Passing of William G. Bowen: Walk Deliberately, Don’t Run, Toward Online Education

March 17, 2017 at 7:00 am 5 comments

William G. Bowen of Princeton and of the Mellon Foundation recently died at the age of 83. His article about MOOCs in 2013 is still relevant today.

In particular is his note about “few of those studies are relevant to the teaching of undergraduates.”  As I look at the OMS CS results and the empirical evidence about MOOC completers (which matches results of other MOOC experiments of which I’m aware at Georgia Tech), I see that MOOCs are leading to learning and serving a population, but that tends to be the most privileged population.  Higher education is critiqued for furthering inequity and not doing enough to serve underprivileged students.  MOOCs don’t help with that.  It reminds me of Annie Murphy Paul’s article on lecture — they best serve the privileged students that campuses already serve well.  That’s a subtle distinction: MOOCs help, but not the students who most need help.

What needs to be done in order to translate could into will? The principal barriers are the lack of hard evidence about both learning outcomes and potential cost savings; the lack of shared but customizable teaching and learning platforms (or tool kits); and the need for both new mind-sets and fresh thinking about models of decision making.

How effective has online learning been in improving (or at least maintaining) learning outcomes achieved by various populations of students in various settings? Unfortunately, no one really knows the answer to either that question or the important follow-up query about cost savings. Thousands of studies of online learning have been conducted, and my colleague Kelly Lack has continued to catalog them and summarize their findings.

It has proved to be a daunting task—and a discouraging one. Few of those studies are relevant to the teaching of undergraduates, and the few that are relevant almost always suffer from serious methodological deficiencies. The most common problems are small sample size; inability to control for ubiquitous selection effects; and, on the cost side, the lack of good estimates of likely cost savings.

Source: Walk Deliberately, Don’t Run, Toward Online Education – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

Embedding and Tailoring Engineering Learning: A Vision for the Future of Engineering Education Expanding the Pipeline: Characteristics of Male and Female Prospective Computer Science Majors – Examining Four Decades of Changes – CRN

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  March 17, 2017 at 7:33 am

    An important question to help with perspective and normalization here: Do books also tend to help the “most privileged” population? NAEP and other assessors of US literacy levels have estimated that more than 40% of entering freshmen in college read below the “proficiency level”, which (if looked up) will be seen to already be 1 notch below what is needed for college content. Other surveys and assessments indicate that low reading abilities generally tracks non-asian minorities.

    This doesn’t seem a ground for criticizing books, nor should it be for MOOCs. I -do- think that MOOCs can be criticized deeply as to lack of depth of content and allied grounds. This is a more defensible set of arguments at this point.

    Reply
    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  March 17, 2017 at 7:56 am

      I agree that the comparison between MOOCs and books is a useful one. From the data that I can find, the vast majority of people read, and while the privileged read more, the gap is much less than it is for MOOCs. For example, book readers are more female than male, and more than half of adults below $30K/year still read a book last year. http://www.pewinternet.org/files/2016/08/PI_2016.09.01_Book-Reading_FINAL.pdf

      Reply
      • 3. alanone1  |  March 17, 2017 at 8:49 am

        But check out what they generally do read (via the “most read books” of Amazon or the “10 year list” from USA Today).

        Reply
  • 4. Alfred Thompson  |  March 17, 2017 at 8:22 am

    This suggests the question of how do we help out the not so privileged?

    Reply
  • 5. Pierce  |  March 20, 2017 at 9:16 pm

    The real problem is that the current generation of MOOCs isn’t being pushed by people that care about quality teaching, it’s tech entrepreneurs and university executives that care more about keeping up with the Joneses or making money.

    Micro-credentialling and bundling capabilities so that students can design their own degrees from multiple providers is one potential option for MOOCs that would be useful all around but the higher-ups in most elite institutions lack the vision to see this.

    Fortunately all we really need to do is wait for them to be distracted by the next shiny thing.

    Reply

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