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MIT Considers Whether Courses Are Outdated

timothy posted about a month and a half ago | from the $43,210-for-9-months dept.

Education 205

jyosim (904245) writes People now buy songs, not albums. They read articles, not newspapers. So why not mix and match learning "modules" rather than lock into 12-week university courses? A committee at MIT exploring the future of the elite school suggested that courses might now be outdated, and recommended creating learning modules that students could mix and match. The report imagines a world in which students can take online courses they assemble themselves from parts they find online: "Much like a playlist on iTunes, a student could pick and choose the elements of a calculus or a biology course offered across the edX platform to meet his or her needs."

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Idiots (5, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612609)

The entire point of a university degree is to give you a guided tour of your ignorance. It's not to teach you everything about the subject, it's to tell you everything that you may want to learn within a subject so that you can then pick the bits to study in more detail yourself. If you let students pick the modules that they want, then you may as well just say 'here's a library, go and learn some stuff' and you'll get more or less the same results.

Re:Idiots (5, Interesting)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612641)

The point of a structured educational degree is to give you a damn well rounded knowledge set of the topic, giving you a reasoned idea why the individual components of the topical area are important as a whole.

Giving students the ability to pick and choose on a much finer basis allows them to potentially learn the mechanics of how to conduct experiments without covering the ethical considerations of conduction experiments. That isn't going to end well...

Sometimes a students individual educational "needs" (rather, the term in the summary is wrong, it should be "wants" - the student "wants" to study the fun stuff, and "wants" to avoid the drudgery) is not the same as the "needs" of society as a whole as society would benefit more from graduates with a well rounded knowledge base rather than an enhanced specialism straight out of university.

Re:Idiots (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612691)

The point of a structured educational degree is to give you a damn well rounded knowledge set of the topic, giving you a reasoned idea why the individual components of the topical area are important as a whole.

Giving students the ability to pick and choose on a much finer basis allows them to potentially learn the mechanics of how to conduct experiments without covering the ethical considerations of conduction experiments. That isn't going to end well...

Sometimes a students individual educational "needs" (rather, the term in the summary is wrong, it should be "wants" - the student "wants" to study the fun stuff, and "wants" to avoid the drudgery) is not the same as the "needs" of society as a whole as society would benefit more from graduates with a well rounded knowledge base rather than an enhanced specialism straight out of university.

While I can agree with your last statement to an extent, I'm left wondering what the world or society is truly in need of. The jack of all trades in the IT world is much less more valuable than it was 20 years ago. Specialization and people who are that passionate and WELL educated (have become "gurus") about specific areas are what is valuable today.

That being said, is there really any value left in sitting in a building for four years to be able to wear that graduate jack-of-all-trades hat, only to come out essentially still needing more in any given area to simply compete or survive? Perhaps this class specialization is the first step in dismantling a degree design that has little merit in justifying four years of credit hours.

Re: Idiots (4, Insightful)

lwriemen (763666) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612783)

Well rounded is not about jack of all trades in your field. It's about exposure to the soft skills needed like communicating to others, economic skills, and triggers for innovation (outside of the box thinking).

cost is to high and 4 years is to long for that (2)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613221)

Well rounded is nice to have

But stuff like needing to take PE classes where 1 CLASS costs way more then buying a 2 YEAR gym membership is not needed.

Also why should have to take art history to work in IT?? art is nice to have but not at that cost.

For tech / IT we need more tech / trade schools.

Also the college time tables suck as well.

Re:cost is to high and 4 years is to long for that (1)

i.r.id10t (595143) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613281)

For tech/it we have community colleges (or junior colleges or state colleges or whatever non-University places are called where you live) that offer AS degrees. Some University type places also offer BAS - Batchelors of Applied Science - more in-depth tech and hands on, plus a little more gen-ed stuff.

Re:cost is to high and 4 years is to long for that (0)

plopez (54068) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613361)

"But stuff like needing to take PE classes where 1 CLASS costs way more then buying a 2 YEAR gym membership is not needed"
Have you seen the obesity rate It's bad in the US and the rest of the world is catching up. In addition there is evidence exercise increase productivity:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/... [huffingtonpost.com]

Re:cost is to high and 4 years is to long for that (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613617)

not saying no to PE. Just no to PE at that COST.

Re:Idiots (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612879)

Dear lord, I hate working with people who are "specialized". They don't seem to grasp how their decisions will affect others above or below them. They're a great bank of knowledge for what they focus on, but they have a hard time applying their knowledge in a useful way because they don't understand how their knowledge fits in the grand scheme of things.

This is especially important when talking about computer systems. You get someone who knows about databases and can tell you the optimal page size for a certain database work load, but has no concept of how that will interact with their IO specialized system that is different than normal. Because their IO system is "specialized", they don't grasp how their optimal page size will now be different.

There are many other examples. When you have a bunch of specialized parts coming together, you need a jack of all trades to understand how to coordinate those parts and how to identify and convey important information that each group can understand.

Re:Idiots (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47613013)

I thought that's what interfaces were for.

Re:Idiots (3, Interesting)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612891)

As the other poster says, well rounded is not jack of all trades, its just well rounded in what you do - so a web developer knows about HTTP, HTML, CSS, JS, the Dom, interacting with the server side, and the various aspects of the server side part of the equation, so how to handle requests, state, database accesses, design patterns, data structures etc etc.

What I fear MIT will do is producing someone who graduates from their Web Developer course being absolutely excellent in HTMl, JS etc but knows sod all about caching, state management, design patterns, UX etc.

Re:Idiots (3, Interesting)

plopez (54068) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613345)

"The jack of all trades in the IT world is much less more valuable than it was 20 years ago"

The push for 'DevOps' seems to contradict you.

You need both generalists and specialists (4, Insightful)

sjbe (173966) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613363)

The jack of all trades in the IT world is much less more valuable than it was 20 years ago. Specialization and people who are that passionate and WELL educated (have become "gurus") about specific areas are what is valuable today.

Specialization with no understanding of topics outside of the area of specialty is Not-A-Good-Thing (tm). Specialization is important and obviously useful but there are plenty of cases where a generalist is more useful. You need people who can see how parts of a business fit together and can fill in roles that may don't justify hiring a dedicated specialist. The bigger or more specialized the company, the greater the need for specialists but he need for generalists never goes away, particularly if you want good managers. Technical specialists as a crude rule of thumb tend to run into their Peter Principle limit a lot sooner.

I'm not an IT guy per-se but I often am asked to fill that role. I'm have the skill set of a generalist. You can find better IT guys than me but you aren't likely to find IT guys that are also certified accountants or non-IT engineers of which I am both. In my company our IT needs are relatively modest so hiring a dedicated IT guy doesn't make sense right now. As we grow that will (hopefully) change. On a weekly basis I handle work in IT, HR, engineering, accounting and purchasing. Someone who only is an IT guy would undoubtedly do a great job with the IT stuff but might struggle with stuff outside his/her specialty. The important thing for a generalist to understand is where his limits are and to not exceed them. I know a lot about IT but the most important thing for me to know is to know what I don't know.

Re: Idiots (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47613649)

Agree. The Technical College enrollment in our state has 30 plus percent of students with 4 year degrees. Can parents afford to send 2-3 children to college and spend $250,000 to have them come back home with 100,000 in student loan debt?
There are at least one million jobs available, but lack of academic and technical skills disqualifies most applicants. I had a receptionist openong that pays $25,000. I had 630 applicants with 40 percent of applicants holding BS/BA/MA. We hired a four year graduate.

Re:Idiots (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47613647)

Chemistry just got a lot more explosive and engineering just became a lot more "robot chicken"

Re:Idiots (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612667)

The entire point of a university degree is to give you a guided tour of your ignorance. It's not to teach you everything about the subject, it's to tell you everything that you may want to learn within a subject so that you can then pick the bits to study in more detail yourself. If you let students pick the modules that they want, then you may as well just say 'here's a library, go and learn some stuff' and you'll get more or less the same results.

Personally I took the here's a library, then went and learned some stuff method.
It has worked out for me.
I'm a Software Engineer Level 5, making $125k a year.
The only "education" I have is my GED.
My real learning is from the free 1000s of pdfs, manuals, forums and books at the library that I've read over the past 10 years.

"Don't let schooling interfere with your education." - Mark Twain

Re:Idiots (1)

PvtVoid (1252388) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612693)

Personally I took the here's a library, then went and learned some stuff method.

Then perhaps you might understand why somebody shelling out a hundred thousand dollars might have slightly higher expectations.

Re:Idiots (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612719)

No because everyone knows you only pay for the name of the school and the network of friends that you'll end up making. The education itself is a personal experience that you have to do by yourself every day from 10pm to 5 am (and then get up at 8am for class).

Re:Idiots (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612981)

I learned very little knowledge at my University, but I learned a lot of new thought patterns and the reasons and history of why things are done the way they are, and alternative ways along with their pros and cons. You don't learn that from books easily. How many books teach you to think like someone else? I'm not just talking about think like the teacher or one other person, but learning to identify the myriad of different angles to approach a new problem in an abstract way that applies to everything in your life.

Most book knowledge just says "here's a fact". A good teacher will say "here's a fact" then include a lot of relevant additional information that will dramatically influence how you use that fact.

Re:Idiots (2)

jythie (914043) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613193)

University is what you make of it. If you go in with the attitude that you are just paying for a name and otherwise are in a social club then that is all you get out of it. If you go in with the plan of utilizing the resources, the professors with years or decades of experience, the research labs, etc, those things can really pay off if you will work with them. If the education itself is just that personal experience, save the money and open up a seat for someone else who will actually make use of the education.

The exception to the rule (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612715)

What percent of engineers are self taught and moble? Is this a plan for every programmer?
What is the point of I taught my self. You you believe everyone should and everyone can?

Re:Idiots (2)

gweihir (88907) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612753)

There are some people that can do this successfully, but it is rare. Even for those that can, things do often not work out so well with larger gaps in areas that they never got around to looking at or missing basic stuff. Still, for some this is the best way to do things.

Personally, I went to courses, checked whether the lectures added value and if not, I learned the material by myself and only attended the exam. For about 80% of the courses, being there physically was worthwhile.

Re:Idiots (2)

Connie_Lingus (317691) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612887)

For about 80% of the courses, being there physically was worthwhile.

sounds suspiciously like life in general.

"80% of life is just showing up" - woody allen

Re:Idiots (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612909)

80% of people can't self teach. You're the exception. You're like the child of a billionaire trying to understand why people need to have a food budget. Food is so "cheap".

Re:Idiots (1)

NotDrWho (3543773) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613057)

Personally I took the here's a library, then went and learned some stuff method.
It has worked out for me.

You're not typical. The typical college student (even at MIT), when presented with a completed unstructured program, will get lost in the mire. And you're not going to become very educated if you spend all your days smoking weed, playing Xbox, and working on some vague project for Maker Faire that you're never going to actually finish. Making kids take structured classes may not be cool or hip, but it's necessary.

This sounds to me exactly like one of those dumbass marketing meetings where some idiot gives a presentation on how we can make Doritos cool with the millenials. "We need to bring Doritos onto social media, we need to make it the Beats by Dre of snack chips," says idiot. Other idiots nod in agreement. Non-idiots bite their lips trying not to laugh.

Obviously, said idiot somehow won over the MIT board.

Re:Idiots (1)

jythie (914043) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613181)

Over the years I have more and more avoided the 'self taught' programmers, and I have found I am not alone in this. Too many seem to capitalize on anti-intellectual mythology and resonate better with management which leads to advancement since they have a very confident narrative.. but they tend to have less awareness of what they do not know and fellow (often less paid) programmers have to work harder to compensate for them. Their strength often seem to lay in social skills and image rather then technical.

Re:Idiots (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47613317)

So social skills mean more than actual talent or ability.... Welcome to human nature, we as humanity will collectively choose the well spoken charismatic sociopath over the soft spoken intellectual egghead almost every single time.

Re:Idiots (1)

plopez (54068) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613427)

So what happened prior to those 10 years? If I did not have my current background I would not recognize how many bad ideas under new names are constantly being recycled and see enough parallels between "ground breaking paradigm shifting!" new tech and the basics I learned in school, about things invented in the 60's and 70's, to rarely even crack a manual. Usually I only read manuals and forums when I think a feature is broken to ensure I have a good idea of its capabilities.

Re:Idiots (1)

Darth Snowshoe (1434515) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613535)

"The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters -- a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his speech "The American Scholar"

Re:Idiots (3, Insightful)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612687)

The entire point of a university degree is to give you a guided tour of your ignorance. It's not to teach you everything about the subject, it's to tell you everything that you may want to learn within a subject so that you can then pick the bits to study in more detail yourself. If you let students pick the modules that they want, then you may as well just say 'here's a library, go and learn some stuff' and you'll get more or less the same results.

But then you actually arrive at college, and as part of your degree in comsci, you're required to take an accounting class. During that 12 week class you spend about a week learning a couple of formulas that you realize will be very helpful when coding accounting software, but just as you're getting into it they switch topics and start teaching you about business management and then spend 4 weeks on "How to use Excel"...

Wouldn't it be great if you could change the focus of that class to the fundamental math functions you'll be using frequently in your future career and avoid the bits of the class that will have nothing to do with your profession? ...and that's the point...

Re:Idiots (4, Insightful)

PvtVoid (1252388) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612729)

Wouldn't it be great if you could change the focus of that class to the fundamental math functions you'll be using frequently in your future career and avoid the bits of the class that will have nothing to do with your profession?

You do understand the idea of a liberal arts education, right? There's a very good argument to look at coding as a trade [wsj.com] , but that's not what universities are for. If you want to be educated like a plumber, go to a trade school.

Re:Idiots (1)

jeIIomizer (3670945) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612759)

Sadly, a lot of people seem to want colleges and universities to be turned into half-assed trade schools, rather than just going to an actual trade school. I don't know why. But that's exactly what's going to happen with all this "Everybody's gotta go to college so they can get a job!" nonsense that's been going around.

Re:Idiots (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612845)

In the specific example given there's arguably a complaint to be made because someone wanted a CS focus and got an exciting month on 'clicking buttons in Office 2007', which is at least as narrowly vocational, likely more, and not the right vocation.

Schools can, and do, have courses and course requirements that just aren't very good at delivering what they are supposed to. I suspect that dithering about whether they want to be trade schools or not can help cause this; but complaining about it isn't really exclusive to wanting a vocational education or wanting a liberal arts one.

Re:Idiots (1)

jythie (914043) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613209)

Thing is, these 'modules' will not actually help there. All they are really talking about is shorter courses. Many (most?) universities already have structures in place for 4-6 week courses (usually over summers) that function like this, but chopping up the coursework into a bunch of smaller pieces really does not solve any underlying problems of individual courses being well suited or not.

Re:Idiots (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612913)

Sadly, a lot of people seem to want colleges and universities to be turned into half-assed trade schools, rather than just going to an actual trade school. I don't know why.

Because the companies hiring requires a college or university degree. As a result the people paying the universities bills have an interest in finetuning what is taught so that they both get the paperwork needed to get a job together with the knowledge needed to perform it.
Academia for academias sake is great, but very few are willing to pay for it.

Re:Idiots (1)

jeIIomizer (3670945) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612959)

Because the companies hiring requires a college or university degree.

Obviously. But then we end up with a bunch of people who expect colleges and universities to be like trade schools, making it more difficult for people who care about education to get one from those places.

The companies are too greedy and lazy to be expected to train their own employers or even test people properly, so we need to stop handing out loans and grants to people who simply should not go to college or university, or come up with some scheme that will help with that.

Re:Idiots (1)

Loughla (2531696) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613043)

You do understand the concept of broad base of knowledge to operate from, correct? It's a liberal arts education; not all will be useful, some will be. They used to have a term for it; renaissance man (or woman, you know, whatever).

What's the quote; specialization is for insects.

Re:Idiots (3, Insightful)

gtall (79522) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613077)

Yep, you as a mild-mannered undergraduate are able to leap tall theories, run faster than a locomotive, and who, disguised as beguiling innocent, are able to use your Super-XRay vision to totally predict your future life. Let no man in the organizations you work for attempt to get you to contribute to areas not in your chosen field of tunnel vision. There hasn't been a subject yet devised that could aid your future self in ways you cannot predict.

Re:Idiots (1)

plopez (54068) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613443)

The intro to accounting class I took comes in handy understanding loans, taxes, and my household budget.

Re:Idiots (1)

Dan Askme (2895283) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612735)

If you let students pick the modules that they want, then you may as well just say 'here's a library, go and learn some stuff' and you'll get more or less the same results.

FLTK / SFML / BASS / IrrLitch
Thats the library's i choose from.

Kids today, pick Python / Ruby / Flash. Use one thread, riddeled with bad code, and, wonder why their program runs like shit on a i7 cpu. Strange that.....

Re:Idiots (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612847)

That's because there is much more jobs for the web stuff.

Re:Idiots (1)

gweihir (88907) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612741)

Exactly my thoughts. Students do not know what to pick and certainly not on a detail level. That they (well, some of them) will be able to do so after graduation is one of the central aims of a university program.

Re:Idiots (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612789)

The entire point of a university degree is to fill your Rolodex with the names of other people who went to the same, hopefully prestigious, institution.

Re:Idiots (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612823)

That is entirely not the point of a university degree, especially at lower levels.

Bachelors -- are you able to learn and apply basic concepts
Masters -- are you able to learn and apply advanced concepts
PhD -- are you able to discover novel, interesting concepts

And (of course) modules would have prerequisites (just like courses do now) to ensure that an adequate understanding of necessary basic concepts has been obtained.

Finally, some of the most influential people in history were thrown in a library and self-educated. Leibniz, for one. I'm more concerned with their motives; education has been commercialized in the US and this could be a way to allow indecisive students to register for fewer courses, taking longer to complete a degree and adding wealth to the university's coffers.

The idea seems foolish to me, personally, because students already have this ability. It's called attendance.

Re:Idiots (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613465)

and the higher levels are about going up the iry tower and not really skills needed for most jobs.

we have PhDs on Food Stamps you know

Re:Idiots (1)

Jim Sadler (3430529) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612889)

MIT has been doing a great job of educating the type of youth that craves education. They should stick to their method. So very often the subject a student hates the most just happens to be the subject the student needs the most. A course in touch typing would have been good for me in grade school but I loathed the idea of such a boring course. These days the degree of learning that an MIT student needs is almost impossible to reach. Fortunately there are a few young people who enjoy getting half crazy in chemistry and physics and mathematics. These are the students that colleges are built to serve.

Re:Idiots (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47613025)

God I cannot tell you how hard this comment makes me with its common sense.

Re:Idiots (4, Insightful)

RevWaldo (1186281) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613081)

Exactly. College shouldn't just teach you what you know you don't know. It's also supposed to teach you what you don't know you don't know.

.

Re:Idiots (1)

Jason Levine (196982) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613185)

Exactly this. When I went into college, I was convinced that I'd major in physics and minor in math. There was no question in my mind. I took a computer science course because it seemed like the best option on the list of required courses. My second semester in college, I hit into Quantum Mechanics and found myself struggling. As much as I liked physics, I couldn't wrap my head around the equations and was NOT enjoying it at all. Meanwhile, in my computer science course, I was barely paying attention in class and pulling down straight A's. Everything there just clicked naturally. So I switched majors and never looked back. Now I build web applications and while I'll always love physics, I am much more comfortable managing code than managing complex mathematical equations to plot the course of an electron around a hydrogen atom.

When I entered college, I had no idea I'd love programming so much. Were I able to just pick and choose "modules" instead of being required to take a wide variety of courses, I'd never have found out what I really like.

Re:Idiots (1)

matbury (3458347) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613419)

Yep, idiots. This looks like MIT's marketing department is running their learning programmes now, like the tail wagging the dog. I've seen this happen to a certain degree in other universities; marketing decide that they can sell more courses/get more students if they shorten courses to 7 weeks. They halve the learning targets and distribute them across twice as many courses.

What's wrong with that? Well for starters, it means that twice as much course time is taken up with introducing the course at the beginning and taking exams at the end. In other words, In a 14 week course, students lose 2 weeks of actual studying (giving them 12 weeks' study) and in a 7 week course students lose 2 weeks (giving them 5 weeks' study). Another thing is that it takes time to settle into a course, get to know your tutor, how s/he works, what her/his expactations are, get to grips with the nuances of the subject, get to know your classmates and form study groups so that you can learn more effectively, etc. With shorter "modules", you're going to be constantly disrupting students' and tutors' "flow" and as a result, I expect learning will become shallower and suffer even more from what they call the "transfer deficit", i.e. the inability of learners to adapt and apply what they've learned to novel problems in new contexts.

MIT might make more money in the short term but their reputation will eventually take a nose-dive and they won't be able to charge as much per degree. But the most serious issue is that if the majority of universities started thinking in this way, their graduates would no longer be as innovative and productive in the US economy. Everyone would suffer as a result.

Re:Idiots (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613769)

"...you'll get more or less the same results..."
You won't be $60,000/year poorer, however.

Oh yes (1)

JustOK (667959) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612611)

Because all learning can be reduced to Edu Bytes.

Re:Oh yes (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612671)

TL;DR

Re:Oh yes (1)

gweihir (88907) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612763)

Well, with the cretinization of IT that has been going on, sure. Whether a Java programmer has no clue after a conventional university college/program or a after this thing does not really matter. The "no clue" is what matters and the market seems to be going for that.

MOOCs, not degree work. (4, Insightful)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612613)

Context is everything. For MOOCs. This makes perfect sense. For degree work? Not so much.

It is already being done elsewhere (1)

Justpin (2974855) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612633)

I remember going into Manchester University / MMU/ Salford. (MA courses) The course I was looking at had 2 out of 8 core modules the other 6(+2 if you wanted) were electives and depending on the combination that you chose your masters qualification would be named differently, it could change from MSc to MA or MEd.

Ah, how sensible... (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612635)

It is a good thing that calculus, much like a playlist on itunes, can be learned on 'shuffle' because none of it involves using results you arrived at earlier...

Great idea - forget it. (5, Insightful)

Bearhouse (1034238) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612639)

It sounds superficially appealing, letting people choose what interests them or what they think they need to learn. But there's a couple of problems.

Firstly, if we stick with the music analogy, how many artists or tracks have you discovered by random, and in doing so expanded your listening choices?

Also, if you follow a well-structured course, you're getting what a subject-matter expert knows from experience you need to learn. Case in point, I would not have studied stats by choice, but now I'm damn glad it was hammered into me.

The poor courses I've seen were not so much hampered by the format, more either by sub-par lecturers and/or poor, outdated materials.

Re:Great idea - forget it. (1)

war4peace (1628283) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612681)

Firstly, if we stick with the music analogy, how many artists or tracks have you discovered by random, and in doing so expanded your listening choices?

A gazillion.
But the analogy is incorrect. Music is entertainment and nothing more. Science is much, much more than that.

Re:Great idea - forget it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612769)

The Five Monkeys

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. In the cage, hang a banana on a string and put stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey will make an attempt with the same response -- all of the monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Keep this up for several days.

Turn off the cold water. If, later, another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it even though no water sprays them.

Now, remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Replace the third original monkey with a new one. The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well. Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys which have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs.

Why not?

"Because that's the way it's always been done around here."

1st day at MIT... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612649)

Go browse the internet for stuff to learn!

That will be $100,000.

Invoking Betteridge's law in 3... 2... 1... (2)

pla (258480) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612657)

"No".

Courses serve a purpose that customized "modules" do not, will not, and can not - They force you to learn the less "fun" parts required to properly understand the material you want to learn. If you allow students to only eat ham cubes, they'll never touch the broccoli. If you don't take five ranks in metallurgy, you can't open the "intelligent liquid metal" skill tree.

Realistically, this would mean they'll just require a long chain of prerequisite "modules" for anything students actually want to take. Almost like structuring "modules" in to a "course" - Imagine that! Except, without the advantage of having a single professor aware of your progress through each step. You think the current semester-long course structure has a lot of duplication? Wait until each module needs to basically spend the first half making sure you actually know the half a dozen prerequisites, and still remember it enough to apply to the present topic. "Oh, yeah, I took module X two years ago to get into module Z. Something about derivatives, IIRC... Don't worry, I have it!"

Re:Invoking Betteridge's law in 3... 2... 1... (3, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612733)

Given that you usually take your choice of courses(subject to certain constraints depending on the degree you want to go for) a 'course' is a 'module', just not a terribly granular one.

And there is room to tinker with granularity, some schools already run on quarters rather than semesters without apparent incident(at least in my experience quarters are nice for 'niche' things that you want to take a look at, because you get three per academic year rather than two and the proximity of midterms and finals did focus one's attentions a bit; but what you did in three sequential courses for, say, 'a year of calculus' was pretty much identical to what you would take in two sequential courses at a semester school); but the idea that online attention spans prove that knowledge is fundamentally fine-grained...not as much.

Re:Invoking Betteridge's law in 3... 2... 1... (1)

gweihir (88907) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612771)

Very much this. I personally delayed learning some things that are important for over 20 years because they were not fun. Fortunately only minor things, but in retrospect I shudder to think what I would probably have skipped if everything had been elective in small bits.

Re:Invoking Betteridge's law in 3... 2... 1... (1)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612809)

This is about MOOCs, not degree work.

So if you're taking a history MOOC and you want to learn about the Mongols, then the module is there for you.

Bro, do you even RTFA?

Re:Invoking Betteridge's law in 3... 2... 1... (1)

soccerisgod (585710) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613007)

Bro, do you even RTFA?

Bro, this is slashdot - do you even have to ask?

Re:Invoking Betteridge's law in 3... 2... 1... (1)

pla (258480) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613255)

This is about MOOCs, not degree work. [...] Bro, do you even RTFA?

Tu quoque?

FTA: But the professors on the MIT committee that drafted the report argue that the numbers show that larger percentages explored significant parts of courses, which may be all they wanted or needed. "This in many ways mirrors the preferences of students on campus," they wrote. "In a survey of students, approximately 40 percent of respondents report that they have taken MIT classes that they feel would benefit from modularization." (emphasis mine)

TFA starts the discussion with the fact that students of MOOCs may have a high failure rate because they only want to learn certain parts of them and don't care about passing. But the article most assuredly generalizes that theme into a possible future of all coursework, not just MOOCs.

courses are outdated, of course (1)

turkeydance (1266624) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612673)

and waaay overpriced. an MIT 'cafeteria' degree? at 0.5% cost of a regular one? ok.

OB xkcd (4, Funny)

PvtVoid (1252388) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612705)

This. [xkcd.com]

education is a business... (5, Insightful)

silfen (3720385) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612711)

I guess it applies in education too: "The first generation builds the business, the second makes it a success, and the third wrecks it”

Re:education is a business... (1)

gweihir (88907) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612777)

Hehehehehe ;-)
Sorry, no mod points or they would be yours.

Have specific lists of modules (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612723)

How exactly would someone new to calculus or any subject *know* which modules they needed or wanted to learn? Having modules itself is not a bad idea though. The teaching institution could perhaps assemble lists of modules for specific purposes, say Programming for Game Development. But just to dump a load of modules on a student and say 'pick the ones you like' makes no sense.

Yes! (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612725)

'Cause depth is the enemy of progress.

Or at least marketing.

a la carte degrees? stupid! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612737)

We'd all like to get a la carte cable service instead of buying sports and shopping channels we don't want.

But picking and choosing your favorite "songs" from the University album? Nope.

It's like watching a movie based on a novel instead of reading the novel for your English class (or book club -- I'm looking at YOU Costanza).

Re:a la carte degrees? stupid! (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613513)

cable thing is different the sports channels have high costs meny times more then the other channels we at least want ESPN / FS1 / NBCSN / ect's and other RSN's to get in there own pack and not in the basic pack. Most channels cost $0.20 or less per sub.

University classes cost the same and unlike cable they force to take stuff you really don't want vs having it but not tuning in to it. If schools still made you do the same time / hours but let say dump the filler / fluff classes and take more classes in your field it will be better then today's system.

Yeah, maybe considering it for the plebs online... (1)

Dr. Spork (142693) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612767)

Listen, for the rest of MIT's history, the experience for the core students on campus will remain the same: Dorms, semesters, course sequences, grades/evaluations, professors in classrooms, papers, projects, parties, etc.. Why am I so sure? Because MIT is an elite school, and elites will want their kids to get the classical education which made them elite. It's just as much about soaking in the culture, encountering other people, putting together a study crew, a party crew, having a shared experience that includes a bit of hazing, etc.

Sure, MIT will also have a mass education system for the plebs, and they'll brand it with their elite name. But that stuff is not for the "real" MIT kids, except as a supplement. I'm confident that if they design the modular multimedia tutoring system well, many plebs will learn a lot from it. But the only effect of this will be to learn the material. They won't be transformed into MIT elites, even if the letters "MIT" appear somewhere on their diploma. For better or worse, rich parents will always want to send their kids to universities with dorms, semesters, course sequences, grades/evaluations, professors in classrooms, papers, projects, parties, etc. - in hopes that they will osmotically absorb something like culture. The more it reminds them of Hogwarts, the more money they'll be willing to pay. MIT would be stupid to get out of that business, and they're not stupid.

We're only talkin' two Red Line subway stops (2)

SpzToid (869795) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612807)

Not to discredit, but to clarify TFA:

While students at MIT and Harvard do cross-register, the logistics of travel from one campus to another limit the extent to which this is practical. Online makes it possible for students to take classes from across universities more conveniently.”

We're talking two subway stops [google.nl] . Or they can rent a bike, which are all over the place and very well maintained: http://www.thehubway.com/stati... [thehubway.com]

Re:We're only talkin' two Red Line subway stops (2)

Rob Kaper (5960) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613003)

We're talking two subway stops [google.nl] . Or they can rent a bike

We're not talking about the Netherlands, we're talking about the United States of FUCK NO I WON'T BE SEEN ON A BIKE OR IN PUBLIC TRANSIT.

Re:We're only talkin' two Red Line subway stops (1)

SpzToid (869795) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613691)

Then you won't be saving time, or money, commuting between MIT and Harvard by using your own private car. My point had to do with the proximity of the two universities and what realistic, low cost, and frequent transportation options between classes exist, relative to the text of the article; and I provided citations for others.

Re:We're only talkin' two Red Line subway stops (1)

r_jensen11 (598210) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613639)

Not to discredit, but to clarify TFA:

While students at MIT and Harvard do cross-register, the logistics of travel from one campus to another limit the extent to which this is practical. Online makes it possible for students to take classes from across universities more conveniently.”

We're talking two subway stops [google.nl] . Or they can rent a bike, which are all over the place and very well maintained: http://www.thehubway.com/stati... [thehubway.com]

Or, shorter than walking from one end of campus to the other end of several large universities....

Massive Data Breach (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612813)

Foxnews.com has posted a story about a recent massive data breach.

http://www.foxnews.com/tech/20... [foxnews.com]

Apparently, Russia is to blame, but if U.S. data can't be protected, how is U.S. I.T. good enough to know the origins of the attacks?

Citing records discovered by Hold Security, the New York Times reported on Tuesday that the stolen credentials include 1.2 billion password and username combinations and more than 500 million email addresses.

Flaw in the model (2)

BVis (267028) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612837)

Even if you were to adopt this more modular structure (which just seems to me like you'd be picking 12 'things' a semester instead of 4-5), the business model breaks down if you use it universally. After all, the student might not have to waste two years taking all these classes they don't want to (that are irrelevant to their major). Mechanical Engineering major? Go take Accounting 101 with all the morons from the football team. Business major? You certainly need two semesters of chemistry. Unemployab^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Art history major? Go take Rocks for Jocks.

Discipline (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612839)

The unintended favorable consequence of going to a university/college and/or the military is structure. Some folks simply lack the mental fortitude to follow a simple set of instructions daily. We've seen very bright individuals in the computing industry without degrees though I recently left a company where many of these people were savages in terms of their behavior. Now granted, bad habits can be adopted at any point, but one has to wonder whether or not an environment such as college or the military plays a favorable role in leadership and concepts as simple as following thru with your assignment.

Am I the only one looking for a better way? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47612841)

I recently decided to go back to graduate school, but witnessed the horror that I would need to retake every single course I already took for my masters in CS. Instead of complaining, I'm doing a ridiculous experiment and trying a whole new subject. I downloaded the catalog from my alma mater, in chemistry, and am proceeding to learn the whole chemistry degree on my own. >50% of the traditional degree is general ed. Among major requirements, ~30% is math and physics that I have already taken. The remaining course requirements amount to just a few semesters worth of full time study, which I expect to take less than a year taking advantage of offerings online. I expect to take the subject GRE next year and pass with flying colors. Everything I hated about college revolved around deadlines and paperwork, but I am experiencing nothing but enjoyment even though the pace of this experiment blows away the traditional path. I know I'm not a typical high school noob, but isn't that the point of all this? Next year I'll be standing in the ring with opponents that spent four years getting drunk, seeking mates, and worrying about mom and dad paying for it all. Degrees are designed to take four years in a best case scenario, regardless of how fast students can be taught. This might be that "internet moment" where instead of killing brick and mortar music and video stores, the whole system of higher education shows its cracks.

Learn the alphabet with us! (3, Funny)

rippeltippel (1452937) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612857)

Choose the letters you like, it's only $99 each!
(Oh you need the alphabet to understand books? Well, sorry mate...)

I can see it in front of me (2)

mythix (2589549) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612861)

Hi, I'm matt and I've got a PhD in a-little-of-everything

univ. education (1)

l3v1 (787564) | about a month and a half ago | (#47612873)

My view of university education (having an MSc, a separate BSc, and a PhD) has always been that up until MSc (or until BSc, that very much depends on the country and on the followed traditions of education) the point is to get a fairly diverse _introduction_ into as many related [to your main subject] topics as possible, from people who are somewhat knowledgeable in the area, with more deeper knowledge in a lower number of specific areas. Not to make you a jack-of-all-trades in CS for example, but to prepare you to know where to do and where to look and where to start if you'll require deeper knowledge in some other area of your field than the one in which you got deeper intro earlier. That, and survival, i.e., get you acquainted with an environment where you don't only have to learn and be good in one specific topic, but be able to quickly pick up superficial and sometimes deeper knowledge in a related field as well, and be able to produce some results in a short time period. Plus, add the networking possibilities, the opportunity to meet people and gather connections for your later professional life (if you get lucky). You don't get these if you get your degree by doing online courses and from libraries.

Given the above, I don't think longish courses are doomed, they have their places, but one has to have the ability to judge which ones do, retain them, and complement them with some others which have shorter periods and get you more diversified knowledge, which don't necessarily require face-to-face presence or on-site experience. They have to find the proper balance.

I wouldn't support to give total control in the hand of the students when preparing their courses and modules, since that might result in a too diverse graduate pool - some which have very narrow and deeper knowledge, and some who only have very shallow knowledge in several areas but none actually usable for anything. They simply don't have the necessary experience to be their own guides.

Wrong analogy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47613015)

Buying a song instead of an album, or reading an article instead of a newspaper is not akin to picking up one module of a course instead of the course.... that would be more appropriate of an analogy for picking a course instead of a degree, which is already available. After finishing my masters degree, I went back to my undergrad alma mater and decided to take a few classes, here and there, that I wanted to take.

If they want to maintain academic rigor, they just need to make sure they offer items to individual levels, which is what many universities have done, so now you have:

- undergraduate certificates
- associate degrees
- bachelors degrees
- graduate certificates
- masters degrees
- post-graduate certificates
- doctoral degrees
- various post-doctoral options

Probably more.

This is a thing already (3, Interesting)

Loughla (2531696) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613065)

Most schools have this already, essentially. It's called a liberal arts degree, or a Board of Trustees degree, if they want it to sound official.

You pick courses that you want to take, take X amount of hours and are awarded a degree. In theory, students specialize in areas the school doesn't offer degrees in, to thereby personalize their education that much further.

In reality it is a junk degree awarded to D students and sports players who don't want to take anything above a 300 level course.

Re:This is a thing already (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47613423)

You will need a prerequsites engine of some sort. In my electrical engineering degree from an ABET college, I had to have 135 credit hours. This left me with 14 credit hours of "technical electives" 3 credit hours of "general electives" and most of the rest were somewhat predetermined. For example, I had to have Calculus III, which meant I had to have Calculus I & II. In the lower level courses I had some choices among the humanities credits, but they also tended to force things. For example, I took a history course which obligated me to take a second history course for the credit that I needed. Furthermore, not every course was offered every semester and in every time slot. In my case, selecting that history course required something that fit in my schedule in my sophomore year or delaying graduation for one semester (financially this was not an option). That second history course was not something where I had a strong interest, but I still learned things and it did satisfy my credit requirements.

all is possible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47613173)

nothing is necessary. I for one like to see ignorance and arrogance that so nicely combines in US folk to be extended and deepened by these new systems. Not they need that but it is fun to watch.

false generalization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47613183)

are flying low today, it is going to rain I think

If roles were reversed, would it make sense? (1)

smith6174 (986645) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613261)

I think there are competing interests in higher education, and we might be ignoring the contradictions it creates. We model the university as a machine that puts courses into students, usually including a per-course score. It is arbitrary how those courses are divided, otherwise schools on a trimester system or something more unique would create a world of confusion. More confusion comes with the scores, where some schools aren't on a 4.0 scale. From this angle, schools want to produce as many high scores as possible, and the want those scores to be meaningful. The contradiction comes from the university as a whole, getting paid per course and only assigning real value after enough has been paid. Just try obtaining a broadly respected degree using credits mostly obtained from another source! We have granted a monopoly on verifying knowledge to the same institutions that also sell that knowledge. Is it any mystery why phrases like "well-rounded" and "comprehensive" are used so frequently? SO, if roles were reversed, and we could evaluate someone's knowledge without relying on the institution that sold them the knowledge, would universities even make sense? Imagine that MIT went into the business of verifying knowledge obtained elsewhere, and of course they would still try to say the knowledge they sell themselves is better. If MIT wants to give away the knowledge for free in any sized chunks, I don't care. The real issue is that there is nobody verifying knowledge independently, except fly-by-night degree mills that also charge money.

Administrators with too much time (1)

Lawrence_Bird (67278) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613467)

on their hands. Trying to find some way to justify their astronomical pay and benefits.

It's not new (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47613505)

The British Open University had this approach back from the 1960s, and it was picked up by many other universities. Maybe not to the level suggested here, but you could mix and match modules until you gained enough credits to graduate with a degree

Part of it is because (1)

kilodelta (843627) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613517)

90% of what they teach you in any University or College is useless drivel. I mean did I really NEED to take sociology? An a la carte option would have appealed to me way back then.

Re:Part of it is because (1)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613707)

90% of what they teach you in any University or College is useless drivel. I mean did I really NEED to take sociology? An a la carte option would have appealed to me way back then.

When a person is highly focused, and wishes to take only classes that are relevant, trade schools are a better option.

Another option might be to be an "Adult returning student". I did that at my University, and a lot of the courses required of normal students were not needed.

The bad part of the highly focused education is that do we know at 18 our entire career path? I went through many different "careers" - although mostly in one place - and was surprised how many things I didn't think had much relevancy ended up being important to know. Art classes, and really off the wall stuff like Psychology. Wow did I need that some times.

Lets just drop the pretense of education (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47613567)

We should simply change higher education to what it really means today. Each institution should offer a fixed amount of "degrees" and offer then for auction to the highest bidder. No education or classes are required. The winning bidders could be simply be born rich, or put themselves in lifelong crippling debt to finance their purchase at auction. Finally employers can recognize higher education for what it finally has become in modern America "See, this guy was willing to plonk down 100,000 dollars to get a piece of paper to purchase the opportunity to get a job interview. This makes screening applicants much easier."

Perhaps the degree will have a dollar amount printed on it, so employers can simply pick out the applicants who spent the most money. This will give an outcome that matches real life, without the pretense of their being such thing as equal opportunity. If a billionaire's son has a degree with $500,000 dollars printed on it, he will beat out all the other applicants who only spent 120,000 dollars who also are applying for the same position at rich daddy's company. Rich daddy's son will say that he "earned" his position and that it wan't nepotism. Instead of job postings claiming X degree or higher, than can simply state, 300,000 dollar value degree or more.

Because (1)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613569)

18 year old kids know exactly what they will ever need to know.

And they will always make the right decision.

Mix and match in engineering, maybe not so good (1)

mrhippo3 (2747859) | about a month and a half ago | (#47613615)

I shudder to think that i am now an "older" engineer. I graduated from Carnegie-Mellon in the mid 70's which means that my curriculum was was developed mostly in the 50's if not earlier. Yes, I did take The Calculus (four classes including a second class in partial differential equations). I was even part of an "experiment" where freshman year Physics and Calculus was taught as a "single" class. The math and physics profs shuffled the class time by first showing the physical phenomena and then the math behind it. This class was 5 hours/week of lecture and 4 hours/week of recitation.
This rigid formatting has worked for me. I have spent a lot of time with R&D and was never showed by the math. I have a lot of simulation experience with FEA as well as chip and circuit design, embedded system compilers, and some real-time testing of mechanical stuff ranging from tires (small) to 17 ton compressor rotors.
More importantly, I learned how to deal with change. I was the first student on campus with an electronic calculator. The acceptance of the technology was instantaneous, the profs just added more problems to the tests. The simple act of "doing more stuff" has followed me during my entire career.
The greatest irony has been my lack of "formal" computer training. I had a single programming class in high school. Yet, my entire career has been computer-based. My computer usage has not been limited to "engineering." I have done a lot writing (trade press) and learned layout work along the way. Doing documentation for a CAD vendor, you learn how to write in a different style and QA just becomes part of the process -- you do want make sure what you write about actually works. Working for FEA vendors, I again learned how to make the stuff work and created simple examples to show the process. (The heavy duty math helps you understand how FEA works). And my coding skills were used in crafting documents with an early flavor of XML.
Learning though a rigid structure has allowed me cope with whatever comes my way.
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