connect subclauses efficiently.

Not to mention, the incorrect use of the semicolon.

Not to mention the incorrect comma in the middle of a sentence fragment. (Hint: If your first sentence didn't sound like a run-on, you should have joined this fragment to the previous clause.)

I really can't stand pedants who make errors while correcting pedants who make errors.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

Guignol (159087) | about 2 years ago | (#41944815)

Let's just add some more polemic to it
To bad or not to bad, that begs the question...

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#41945509)

You're an English teacher? Try learning to write a sentence that flows well.

He could be an English teacher of PE. The English *do* have PE in schools, right? And these don't have to be Shakespeares in order to do their work.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 2 years ago | (#41946939)

these don't have to be Shakespeares

That brings up an interesting point. I have a 'facsimile of the First Folio'* copy of Shakespeare's works in my library. Part of why I enjoy reading Shakespear in the first folio edition is the spelling. In Shakespeare's time there were no refined 'rules' for spelling in the modern sense. Words are spelled out the way they sound, with variants. Once you see Shakespeare printed that way you start to notice that the "silent e's" sometimes make the poetry work better if they're pronounced.

My point? Shakespeare possibly would get marks on his paper in a modern school for 'bad spelling.' The nattering pedants who fuss excessively about spelling are a modern phenomenon.

(* grab a Facsimile First Folio if you can get one. I am not sure that it's in print anymore. I bet Google has one, or part of one, online.)

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

Old Grey Beard (869804) | about 2 years ago | (#41949773)

[...] My point? Shakespeare possibly would get marks on his paper in a modern school for 'bad spelling.' The nattering pedants who fuss excessively about spelling are a modern phenomenon.[...]

I suspect if Shakespeare knew he had a standard to follow, he most likely would have followed it and only gotten good marks. Especially with the spelling correctors available today.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | about 2 years ago | (#41945417)

I think that is why I said I don't always get it right either. :)

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

jenningsthecat (1525947) | about 2 years ago | (#41945773)

Not to mention, the incorrect use of the semicolon.

Your own command of grammar is hardly exemplary. The so-called sentence which I quoted above has no subject, and is therefore not complete. Your pedantry would be less offensive to me if you knew enough to consistently compose correctly formed sentences.

Please edit your post to reflect the misused commas and semicolon.

I believe you meant to say "Please edit your post to correct the misused commas and semicolon". In the context given, the word "reflect" makes no sense.

In a posting consisting of three sentences you managed to make two mistakes. If you are indeed an English teacher, and if you are representative of your profession, then it's not surprising that grammar and spelling mistakes are so common. Please edit your post to reflect your own high standards, hypocrite.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41945847)

I thought he was a subtle troll.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | about 2 years ago | (#41949629)

I do not believe the commas nor the semicolon were misused. You exhibit symptoms of what I complain about.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

Ironchew (1069966) | about 2 years ago | (#41944269)

I've seen too many University grads who assume that a piece of paper means they are more intelligent, wise, and skillful than someone without one even if that person has years of experience; not understanding that such an attitude belies those assumptions.

More specifically, employers think a piece of paper is everything and they have absolute control of decent wages.

In the U.S., experience still seems to mean something.

Unfortunately, with zero experience, there are hardly any employers that will hire you without a degree. Employers need to start taking responsibility for workforce training again.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (2)

WaywardGeek (1480513) | about 2 years ago | (#41945753)

Unfortunately, with zero experience, there are hardly any employers that will hire you without a degree. Employers need to start taking responsibility for workforce training again.

I think MOOCs may offer exactly this. What good is a printed certificate of MOOC completion? Not much. However, a course designed by employers as an entrance exam could be pretty cool. Several years ago, our VP of engineering asked me to put together some hard problems to solve that are related to the work we do, and then distributed them at a local university. Several grad students were interested in the challenge, and wrote up solutions. We invited them all to our company for free pizza, and went over solutions. We made offers to two of them, and one accepted. He's still with us today, and he's fabulous. We could theoretically turn those sorts of problems into a company specific MOOC that gave applicants a good feel for the sorts of skills we need. We'd grade the solutions ourselves.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41944411)

This comment would have had a lot of impact if you took the time to use and spell the words correctly.

He only went to tard^H trade school. Give him a brake!

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#41944595)

He only went to tard^H trade school. Give him a brake!

What if he's a plumber and not a car mechanic?

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

jfengel (409917) | about 2 years ago | (#41944651)

Autodidacticism is under-rated by others, but it is easily over-rated by those who have done it. It is easy to assume that you have taught yourself all of the important things, and that the things you haven't learned are unimportant.

Skills that are easily tested for are those that are matters of memorization and basic deduction, and the jobs they qualify you for are comparatively low-paying. It's better than purely mechanical or rote jobs, but the big salaries go to those who have skills beyond certification: cooperation, originality, imagination, communication, curiosity.

A college education is a crude measure of this, and one that is increasingly more expensive than it needs to be. But college offers a breadth that autodidacts often lack. The humanities requirements in particular seem irrelevant to those with technical skills, but they genuinely are important in ways that don't show up on tests.

I'm not saying that all autodidacts lack this. Companies are foolish if they automatically reject a candidate who lacks a college degree. But when a resume crosses my desk without one, it's going to have to have something special to show me that you have the spark that makes you a member of my team, not just a drone who knows how to connect the dots. Similarly, the college grad had better be prepared to sparkle in the interview, because I'm not looking for somebody who scratched out a grade without learning the lessons.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | about 2 years ago | (#41945473)

just a drone who knows how to connect the dots

That's what a degree says to me. Ever heard the expression, you don't need to understand the material, just know the stuff the professor wants you to get right on the tests. Or your assignment only has to say the things the professor wants to see. That's how students get good marks. Not from understanding, just mimicking back to the professor what he/she wants to see and hear.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (3, Insightful)

mfwitten (1906728) | about 2 years ago | (#41943687)

apprenticeship / Union Hall system for IT skills.

The capital requirements for computing are about as close to zero as anything can get; if you have a computer and an Internet connection and working brain, then what more do you need?

If you're not motivated enough to cultivate your own personal projects, then join some open source projects, thereby learning how to communicate your ideas effectively in text (through email), work with multiple people in a distributed environment, maintain cross-platform support, etc.

Then, in an interview:
"We use <insert open source project> as the core of our system. Do you know anything about it?"
"Yeah. I wrote a lot of it."
That opens the door much wider than any snooty beaver ring.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

V!NCENT (1105021) | about 2 years ago | (#41943751)

Looks like MOOC is based on Connectivism, in which knowledge is connected. Isn't that what Wikipedia is?

BTW: Who gives a shit about respect?

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41944107)

BTW: Who gives a shit about respect?

CM Punk gives a shit about respect.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

drcheap (1897540) | about 2 years ago | (#41945601)

BTW: Who gives a shit about respect?

CM Punk gives a shit about respect.

Aretha Franklin gives a shit about R E S P E C T!

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

V!NCENT (1105021) | about 2 years ago | (#41948181)

Respect should be earned, not with the knowledge obtained, but what has been done with it.

I learn to do. Learning for respect is goddamn stupid.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41943911)

To bad that non college education does not get the respect is should.

Now if tech had more of a apprenticeship / Union Hall system for IT skills.

The way you write tells us all that you're a moron and none of your ideas should be taken seriously.

You may as well confuse "were/where" and "lose/loose" like the rest of the idiots.

Re:To bad that non college education does not resp (1)

GrantRobertson (973370) | about 2 years ago | (#41947357)

Agreed and agreed.

And I prefer to think that the lack of grammatical perfection in your post is due either to typing on a phone or to make a point. Though the Grammar Nazis are correct: A good point is made better with a little additional care as to grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

lunacy (5, Insightful)

jsepeta (412566) | about 2 years ago | (#41943461)

this, and the many other articles I've been reading lately that decry the death of the university, completely ignores the fact that many people learn best when they have the routine of going to a physical classroom and being in a seminar-style setting where there is an instructor and other students to ask questions and round out one's understanding of a topic. i think it's all hogwash. maybe remote learning can replace certification tracks or community college, but get real. this is a load of dung.

many people learn best hands on not in classroom (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#41943519)

many people also learn best hands on not in a pure classroom or a classroom with loads of theory and very little hands on.

also you need instructors who have done work in the field in some areas vs ones that have been in the school system there full life.

Re:many people learn best hands on not in classroo (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41943943)

vs ones that have been in the school system there full life

THEIR. The word is "their", you imbecile.

"There" refers to a location.
"They're" is a contraction for "they are".
"Their" is possessive. It refers to something belonging to them. "Their full life" is the life belonging to them.

It's not hard.

Re:many people learn best hands on not in classroo (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | about 2 years ago | (#41944371)

many people also learn best hands on not in a pure classroom or a classroom with loads of theory and very little hands on.

True but then university is not really designed for these people. If you want to learn hands-on skills then there are vocational training colleges which will do this far better than a university and which have better connections with the industries that you will likely end up working in. These also typically have instructors with practical experience.

The problem with modern society is that we have achieved a very worthwhile goal that just about anyone can go to university if they work hard and want to. However what we have failed to do is educate people about whether they _should_ go. Indeed it seems to have become the default position that as long as you can make the entrance requirements you should go regardless of whether that is the sensible thing to do given your intended career choice.

Re:many people learn best hands on not in classroo (3, Insightful)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 2 years ago | (#41945091)

many people also learn best hands on not in a pure classroom or a classroom with loads of theory and very little hands on.

True but then university is not really designed for these people. If you want to learn hands-on skills then there are vocational training colleges which will do this far better than a university and which have better connections with the industries that you will likely end up working in.

I would say that most jobs are also not demanding proper skills from university graduates. Universities should not actually be seen as "theoretical" training exercises for a career. The vast majority of professions would be better learned "on the job" or perhaps in a hybrid apprenticeship with some (probably minor) academic component.

The problem isn't just that too many people are going to universities and thinking of them as a way to get a career -- it's also that too many businesses have come to think that a 4-year degree is actually useful preparation for a job. In reality, many universities are little more than screening systems -- providing a credential that says, "yeah, I can get a minimal number of tasks done and might know a little useless information that could relate to a job in field X." Then the corporation spends a few years while that person figures out field X actually functions in the real world and acquires the skills actually necessary to perform the job.

The whole system would be more efficient if most companies just hired people out of high school and had competitive apprenticeship programs (with some minor theoretical elements perhaps required as outside classwork as necessary). Outside of truly "academic" disciplines (liberal arts, abstract math, advanced research), I can think of very few jobs which really need years of theoretical training courses.

The problem these days is that neither employees nor employers feel any loyalty toward each other, so a company wouldn't want to take a risk training high-school grads only to have them jump ship after they actually know what they are doing, or, worse, turn out to be a dead-beat failures. On the other hand, that's exactly the reason why it's become so hard for people straight out of college to land entry-level positions -- companies know that college education is mostly useless in terms of real-world skills, and they don't want to try to invest in someone for a few years teaching them how to actually do stuff without knowing their reliability or how committed they are to the field. In a competitive market, it's easier just to throw out any resume without at least a couple years of experience.

Re:many people learn best hands on not in classroo (1)

Kjella (173770) | about 2 years ago | (#41946983)

The vast majority of professions would be better learned "on the job" or perhaps in a hybrid apprenticeship with some (probably minor) academic component. (...) The problem these days is that neither employees nor employers feel any loyalty toward each other, so a company wouldn't want to take a risk training high-school grads only to have them jump ship after they actually know what they are doing

The nature of the learning curve typically means you'll "owe" the company and then work it back and that's a fairly ugly position for the employee to be in, you can be quite abused if you can't quit and find another job without some massive penalty fee. My goals and their goals are typically not the same because they're probably better off offloading all their tedious, repetitive work on the newbie to free up time for their highly experienced and productive employees. It's far better for me to make that investment in myself and go to a dedicated institution with a curriculum and exams that is widely known and recognized than some in-house training that may or may not have sucked. That and past employers aren't objective. Either they might be tight lipped as a clam, your and your ex-boss might be buddies so he'll sing praises to you or he hates you because you left.

It's not going to be your degree that makes or breaks your job application, but people still look at it for different things than your work experience. It's the last somewhat objective assessment of your skills they got - assuming it's an institution they know and have a relationship to, or at least can be found in any school rankings for that subject. The only thing that's silly is that they can't look at a high school diploma and decide this is a smart kid we ought to hire, he needs to have a degree. If he comes back later with a degree and the accumulated debt of not working and tuition, he's going to come back asking for higher pay. It's strange that companies don't ask themselves whether they're getting a bad deal too.

Re:many people learn best hands on not in classroo (1)

jsepeta (412566) | about 2 years ago | (#41944889)

Did I say that one should not get hands-on experience? No. In many of my classes we did get hands-on experience, plus lectures, plus discussions. I guess that's the advantage to attending a good school and not some online sham school like University of Phoenix.

Re:many people learn best hands on not in classroo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41947169)

A deep understanding of a topic requires theory. Sure, 80% of code monkeys out there might only need practical experience, but understanding the theory is extremely important if you want to fully understand what you're doing on tricky projects.

Re:lunacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41943527)

People who can't learn without a classroom and a human instructor doting on them are going to be at a serious disadvantage in the coming decades.

Re:lunacy (1)

HarrySquatter (1698416) | about 2 years ago | (#41943565)

Because you learned everything perfectly with no feedback from anyone, right?

Re:lunacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41944033)

Because you learned everything perfectly with no feedback from anyone, right?

Because no one ever taught themselves anything and used the success or failure of practicing their knowledge to provide feedback, right?

Re:lunacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41948275)

Don't talk shit, I was born knowing it.

Re:lunacy (1)

jsepeta (412566) | about 2 years ago | (#41944879)

There's a mindset in the classroom, a certain amount of decorum if you will, which allows people with different points of view or levels of understanding to communicate without being as mean or condescending as they are on the impersonal internet. Idiot. - see what I did there?

Re:lunacy (1)

blade8086 (183911) | about 2 years ago | (#41943571)

But but .. the cliff notes ARE the book!

There was an advertisement on my local cable recently - about grants for online universities for recent highschool grads -

The main 'perk' they were offering ' GO TO SCHOOL IN YOUR PAJAMAS

because that is what is important.

That and printing out a bunch of BS MBA/MFA degrees so that corporate bs'ers can have more to grow their self reinforcing 'yes man' attitude with

Re:lunacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41943641)

I remember people thought it was hogwash that Netflix would take over from Blockbusters. And if the Netflix model was correct, they argued, Blockbusters, with their real-estate and resources advantage would soon crush upstart Netflix at their own game of online rentals. How is your Blockbusters stock doing today?

Students CAN ask questions in MOOCs. Instead of bothering the professor, students can have their question answered often multiple times by any of the 5000+ other students.

In my opinion, the only thing MOOCs are missing is perhaps the hands-on lab environments, the campus quad, and the prestige of the best colleges. Proctored exams by professional companies will only increase the credibility of MOOCs. Already, in the finance industry, the $3000 self-study CFA certification is starting to be taken seriously as an alternative to the MBA designation (because most people fail to achieve it since it's not that easy).

Re:lunacy (1)

Desler (1608317) | about 2 years ago | (#41943879)

Students CAN ask questions in MOOCs. Instead of bothering the professor, students can have their question answered often multiple times by any of the 5000+ other students.

The problem seems to be more that a professor would consider being asked questions as their students "bothering" them. If you didn't want to actually interact and help teach your kids you shouldn't have become a teacher.

In my opinion, the only thing MOOCs are missing is perhaps the hands-on lab environments, the campus quad, and the prestige of the best colleges.

Great, but your opinion also fails to factor in how people learn in different ways. Some people will definitely learn great with online video courses. Others will not. Trying to hamfist everyone into this system is just as stupid and silly as hamfisting all students into the current system.

Re:lunacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41944237)

Students CAN ask questions in MOOCs. Instead of bothering the professor, students can have their question answered often multiple times by any of the 5000+ other students.

The problem seems to be more that a professor would consider being asked questions as their students "bothering" them. If you didn't want to actually interact and help teach your kids you shouldn't have become a teacher.

If you want to interact you should not be a professor at a university and teach a large introductory class. Personal interaction with the students does not scale to 100 students and at the point of 5000 students it's simply impossible. If you tried that and work 40 hours a week you can talk to each student for 29 seconds. Good luck with that.

Re:lunacy (2)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 2 years ago | (#41944351)

The problem seems to be more that a professor would consider being asked questions as their students "bothering" them.

This is not necessarily the professor's fault. Let's put it this way: most universities care more about papers published than undergrad questions being answered, and most colleges want courses to be easier for the undergrads because that is what the students and their parents demand. Professors are under pressure to ignore students and focus on research and to make courses so easy that nobody has to ask any questions.

Re:lunacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41944403)

When I was in large lecture with 400+ other students, did anyone truly give a damn about my own personal learning style (whatever that is)? On the other hand, when there was an issue with my tuition check, you can bet that the bursar's office was all over me like stink on a skunk.

I frankly see more flexibility and potential for a MOOC to tailor its approach, at a far lower cost to everyone involved.

College "learning" (3, Interesting)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 2 years ago | (#41944307)

Unfortunately, college learning in practice is not nearly as good as it is in theory. Here's why:
  1. Professors are under pressure to make courses easier, because students and their parents are pressuring the schools to make it easy to get a degree (which most people view as a super-special-certification that entitles them to a high-paying job).
  2. Professors and their graduate students are under pressure to publish papers; this is given considerably more weight by most universities than teaching. Graduate students who actually want to teach and who want to be teachers after graduating often discover that teaching becomes a chore for which there is no reward, and for which they are often punished (if you are an undergrad wondering why your TAs seem hurried, disconnected, or unhappy to be conducting a discussion or lab with you, this is why; it is very likely that they have a deadline to meet with their research, and the class is taking time away from that). By the time a professor has tenure and can actually focus the bulk of their time on teaching, they have spent so many years being beaten down by the publish-or-perish system that they usually forget that they actually wanted to teach.
  3. In departments with "obvious" vocational subjects, like engineering, the demand for courses that are immediately applicable to "real world jobs" vastly outweighs courses that are not immediately applicable to most jobs. In computer science, courses in theoretical topics almost always fall by the wayside, crowded out by courses like "Web Design" and "Mobile Application Development."
  4. Departments that lack an obvious vocational purposes, like humanities departments, have their budgets cut because the school wants to pour money into other departments. This results in fewer courses and lower-quality courses in such departments.
  5. Even students who want to learn are being pressured to just get out and get a job. It is hard to take courses that are interesting but that do not have clear applications to a future career when you have tens of thousands of dollars in loans to repay. This is made worse by the fact that the minority of schools that still demand students take rigorous courses are vastly more expensive than schools that focus on job placement.

You see, academia is not the dreamworld that professors want you to think it is. In reality, academia has been corrupted by corporations, who have found that they can offload job training onto universities and thus save money. Universities cannot be too demanding when it comes to academics, because the vast majority of students are not looking for rigorous academic education, they are just looking for their ticket to a "good job" i.e. a high-paying job.

So while I agree that online education is not better than typical college education, I cannot say that it is worse, only that it is different. College education is broken, but not for the reasons that people think. College is broken because of bureaucracy, publish-or-perish, and the fact that there are MBAs at every level demanding that departments and professors justify their continued existence in terms of dollars and papers published.

Re:College "learning" (2)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 2 years ago | (#41944893)

I agree with most of what you say, and I think it's a good summary of a lot of problems in academia. To add a few things:

You see, academia is not the dreamworld that professors want you to think it is.

I don't know any professor who claims that. Even those who were tenured at small colleges before the publish-or-perish escalation of the past few decades and otherwise live a charmed life are generally stuck in the mire of new administrative bureaucracy (or else have retired to get away from it).

In reality, academia has been corrupted by corporations, who have found that they can offload job training onto universities and thus save money.

I can't imagine it saves corporations a lot of money on job training. For example, if we had the system, I bet most engineers could skip college, go directly into an apprenticeship on the job with actual engineers, and be competent in their job within half the time of what it takes in a college degree. As it is now, we have young people who waste four years in school and spend 1-3 years on the job figuring out how the hell things work in the real world. They could have just started out spending those 1-3 years in the real world. If employers really wanted to outsource training, they should fund apprenticeship programs that employ people upfront while they take a few courses on the side to fill in "academic" gaps in knowledge which they wouldn't pick up naturally on the job (advanced math, etc.).

(And yes, I know about summer internships or even semester internships for advanced undergrads or masters students -- those still presume that the time spent in college is actually spent efficiently learning useful stuff.)

If anything, corporations depend on colleges mainly for their ability to screen entry-level candidates. Someone with a 4-year degree is presumed to be committed enough that you might take a chance hiring that person and waiting 1-3 years until they have a clue about what they're supposed to do. If you just hired a random high school grad, you'd have to have more rigorous screening and perhaps competition for apprenticeship spots.

Regardless, that system isn't even working that well right now, since it's been so hard for people with fresh college degrees to find an entry-level position. Why? Because college is effectively useless for training, so corporations want someone who has actually had practical experience, and there are enough people out of work right now that companies can be selective.

Universities cannot be too demanding when it comes to academics, because the vast majority of students are not looking for rigorous academic education, they are just looking for their ticket to a "good job" i.e. a high-paying job.

Well, the problem is that tuition costs have skyrocketed so much that people won't enroll if they don't expect that they will graduate and be able to make more money to pay off that cost. When a student or parent is paying $50,000 per year at an elite school, they come to expect that the student will get good grades and get a good job (or get into a good professional school to make even more money).

Stop hiring useless administration and stop the "arms race" for new "student life" crap (state-of-the-art dorms, that new climbing gym, continuous renovations to almost all facilities), and tuition might start to settle down a bit... which might allow schools to actually feel okay failing people who pay the full tuition costs just to be there... which would allow standards to be raised again.

Also, there's this ridiculous idea in our culture that everyone should go to college, presumably to get a higher-paying job. Not everyone should go to college, relatively few jobs should actually require a college degree... then the people who were actually in college could be held to higher standards.

College is broken because of bureaucracy, publish-or-perish, and the fact that there are MBAs at every level demanding that departments and professors justify their continued existence in terms of dollars and papers published.

I was with you up until near the end -- the "papers published" thing is not the fault of MBAs directly. Yes, it has become a standard (though not necessarily meaningful) metric in the sciences, but I think it has infiltrated humanities and other departments largely because the faculty go along with it.

Let's face it -- academics like other smart people. They became academics often because they liked arguing with their colleagues and mentors about minutiae, not because they were great teachers. And when they are doing a job search or looking over a tenure file, evidence of good teaching is often pretty hard to evaluate objectively (particularly by people who aren't good teachers to begin with). So, how do you differentiate people? Publications, grants, etc. Those are prominently displayed on every CV or tenure file, because they're easier to evaluate.

I've talked to a lot of junior and senior faculty at many universities who complain about the uselessness of publication requirements. But when it comes time to make decisions about tenuring someone, that's the first thing they look at. And if you point out the hypocrisy to them then, they just say, "Well, everyone else is held to standards...."

Professors may be fighting against bureaucracy and number-crunchers who want to slash budgets, but the publication crap is something they cultivated themselves. And they are the only ones who can get themselves out of it -- but instead, in my experience, most of them just stand by and let people get fired or denied tenure rather than rationally question whether a person deserves a place within the department without a bunch of meaningless publications.

Re:lunacy (1)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 2 years ago | (#41944937)

this, and the many other articles I've been reading lately that decry the death of the university, completely ignores the fact that many people learn best when they have the routine of going to a physical classroom and being in a seminar-style setting where there is an instructor and other students to ask questions and round out one's understanding of a topic.

And not just what goes on in the classroom. In college, I learned just as much through conversations with other students who were thinking about all sorts of things (sometimes for classes, sometimes not) as I did in class. Not necessarily "learned" in the sense of acquiring specific facts or knowledge, but more about how to think and explore ideas, how to learn, how to interact socially and intellectual with others, etc.

While some of this can be replicated through electronic communication, sometimes the greatest learning comes in a (possibly drunken) conversation at 2am in the dormitory lounge about how relativity "really" works or even deep philosophical discussions about the nature of life or ethics or whatever.

If I heard these discussions replayed now, most of these conversations would probably sound stupid or ridiculous, but most people probably gain a lot by feeling their way through "bigger ideas" among peers... which can add significantly to intellectual development.

Re:lunacy (3, Interesting)

epine (68316) | about 2 years ago | (#41945245)

completely ignores the fact that many people ...

Dude, I hate to break the news to you, but I sense you weren't hanging out with the smart set. But it's not your fault. You were one of the flipper kids born without pinky fingers.

Let's see, here.

the fact that should be revised out of every sentence in which it occurs (Strunk and White and many partisans).

Many people reads as "Many people[who?]" (Wikipedia).

Ignores is both a straw man and a cliche (Martin Amis, The War on Cliche).

completely ignores the fact that reliance on adverbs of degree does not compel (Writing in the Sciences with Kristin Sainani).

(Welcome to online education, pal.)

But these are merely matters of form. What about your central idea? Can we salvage that? It strikes me that your idea is an ode to Survivorship bias [wikipedia.org] . You're not earning my vote.

The truth here is that education/teaching/learning are much studied, yet rarely dented. We know that one great teacher can have a disproportionate impact, if situated in exactly the right circumstance (the nature of this circumstance seems to shift or to depend on factors as yet unknown). Lucid teachers can improve grades in the short term, but studies of long term retention (more than three years) between these teachers and calculus professors who mumble through thick accents doesn't show much difference. Most good students report having a course that "really changed my life" but there's little pattern to it. Right course at the right time, so far as we can tell. Maybe the student was high on endorphins from first love. Maybe the class wasn't scheduled at 8:30 in the morning for a person with DSPS.

I picked up a few of these tidbits from EconTalk, among other sources.
Hanushek on Teachers [econtalk.org]
Ravitch on Education [econtalk.org]
Paul Tough on How Children Succeed [econtalk.org]
Kling on Education and the Internet [econtalk.org]

Yes, I'm deeply invested in the business of "ignoring" plain matters of fact.

After Francis Bacon killed himself stuffing a chicken full of ice, we had a 400 year setback in the inquisition of common sense. Recently we have the new tradition of Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine (and many others like him). Cooking cutlets, more oil equals less grease (Leidenfrost effect [wikipedia.org] ). When pan frying, flipping your meat multiple times achieves more uniform heating (at the risk of forgetting your flip count). In the soup pot, finely-chopped mirepoix extracts faster (who would have guessed?)

Two months ago I learned a new method to cook pasta (it might surprise people that I did not attend a brick and mortar course seminar to obtain this profound nugget). In this method you use half as much water, stir vigorously after adding the pasta until the water returns to boil, then pop a lid on and turn off the pot. The samizdat also recommends stirring again one minute into the cooking process, but I haven't found this necessary. My pasta never sticks (to itself or to the pot), always comes out the way I like it, uses about 1/3 as much electricity, doesn't make my kitchen swelter in the summer months, and the pot can be moved to any available ring if I need rings of certain sizes for other cooking tasks. And it only took 400 years to puzzle this out. I guess smart young minds were preoccupied paying off their educational debts.

I think it's high time we take Myhrvold's laser cutting apparatus to the ivy walls of higher education. It's a frightfully expensive system when half the undergraduate class can not reliably string together sentences into an argument where every sentence has a verb.

My first experience of peer grading in the MOOC context was pretty crappy. On one writing assignment I achieved a net grade of zero (amalgamated from the grades assigned by four peers) where my essay consisted of flawless sentences and presented several non-obvious insights. As far as I can tell, I lost all my marks by not beginning my final paragraph with the phrase "So in conclusion ..." I seriously overestimated the capacity of my litter mates to think for themselves. Let's suppose I was forced to reduce my present post to 300 words by a fascist web form. My thesis would still be there, but the sarcasm and the highlight pen would be gone, gone, gone.

Re:lunacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41946755)

My first experience of peer grading in the MOOC context was pretty crappy. On one writing assignment I achieved a net grade of zero (amalgamated from the grades assigned by four peers) where my essay consisted of flawless sentences and presented several non-obvious insights. As far as I can tell, I lost all my marks by not beginning my final paragraph with the phrase "So in conclusion ..." I seriously overestimated the capacity of my litter mates to think for themselves.

Wow. You just completely ignored the GP's point and instead spent your whole post ranting about your amazing mental capacity. The fact that you have done this suggests an alternate explanation for the above anecdote -- you have a vastly over-inflated ego and an arrogant over-confidence in your writing abilities.

Let's suppose I was forced to reduce my present post to 300 words by a fascist web form. My thesis would still be there, but the sarcasm and the highlight pen would be gone, gone, gone.

You see sarcasm, I see the whining of an insecure kid who thinks he's smarter than everyone else and doesn't understand why he doesn't get more attention.

Parent post is -1 Arrogant, Self Delusional, and Offtopic, not +4 Insightful.

Re:lunacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41947283)

the fact that should be revised out of every sentence in which it occurs (Strunk and White and many partisans).

Many people reads as "Many people[who?]" (Wikipedia).

Ignores is both a straw man and a cliche (Martin Amis, The War on Cliche).

completely ignores the fact that reliance on adverbs of degree does not compel (Writing in the Sciences with Kristin Sainani).

Ah, the joys of recursive stupidity.

Re:lunacy (1)

9jack9 (607686) | about 2 years ago | (#41945257)

Or maybe, just maybe, the actual learning happens in the student's head. If the student is motivated, and has the materials available, nothing can stop them.

On the other hand, the university setting provides the marginally motivated the necessary framework to execute the prescribed tasks to earn the credits to earn the degree.

So let's be careful to not confuse getting a degree with getting an education.

Want to make a profitable startup? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41945341)

1. Offer something that's always been available, but package it in a pretty bow.
2. Start a astroturf publicity campaign creating a non-existent strawman "crisis" that your business conveniently solves.
3. Profit.

Seriously: if your idea of college and university is sitting and intaking material, you either shouldn't go, should leave, or should have never gone in the first place.

A good college education isn't about the classroom; it's not about the books; it's not about the exams. It's about the interactions with real people in person on applied problems.

When you are able to do internships, research, field work, one-on-one with peers and experts in the field in person in MOOCs, I might reconsider. Otherwise I consider this a huge bubble, like all the talk of grocery stores collapsing in the 90s because we'd all sit at home and just order all our groceries online.

Re:Want to make a profitable startup? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41950119)

This [finaid.org] is a non-existent crisis?

Re:lunacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41946705)

this, and the many other articles I've been reading lately that decry the death of the university, completely ignores the fact that many people learn best when they have the routine of going to a physical classroom and being in a seminar-style setting where there is an instructor and other students to ask questions and round out one's understanding of a topic. i think it's all hogwash. maybe remote learning can replace certification tracks or community college, but get real. this is a load of dung.

While I do see your point here, not many see the overall benefit with classroom style learning at the rates they're charging for that benefit.

I may be able to learn easier in an environment like that, but the truly gifted will make it work in any environment.

Oh, and won't be walking out the ass-end of it with $80,000 in debt. Yeah, that kinda stings a little, especially when the college grad spends another six months unemployed trying to find a job in this market that values their "elite" classroom education so much...

Re:lunacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41947375)

When it comes to the tech industry (programming, etc), it seems that most people have already self-educated by the time they're even *in* college. The college part largely serves to manufacture an expensive piece of paper and waste four years of their life.

Frankly, if you don't have the passion and ambition to self-educate in this field, I don't know that I'd want to hire you. People who are waiting until college to jump in and acquire the information and experience strike me as people who would -- at another time -- have just as well become nurses or CPAs. Whatever the trendy high-paying gig at the time was. They just dont' give a shit about what work they're doing. It's just that it's "a job with money".

However, all of this "online education fer free durp durp!" shit totally ignores the fact that all the education in the world is fucking useless without a piece of paper to impress a prospective employer. Therefore, I classify all these fucking articles in the same group as the "Bitcoins durp durp!" bullshit of the prior year.

Note from Joe Public (-1, Troll)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | about 2 years ago | (#41943487)

Heh heh heh heh, I scratched my ass and got a dingle ball in my finger nail. It smells bad. Wots a mook?

Re:Note from Joe Public (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41943555)

The Cheetos cheese dust must have been flying off your fingers as you typed that up. You able to get up out of mommy's and daddy's basement without the help of a forklift, yet?

Re:Note from Joe Public (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | about 2 years ago | (#41943625)

Too bad imbecile moderators don't get the sarcasm that most of the general public has no idea what the term mooc means, never mind the intention to use any of the resources available.

Re:Note from Joe Public (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41943709)

Yeah, how dare they not know about some random term that someone just recently coined. No, we got your implication and it was fucking stupid.

Its about money. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41943509)

"...the other thing universities do is research, and that is arguably as important, if not more, than teaching..." And who is going to foot the bill? Certainly not most states (although its in their best interest) who even now are cutting back.

What about real labs and hands-on? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41943545)

I raise serious eyebrows to this whole thing. Online courses can't have hands-on training using expensive lab equipment. It might make sense with liberal arts courses, but there's no way it can replace certain things about current real classrooms, labs and teachers.

Also, everyone I've ever talked to who's taking some traditional courses and some online strongly believes that the online courses are pretty much useless when it comes to learning things. They just take them because they're required.

If it's about cost-cutting, you always always always get exactly what you pay for.

I don't understand the skepticism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41943561)

People's bias toward the status quo is sometimes hard to understand. Why is it crazy to have free or low-cost video lessons taught by professors selected out of many for their teaching enthusiasm and ability (not to mention the automatic quizes to make sure that learning is not completely passive)? Rather, isn't crazy that in many cases students pay around $4,000 for the privilege of being taught by a foreign T.A. with a tenuous grasp of English whose highest priority is just to make it through grad school?

Re:I don't understand the skepticism (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | about 2 years ago | (#41943725)

Because maybe many people realize that not everyone learns the same way? So while this may be great for some students it won't work so well for others who need and want more hands-on style. It's completely overblown to say that it will replace academia totally.

Re:I don't understand the skepticism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41943727)

It's not about being biased against the status quo. It's about being biased against extremely bad ideas! Just because it's doing something different and "saves money", does not automatically mean it's an improvement.

Re:I don't understand the skepticism (1)

Desler (1608317) | about 2 years ago | (#41943841)

People's bias toward the status quo is sometimes hard to understand.

False dichotomy is false. Just because some people see issues with "MOOC" does not mean they favor the status quo. People's opinion can actually be more nuanced than you might think. It's hilarious to hear at one point people complaining about how the current education system is a one-size-fits-all system and yet their response is to replace it with another one-size-fits-all system. MOOC will be great for many people, but not for everyone.

Why is it crazy to have free or low-cost video lessons taught by professors selected out of many for their teaching enthusiasm and ability (not to mention the automatic quizes to make sure that learning is not completely passive)?

Nice one. You might as well have thrown in "Have you stopped beating your wife, yet?" to the end of that. No one says that free or low-cost education is crazy. People do rightfully question the effectiveness of this teaching style for all students as the proponents seem to want to foist it on everyone good or bad.

Rather, isn't crazy that in many cases students pay around $4,000 for the privilege of being taught by a foreign T.A. with a tenuous grasp of English whose highest priority is just to make it through grad school?

Sure, but that doesn't mean we ditch the entire current system. Extremism is not the answer the problem.

Re:I don't understand the skepticism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41944349)

I don't know if nuance applies here. A nuanced issue is buying a Apple Macbook or Dell XPS laptop. Two somewhat SIMILARLY priced items that appeal to different people according to their respective preferences.

I think we have a different case here. We are comparing a very expensive, arguably inefficient and antiquated system to a new system that is free/low-cost that already offers overwhelming benefits IMO. And the new system, MOOCs, has not even yet reached its potential. I think this will be something of a revolution like digital cameras versus film cameras, payphones versus mobile phones, or horse and buggy versus cars. Research universities will probably still exist as they serve a different purpose rather than teaching intro classes, but nevertheless, online math communities have solved research-level problems that mathematicians working on their own failed to solve after spending years.

Stanford kids who took the online version and real-life course at the same time strongly preferred the online version and scored a full letter grade better than those who stuck with the traditional version (self-selection bias maybe). This argument comes from the MOOCs themselves so take it with a grain of salt, but I believe it indicates that the writing is on the wall for the demise of undergrad education as we know it. Something has to give when there is such a huge price disparity.

Re:I don't understand the skepticism (1)

jsepeta (412566) | about 2 years ago | (#41944899)

There isn't a problem adding videos TO the traditional curriculum, but there would be should we replace the traditional curriculum with videos.

This is not a one size fits all :-) (1)

tonyt3 (1014391) | about 2 years ago | (#41943581)

There are some subjects, and some students, for which the MOOC is fine. A highly-motivated student may not need the guidance of a face-to-face teacher. I have taught freshman classes where many of the students took the class only because they had to have a science course; it is possible that they learned something, and they probably would not have taken the time to dig it out on their own. I am convinced, however, that being "in residence" is extremely valuable for graduate work. Attending seminars regularly, having a good major professor, and interacting with people who are interested in learning the same material is a powerful teaching method.

Does not work, will not work (5, Insightful)

gweihir (88907) | about 2 years ago | (#41943609)

Unfortunately there are enough bad educators and non-educators out there without a clue. It is really obvious though: There is a small percentage of people that can learn from books by themselves. The others cannot. Whether it is printed paper or some software that is "interactive" matters very little. Motivation, ability for independent insight, etc. is not a thing that can be created. People have it or not. Those that do not have it need a real-life, competent teacher, nothing else will do.

Re:Does not work, will not work (1)

godrik (1287354) | about 2 years ago | (#41943745)

I find these initiave really good. We definitely NEED more online material. That being said, I aggree with you, there is still room for classrooms.

You mention motivation, but it is not only about motivation. Some topics are easy for some people but difficult for others. If you have "natural abilities" in a topic, a book or online material might be enough. But if you don't get it, reading the same book will not help, you need somebody to explain it. He will see what you do not understand and can explain it in different ways.

The thing with a professionnal teacher is that he knows what teaching techniques usually work, but he also knows the one that works for some kind of people. I don't think you can capture this expertise in online material.

Re:Does not work, will not work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41946589)

I'm not sure I buy into the whole computerized education thing either, but there is active research into using a student's incorrect answers to determine what they don't understand about the material, so a computer could take the place of the human in your example.

Re:Does not work, will not work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41944851)

As someone who is usually unable to learn from books, I have to say the MOOCs are great for me. Weekly videos and exercises keep me much more interested and motivated than books do. So far I have completed three of these on Coursera: Machine Learning, Probabilistic Graphical Models and Functional Programming in Scala. I would never have had enough motivation to learn this stuff from books.

Re:Does not work, will not work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41950321)

Let's stop with the "real-life" stupidity. The Internet is real.

The awful truth is that those people you mention, the ones who can't learn by themselves, often don't learn in the classrom either. They might get A's, but that doesn't mean they've learned. And that's why you get people with degrees in things they are completely clueless about.

Any serious student of anything is going to learn most of his stuff independently.

To me it is not a matter of whether online education will or should replace classroom education; the real question is whether we will make the leap from grade and accreditation-based teaching to emphasizing content.

A double-edged sword (1)

war4peace (1628283) | about 2 years ago | (#41943759)

Online learning has its great advantages but also has huge disadvantages. Its success mostly depends on what exactly is being taught. There are sciences which you can't learn without proper hands-on and face-to-face peer discussions (philosophy); others which are useless without field experience (archaeology).

Also. A good teacher can identify an uninterested student and make them interested. An online course can't.

From Merriam-Webster (1)

MoToMo (17253) | about 2 years ago | (#41943785)

from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mania [merriam-webster.com]

Definition of MANIA
1
: excitement manifested by mental and physical hyperactivity, disorganization of behavior, and elevation of mood; specifically : the manic phase of bipolar disorder
2
a : excessive or unreasonable enthusiasm —often used in combination
b : the object of such enthusiasm

So, in conclusion: it's the object of excessive or unreasonable enthusiasm, not the best thing since sliced bread.

Shortcuts fail (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41943789)

Shortcuts to financial prosperity fail

Shortcuts to losing weight fail

Shortcuts to getting in shape fail

Shortcuts to landing a high-paying job fail

Shortcuts to finding a suitable romantic partner fail

Shortcuts to getting an education fail

Who gains? A certain class of entrepreneurs.

Re:Shortcuts fail (1)

jsepeta (412566) | about 2 years ago | (#41944907)

Sometimes, it's important to take the long route to knowledge in order to rebuild those synapses in your brain so that they understand new concepts your old brain state did not understand.

Not sure what is new here (1)

Angst Badger (8636) | about 2 years ago | (#41943815)

Like a lot of people, I had incredibly shitty math teachers in school who managed to completely turn me off to the subject. Later in life, once I learned what mathematics is actually good for -- which is nearly everything -- I sat down with cheap used textbooks and Schaum's guides and started with algebra and worked through calculus, and then branched out into advanced mathematics. Right now, I'm teaching myself group theory. It is a bit harder to do it on your own without someone to answer questions when you get stuck, but I'm not sure that's actually a disadvantage in the long run: the concept you struggle to understand is remembered better than the one that is handed to you.

So now there are online courses. The difference between a MOOC and a book is what, besides lower information content?

Re:Not sure what is new here (2)

Desler (1608317) | about 2 years ago | (#41943921)

It is a bit harder to do it on your own without someone to answer questions when you get stuck, but I'm not sure that's actually a disadvantage in the long run: the concept you struggle to understand is remembered better than the one that is handed to you.

Being guided and corrected when you are learning something incorrectly is not having something handed to you. Such a feedback loop is advantageous to prevent you from learning things incorrectly. It would be like claiming you can learn a foreign language purely on your own by reading a book without any feedback from other speakers of the language to point out where your grammar, pronunciation, etc. is incorrect. Video lessons and such are great supplemental education resources, but it doesn't replace the necessity of a feedback loop.

Online Learning Again (2)

prefec2 (875483) | about 2 years ago | (#41944103)

MOOC is nothing more than online learning, brought to us in the 2000s. Distant learning is an really old thing. In the last century it was done through postal service. First, shipping documents, then shipping documents and CDs. With the upcoming of the Internet. More media was delivered through that channel. As the Internet also allows to transfer video and allows synchronous and asynchronous communication (chat, audio and video chat, forum etc.).

All previous distant learning concepts suffered from high drop-out rates. To compensate for that, real life meetings were added to the curricula. Therefore, I assume the same will happen here. However, the content of a lecture could easily be transmitted online. So yes it might kill some private companies in the education business. So be it. Education should be free and if MOOC or online learning can provide that. Fine. Universities are financed by the state and the state are the people living in that state. Therefore, all the content the universities produce is payed by those people and the content should be made available, if possible, to all of them.

Yes, universities are also funded by companies. However, they provide money for research and the companies get their results. But, the rest is financed by the people and therefore the results belong to the people.

Re:Online Learning Again (2)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 2 years ago | (#41944509)

Universities are financed by the state and the state are the people living in that state. Therefore, all the content the universities produce is payed by those people and the content should be made available, if possible, to all of them.

Most people go to college to get a degree; what outsiders do not generally realize that is that having a degree and being educated are two very different things.

Let's put it this way: I have seen native English speakers, with bachelor's degrees, who have no idea how to compose an essay. I don't just mean the occasional grammar or spelling error (I admit to making plenty of those), I mean an inability to develop an overarching theme or idea, no understanding of connecting phrases or paragraphs, etc.

Worse still, I see plenty of people who graduates CS programs who are utterly clueless basics CS. I have met numerous CS alumni who have never heard of lambda calculus, who have never taken a course in compilers (theory or implementation), and who cannot give even a rough statement of the P vs. NP problem. I see it at the school I am at now, and I saw it at my alma mater (a school that offered a compilers course once every three years, and which never offered a course in complexity theory).

So really, a bachelor's (and even master's) degree can be a pretty hollow thing. Not only does it say nothing about a person's mastery of their field, it often says nothing about a person's interest in their field. I have met people with more interest and motivation at the local 2600 meetings than I have in the CS department -- and most of the people at 2600 meets either went to trade school or community college, and some have nothing beyond a high school diploma.

My point is that a university is only valuable to society if the purpose of the university is to give its students the best education that is feasible with the budget and faculty available. We have diverged from that goal for a long time, and in the past few decades that divergence has accelerated. Universities have become a way for corporations to offload job training, and those universities are becoming more and more like the corporations they serve. I agree with the sentiment that universities should exist for the benefit of society; unfortunately, we are nowhere near that ideal.

Re:Online Learning Again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41944655)

I agree with the parent. Colleges don't have before/after exams results or other statistics to demonstrate the effectiveness of spending 80-200k on their programs. Yet independent studies how that significant percentages of students make little to no progress despite having a degree which is scary.

The best will rise to the top (2)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about 2 years ago | (#41944343)

I've been "tasting" the various online courses for the last 15 months or so: started with Dr. Thrun's online AI course [ai-class.com] , have contacts with people at edX [edx.org] , have taken or viewed courses from a half-dozen entities.

One salient aspect of all of the MOOCs is their overall poor quality.

The teachers are, as a general rule: smart, familiar with the subject, nice people, and well meaning.

The online courses are, as a general rule: boring, poorly presented, supported by poor online tools, and counter-instructive.

Everyone realizes that education is changing, and that in ten years or so there will only be a few players left. Everyone wants desperately to be one of those players, so you have everyone frantically recording lectures and putting them online in a desperate attempt to remain relevant.

Sebastian. Thrun's AI course never bothered to check or correct errors in content, resulting in massive frustration from the students. Anant Agarwal's electronics course had students drowning in directionless theory that suddenly uncovered a useful equation. Daphne Koller's presentation style makes the simplest concepts appear dense.

To give an representative example, Kristin Sainani over at Coursera [coursera.org] is running a course on scientific writing [coursera.org] (writing for purposes of a published paper, or review of said paper &c). The course content is very good, but the students edit and grade each others' homework.

Perhaps 80% of the students speak almost no English. The end result: 80% of the editing work is tediously instructing other students not on course content, but on basic English (when to use articles, which prepositions to use when, &c), while 80% of the corrections you receive for your work are utterly useless. The overall experience is "massive waste of time for a course of heavily diluted value".

There are occasional standout exceptions [coursera.org] , but the overall quality is very low. No one has quite realized that you can't just videotape a lecture and put it up on the web - you have to plan things out ahead of time, add good production value, and have good support. It's not easy, and no one group so far is doing it particularly well.

Online learning is still in beta. Perhaps in a couple of years the technology will mature.

Re:The best will rise to the top (1)

williamhb (758070) | about 2 years ago | (#41947023)

I've been "tasting" the various online courses for the last 15 months or so: started with Dr. Thrun's online AI course [ai-class.com] , have contacts with people at edX [edx.org] , have taken or viewed courses from a half-dozen entities.

One salient aspect of all of the MOOCs is their overall poor quality.

While it's true most early MOOC courses are a bit limited in interaction, pedagogy, assessment, etc, they have already had an interesting effect on universities.

I've been working on smart teaching tech on and off for nearly 10 years, including on an older project by some of the people behind edX at MIT. More recently I've been looking to bring online into the lecture theatre [blogspot.com] . For most of the time I've worked on teaching technology, I've often heard the reaction that's all well and good but no-one really cares about teaching because academics are promoted on their research and teaching is just something we do to bring in the cash. (There's always been some academics and centres who are very interested in teaching innovation, but it's seemed to me like they've not had as much attention from the rest of academia as they should have.) In the last year or so that seems to have changed. There's a lot more attention been drawn to the idea that yes now is the time to make some changes to how teaching is viewed and done in universities.

Re:The best will rise to the top (1)

GlobalEcho (26240) | about 2 years ago | (#41947031)

Thank you for posting this. I teach as an adjunct faculty member (Illinois Institute of Technology) and have also once tried one of MIT's online courses. It was quite bad, but that's a sample size of just one and I lack the time to do a more thorough investigation. I'm grateful that you have expended the time and effort to do much more.

It has always seemed to me that good online teaching may be possible but that I hadn't heard of good techniques for making it so. Your opinion that it is still in beta makes sense.

University education is outmoded (1)

pestilence669 (823950) | about 2 years ago | (#41944547)

Putting university courses online with the same "read this," "listen to this," "answer these questions" is NOT taking advantage of modern technology... even if they add forums & chat. This isn't a revolution, it's an aging institution's last attempt to find relevance as they continue to raise tuition fees. The only reason universities were relevant up until now, was due to the immense information hoarding. The Internet has changed everything, decentralizing the knowledge that once gave them power. If everyone had access to every text book, college is little more than an overpriced tutoring & certification service.

the misunderstanding of education (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41944725)

This conversation has been swirling around a lot recently, from excitement about the Khan academy to open source textbooks. The common tenet is that all people need to learn an idea or new skill is access to knowledge, and why don't we get rid of the middle man - the teacher - and free the knowledge. But the problem is that learning isn't about memorizing knowledge (if it was, this problem would have been solved long ago), but with getting rid of all the WRONG ideas and theories that people have an uncanny ability to create. People read a book, then come up with a bunch of incorrect conclusions, and without some instruction or even better discussion with peers those incorrect conclusions will persist. And that is what educational institutions are for, not the teaching of knowledge (which can be found in books), but getting rid of bad, wrong, and incorrect ideas. Then it is of course no surprise that the common complaint about educational institutions is that they force students to conform, they are forced to think inside the box. Ironic, then, that online courses aren't even good at getting students to conform, and it will be no surprise when, in the future, we junk this current model of "online" learning.

Hmm (1)

lightknight (213164) | about 2 years ago | (#41944739)

Some people value actually learning stuff. Who knew?

The short list. (2)

westlake (615356) | about 2 years ago | (#41945025)

'If you were asked to name the most important innovation in transportation over the last 200 years,' writes Antonio Regalado, 'you might say the combustion engine, air travel, Henry Ford's Model-T production line, or even the bicycle. The list goes on. Now answer this one: what's been the single biggest innovation in education? Don't worry if you come up blank. You're supposed to.'

The public school expands beyond New England and its Puritan religious roots,

The American "Red Brick" High School, vocational school and the land grant Agricultural College.

Correspondence courses and adult education

The rise of the sciences in post secondary education

Experiment and discovery vs. rote memorization

700 Science Experiments For Everyone [arvindguptatoys.com]

The G.I.Bill of Rights.

Brown vs Board of Education

The education of women, and the entry of the women into the professions.

Pre-school education and Sesame Street

The way Regalado frames the question almost insures that the techno-geek will come up blank.

The first academically credentialed correspondence courses date back to London in the 1850s. The Chautauqua Institution was reaching out to rural women in the 1880s. Radio was experimenting with "distance learning" in the 1920s.

Re:The short list. (1)

Old Grey Beard (869804) | about 2 years ago | (#41950521)

Very nice list.

I'd like to propose home schooling aids. No, home schooling is not new. What is new is the large amount of help now available for parents who are willing and able to teach their own kids.

Also: education vouchers, where parents can choose to send their children to schools outside their district.

Both of these are politically charged innovations that try to address some problems with American education. So was Brown. Not everybody needs to approve of an innovation for it to have an impact.

As some one who has studied under such a system (3, Interesting)

ryzvonusef (1151717) | about 2 years ago | (#41945065)

...allow me to give an intro.

In my country, we have a university, called Virtual University[1], that conducts it's business over the internet. Since my dad was posted to the embassy in Riyadh, and we had an year of tenure still remaining after I did my A-levels, my dad decided to enrol me in the uni, so I had *something to do*.

Basically it works like this: You can study at home if you like (and have an internet connection), or you can visit multitudes of affiliated campuses all over the country. They have hired professional lecturers to perform in front of a camera, and these lectures are available to view in the computer lab/tv rooms of the campuses, over cable TV (four channels, as mandated by law), via video CDs you can order, or on youtube[2].

You also get notes and slides over the site, get and submit assignments over the site, and hold study conference with the teacher or fellow students over it. As for exams, internationally they conducted the exam on the computer via video conference, but nationally, they held exams in their campuses.

Having described the system, how was the study experience, you ask? Miserable!

One-way video lectures never captured my attention (I tend to tune out after ~7 minutes of a continuous rant), so I never viewed them. Lecture notes were very nice, but still limited. I noticed that misconceptions were not caught in the bud but were allowed to carry on, since there was no one monitoring them. Discussions were clumsy, since they were not instantaneous or one to one.

I was maintaining a 3+ GPA, but I realised it didn't reflect my actual knowledge level (barely). I aced assignments not because I knew what I was doing, but because my much more knowledgeable, university going siblings back in Paki pre-checked my assignment and caught errors (they too were unable to clarify just exactly was wrong, communicating over email or IM was clumsy).

This was especially noticeable over the Compsci filler subject they shove in the earlier semesters, regardless of your stream (finance in my case), So while technically I knew HTML, JavaScript, C++, yeah, without my lecturer of a sister, I wouldn't have made the assignments or scrapped through the exams.

But more importantly, I was missing out on the experience. No fellows to discuss with, cooped up in my room in KSA, wasn't exactly conducive to my mental state. Even back in Pak, since there was no proper class session, you never really met with course mates on campus.

Which is why, soon after I came back to Paki, I dropped out, switched to a community college, and got my associate degree. Oh sure, it was a two instead of four year degree, but at least I was *learning* something.(then I moved to ACCA, and here I am , but never mind that)

Basically to sum it up, such a form of education is NOT for your highschool graduate; stick them into a brick-and-mortar institute, they need not just the bookish knowledge but the interaction with their fellows. The need a person for the *immediate* interactivity, not some drone they will tune out to. Also, the degree is not worth shit. Frankly, it's considered only a step above an outright fake degree in matters of public perception and trust. Since they can't see any *visible* effort expended in gaining the degree other than money, it seems to imply that the degree was essentially bought.

And this is why such institutes are limited. Mind you, VU is not our first *open* institute, There is an earlier one, Allama Iqbal Open University[3], which uses postal means rather electronic means to communicate with students, and It too suffers the same flaws.

On the underhand, such universities are *perfect* for people who already have the knowledge or skill, and just need the piece of paper. For a job-goer, who prefers the flexibility over the quality of instruction, such a cheap and flexible method is heaven sent. Also, it's a government recognised university, so its valid for applying to government jobs. Finally, if you are in a place where there *is* no institute you could join, are constantly on the move, or can afford (the costs are *very* low) then this is the system for you.

TL;DR: On-line education is good for job goers who need the extreme flexibility and low cost, and more importantly, the certificate to fill some institutional check-box, or get some credits, for future study in a *real* institution. NOT recommended for your average high-school graduate.

[1]: http://www.vu.edu.pk/ [vu.edu.pk]
[2]: http://www.youtube.com/user/vu [youtube.com]
[3]: www.aiou.edu.pk

For some, maybe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41945159)

One of the fundamental principles of training is that the content, delivery and assessment needs to be appropriate to the objectives. You can't accurately assess someones ability to operate a forklift by asking them verbal questions - you need to go actually put them in a machine and watch them operate. I'm not saying there is a degree in forklift operation, but there are now many degrees that require delivery and assessment conponents that can't be completed on-line. But on the other hand there are many that can be - I've completed 2 x Cert IVs, a Diploma and a Graduate Certificate in OHS and training all externally - and only had to show up to university for a couple of exams.

Professionalization of all gainful employment? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41946385)

It's all about OPPORTUNITY CONTROL via 'professionalization'. It's fine for those sectors that have a reasonable hazard to life, safety and property, but to professionalize every occupation that pays more than the minimum wage is pure opportunity control.

The biggest innovation is commerialisation (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41946475)

I'm posting anonymously because I'm a Head of School at a well known university, and it probably would not do my career a whole lots of good for these comments to be attributed to me. If that makes me a coward, so be it.

TL;DR: MOOCs are a symptom of change in higher education - the rise of university education as a business - not a cause.

The biggest innovation in higher education in the past 50 or more years has been the commercialisation of education. Universities are not about education - they're businesses that convert a student's dreams and aspirations into cash. Education is just the nice icing on the cake that helps administrators sleep at night when they know full well that they are starting off hundreds of thousands of young people's professional careers with a debt.

Senior university administrators are not academics, but professional managers who have anointed themselves as business leaders. Never mind the fact that their businesses are built on exploitation - of students, their families and the public purse. In the long run, as people realise what's going on, public money will disappear and the institutions that can actually run as businesses will. The rest will die - there will be a concentration of ownership. Governments will be happy with this because they'll be able to put tax dollars into something else, and students and their families will still be screwed because now the market will be free to set whatever price it wants. Oh, you want a good education? That'll cost you more. Human history has almost always been about providing the best education to the wealthiest and most powerful, we're just reverting to defaults.

MOOCs and online learning are a symptom of changes in higher education, not a cause. They make administrators happy because they allow institutions to cover more students over a wider geographical area more cheaply. The quality of that education is totally irrelevant, as long as quantitative metrics can be shown that demonstrate that a student has 'passed' and that 'quality standards' have been adhered to. Since the system is rigged by the system to support universities as businesses, the set standards represent a pretty low bar. The only places where this bar is not set so low are the courses where poor quality graduates become hideously apparent - medicine, for example. Poor medical graduates kill people, poor CS or arts students generally don't. Ask yourself if you're ever likely to see medical graduates doing much of their course online.

I'm not writing this as a bitter loser who resents a system that has treated me badly. I have a six figure salary and my career is on track to become one of these managers, and it makes me sick. One day I'll have to make a choice, and when that day comes, I hope I have the courage to walk away. I doubt anyone can change it.

Re:The biggest innovation is commerialisation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41950941)

Thank you for posting this. I agree except for one thing. People can be hurt by poor CS students. A rocket exploded due to a software problem. Fortunately it was unmanned. See: http://www.rvs.uni-bielefeld.de/publications/Incidents/DOCS/ComAndRep/Ariane/Esa/ariane5/COPY/ariane5rep.html

Lecturing is not teaching (1)

drdrgivemethenews (1525877) | about 2 years ago | (#41954501)

A couple of my academic friends believe that MOOCs like Khan Academy will "invert" the teaching process. Instead of attending lecturers for content, and assimilating the material later while doing homework, students will view lectures offline, and assimilate the material in class, in a more lab-like environment.

Sounds good to me.
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