Udacity, Coursera: Should celebrities teach MOOCs?

December 19, 2013 at 1:19 am 10 comments

I don’t really have a problem with this.  Make the presentation in the videos as attractive as possible.  Just remember Herb Simon’ s quote: “Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.”  Doesn’t matter if it’s Agarwal or Damon doing the lecture — that’s not the critical part.

“From what I hear, really good actors can actually teach really well,” said Anant Agarwal, CEO of EdX, who was until recently a computer-science professor at MIT. “So just imagine, maybe we get Matt Damon to teach Thévenin’s theorem,” he added, referring to a concept that Agarwal covers in a MOOC he teaches on circuits and electronics. “I think students would enjoy that more than taking it from Agarwal.”

Casting Damon in a MOOC is just an idea, for now: In meetings, officials have proposed trying one run of a course with someone like Damon, to see how it goes. But even to consider swapping in a star actor for a professor reveals how much these free online courses are becoming major media productions—ones that may radically change the traditional role of professors.

via Udacity, Coursera: Should celebrities teach MOOCs?.

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Barry Brown  |  December 19, 2013 at 1:30 am

    Why not? For books on tape/CD/MP3, actors, rather than the author, read the content all the time. Why should MOOCs be any different? Once the teacher develops the material, get someone who can deliver it better.

    I’ve been predicting for quite a while that the production quality in online courses is going to go up very quickly. Once you get some money involved so that graphic designers, audio engineers, SFX technicians, and camera operators can be utilized, today’s online offerings will look like quaint home movies. This should light a fire under teachers for whom state-of-the-art is recording themselves in their dining room using a webcam.

    • 2. Liza Loop  |  December 19, 2013 at 2:37 am

      What you are pointing out is that students have a lot of choice in today’s educational marketplace. They have been raised on advertising and have come to expect high quality productions. What we need to guard against is having the graphic designers and SFX techs determine a) the target content to be learned and b) the pedagogical/andragogical techniques. It’s sort of like having the packaging team prepare the cookies they are wrapping. The package gets them to buy. The taste gets them to eat. But the content provides the nourishment.

  • 3. Liza Loop  |  December 19, 2013 at 2:27 am

    I really agree with Simon’s point of view. What educators and instructors do online is e-teaching, not e-learning. What some ai machines do is e-learning. What some human students do is just plain learning. This is not merely a ‘semantic’ (meaning trivial) distinction. Confusing teaching with leaning is what leads teachers to say things like “Johnny didn’t learn anything today.” What the teacher means is that Johnny did not absorb the material presented. Johnny may well have learned how to aim spitballs, that he doesn’t like arithmetic and that his teacher doesn’t pay much attention to the students. 21st century students have a lot more autonomy than previous generations. They are much freer to choose what they learn in any given classroom (or street or web site, for that matter). Teachers who fail to take student learning choices into account are likely to find themselves less and less effective. Witness the LA students who chose to learn how to hack their iPads instead of the lessons teachers chose to deliver via those iPads.

  • 4. dennisfrailey  |  December 19, 2013 at 8:54 am

    When I was a high school student (in the 1960’s) we had celebrity instructors. But they were famous scientists and mathematicians (like Richard Feynman), not actors and musicians. This was via the “PSSC” program esatablished after Sputnik. Famous scientists who were excellent teachers (and, of course, role models) would record lectures on their specialties (on short movies) and the high school physics chemistry or math teacher would play them to the class.

    Just imagine if Steve Jobs had done something like this. What other computing celebrities might be good at this?

    • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  December 19, 2013 at 11:25 am

      Let’s be clear here: Richard Feynman was not a great teacher. He was a pseudoteacher, by his own admission. The students in his classes did not learn what he aimed to teach them. I don’t hold much credence to the arguments in response — a 65% average means that most students aren’t getting it.

      • 6. Liza Loop  |  December 19, 2013 at 2:16 pm

        Maybe Feynman wasn’t a great teacher but he was an entertaining speaker. My experience at Stanford School of Educations tells me that great teachers are rarely valued highly except by a few loyal students. At least in higher education it’s publish or perish that rules the roost. My favorite teacher, voted best by the students, did not get tenure and left Stanford. Too bad — especially in a School of Education.

      • 7. dennisfrailey  |  December 19, 2013 at 9:29 pm

        Perhaps Feynman was not considered a good teacher by some standards, but my classmates and I were awed by the fact that such a famous physicist would be teaching us, we hung on his every word, and we were motivated to work on the associated class exercises with added vigor.

  • 8. dennisfrailey  |  December 19, 2013 at 9:02 am

    I’ve been teaching in distance mode for over 40 years. Almost all of it has been recorded, even the “live” classes. Although no celebrity, I’ve noticed how the instructor is, indeed, very much like the lead singer on a recording or the actor in a movie. You become very focused on assuring quality, for example, sometimes to the irritation of the people who just want to make a recording.

  • 9. Bri Morrison  |  December 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I agree with Liza, that we need to be careful of what we allow the “production” people to take over. My anecdotal evidence goes back to 1996 when I was hired to consult on creating an “in-a-box” CS1 course and was required to work with instructional designers and web developers. After too many arguments to count on what “should” be done versus their opinion on what “would” be done (i.e., I fought for a system that included a compiler/interpreter within the course presentation so students could play with the code while it was being discussed, they said that was not needed, students could copy/paste the code into a separate environment), I simply gave up and supplied only the content which is eventually what they wanted. The state spent thousands of dollars on development of the course and even hired professional voice actors to read the scripts. The course was “shipped” and to my knowledge, not a single instructor ever used the material.

    Until the content specialists, persons with an educational background, and the instructional design (tech specialists) can all agree on the presentation mechanism and learning activities for the students, hiring an actor to deliver the material is like putting icing and decorations on brussel sprouts: it may look good, but the taste (and results) will be less than desirable.

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