Posts tagged ‘perception of university’

Feds give nudge to competency-based education: Beyond the Credit Hour

Of all the open learning movement initiatives, this may be the most important.  The credit hour is a poor measure of learning-attained.  It’s too large a grain size to be important as a measure of instruction.  Moving to competencies (whatever that may end up being) is a move in the right direction, in terms of facilitating our ability to measure the amount of learning and the amount of teaching effort involved in an education program.

The U.S. Department of Education has endorsed competency-based education with the release today of a letter that encourages interested colleges to seek federal approval for degree programs that do not rely on the credit hour to measure student learning.

Department officials also said Monday that they will give a green light soon to Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America, which would be the first to attempt the “direct assessment” of learning – meaning no link to the credit hour – and also be eligible for participation in federal financial aid programs.

via Feds give nudge to competency-based education | Inside Higher Ed.

March 28, 2013 at 1:07 am 2 comments

Living with MOOCs: Surviving the Long Open Learning Winter

One of the positive benefits of MOOCs is that a lot of faculty and administration are exploring educational innovations with technology.  When teachers explore how to facilitate learning, improved teaching and learning is likely to result. One of the problems is that many of these teachers and administrators are deciding that MOOCs and other open learning resources are the best bets for addressing educational problems.  They are buying into the belief that open learning is the best that there is (or, perhaps, the only thing that they found) and into the associated beliefs (e.g., that existing educational systems are ineffective and unsustainable, that “everyone already knows that a college degree means next to nothing“).  Those of us who do educational technology research and don’t do MOOCs are likely in for a stretch where our work will be under-appreciated, or simply ignored.  The AI community talks about their “AI Winter.”  Let’s call this the Open Learning Winter.

Regular readers of this blog (and I’m grateful that you are here!) know that I’ve been doing a good bit of traveling the last few months.  From MIT and Stanford, to Indiana and SIGCSE, I’ve had the opportunity to hear lots of people talk about the educational innovations that they are exploring, why they have decided on MOOCs and other open learning resources, and what they think about those of us who are not building MOOCs.  The below are paraphrased snippets of some of these conversations (i.e., some of the parts of these quotes are literally cut-and-paste from email/notes, while other parts are me condensing the conversation into a single quote representing what I heard):

  • You do ebooks?  Don’t you know about Connexions?  Why not just do Connexions books? Do you think that student interactivity with the ebook really matters?”
  •  “You’re making ebooks instead of MOOCs?  That’s really interesting.  Are you building a delivery platform now? One that can scale to 100K students this Fall?” As if that’s the only thing that counts — when no one even considered that scale desirable even a couple years ago.
  • “Ebooks will never work for learning. You can’t ask them to read.  Students only want video.”
  • Anchored Collaboration sounds interesting. Can I do it with Piazza?  No?  Then it’s not really useful to anyone, is it?”
  • “Why should we want to provide resources to state universities?  Don’t you know that all of their programs are going to die?”
  • NSF Program officer at CCC MROE Workshop, “We better figure out online education.  All the state universities are going to close soon.”

These attitudes are not going to change quickly.  People are investing in MOOCs and other open learning resources.  While I do not believe that the MOOCopalypse will happen, people who do believe in it are making investments based on that belief.  The MOOC-believers (perhaps MOOCopalypse survivalists?) are going to want to see their investments will pan out and will keep pursuing that agenda, in part due to the driving power of “sunk costs” (described in this well done Freakonomics podcast).  That’s normal and reasonable, but it means that it will be a long time before some faculty and administrators start asking, “Is there anything other than MOOCs out there?”

I think MOOCs are a fascinating technology with great potential.  I do not invest my time developing MOOCs because I believe that the opportunity cost is too high.  I have had three opportunities to build a MOOC, and each time, I have decided that the work that I would be giving up is more valuable to me than the MOOC I would be producing.  I do not see MOOCs addressing my interests in high school teachers learning CS, or in end-users who are learning programming to use in their work, or in making CS more diverse. It may be that universities will be replaced by online learning, but I don’t think that they’ll all look like MOOCs.  I’m working on some of those non-MOOC options.

Researchers like me, who do educational technology but don’t do MOOCs, need to get ready to hunker down.  Research funding may become more scarce since there are MOOCopalypse survivalists at NSF and other funding agencies.  University administrators are going to be promoting and focusing attention on their pet MOOC projects, not on the non-believers who are doing something else.  (Because we should realize that there won’t be anything else!)  There will probably be fewer graduate students working in non-MOOC areas of educational technology.  Most of the potential PhD students who contacted me during this last application cycle were clear about how important MOOCs were to them and the research that they wanted to do.

We need to learn to live with MOOCs, even if we don’t do MOOCs.  Here are a couple of the hunkering down strategies I’ve been developing:

  • While I don’t want to spend the time to build a MOOC, I am interested in being involved in analysis of MOOC data.  It’s not clear how much data Coursera or Udacity will ever release (and why isn’t edX releasing data — they’re a non-profit!), but I see a great value in understanding MOOCs.  We might also learn lessons that can be applied in other areas of educational innovation with technology.
  • My colleagues involved in MOOCs at Georgia Tech have told me that we have the rights to re-use GT MOOC materials (e.g., all the video that has been collected).  That might be a source of interesting materials for my research.  For example, my colleague Jim Foley suggested that I might re-purpose video from a MOOC to create an ebook on the same content that might be usefully contrasted in a study.

I can’t predict just how long the Open Learning Winter might be.  Given the height of the hype curve associated with MOOCs and the depth of the pockets of the early adopters, I suspect that it’s going to be quite a long, cold winter.  Make sure that you have lots of jerky on-hand — and hope that it’s just winter and not an Ice Age.

March 21, 2013 at 1:51 am 12 comments

Why the MOOCopalypse is Unlikely

The article from The Chronicle referenced below helped convince me that the MOOCopalypse is unlikely to happen. The MOOCopalypse is the closing of most of American universities (“over half” said one of our campus leaders recently) because of MOOCs. The Chronicle piece is about the professors currently offering MOOCs, and the survey (at left) is only with MOOC providers.

The first and greatest challenge to the MOOCopalypse is economic.  It’s a huge cost to produce MOOCs — not just on the professors making the MOOCs, but on all their colleagues who have to cover the teaching and service that the MOOC-makers aren’t providing.  For what benefit?  Most of the MOOC professors talk about the huge impact, about a “one to two to three magnitudes” greater impact.  Not clear to me how universities can take that to the bank.  Unlike fame from a great result or influential paper, MOOC fame doesn’t obviously lead to greater funding opportunities.

There is currently no revenue from MOOCs.  It is not reducing the number of students who need to be taught, nor the amount of service needed to run the place.  It may be reducing the amount of research (and research funding) that the MOOC providers may have provided.  MOOC professors who see that MOOCs may reduce the costs to students are consequently predicting fewer tuition dollars flowing into their institutions.  Literally, I do not see that the benefits of MOOCs outweigh their costs.

In all, the extra work took a toll. Most respondents said teaching a MOOC distracted them from their normal on-campus duties.

“I had almost no time for anything else,” said Geoffrey Hinton, a professor of computer science at the University of Toronto.

“My graduate students suffered as a consequence,” he continued. “It’s equivalent to volunteering to supply a textbook for free and to provide one chapter of camera-ready copy every week without fail.”

via The Professors Behind the MOOC Hype – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The second reason why the MOOCopalypse is unlikely is because those predicting the closing of community colleges and state universities do not understand the ecology of these institutions and how they are woven into the fabric of their communities.

  • This year, I chair the computing and information system technologies (CIST) advisory board of local Chattahoochee Technical College.  Most of the advisory board draws on local industry, the people who hire CTC’s graduates.  They have a say in what gets taught, by describing what they need.  How do you replicate that interchange with MOOCs?
  • I have had the opportunity to visit several institutions in the University System of Georgia through “Georgia Computes!”  At Albany State University, they teach the standard computing courses, but the languages and tools they use are drawn from ones that the local industry needs.  At Columbus State University, they teach content that local Fort Benning needs for the military personnel and employees.  Courses are set up to meet the logistical needs of the military at Fort Benning.  Why would the MOOC provider-professors at Stanford, MIT, Harvard, or Toronto want to meet any of those needs?

My third reason why I believe the MOOCopalypse is unlikely is based on a prediction about the technology. I do not believe that MOOCs are going to dramatically increase their completion rates (even with degree options and accreditation schemes like ,and I do not believe that MOOCs will be successful in teaching the majority of students.  Funders of higher education (e.g., parents and legislators) and consumers of higher education products (e.g., employers) are not going accept the closing of state universities in favor of an option that fewer students graduate from and that produces weaker graduates.  We are already hearing the pushback against the plans to move community college courses into MOOCs in The ChronicleI can believe that some universities may close, but I cannot believe that we as a nation would willingly embrace the closing of a not-great but underfunded educational system for a markedly worse one.

I’m reminded of the A Nation at Risk report and the claim “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”  That report was about primary and secondary school education.  The MOOCopalypse would be an act of war on higher education.

March 20, 2013 at 1:45 am 14 comments

MOOCmania: The State pays Twice

Nice essay, but particularly interesting with the commentary that follows.  Siva Vaidhyanathan raises issue of the role of government in education and in supporting the agendas of education start-ups.

This is a very helpful essay that does a good job working through many of the issues surrounding MOOCs. I wish you had considered, however, the problem raised by the political economy of MOOCs-via-corporation: UC makes MOOCs at a high cost per MOOC (and no faculty compensation); UC donates them to Udacity or Coursera; Udacity charges Cal State for their use in courses meant for those who need and deserve the best teaching, not just the latest experimental teaching. The state pays twice. Udacity walks away laughing.

via MOOCmania | DMLcentral.

March 11, 2013 at 1:40 am Leave a comment

Survey of Non-Doctoral Computing Departments: Please Participate!

The Computing Research Association conducts an annual survey of US doctorate-granting departments in Computing, called the Taulbee Survey.  It’s an important resource for understanding the state of computing education in the United States, but only gives the research-focused side of the picture.  The ACM has launched an effort to do a similar survey of the-rest-of-us (hence it’s original name, “TauRUs,” Taulbee for the Rest of Us).  Please do help to get the word out so that we can get a clearer picture of US post-secondary computing education.

As of last week, the NDC Survey of Non-Doctoral Granting Departments in Computing (all U.S., not-for-profit bachelor’s and master’s programs in CE, CS, IS, IT, SE), previously known as TauRUs, is live. We have gone out to our list of qualifying schools, but we can use YOUR help in getting the word out so we can get to those who may have been left off the mailing, and those who might “forget” to participate! Among other benefits, there is a drawing for five $2,500 grants for the respondents’ departments!

Here is an informational flyer you can share with your colleagues in the non-doctoral computing program community:

There will also be an announcement in SIGCSE welcome bags and its listserv.

February 19, 2013 at 5:45 am 1 comment

Where did CS PhD’s get their undergraduate degrees?

The latest issue of Computing Research News has a report from CRA-E (their Education subcommittee) on where CS PhD’s come from.  Research universities, institutions that stop at Masters degrees, four year colleges, or top liberal arts institutions?  Turns out the answer is that the vast majority of CS PhD’s get their undergraduate degrees from research universities, but the sum of the PhD’s who get their undergraduate degrees from the top 25 liberal arts institutions is greater than any single research institution.  There’s also evidence that the research universities produce better graduate students, using NSF fellowships as the quality metric.  That was quite unexpected — I would have guessed that the four years and the liberal arts institutions would have played a much greater role.

In 2010, 1665 Ph.D.’s were awarded in computer science of which 714 went to domestic students.   Approximately 71% of the domestic Ph.D.’s received their undergraduate degrees from research universities, 15% from master’s institutions, 11% from four-year colleges, and 4% from other colleges.  These proportions have remained essentially unchanged since 2000 with all four types seeing similar increases since 2005.

via Computing Research News – Online – Computing Research Association.

January 22, 2013 at 1:04 am 15 comments

UCSD’s overwhelming argument for Peer Instruction in CS Classes

For teachers in those old, stodgy, non-MOOC, face-to-face classes (“Does anybody even *do* that anymore?!?”), I strongly recommend using “Clickers” and Peer Instruction, especially based on these latest findings from Beth Simon and colleagues at the University of California at San Diego.  They have three papers to appear at SIGCSE 2013 about their multi-year experiment using Peer Instruction:

If we have such strong evidence that changing our pedagogy does work, are we doing our students a disservice if we do not use it?

January 15, 2013 at 6:00 am 11 comments

Hard to tell if Universities teach: The challenge of low-stakes testing

What a great idea!  Everybody who goes to University takes a test like the ACT or SAT.  Simply give it to them again as they’re graduating! Now you have a measure of impact — the change between the entrance test and exit test is the value added by a University.

Seems simple, but it doesn’t work. Students have a huge incentive to do well on the entrance exam, but zero incentive to do well on the exit exam.   A new study published in Education Researcher shows that the motivation really matters, and it calls into question the value of the Academically Adrift study that claimed that Colleges aren’t teaching much.  How do you know, if students don’t really have any incentive to do well on the post-intervention exams?

To test the impact of motivation, the researchers randomly assigned students to groups that received different consent forms. One group of students received a consent form that indicated that their scores could be linked to them and (in theory) help them. “[Y]our test scores may be released to faculty in your college or to potential employers to evaluate your academic ability.” The researchers referred to those in this group as having received the “personal condition.” After the students took the test, and a survey, they were debriefed and told the truth, which was that their scores would be shared only with the research team.

The study found that those with a personal motivation did “significantly and consistently” better than other students — and reported in surveys a much higher level of motivation to take the test seriously. Likewise, these student groups with a personal stake in the tests showed higher gains in the test — such that if their collective scores were being used to evaluate learning at their college, the institution would have looked like it was teaching more effectively.

via Study raises questions about common tools to assess learning in college | Inside Higher Ed.

January 8, 2013 at 7:46 am 15 comments

The End of the University as We Know It — One of Two Visions of a MOOC-filled World

When I talk to people about MOOCs, I realize that people are hearing two radically different stories.

The first group hears that MOOCs can replace lectures, as MOOCs as a kind of textbook. They dream of higher-quality education with blended/flipped classrooms with more interactive exchange during classtime. This group wants to keep Colleges and Universities, and make them better (here’s an example of that vision).  The second group hears the story linked below: that MOOCs will replace classes, then schools.  They expect (and maybe even want) the MOOCopalypse.

What’s fascinating to me is that each group generally dismisses the other’s story.

  • The flipped/blended classroom group expresses shock when I tell them the second story.  “Who would want to do that?  That would ruin universities! Quality would decrease.”
  • The MOOCopalypse group doesn’t understand why you would want to do flipped/blended classrooms.  “But that doesn’t reduce costs!”

I like the first story, and the second one scares me.  Consider the implications of the vision described below (which is a clear second-group story).  With less in-class interaction, graduation rates will plummet — online classes have dramatically lower completion rates without face-to-face contact.  With far fewer schools, there is a much smaller demand for PhD’s, so fewer people will pursue higher degrees.  Our technological innovation and competitiveness will whither.  Think hard about what Universities provide for you before you write them off.

In fifty years, if not much sooner, half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist. The technology driving this change is already at work, and nothing can stop it. The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.

via The End of the University as We Know It – Nathan Harden – The American Interest Magazine.

January 4, 2013 at 11:59 am 16 comments

MOOCs are a fundamental misperception of how teaching works

During break (e.g., multi-hour long car rides), I gave a lot of thought to MOOCs and the changes that are coming to higher education. I realized that people can only believe that MOOCs can replace existing higher-education classes if they misunderstand what a teacher does.

MOOCs (for the most part, as they are defined in Udacity, Coursera, and edX, and as defined at Wikipedia) provide lecture-like material (typically through videos). These are broken into small pieces, and are presented with interspersed mini-quizzes. There is additional homework. Feedback is provided, either canned (the system knows what’s right and wrong) or through peer-evaluation. There is typically some kind of forum for questions and answers, and is a key part of the connectivist MOOC for “nurturing and maintaining connections.”

So why isn’t this the same as a face-to-face higher education class?

  • The main activity of a higher-education teacher is not to lecture. The main activity of a teacher is to orchestrate learning opportunities, to get students to do and think. A teacher does this most effectively by responding to the individuals in the class. I just got my student feedback on the prototyping course I taught in the Fall. What the students liked best was that I led discussions based on their questions and comments on the readings, and that I had stories and anecdotes in response to their queries. A teacher responds to the students, provides scaffolding, and helps the students increase their knowledge.
  • A teacher is an expert at teaching the topic, and the teaching is dependent on the domain. Teaching is not a generalized skill. The most effective teachers have a lot of pedagogical content knowledge — they know how to teach the domain. The same general course structure is not as effective as a course structure aimed at the domain.
  • The job of the teacher is to educate, not filter, and that includes motivating students. What’s the difference between a book and a University? You can learn from a book. Most students can’t learn as effectively on-their-own with a book as they can with a good teacher. Many self-taught learners who have only studied books lack a general overview of the field, and haven’t read the books that challenge and contradict the books that they have read and loved. A good teacher motivates students to keep going, explains why the topics are important, challenges students, points out where their understanding is lacking, and makes sure that they see more than one perspective on a topic.

If the only educated people in our society were the ones who wanted to learn (at the start, from the beginning of a class), our society would collapse. We would have too few educated workers to create innovations and maintain the technology we have. Our society depends on teachers who motivate students to persevere and learn.

There is evidence that MOOCs do not teach. We know that MOOCs have a low completion rate. What most people don’t realize is that the majority of those who complete already knew the content. MOOCs offer a one-size-fits-few model, unchanging between content domains, that does not change for individual students (I know that they hope that it will one day, but it doesn’t now), that filters and certifies those who can learn on their own. The role of education in society is to teach everyone, not just those auto-didacts who can learn in a MOOC.

Absolutely, it’s worth exploring how to make educational technology (including MOOCs) that provides learning opportunities where no teacher is available. Alan Kay encouraged us to think that way here in this blog. However, replacing good teachers with MOOCs reflects a deep misunderstanding of what a teacher does.

Please note that I am not arguing that MOOCs are bad technologies, or that they can’t be used to create wonderful learning environments.  I am explicitly critiquing the use of MOOCs as a replacement for existing courses (with a good teacher), not MOOCs as a textbook or augmentation of existing courses.

How did we get to this point, that people are seriously talking about shutting down schools in favor of MOOCs? Maybe it’s because we in Universities haven’t done enough to recognize, value, and publicize good teaching. We haven’t done enough to tell people what we do well. MOOCs do what the external world thinks that University teachers do.

January 4, 2013 at 8:34 am 118 comments

MOOCs – The revolution has begun, says Moody’s: The Rich get Richer

Moody’s is joining with others predicting that MOOCs will damage smaller schools and will benefit the largest universities. Sounds like a form of the MOOCopalypse. Interesting that they see the elites as doing well under MOOCs — the rich get richer.

A new report by Moody’s Investors Service suggests that while MOOCs’ exploitation of expanded collaborative networks and technological innovation will benefit higher education in the United States as a whole, their long-term effect on the for-profit sector and smaller not-for-profit institutions could be damaging.

The report suggests that institutions with the strongest brand identities will experience the most positive credit impacts from the new platform, although it predicts national universities will benefit more than those with a global presence.

via MOOCs – The revolution has begun, says Moody’s – University World News.

December 27, 2012 at 8:07 am 1 comment

More Universities Should Teach Computer Science and Not be Shut Down

Following the announced restructuring of the University of Florida CS program and this classic quote about how Yale shouldn’t be in the business of teaching “trade skills” (meaning, applied software engineering), I’m going to argue that more (not all, but more) academic computer science programs should be shut down or reorganized.

via More Universities Should Shut Down Their Computer Science Programs | Jeffrey McManus.

That’s an interesting claim. Unfortunately, the argument isn’t very convincing..

1. Most undergraduates and professionals actually want to learn applied software engineering, not “computer science.” So? That’s not all that industry most wants to hire. That’s not what society most needs.

2. University undergraduates are not discriminating consumers of education. Agreed, which again gets back to why we would care (in Step #1) that that’s what undergraduates think that they want.

3. It should not be necessary for two universities located within commuting distance of each other to have the same academic department. I guess it depends on how large you can make the classrooms and how effective the teachers are at motivating large groups of students to reach completion. Part of the growth of universities has been spurred on by increased demand. I’m not sure how this statement fits into the overall argument.

4. Applied software engineering is a discipline that lends itself to being effectively taught online. Definitely an intriguing claim, but I’m not sure that I agree. Really good software engineering is a design activity, which is best learned in a reflective apprenticeship setting — the kind of high-bandwidth communication that we can’t do yet well on-line. Further, online learning is still hard to do with multiple modalities (yes, you can watch a video, but you can’t read the screen well; and the tools to provide audio narration for clearly-readable code are still developing), and there’s evidence to believe that multiple modalities are key to learning to read code well.

5. Most university computer courses simply aren’t that good if your goal is to get a job doing applied software engineering. I might be willing to agree here, but it’s not clear (a) that we should be teaching only applied software engineering in universities, (b) that students most need applied software engineering, and (c) that it’s not better for everyone (industry, society, students) to aim to teach CS better.

6. University academic departments in general should have limited charters and should be reorganized frequently. That’s another interesting claim, and one I might support, but still doesn’t seem connected to the argument that University CS departments should be shut down.

December 5, 2012 at 9:33 am 2 comments

Our Napster is Udacity: Quality Doesn’t Beat Access

Clay Shirky’s essay on MOOCs has made the best case that I’ve seen on why the MOOCopalypse is coming.  At Georgia Tech, we’ve used an analogy about universities and higher education as being like Borders. Borders went under quite quickly, in the face of and Kindles.  But there are too many differences in that analogy, e.g., Borders and Amazon sold the exact same product.  Shirky’s essay hits home.  Napster wasn’t better than CD’s, but it was free and easily accessible.  Napster was shutdown, but only after the damage was done.  Expectations changed, and the mechanisms were then established to create the legitimate, for-cost iTunes Store (and Pandora and and…) which put the final nails in the CD’s coffin. The key lesson is: Access was more important than quality.  Shirky’s suggestion is that, once established as being available and acceptable, then MOOCs (even when they’re not free, after Udacity, Coursera, edX) could put the nails in the university coffin.

It’s been interesting watching this unfold in music, books, newspapers, TV, but nothing has ever been as interesting to me as watching it happen in my own backyard. Higher education is now being disrupted; our MP3 is the massive open online course (or MOOC), and our Napster is Udacity, the education startup.

We have several advantages over the recording industry, of course. We are decentralized and mostly non-profit. We employ lots of smart people. We have previous examples to learn from, and our core competence is learning from the past. And armed with these advantages, we’re probably going to screw this up as badly as the music people did.

via » Napster, Udacity, and the Academy Clay Shirky.

November 16, 2012 at 8:36 am 8 comments

Attacks on mathematics education reform: If it’s on the Internet, it must be true

I recommend reading the whole sordid story below, of mathematics faculty decrying mathematics education reform efforts because they believe that it’s not rigorous enough.  The story is a familiar one to many who have tried to change education to be more engaging or improve retention.  I’ve certainly heard similar claims made about Media Computation (e.g., “If students are now passing MediaComp when they used to fail CS, then he must be lowering standards!  How else could he be getting students to stay?”).

A thread I found particularly intriguing in this story is the assumption by the critics that peer-review and publication are meaningless.  The only source for critique of the math ed reform in question is this one, never-published essay available on a Stanford FTP site.  One of the essay’s authors insists that it was peer-reviewed, just never published, because he never found time to make the corrections that he was required to make by the human research board.  In other words, it was peer-reviewed, found wanting, and he chose not to revise-and-resubmit.  In response to the quote below: Yes, if they couldn’t get it published, that fact does undermine its worth.

This is a rejection of academic standards — by academics!

Ze’ev Wurman, a supporter of Milgram and Bishop, and one who has posted the link to their article elsewhere, said he wasn’t bothered by its never having been published. “She is basically using the fact that it was not published to undermine its worth rather than argue the specific charges leveled there by serious academics,” he said.

via Stanford professor goes public on attacks over her math education research | Inside Higher Ed.

October 17, 2012 at 8:47 am 6 comments

Fight the MOOCopalypse!

Like everywhere else that’s considering MOOCs, the faculty of my school are talking a lot about what’s going to happen next.  One of my colleagues echoed Elliot Soloway’s comment from the Google Faculty Summit, saying that soon, all that would be left is research universities, and all other college education would be by MOOC. He noted that there are some non-trivial issues in making MOOCs more effective.  I wrote an overly-dramatic reply, which I include here with edits for context.

Those non-trivial improvements are the key challenge.  I believe (even, hope!) that technology may one day create opportunities to teach better than we do now at less expense.  But I see no reason to believe that it’s going to happen soon.  Education is technology’s Afghanistan — school-conquering technology keeps charging in, and the technology limps out defeated:

  • In 1913 Thomas A. Edison asserted, “Books will soon be obsolete in schools …. Our school system will be completely changed in the next ten years” [by motion pictures.] (Saettler 1968, p. 98).
  • “I do wish to emphasize that I do not envisage replacing teachers entirely, especially at the elementary-school level. It would be my estimate that even under the maximum use of technology only 20 to 30% of students’ time in the elementary school would be spent at computer learning stations.” Patrick Suppes on Integrated Learning Systems (CAI) in 1992.  (If you’ve been in any elementary schools recently, you know that it’s far less than that.)

Technological change happens, but not overnight.  The iPhone didn’t come out of nowhere — I still have my Newton.  Education is way harder than handheld personal computing.  It will take far longer.

Here are two reasons for Georgia Tech to explore MOOCs:
(1) To figure out how to make them better, to help them evolve.  It’s not going to happen soon, and if we do it, we should plan to be in it for the long (and probably expensive) haul.  This is a noble pursuit.

(2) Expecting MOOCs to destroy universities as we know them in the near future (let’s call it the “MOOCopalypse”), we want to be ahead of the oncoming tsunami.

First, I don’t expect #2 to happen.  Families are going into debt because they VALUE higher education.  They WANT their kids to get it.  How will they feel about their state universities graduating only 20% of those who enter?  Even Sebastian Thrun doesn’t predict the MOOCopalypse, and he doesn’t see any reduction in universities happening soon.

Second, I don’t want #2 to happen — not as a professor, but as a citizen and a computer scientist.  I predict that those who complete MOOCs in computer science are 80% White or Asian and 90% male.  That’s not the world I want.  I wrote a blog piece for CACM last May where I pointed out that 10 years after we started working on increasing female participation in computing, we have made almost no progress.  And that’s with flexible, face-to-face systems with people offering the courses.  Why should it get better in a “near future” with all MOOC’s all the time?  How much will state legislators across this country support an all-MOOC world which so blatantly violates Title IX?

If we were to increase our involvement with MOOCs, we should only do it to support the development of technology (#1), not in fear (or worse, support of) the MOOCopalypse (#2).  I completely agree with others in this thread (and wrote a blog piece recently saying similar things): We teach way better than any MOOC can.  If we do teach more with MOOCs, we should be the harshest critics of MOOCs: We should measure demographics, we should measure learning, we should describe who-drops-out and not just who-completes.  That’s how they’ll get better, and we’ll learn how to teach even better in other media along the way. And we’ll be pointing out why MOOCs are too immature a technology to use for general higher education.

WE SHOULD FIGHT #2.  We should be advocates for broadening participation in computing, for higher-quality education.  I don’t believe in technological determinism, and I don’t worship at a Silicon Valley shrine.  We can change our fates.

Let’s not go quietly.

October 5, 2012 at 6:15 am 21 comments

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