NYTimes rejects the MOOCopalypse

April 4, 2013 at 1:41 am 15 comments

NYTimes gets it.  The quote below reflects my concerns about replacing courses with MOOCs. I particularly enjoyed the reference to the proposed “New University of California” (whose online-tests-only degrees sound like what the University of Wisconsin just agreed to) as “particularly ludicrous.”

The same California State Legislature that cut the higher education budget to ribbons, while spending ever larger sums on prisons, now proposes to magically set things right by requiring public colleges and universities to offer more online courses. The problem is that online courses as generally configured are not broadly useful. They work well for highly skilled, highly motivated students but are potentially disastrous for large numbers of struggling students who lack basic competencies and require remedial education. These courses would be a questionable fit for first-time freshmen in the 23-campus California State University system, more than 60 percent of whom need remedial instruction in math, English or both.

via Resurrecting California’s Public Universities – NYTimes.com.

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15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Guest  |  April 5, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Would that NYT’s editorial coverage showed a smidgeon of the same skepticism.

  • 2. Laura Gibbs  |  April 5, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Uh, what do they “get” exactly…?
    As someone whose courses are being tarred by the brush of “as generally configured,” I did not find the NYTimes article helpful at all. When did the NYTimes do a study to find out just how “online courses” are “generally configured”…?
    When I offered Tamar Levin (Times educator reporter who wrote some seriously misinformed and very sweeping denunciations of online education a couple of years ago) the opportunity to enroll in one of my courses to try something different, she didn’t take me up on it.
    I wish she had.

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  April 5, 2013 at 11:49 am

      The NYTimes’ editorial coverage is recognizing that online courses (especially MOOCs) are a far worse option for first-gen students and for students needing remedial support. It is best for well-prepared and well-motivated students and for professional development. MOOCs cannot play the same roles that universities do, and that it’s ridiculous to replace universities with collections of MOOCs. David Brooks’ article today also reflects on the role of MOOCs and Universities.

      • 4. Laura Gibbs  |  April 5, 2013 at 12:07 pm

        Mark, if they said “especially MOOCs” that would be one thing, but they did not. They said “as GENERALLY CONFIGURED” – and there is a HUGE difference between those two statements. I have to assume that they mean what they said, and that means they are making a statement about online courses in general. Reckless and irresponsible in my opinion, because online instruction can be a great boon to students – I have been teaching fully online courses at the University of Oklahoma for 10 years. Now I worry that as a result of the way that MOOCs have re-ignited a long-smoldering prejudice against online education, I may not get to do that for another 10 years, much as I would like to.

  • 5. Gary Hewgley (@ghewgley)  |  April 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    So the solution is less online courses? Online courses have been awesome for me as they are cheaper, widely available, and can be taken at different times. I don’t get how this is a bad thing. Am I missing something? If the problem is students not being ready for college, doesn’t that say something about high school?

    I also don’t get how professors are up in arms about losing control of their content. If you work at Apple, do you own what you design? What about Facebook, Samsung, Google, or almost any other industry?

    Where are the people’s indignation when it comes to massive increases every year to tuition? Tuition has far outpaced the rate of inflation. Where is the money going? Where is the indignation when a person’s work/location prevents him/her from attending face-to-face? If people cannot handle online because of the assumed independence level, what does it say about those people? Do they really want to take a class?

    Concerning online classes. I have yet to take an online class that was easier than it’s face-to-face counterpart. I’ve even seen courses that had no exams (F2F courses). So that makes F2F better/more rigorous?

    The people who should be afraid of this are people who do not really want to take classes anyway (or put the time into them), colleges who now face competition, and professors who might now have more students but at different times (and who might have to actually grade papers).

  • 6. Jos  |  April 6, 2013 at 5:32 am

    Solution? http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/03/27/1221764110

  • 7. VanessaVaile  |  April 6, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Rule of thumb: avoid main stream media as a reliable source for MOOC information and evaluations. Some but not all higher ed media is marginally better. Break the addiction to name brand addiction. Try Hack Education,

    • 8. Mark Guzdial  |  April 6, 2013 at 2:04 pm

      Mainstream media is a pretty good measure of mainstream thoughts. Audrey and others have been critical about MOOCs ahead of the mainstream media. The point of my post is that NYTimes (as a leader among mainstream media) is recognizing the value of that criticism.

      • 9. Laura Gibbs  |  April 6, 2013 at 2:21 pm

        Mark, you are seeing what you want to see in that article. Take a look again: there is NO MENTION of MOOCs at all in that article. Not even once. Instead there is a sweeping dismissal of “online courses” and “online education” with no regard whatsoever to whether a course is massive or not. Gary’s comment above shows that there is not even an implication that it is MOOCs which are being critiqued here. The editorial reads as a critique of online education in any form. Whether that is just sloppiness on the part of the New York Times, or whether it represents their true disdain for any and all online education, I have no way of knowing. In any case, the editorial is not about MOOCs; it is about online education. Period.

        • 10. Mark Guzdial  |  April 6, 2013 at 3:35 pm

          Absolutely right, Laura — the NYTimes piece is about online courses and online education, which I interpret to be a superset of MOOCs. They are saying that exam-only degrees are a bad idea, that online education does not work well for students who need remedial support, and that online education works best for well-prepared and well-motivated students. I agree with all of that. That’s how I read the research literature on online education in the United States. (Open Universities in other countries have a better track record.)

          • 11. Laura Gibbs  |  April 7, 2013 at 9:48 am

            I understand your desire to have good reporting that lets people know what a danger badly designed MOOCs are to the future of education, along with badly designed courses of all persuasions (uh, college lectures with nothing but multiple-choice exams…?) – but the editorial in the NYTimes just doesn’t fall into that category with its sweeping denunciation of online education and no mention at all of MOOCs. I am surprised to find you making such great efforts to apologize on their behalf, essentially writing in your comments here the editorial they should have written… but which they did not.

            MANY college courses, online or not, are bad news for remedial students; it’s not just a problem online – most of my colleagues are not very well prepared, or even interested in, working with remedial students in a face to face class, much less in a face to face lecture class. At the same time, my online courses have proved to be, at least for me, the only way that I can reach students in need of remedial writing help – especially since my school has no remedial writing program (like many big state research universities, we are in serious denial about our students’ needs). So, as an online instructor, I feel far better able to offer personalized, accessible instruction that allows me to better serve remedial students than I ever could in the traditional classroom, and likewise students on military deployment, quadriplegic students, deaf students, students working full-time jobs and raising families, plus non-traditional students of all types who, for whatever reasons, cannot attend campus classes and/or who find themselves stifled and alienated in a traditional classroom setting.

            Having the New York Times make a sweeping dismissal of online education as “as generally configured” is, to my mind, unacceptable sloppiness. I understand now that you feel differently. A further irony, of course, is that for the past year the New York Times has mostly seemed like a paid publicity agent for Coursera et al., so this editorial is not only badly written (again, IMO – I understand that you think otherwise), but also in contradiction to an ocean of ink which the Times has already spilled beating the drum for the MOOC-a-ganza without making any effort to profile more effective and more responsible online efforts of the non-massive persuasion.

  • 12. Gary Hewgley (@ghewgley)  |  April 6, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    I just love how online courses give people more options to learn and/or take classes. Even the MOOC’s (or the stuff on iTunesU) seems cool to me. I guess I just love learning. If people are not ready, or do not want to take them, they can do F2F. Sorry, but I don’t see the problem.

  • […] NYTimes rejects the MOOCopalypse (computinged.wordpress.com) […]

  • 15. Mark Guzdial  |  April 26, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    California rejected the “New University of California”: http://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2013/04/18/bill-create-new-university-california-dies


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