Posts tagged ‘MOOC’

The future of the university with MOOCs: It’s all about the individual

Interesting piece in Inside HigherEd which argues that the real impact of MOOCs on the University is to get the University out of the business of engaging students and working to improve completion, retention, and graduation rates.  Nobody gets into the University until proven by MOOC.  And since so few people complete the MOOCs, the percentage of the population with degrees may plummet.

Constructing this future will take some time, but not much time.  It only requires the adaptation of various existing mechanisms for providing proctored exams worldwide and a revenue and expense model that allows all the providers (university and faculty content providers, MOOC middleware providers, and quality control providers) to establish profitable fee structures.  In this model, the risk and cost of student engagement is borne by the students alone.  The university assumes no responsibility for student success other than identifying quality courses.  The MOOC middleware companies create and offer the content through sophisticated Internet platforms available to everyone but make no representations about the likelihood of student achievement.  Indeed, many student participants may seek only participation not completion. The quality control enterprise operates on a fee-for-service basis that operates without much concern for the number of students that pass or fail the various proctored tests of content acquisition, and many participants in MOOC activities may not want to engage the quality control system.

via MOOCs and the Future of the University | Inside Higher Ed.

January 28, 2013 at 1:18 am 6 comments

How Computerized Tutors Are Learning to Teach Humans – NYTimes.com

Nice piece from the NYTimes on how humans tutor and how computers might tutor. I liked the insights below (e.g., “challenge a correct answer if the tutor suspects guessing” might be an excellent approach to deal with possible cheating in MOOC’s), but also liked the interview with Ken Koedinger later in the article which suggests a more data-driven and less heuristic approach to making computer tutors even better than human tutors.

So Heffernan forged ahead, cataloging more than two dozen “moves” Lindquist made to help her students learn (“remind the student of steps they have already completed,” “encourage the student to generalize,” “challenge a correct answer if the tutor suspects guessing”). He incorporated many of these tactics into a computerized tutor — called “Ms. Lindquist” — which became the basis of his doctoral dissertation. When he was hired as an assistant professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, Heffernan continued to work on the program, joined in his efforts by Lindquist, now his wife, who also works at W.P.I. Together they improved the tutor, which they renamed ASSISTments (it assists students while generating an assessment of their progress). Seventeen years after Heffernan first set up his video camera, the computerized tutor he designed has been used by more than 100,000 students, in schools all over the country. “I look at this as just a start,” he told me. But, he added confidently, “we are closing the gap with human tutors.”

via How Computerized Tutors Are Learning to Teach Humans – NYTimes.com.

October 12, 2012 at 9:25 am Leave a comment

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 22 comments

Who completes a MOOC?

We’ve wondered on this blog before: Who completes a MOOC?  Who doesn’t?  edX has released some data on who completed their Circuits & Electronics course, and it’s pretty interesting.  These aren’t newbies.  37% had a bachelors, 28% had a master’s, and 6% had doctorates.  This is only one course, and it’s only the completers, but I’m betting that it’s comparable to other MOOCs when considering (for example) all the folks who got perfect scores on the Udacity CS101 final exam.

The findings are limited and have not been formally compiled or analyzed — Agarwal relayed them to Inside Higher Ed after logging into the platform’s back end from his Cambridge, Massachusetts office. But perhaps the most interesting piece of data is that 80 percent of respondents said they had taken a “comparable” course at a traditional university prior to working their way through Circuits & Electronics.

One way to read the finding is to say that although the Circuits & Electronics course was open to anyone, anybody who had not already paid for traditional education would be ill-equipped to succeed in the course.

To some extent, Agarwal expected that would be the case for Circuits & Electronics, which listed certain physics and math courses as prerequisites. The survey findings affirmed that the successful students were well-educated: about 78 percent of the respondents said they had previously taken a course on vectors or differential equations. Only 4 percent said they had never taken calculus.

via edX explores demographics of most persistent MOOC students | Inside Higher Ed.

September 25, 2012 at 8:02 am 7 comments

Outrage over Udacity Statistics 101: But is it really worse than others?

AngryMath’s blog post on Udacity Statistics 101 (linked below) is detailed, compelling, and damning.  It’s certainly not the best statistics course anywhere.  But I have to wonder: Is it worse than average?  It’s hard to teach statistics well (I really did try this last summer).  It’s hard to teach anything well, and there’s evidence that we need to improve our teaching in computer science.  This doesn’t feel like an indictment of MOOC courses overall.

In brief, here is my overall assessment: the course is amazingly, shockingly awful. It is poorly structured; it evidences an almost complete lack of planning for the lectures; it routinely fails to properly define or use standard terms or notation; it necessitates occasional massive gaps where “magic” happens; and it results in nonstandard computations that would not be accepted in normal statistical work. In surveying the course, some nights I personally got seriously depressed at the notion that this might be standard fare for the college lectures encountered by most students during their academic careers.

via AngryMath: Udacity Statistics 101.

September 19, 2012 at 8:42 am 5 comments

Essay on what it will take to make MOOCs work

The Dean of our College of Engineering, and an advisor on “Georgia Computes!”, wrote this excellent essay on what it will take for MOOC’s to have impact on higher education.

Until higher education invents solutions that address these areas of concern, the future and value of MOOCs is uncertain. To employers, after all, the credential is paramount; if the credential comes with questions about quality of experience or depth of knowledge, its worth is compromised. This is not to say that Georgia Tech and others are sitting and waiting. We are actively experimenting with – and advocating for – MOOCs to harness their potential. In fact, this fall, engineering and computing faculty will be teaching several classes through Cousera on computational photography, control of mobile robots, computational investing and strategic energy. A colleague recently reminded me of why we work toward this end when he posted to his Facebook page a quote by W.E.B. DuBois: “The purpose of education is not to make men and women into doctors, lawyers and engineers; the purpose of education is to make doctors, lawyers and engineers into men and women.”

via Essay on what MOOCs are missing to truly transform higher education | Inside Higher Ed.

September 11, 2012 at 4:43 pm Leave a comment

Proposal in Texas to move higher ed classes to MOOCs

Admittedly, this is Texas, whose state Republican platform recently recommended no teaching of higher-order thinking skills or critical thinking skills.  It may be an outlier. It may also be a leading indicator.  The Houston Chronicle has published an op-ed which proposes replacing more university courses with MOOCs.

Number five is the most cost-saving recommendation: Move more classes online. Online learning will become to education what the forward pass was to football. It will revolutionize.

MIT, for example, has implemented an online program free of charge, and for a small fee, it will award a certificate of compliance. The first course, Circuits and Electronics, drew 120,000 registrants in the first month.

via Texas can cut down on the cost of higher education – Houston Chronicle.

August 27, 2012 at 10:48 am 2 comments

Are MOOC Students Cheating Or Mastering the Material? « Gödel’s Lost Letter and P=NP

I hadn’t heard about this form of cheating in MOOC’s.  I knew that answers got passed around (as Dave Patterson reported in June), but was surprised to hear that students were creating multiple account in order to re-take exams.  That changes one’s perception of the 100K registered users.  The question raised here in Dick Lipton’s blog is: Is this “cheating” or simply “mastering” the material?

Here is what happens next. Bob signs up for the course multiple times: let’s call them Bob1, Bob2, Bob3, Bob4. Recall there is no cost to Bob for signing up multiple times—none. So why not sign up several times…

Bob’s insight is simple: he now can take the course multiple times and keep only the best grade. Say there is a graded exam. Bob1 takes the exam and gets a 70% on it. Not bad, but not great either. So Bob sees what he got wrong, sees what questions they threw at him. He studies some more, then takes the exam again as Bob2. Of course the exam is different, since all these on-line systems do some randomization. However, the exam covers the same material, so now Bob2 gets an 85% say.

Perhaps Bob is satisfied. But if he is really motivated he studies some more, retakes the exam, and now Bob3 gets 90%. You guessed right. He goes on and takes it one more time as Bob4 who—surprise—gets a perfect 100%.

via Cheating Or Mastering? « Gödel’s Lost Letter and P=NP.

August 22, 2012 at 9:29 am 10 comments

Universities on the Defensive: What is it we do

Ian Bogost’s piece (linked below) on Georgia Tech’s involvement in Coursera is biting and to-the-point.  “The fundamental problem isn’t one of cost containment, it’s one of funding—of understanding why the cost containment solution appeared in the first place. We collectively ‘decided’ not to fund education in America. ”  Why is Georgia Tech doing Coursera?  Why are any of the other schools doing this?  He argues that nobody knows, that everybody is doing this because they are trying to position themselves as a member of the elite, as being in the lead.  It’s a defensive posture.

Are Universities under attack?  De-funding is a form of attack.  Why do we have universities, then? What do Universities exist for?  Why did we collectively decide not to fund education?  Maybe decision makers don’t understand what we do.  And the question at hand: do MOOCs replace what we do?

I’ve been thinking about this, while living at one of the world’s oldest and most influential universities.  Teaching is not all that they do at Oxford, though I do think that they are particularly good at real education and not just imparting knowledge.  The issues of what Universities are for were raised at the C21U launch almost a year ago.  Educating students is only part of what Universities do (and there is some question about whether MOOCs education or simply train).  But when it comes to education, a research university can provide a unique learning experience.

I love teaching at Georgia Tech’s Study Abroad program at Oxford. The location is amazing, but that isn’t the greatest value of the experience for me–and I hope not for the students. I love the opportunity to interact with students intensively (in class, at meals, on the street, and even in the pubs), to spend every day in the classroom, and to grade everything myself and get a sense for how everyone is doing.  All of us GT faculty are here to teach.  There’s a community of scholars. I meet weekly for dinner (and often over breakfast) and conversation with a group of similarly minded GT faculty who really care about teaching and students.

For me, the experience informs my research.  The intensive interaction with a small number of students is my opportunity to try out new ideas (like worked examples with self-explanations and pixels in a spreadsheet) and inform my intuition about whether or not they might work.  It’s the first stage of design-based research: I’m trying to make something work, with small numbers, when I can really see what’s going on.  This is more than teaching for me — it’s an intense, immersive, research-informing experience.

I believe that the students are getting something unique out of this, too.  Excuse me for being immodest here: This is what I’m good at, and what I’m trained for.  This is why I’m a professor.  I’m a good teacher, but I also have decades of experience as an education researcher.  My students know that I’m trying new ideas out with them.  I tell them (in both of my courses) about what I’m trying and why I’m trying it and about my research agenda.  Even those students who are “just” taking a first-year-level intro to computing course are hearing about the research context and how it informs what we’re doing. My colleagues who do not do education research also wrap their courses with their research context.  Every course is infused with the passion of a scholar who talks about what they study and why they think it’s amazing and fascinating.

This is education that a University can offer, uniquely.  My students are learning knowledge and skills and perspectives, in a rich and intense and personal experience.   It doesn’t always work so well, I admit.  I can’t do the kinds of things I do here at Oxford in our enormous courses in Atlanta.  And this kind of education isn’t for everybody.  Turadg told us that we need a variety of learning systems for a variety of needs.  I definitely have students who are going through the paces and aren’t interested in taking advantage of the whole experience.

I’m damn sure that there is no MOOC that can replace what is going on in my classrooms this summer.  Now, society can decide that what I’m offering isn’t worthwhile, or is too expensive, or can be offered to too few students, or may even not as work as well as I hope.  Maybe that’s the real danger of MOOCs — it offers something for free (to the students) that seems as good as what a good University education could be, or as good an education as members of our society need.

Maybe what we in Universities ought to do is show people more often what it is that we do and explain why.  We need to be able to show people why what we’re offering in a University is better than a MOOC and is valuable to the greater society.

Institutions like mine are afraid of the present and the future yet drunk on the dream of being “elite” and willing to do anything to be seen in the right crowd making the hip choices. The provostial email also notes, “It also is significant that Georgia Tech is a founding member of this group.” Group membership is a key obsession of university administration, and it’s why they take systems lik the US News rankings so seriously. Of course, all such structures are partly fictions we invent to structure our lives and society. The Ivy League isn’t a natural law or a God-given lineage.

In this respect, Coursera’s clearly got the upper hand among institutions that fancy themselves elite: once they get a critical mass on board, the rest don’t want to appear left behind. Given the recent drama at the University of Virginia, whose president was fired partly for failing to blindly adopt online learning only to be re-hired after a PR-nightmare only weeks before UVA announced their participation in Coursera anyway, you can see how Presidents and Provosts across the land might be ready to sign on for defensive reasons alone.

via Ian Bogost – MOOCs are Marketing.

July 25, 2012 at 3:29 am 19 comments

E-mails show UVa board wanted a big online push: McLuhan rolls over in grave

Released emails suggest that one of the reasons that the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors ousted President Teresa Sullivan was that she was resistant to online education:

Various theories have been traded among UVa-watchers in the last 10 days about the source of conflict between Sullivan and the board, and the e-mail records suggest that online education may have been among them. In her statement on the day the board announced Sullivan’s departure, Dragas used language similar to some of the columns that were being shared among board members, saying “We also believe that higher education is on the brink of a transformation now that online delivery has been legitimized by some of the elite institutions.”

Sullivan is not quoted at length in the e-mail files that were released, but one from an alumnus/donor to Kington says that Sullivan provided a “pedestrian” answer to a question about how UVa was embracing the online education revolution. Sullivan is not responding to press inquiries at this time, but sources familiar with discussions she has had on distance education said that she viewed it as an important trend, but had expressed skepticism about the idea that it was a quick fix to solving financial problems, and that she viewed distance education as having the potential to cost a lot of money without delivering financial gains. Sources also said she viewed distance education as an issue on which faculty input was crucial.

via E-mails show U.Va. board wanted a big online push | Inside Higher Ed.

I’m just back from the ACM Education Council meeting, where Mehran Sahami put together a stellar panel on the topic of on-line education (also covered in LisaK’s blog):

  • Woodie Flowers (MIT) who supports on-line training but believes that real education likely requires some “presence.” I mentioned previously that he’s been critical of MIT’s edX initiative.  He emphasized the need to have higher quality educational software, using Avatar as his exemplar.
  • Candice Thille (Carnegie Mellon University) who heads OLI and had the best research support for the forms of online education that they’re developing.  She started with a great quote from Herb Simon, “Improvement in post-secondary education will require converting teaching from a solo sport to a community-based research activity.”  She emphasized the team approach they use to build their software.
  • John Mitchell (Stanford) who leads the online education effort there.  He led the charge in implying enormous changes for higher education.  “Will community colleges survive? How? Will college teaching follow the path of journalism?”
  • Peter Norvig (head of research at Google) who co-taught the 100K student on-line AI course was honest and pragmatic.  He started on this because he wanted to do more than a book.  He felt that the students really felt a “personal connection” with him, but when pressed, agreed that we don’t actually have much evidence of that.  He sees the biggest role of these online courses is for updating skills and re-training.  He says that the technology just isn’t good enough yet.  For example, the current tools don’t really respond to feedback — they’re linear experiences with no remediation or mechanisms for providing missing background knowledge.
  • Dave Patterson (Berkeley) who taught a MOOC (Massive Open On-line Course) on programming Web services. He was honest about the limitations of MOOCs, but still convinced that this is the beginning of the end for existing higher education.  He pointed out that he also had a 90% dropout rate.  He was the first MOOC teacher I’ve heard admit to “unbounded, worldwide cheating.”  They were going to use plagiarism detection software, just to see how much cheating was going on, but they didn’t need to.  Large numbers of answers were “bit identical.”

One of the most important points for me was when Eric Roberts of Stanford pushed back against the flood of support for MOOCs, pointing out the costs of on-line education in terms of their impact on small schools, on general (especially legislators’) perception of the role of higher-education, and on what we teach (e.g., the media might encourage us to teach what we can easily do in these on-line forms, as opposed to what we think is important).  “Does ‘free’ wipe-out other things with demonstrable value?”  Dave Patterson responded saying, “It doesn’t matter.  It’s going to happen.”

I thought I heard McLuhan rolling over in his grave.  “Media choices don’t matter?!?”

But as I thought about it some more, it was less obvious to me which side McLuhan would fall on.  On the one hand, McLuhan (in Understanding Media) argued that we should be aware of the implications of our media, of how our media change us.  That view of McLuhan suggests that he would side with Eric, in thinking through the costs of the media, and he would be furious that Dave was unwilling to consider those implications.  On the other hand, McLuhan would agree with Dave that media do obsolete some things (even things we value) while enhancing other things, and these media effects do just “happen.”  Are we as a society powerless to choose media, to avoid those with effects that we dislike?

I see what happened at UVa to be about this question exactly.  It’s not obvious to me that the MOOC efforts are better than existing higher education, in terms of reach into society, in terms of effectiveness for learning, and in terms of constructing the society we want.  They serve a need, but they don’t replace colleges (as of yet).  Teresa Sullivan’s concerns expressed above are well-founded, and she was wise to be hesitant.  On the other hand, as Dave Patterson said, “It’s going to happen.”  The UVa President may have been run-over because she didn’t hop on the train fast enough for her Board of Visitors.  Can we consider and choose our media, based on the implications we want, or must we accept the new media as inevitable and get pushed out of the way if we don’t embrace those media — even though those media could possibly destroy the institutions we believe serve an important need?

June 21, 2012 at 8:05 am 22 comments


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