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37 comments

"Compete." (5, Interesting)

Joining Yet Again (2992179) | about 7 months ago | (#44892395)

The Open University had higher standards before it decided to compete on quantity, and instead just excelled quietly at offering distance learning courses using traditional materials (with alternative versions to fit accessibility needs), optional regular tutorials distributed around the country, residential schools for those who could attend them, summative coursework, and compulsory written examinations.

In the years leading up to the 2012 funding change, it was appointed a new CEO (sorry.. I mean Vice Chancellor) who used to be an executive at Microsoft "education", and since then it's turned more to the style of a business training provider. Which is really sad. I remember chatting with Harold Wilson's son (the PM established the uni - his son is now an excellent mathematics tutor) at a residential school at the beginning of this transformation, and he talked of his regret to witness the decline of accessibility .

Just throwing out extracts of course materials doesn't make for an education experience. It's about interaction, and challenging assessment.

Re:"Compete." (4, Interesting)

Joining Yet Again (2992179) | about 7 months ago | (#44892497)

To reply to myself, the high quality of OU textbooks are also an important feature. This is why the courses - as is perfectly acceptable at undergraduate level, where you're not learning cutting edge research techniques - had slow update cycles, with some lasting for decades. The fundamentals of Number Theory or Non-Euclidean Geometry (the M203 section dropped in M208, IIRC) won't change, for example. Then it became fashionable to tweak the courses more frequently - the government paid by number of people merely turning up to the final exam (wtf?), so hard courses with high drop-out rates were made simpler, and people discouraged from doing harder courses unless it seemed (too) certain that they were ready. As part of this, rewrites (by often reluctant academics) occurred more often - and IMHO the quality of texts for many courses declined.

More annoyingly, however, qualifications became less challenging.

There are sooooooooooo many brilliant educators still there, as staff and associate lecturers. So, all is not lost. But please, for heaven's sake, stop "competing" for numbers, OU, and instead just offer highly challenging but well-written courses and let those who are smart and hard-working come to you.

Re:"Compete." (1)

Xest (935314) | about 7 months ago | (#44901683)

Agreed, I did one of my degrees with them and was considering doing another but in the last few years that quality has gone from declining, to freefall.

They've gotten rid of important courses, sometimes amalgamating them- IIRC Number Theory, Graph Theory and one or two others at level 3 have now been squeezed all into a single (albeit 60 instead of 30 point course). The fact they've done this alone means they can't possibly cover these topics to the degree they used to.

It never used to be perfect, I remember seeing course materials a friend was studying (M263 IIRC) where they'd made up a programming language and created their own tool to execute it which struck me as nonsensical when they could've used plenty of other perfectly good languages out there both saving the uni time in not having to develop the new language and execution environment and helping the students by teaching them a real actual language rather than something they'd made up and was used only by them for that course.

Similarly I remember seeing their database course material where they for some god unknown reason also created their own ERD style which was basically crows foot but with the optional/mandatory specifier placed at the opposite entity to classic crows foot notation.

All this pales in comparison to the idiocy they're proceeding with now however. The problem is they already had the well funded OpenLearn years ago and that seemed to go absolutely nowhere and I'd almost argue was pretty much abandoned by them.

If it weren't for the fact there were 20 or so other unis involved I'd predict this to be a flop. Hopefully the other unis can carry the OU on this one because I wouldn't have faith on them pulling it off themselves nowadays.

But I thought quite tellingly it was interesting that both Oxford and Cambridge decided to keep the fuck away.

Re:"Compete." (1)

Joining Yet Again (2992179) | about 7 months ago | (#44904301)

Ah, I never looked at M263 - I think it was the shittification of M261, a decent introduction to formal algorithm analysis (Big-Oh, proofs) which required nothing more than pen and paper. M261 was just the right course to prepare you to plough through MIT's Introduction to Algorithms textbook, being somewhat more than an "Introduction"!

A former director of the mathematics MSc programme (who is no longer director) once lost his shit in a huge rant about how much the OU has been fucked by the stooges managing it. This was about 8 years ago, maybe? And, like you say, all continued the same way.

Yes, while Ox+Cam aren't necessarily the best undergrad teaching colleges, if they avoid some British education innovation, you need to ask why. The OU itself, at least in the mathematics faculty, has quite a few staff who research(ed) or lecture(d) at Oxbridge.

Re:"Compete." (1)

Gravis Zero (934156) | about 7 months ago | (#44892561)

Just throwing out extracts of course materials doesn't make for an education experience. It's about interaction, and challenging assessment.

true that throwing extracts on the web doesn't help everyone but clear explanations of topics does help. this does not require two way communication. take a look at Khan Academy.

Re:"Compete." (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44892603)

Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!

Re:"Compete." (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44892777)

Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!

Im damned if I'm goina learn at some Madras. What do they teach - how to make a bomb?

Re:"Compete." (3, Informative)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about 7 months ago | (#44893355)

true that throwing extracts on the web doesn't help everyone but clear explanations of topics does help. this does not require two way communication. take a look at Khan Academy.

Khan Academy's problem is precisely that: there are some muddy, woolly and even downright wrong explanations in his vids, because there isn't any direct feedback to prompt the tutor to reformulate.

Re:"Compete." (1)

moteyalpha (1228680) | about 7 months ago | (#44892579)

I looked at the site and it is filled with fluff that you might see on public tv. Compared to MIT it is a joke. There are plenty of resources already available and it would seem that if they concentrated on cooperation and not empire building they would do better at serving their stated intent. If they had a format like stackoverflow [stackoverflow.com] it would be even better. Google already indexes and if there were a data base that was peer reviewed that would allow access at any level of understanding and problem resolution it would be more useful. I remember a wonderful source of information [ericweisstein.com] that used to be on the web and got sued out of existence by an encyclopedia company IIRC.
I think that wikipedia is trying to do this with the science, but seems a bit mired in their own process at this point.

Re:"Compete." (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44892925)

Stackoverflow, has lost its appeal. It was once great, but now its run like Wikipedia, full of people who think everything is not an acceptable question and when you do ask one that is hard no one answers it. I had an account on it for years until the last time 2 of my questions were removed very rudely. I even wrote to them asking for a reasonable explanation why and was told the guy who was flagging me was told before to knock it off, to late I left.

Online schools in general are like you say and online course are easy.

Re:"Compete." (2)

Defenestrar (1773808) | about 7 months ago | (#44892863)

While I personally think education for the sake of learning is valuable, the real challenge is getting mainstream HR departments to acknowledge the worth of the system. It's not often that you see an entry level job description list qualifications like this:

1. A 3 years technical experience in a related field, or

2. A B.S. within the field, or

3. A self directed series of (possibly free) online courses which requires us to perform a detailed analysis of your coursework and somehow compute its equivalence to a couple of capital letters from a more traditional education background and then rank you accordingly with every other applicant

It may fly for tech start-ups and direct hires which bypass HR screening, but most resumes still go through HR and if they can't figure out which check box to tic... or worse, if they think you're making up some fly by night claims, the application will never make it to the technical people involved with hiring. Until open learning manages to make a substantial dent on the traditional models for education, it will still be seen as third rate to a few capital letters after ones name. I think that's extremely unfortunate, but I suspect that's the way it will be for a while yet. I applaud the efforts of Future Learn and their partners for one more option. But you're certainly right about needing to maintain quality and an image of quality with the associated courses - and not diluting that for mere "market share".

I dream of the day when anyone from the sub Saharan or Alaskan wilds to the neighborhood barista can complete a standardized set of courses (with automated assignments and exams) and simply claim their degree. To offer master levels with the same thing for graduate courses and a thesis stamped with approval by a certain number of others in the field, and a Ph.D. up for grabs to anyone with the master's coursework and a collection of peer reviewed journal articles.

Re:"Compete." (1)

Joining Yet Again (2992179) | about 7 months ago | (#44892889)

But 3 is just what the OU has been - offering accredited BSc/BA all the way up to PhD, on usually part time and distance learning bases.

Re:"Compete." (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about 7 months ago | (#44893369)

But 3 is just what the OU has been - offering accredited BSc/BA all the way up to PhD, on usually part time and distance learning bases.

That is not what FutureLearn is, though.

Experience, certs, and other non degree classes (2)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 7 months ago | (#44893317)

need to add up to some thing but then again if you put down I have X that is an equivalent to an degree how much cheeking will HR do?

most co-workers refuse to self-educate (1)

peter303 (12292) | about 7 months ago | (#44893527)

They wont take courses, go to seminars or technical meetings unless the company pays full cost and on company time. Unfortunately after a couple of recessions the company has pretty much eliminated train (to the company's detriment). It used to be the past I could consult with a coworker about some new piece of technology, but mist are not very knowledgable anymore. Very sad. I dont know why I am still there.

Re:most co-workers refuse to self-educate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44894809)

So companies are cutting pay rates, increasing requirements and workload and these employees have the gall to expect that if they are getting nothing else, that the company would want to at least develop them? Hurumph I daresay.

"bite-size" lectures (1)

peter303 (12292) | about 7 months ago | (#44893461)

Seems to be the biggest innovation of the Khan/MOOC style of online education. Otherwise OU and University of Phoenix have been doing online for over a decade, but long-lecture style.

We have been conditioned by commercial TV to accept content in 5-10 minute chunks. Maybe that naturally fits the human attention span.

Re:"bite-size" lectures (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44894493)

We have been conditioned by commercial TV to accept content in 30-40 second chunks. Maybe that appeals to the lizard brain that wants to get stimulus with the least amount of work necessary.

There, FTFY

Thank You (4, Insightful)

barlevg (2111272) | about 7 months ago | (#44892401)

Thank you, submitter, for including what "MOOC" stands for in the summary. Too much alphabet soup around /. these days, and while Google can usually clarify, it's nice to not have to do the search.

Re:Thank You (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44892879)

Thank you, submitter, for including what "MOOC" stands for in the summary. Too much alphabet soup around /. these days, and while Google can usually clarify, it's nice to not have to do the search.

Ya welcome, ya lazy mook.

Wishing them the best of luck (2)

raymorris (2726007) | about 7 months ago | (#44892501)

There are some good people at Open University. A commenter mentioned quality. The person at OU who I work with annoys me at times because he insists on top quality. There's no such thing as a quick fix on the software we use - the OU person insists that every change is WELL thought out and implemented in the very best way possible, even if that's a lot more work than doing it the easy way.

Best of luck to my friends at OU in this new endeavour.

Re:Wishing them the best of luck (1)

Joining Yet Again (2992179) | about 7 months ago | (#44892595)

Hurrah for your friend! Yes, this is the historical OU way. Having something excellent but slightly outdated is always better than having a fashionable structure built on sand. I hope that attitude is brought into this project.

Re:Wishing them the best of luck (2)

Chrisq (894406) | about 7 months ago | (#44892745)

Hurrah for your friend! Yes, this is the historical OU way. Having something excellent but slightly outdated is always better than having a fashionable structure built on sand. I hope that attitude is brought into this project.

... I guess not "posted from my iPhone 5s"

Not really the OU (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44892609)

Well, it isn't REALLY the OU - FutureLearn is a for-profit subsidiary and most of the courses are from other institutions (the OU only has one course in the current list).
As someone who works in this field, I worry about the educational validity of MOOCs and feel that universities don't really have an idea of what they are for and they are being misrepresented to the public (take a look at the comments on the BBC page about this launch). If the courses are based around social learning and investigation, then OK, if they are like Coursera or Udacity courses, then watching a video and filling out a quiz isn't very effective at promoting deep learning and developing more than surface knowledge.

Some MOOCs say they don't know, are experimenting (3, Insightful)

raymorris (2726007) | about 7 months ago | (#44893185)

> I worry about the educational validity of MOOCs and feel that universities don't really have an idea of what they are for

A Google fellow working on MOOC.org / edX, Dr. Guha, said Tuesday that they most certainly don't know what they are doing, no more than he knew what he was doing when he created RSS, so they are trying to set up a flexible framework in which people can experiment, try things.

Why? (2)

Chrisq (894406) | about 7 months ago | (#44892729)

The University of London and Edinburgh provide courses through coursera. What does having a "British alternative" give the UK. I would expect that a MOOC provider would cost rather than make money.

Re:Why? (2)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about 7 months ago | (#44893421)

The "British alternative" is a red herring and bad PR. FutureLearn is simply an alternative MOOC platform that has been built from the ground up with mobile in mind. Coursera, Udacity and EdX all still assume that the world and his dog only access the internet at a desk, with an unlimited high-speed connection. FutureLearn have a massive potential advantage over their competitors, and they need to start pushing it to build the business before the established players catch up.

Re:Why? (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about 7 months ago | (#44893505)

The "British alternative" is a red herring and bad PR. FutureLearn is simply an alternative MOOC platform that has been built from the ground up with mobile in mind. Coursera, Udacity and EdX all still assume that the world and his dog only access the internet at a desk, with an unlimited high-speed connection. FutureLearn have a massive potential advantage over their competitors, and they need to start pushing it to build the business before the established players catch up.

Now if this is correct it will be a selling point. On a coursera course in order to study "offline/slow connection" on a mobile I had to download lectures, transcode them, put transfer them to the mobile device, then access them through file manager. If this worked like Google Drive - brows online on the device, check the "make accessible offline" it would be great. The thing is .... the site does not mention accessibility from other devices, offline/slow connection access, or anything. If this their "unique selling point" they aren't making much of it.

Great, although... (3, Interesting)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | about 7 months ago | (#44893283)

On the one hand, such online learning systems are certainly welcome and this sounds like a good program. On the other hand, I cannot help recognizing that some of the courses are advertised like TED talks - with sensational titles and a lot of pseudo-smart attitude like in the recent, sometimes fairly mediocre regional TED talks (some of them remind me of cheap personality training videos). Titles like "The mind is flat: the shocking shallowness of human psychology" or "Sustainability, society and you", "Muslims in Britain: Changes and challenges" do sound a lot like they had been invented by politicians who wanted to implement "governmental education programs" rather than like introductions to real science. There is a reason why courses at university are called "Introduction to Cognitive Psychology", "Syntax II" or "Calculus 1", namely that there is a (hopefully) well-designed curriculum that is intended to improve real knowledge and skills as opposed to sensationalist teaching of (alleged) facts.

Khan Academy and the Open Courseware programme by MIT and other US universities do it the right way, but I'm a bit skeptical about this one. Don't get me wrong, this one is also a good idea, but universities must also resist temptations of advertising, dumbing down, or sensationalizing their offers.

Re:Great, although... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44893609)

While I agree with you for the most part, there is more to learning than "introductions to real science". Also, like it or not, they are attempting to attract large numbers of people to their courses. In order to do so, you actually have to make them sound interesting. Like it or not, most people would respond better to: "Going down hill: using math to examine change," than "Calculus I". Of course it helps if the courses actually are interesting and meet high standards -- but getting people in the door is the biggest part of the battle.

Re:Great, although... (2)

internerdj (1319281) | about 7 months ago | (#44894467)

Here is a thought: a lot of the things that make science interesting (application) are left off or left to the end because a "normal" program or course needs to make sure they get in the core prep work. MOOCs reduce the cost of introducing topics in a compelling way because time isn't at such a premium. It wouldn't hurt to have a Math 001: Cool things you can do in math that introduces the user to different applications before digging into the meat. Hey if you want to know more about the computer graphics stuff you've seen here maybe you should check out our linear algebra course. In a traditonal college this doesn't work because it isn't proper preparation material and you have to waste an instructor's time semester after semester on essentially a sales pitch.

Previous attempt (1)

wmac1 (2478314) | about 7 months ago | (#44893839)

Didn't UK try to build an online university almost 7-8 years ago which ended in a disaster (millions of wasted money and eventual shutdown of the website) and house hearings?

They were supposed to provide masters courses for 6000 pounds but the costs exceeded the estimates and forced them to stop the whole thing.

Re:Previous attempt (1)

Xest (935314) | about 7 months ago | (#44901735)

Not sure what you're referring to but that's partially what the OU is and it's been successful (though see my other post on this story to see why I'm not so keen on the OU nowadays).

You can do an MSc in say, Mathematics, with the OU for about £3500 still I believe. Other topics are higher, like £9,000 or so for computing I think but it depends what you want.

Re:Previous attempt (1)

wmac1 (2478314) | about 7 months ago | (#44904199)

I just found it. It was called UKEU (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UKeU). It was a famous effort which ended in am ugly shutdown.

Re:Previous attempt (1)

Xest (935314) | about 7 months ago | (#44916513)

I hadn't actually heard of it, but I had a quick glance at the article you linked and saw "David Blunkett" which told me everything I needed to know as to why it failed :)

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