Thursday, February 7th, 2013
77

Your Massively Open Offline College Is Broken

I wrote a thing last fall about massive open online courses (MOOCs, in the parlance), and the challenge that free or cheap online classes pose to business as usual in higher ed. In that piece, I compared the people running colleges today to music industry executives in the age of Napster. (This was not a flattering comparison.) Aaron Bady, a cultural critic and doctoral candidate at Berkeley, objected. I replied to Bady, one thing led to another, the slippery slope was slupped, and Maria Bustillos ended up refereeing the whole thing here on The Awl.

Bustillos sees institutions like San Jose State experimenting with credit for online courses from startups like Udacity, and asks: "are we willing to jeopardize the education of young people (at the cost of millions or billions in public funds) on a bet like that?”

To which my reply is: "Depends. How well do you think things are going now?"

Bustillos' answers seem to be that in the world of higher education, things are going fine, mostly, and that the parts that aren’t going fine can largely be fixed with tax dollars. (Because if there’s one group you'd pin your hopes for an American renaissance on, it would be state legislators.) I have a different answer: School is broken and everyone knows it.

That sentiment is the first sentence of Kio Stark’s forthcoming book, Don’t Go Back to School. It’s a guide for people taking the advice in the title; Stark interviewed almost hundred people who dropped out or took a pass on everything from high school to grad school, but still figured out how to learn what they needed to learn, in order to do what they wanted to do.

If you want to see what’s driving the imperative to learn without paying for a traditional education, take a look at this chart, originally from a Citi report.

graphs

Forget private school. Tuition and fees at public four-year colleges went up 72% last decade, even as the market value of a bachelor's degree fell by 15%.

The value of that degree remains high in relative terms, but only because people with bachelor's degrees have seen their incomes shrink less over the last few years than people who don't have them. "Give us tens of thousands of dollars and years of your life so you can suffer less than your peers" isn't much of a proposition. More like a ransom note, really.

This is the background to the entire conversation around higher education: Things that can’t last don’t. This is why MOOCs matter. Not because distance learning is some big new thing or because online lectures are a solution to all our problems, but because they’ve come along at a time when students and parents are willing to ask themselves, "Isn’t there some other way to do this?"

MOOCs are a lightning strike on a rotten tree. Most stories have focused on the lightning, on MOOCs as the flashy new thing. I want to talk about the tree.

* * *

In her piece for The Awl, Bustillos asks us to put ourselves in the position of an 18-year-old embarking on an academic career, to which the only sensible response is "No, let’s not do that." Focusing on the nation’s college-bound 18-year-olds is an almost perfect recipe for misunderstanding higher education in this country.

If you ask Google what a college student looks like (SafeSearch on, please), you get a gaggle of chipper adolescents. And if you ask Google, the collective id of the wired world, what a college campus looks like, you’d conclude that their second biggest expense after salary is fertilizer. These two images—the young person on a journey of self-discovery; the stone building on the verdant lawn—are in the background of most mainstream conversations about college, images that are familiar, comforting, and statistically wrong. Students younger than 23 are now in the minority, and competitive, residential colleges are a minority of the institutions that serve them.

Imagine picking a thousand students at random from among our institutions of higher education. Now imagine unpicking everyone at one of US News' Top 100 liberal arts colleges or universities. You’d expel anyone from the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT. Anyone from from Emory or Rice. Anyone from Vanderbilt, Clemson, Drexel. Anyone from the famously good state schools—UMass, Virginia, the California universities. After ejecting those students from your group, how many of the original thousand would be left?

About 900.

The total enrollment on those two lists—which includes almost every good college you've ever heard of and some you haven’t (Wabash; SUNY College of Forestry)—only accounts for a tenth or so of the 18 million or so students enrolled this year at one of our thousands of institutions of higher education.

If you want to know what college is actually like in this country, forget Swarthmore, with 1500 students. Think Houston Community College, with 63,000. Think rolling admissions. Think commuter school. Think older. Think poorer. Think child-rearing, part-time, night class. Think 50% dropout rates. Think two-year degree. (Except don’t call it that, because most graduates take longer than two years to complete it. If they complete it.)

If you want to know what college is actually like in this country, skip Google Images, and scroll through the (still heartbreaking) We Are The 99 Percent Tumblr, looking for the keywords "student loan."

* * *

Though educational materials have been online for as long as there’s been an online, and though the term 'MOOC' was coined half a decade ago, it was only last year that they stopped being regarded as a curiosity, and started being thought of as a significant alternative to traditional college classes. In the face of this threat, the inheritors of that tradition are making a case for themselves.

In a widely quoted piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education last summer, Daryl Tippens, the Provost of Pepperdine, mounted that defense this way:

We know that effective learning is best achieved through the engagement of other deeply attentive human beings. The learning might occur in a traditional classroom, but it might happen in a different space: a lab, a mountain stream, an international campus, a cafeteria, a residence hall, a basketball court.

No PowerPoint presentation or elegant online lecture can make up for the surprise, the frisson, the spontaneous give-and-take of a spirited, open-ended dialogue with another person.

As MOOCs threaten to encroach on face-to-face learning, institutions like Pepperdine are standing foursquare against the virtualization of the college experience, against weakening the sacred interaction that… hang on, what’s this? Pepperdine offers online degrees? Why yes. Yes it does.

After the Provost had staked his institution’s reputation on the production of IRL frissons and whatnot, you’d think they’d keep this sort of thing to a minimum, but nope. You can get a masters online from Pepperdine. You can get a doctorate. While taking 85% percent of your classes over the internet. (So much for that mountain stream.) But don’t worry, that 15% face-to-face meeting time is strategically scheduled.

Even the spontaneous giving-and-taking among deeply attentive human beings can sometimes take a beating at Pepperdine:

The main disservice to the Humanities series is that instead of conducting classes in standard intimate class settings students are herded into large lecture classes…. The course’s enrollment stands at around 245 students but only about half come on a regular basis. An informative lecture about the bubonic plague is merely background noise to a room full of students on Facebook.

Ah yes, the open-ended dialogue that emerges from cutting your big lecture classes. I remember it well.

Pepperdine is, I want to emphasize, a good school. It's a great school, in fact. Their religion thing might not be your bag, but if someone you know got into Pepperdine, you'd be happy for them. That's the key bit: even great schools offer online classes. Even great schools, with low student/teacher ratios, have at least some big, impersonal lectures. There isn't any pure college left to rally around. (Ok, ok, Deep Springs and St. John's College. But you know what I mean.)

The platonic versions of college defended by Teppins and his ilk sound idyllic, but they don’t sound like most actually existing colleges. Often, they don't even sound like the colleges where the defenders themselves work.

* * *

Both Bustillos and Bady are outraged about the threats to higher education, as well they should be, and as am I. The biggest difference between us is that I think the calls are coming from inside the building.

Prior to the internet, the last technology that really reorganized teaching was the microphone. Without a microphone, manageable class size tops out at about 50. With a microphone, the sky's the limit—you can have huge lectures with expensive profs, and lots of sections taught by cheap TAs and adjuncts. What's not to like?

The microphone was a way to lower our cost per student, without lowering the price we charged. That pattern is common to many of the changes these last thirty years or so. More internships. More transfer credits. More recognizing credit for work, or "life experience." More competency-based credits, meaning credit for knowing something, rather than for learning something. And so on.

The end game is degrees that are little more than receipts for work done elsewhere. Empire State, Excelsior, Thomas Edison, all these institutions and more convert a loose set of credits into a diploma, without much of anything resembling a curriculum. A kid named Richard Linder just figured out how to get an Associates Degree by stitching together 60 credits from 8 separate institutions, not one credit of which was earned in a college classroom. (Fully a quarter were from various forms of FEMA certification.) Linder gets an A for moxie, but it doesn’t say much for the institutions nominally policing educational coherence.

This vitiation of the diploma is Goodhart’s Law in action, where a socially useful metric becomes increasingly worthless, because the incentives pushing towards adulteration are larger than those pushing towards purity. This is not some bad thing that was done to us in the academy. We did this to ourselves, under the rubric of ordinary accreditation, at nonprofits and state schools. Yet I've never once heard the professors fulminating about MOOCs also suggest shutting down Excelsior College. In the academy, we are terrible at combating threats from the current educational system, but we are terrific at combating threats to it.

The thing to understand about the current conversation is how bad things were, for how many students, long before organizations like University of the People ever launched. In the academy, we’ve been running a grey market in unsupervised internships and larger and larger lectures for a generation already. MOOCs threaten that market.

Bustillos worries that San Jose State and Udacity are charging $150 a course. But what’s the public college alternative? They could be going to California’s UC Online program, where a course costs $1400. The San Jose deal was brokered by Governor Brown in part because he was so disgusted with what his own institutions were up to.

In the academy, we're fine with anything that lowers the cost of education. We love those kinds of changes. But when someone threatens to lower the price, well, then we start behaving like Teamsters in tweed.

* * *

I’ve been thinking about the effects of the internet for a couple of decades now. I’ve watched industry after industry forced to renegotiate their methods and models, in the face of a medium that allows for perfect copying, global distribution, zero incremental cost, ridiculously easy group-forming: The music business. Newspapers. Travel agents. Publishers. Hotel owners. And while watching, I've always wondered what I’d do when my turn came.

And now here it is. And it turns out my job is to tell you not to trust us when we claim that there’s something sacred and irreplaceable about what we academics do. What we do is run institutions whose only rationale—whose only excuse for existing—is to make people smarter.

Sometimes we try to make ourselves smarter. We call that research. Sometimes we try to make our peers smarter. We call that publishing. Sometimes we try to make our students smarter. We call that teaching. And that’s it. That’s all there is. These are important jobs for sure, and they are hard jobs at times, but they’re not magic. And neither are we.

Mostly, we’re doing the best we can. (Though some of us aren’t, as with bottom-feeding scum like Kaplan U and Everest, but those institutions are just asset-stripping student loans.) But our way of doing the best we can is to keep doing what we’ve always done, modifying it a bit with stuff we make up as we go along. Just like most people inside most institutions. Some years that works out fine, but we haven’t had so many of those years recently.

For all our good will, college in the U.S. has gotten worse for nearly everyone who relies on us. For some students—millions of them—the institutions in which they enroll are more reliable producers of debt than education. This has happened on our watch.

The competition from upstart organizations will make things worse for many of us. (I like the experiments we’ve got going at NYU, but I don’t fantasize that we'll be unscathed.) After two decades of watching, though, I also know that that’s how these changes go. No industry has ever organized an orderly sharing of power with newcomers, no matter how interesting or valuable their ideas are, unless under mortal threat.

Instead, like every threatened profession, I see my peers arguing that we, uniquely, deserve a permanent bulwark against insurgents, that we must be left in charge of our destiny, or society will suffer the consequences. Even the record store clerks tried that argument, back in the day. In the academy, we have a lot of good ideas and a lot of practice at making people smarter, but it’s not obvious that we have the best ideas, and it is obvious that we don’t have all the ideas. For us to behave as if we have—or should have—a monopoly on educating adults is just ridiculous.


Related: Venture Capital's Massive, Terrible Idea For The Future Of College


Clay Shirky is an Associate Professor at NYU. Photo of UC Berkeley's Pimentel Hall by Daniel Parks.

77 Comments / Post A Comment

Gregor (#241,475)

The comparison to Napster and the music industry is a weak one. But for true audiophiles, the method of delivery has no bearing on how to song sounds to the listener. And that's all that matters. In higher ed., the method of delivery, i.e. the learning experience, is the whole point.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Gregor Wait, what? It is?

Gregor (#241,475)

@deepomega I hope so. I'd put the emphasis in Shirkey's view on the "making." Learning is a process, no? Just ask Google. You can't tell a computer anything near as useful as it can learn on its own as people use it. If you could take a smart pill and suddenly possess all those smarts in one swallow, I don't think you'd measure up to someone who actually worked at acquiring that knowledge.

Titus L. Connell (#241,577)

@Gregor: Since the very notion of taking a smart pill to gain knowledge is a fiction and can thus be taken to mean different things, it can very well mean gaining the knowledge in exactly the same way as someone who actually worked at acquiring it.

After all, in terms of neurochemistry, there is no difference between creating the synaptic results by 'actual' learning or by pharmaceutical methods.

The analogy to computer learning doesn't work well here, as the ready-to-hand examples we have of current computer learning (the latest iteration of IBM Watson for instance [http://www-03.ibm.com/innovation/us/watson/?lnk=fpl-wats-usen]) show that the machine _can_ learn quite swiftly by just being pointed to large quantities of pre-digested human-created data.

I posit that a degree-granting course containing multiple MOOCs embedded into a social network in which your MOOC cohorts and instructors remain engaged with you for the entire 120 credit hour sequence (mimicking the standard curricular burden of a U.S. undergraduate degree) will soon be just as valuable as the equivalent real-world analog of that experience which most college kids go through at a residential 4 year university.

Dr.Dinosaur (#241,476)

I think most of us admit now that the primary function of college for most students is to make them eligible for white-collar employment. And we also mostly admit that white-collar jobs are mostly filled not by posting a job listing and sifting through resumes, but through personal recommendations. And I think we're mostly all aware that the internet feels anonymous, and that even communicating with someone online extensively and knowing their real name and seeing their photo can't prepare us to know what they're really like in real life.

So, even if all other things were equal between online and in-person education, isn't it still falling down on the one job students actually want their college to do for them? Could a professor really write a letter of recommendation for someone she only knows through internet posts? Would she stake her reputation on Student #867 being a better fit for that internship than student #869?

jfruh (#713)

@Dr.Dinosaur Speaking as someone who has had quite a few colleagues that I've only known online, I'm actually not as worried about this? If anything, one might assume that when it comes to someone you "know" in this way, you might be closer to an objective assessor of their work when you're recommending them, and they aren't just someone you find socially charming/want to have sex with. (Not that people don't find their internet friends socially charming and want to have sex with them, of course.)

That said I'm not sure how many MOOCs even allow for this pretend-Internet-colleague level of interaction. I sort of want to believe that "MOOC" isn't just a fancy marketing term for "YouTube videos of a college-level lecture + a list of outside books to read," but I think maybe it is, in many cases?

Dr.Dinosaur (#241,476)

@jfruh "want to have sex with" definitely shouldn't be a factor in hiring, but "socially charming" is a hugely important factor in tons of jobs. Do we really want to dismiss that so quickly? And remember, you're talking about fully-grown professional adults you're interacting with as peers, and I'm talking about new college grads who are trying to break into the job market. It's no secret that college coursework has almost nothing to do with actual job tasks in most fields, so having seen someone's homework doesn't really tell you a lot about them. Seeing them interact with people in real life, participate in discussions, present research, perform in group projects, that's a lot more like the shape of an actual workday.

MissMushkila (#42,100)

@Dr.Dinosaur I think the point from this article would be that your professor of a class of over 200 probably isn't able to write you a very personal recommendation either. And I very rarely had a class under that size at public university. I have one college professor who I believe knew my name and something about my personality and work ethic – and that was from having two semesters of a less-commonly taught language with her.

Even discussions with T.A.s, which happened once or twice a week, had between 30-40 people. There was very little interaction. From my university experience, I don't know anyone that had a professor write them a recommendation for any sort of job or internship. (you interviewed and completed internships so that you could have someone to recommend you when you graduated – that was very blatantly the point of the entire thing)

Stina (#241,481)

@MissMushkila
[Back in my day, grumpy old lady talk] I went to a huge public university and I thought it was the best thing for me. Yes I started in huge lectures, but I showed my ass up and listened in them, and if I didn't understand it was on me to brave it up and ask a questions publicly or search it out for myself. Eventually as I started to figure out what I wanted to do I had to search out professors or staff people as mentors which I did find and still have long lasting professional relationships with. I also managed to find a campus job in the area I was interested in.

I am not a type-A go getter type, I am actually a very shy person. But what large prestigious universities do is throw you in the deep end and expect you to swim, just like life does. [/grumpy talk]

I fear that MOOC and other online universities will give degrees to people who couldn't hack it or who just aren't qualified as evidenced by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_animals_with_fraudulent_diplomas

Dr.Dinosaur (#241,476)

@MissMushkila Well, I'm definitely not in favor of 200 people lecture classes either. I just assumed that didn't need to be said?

deepomega (#1,720)

Great stuff – I think part of the issue is hinted at in the comments above, which is figuring out "what is higher education for." Gregor says it's about the "learning experience," which is opposed to Shirky saying it's about "making people smarter." Dr.Dinosaur says it's about forming networking bonds. Until we can agree on what higher education is trying to do – or accept that there will be many TYPES of higher education, serving many purposes – we're not gonna be able to do anything to fix it.

Dr.Dinosaur (#241,476)

@deepomega I totally agree there are many types of higher ed. People who have defined passions and want to acquire and hone a set of skills specifically to pursue that passion, be it animal husbandry or concert violin, need different schools than people who just want that "please don't toss out my resume by default" card, or that typical middle-range kid who has some areas of interest and gets frustrated by class requirements that are too far afield from it, but doesn't really need to be investing 5+ years of their life and tens of thousands of dollars to end up in what ultimately could be one of many vaguely-related or completely random careers.

The problem is academia still wants every school to be Fantasy Harvard, populated only by the wealthy and the worthy, with everyone lounging around contemplating the mysteries of the universe and then setting their pens to paper to turn out contemplative and timelessly insightful essays.

Kicking out all the profs who are filled with contempt that their students dare to have jobs while in school would be a good goddamn start, in my opinion.

r&rkd (#1,719)

@deepomega
I very much agree. I think the appeal of MOOCs for many people is that they seem democratizing, when really much of the function of higher education is essentially elitist sorting (through networking, or through education being a barrier to the poor or lazy), and it's just too uncomfortable to face up to that. Let's pretend that everyone can have a degree and it will make everyone better off!

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

"If you want to know what college is actually like in this country, forget Swarthmore, with 1500 students. Think Houston Community College, with 63,000."

I assure you, the 63K ("the masses" as opposed to "the elite") are going nowhere in life, on-line or off-line. We took the manufacturing jobs from them and shipped them off to China. Now we are trying to figure out the best way to milk them (and the loans they can get) for what they are worth. "Subprime education" is definitely an industry (going through some controversial changes). It is not, however, education. The discussions of the two should be kept separate.

Dr.Dinosaur (#241,476)

@Niko Bellic The hell it isn't. Any time you learn a thing you didn't know, that's "education." It's not very content-dense education maybe, and it's certainly not prestigious or likely to impress anybody, but saying there's zero education taking place at those schools is nothing but snobbery.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@Dr.Dinosaur I didn't say that there is no education going on at community colleges. Heck, the professors at the crappy school I went to learned a lot from me! What I said is that subprime education industry is not about education but about milking money out of students. It shouldn't exist. As far as "getting education anywhere where you can learn", I'm pretty sure most people in community colleges would learn a heck of a lot more while on a job (and I'm also pretty sure most of them would be quite happy to learn while getting paid, instead of while having to pay). Those who would still opt for Ivy League and the like have something else entirely on their minds.

This is a great, great addition to this debate — especially the acknowledgment that college really is a piece of paper for a LOT of people.

Ok so, here's my perspective — I got my degree from a workaday state college, cobbled together from two online community college classes (done during an out-of-state internship, busy me), AP credits, a year at a different state college with a nice honors program that I quit, and 2 years at the degree-granting institution. I've since taken 3 enrichment-y classes (Spanish, statistics, art) at 2 different community colleges.

I think college is, for lots of people, an assumed rite of passage into the white-collar working world. It was for me. ("Of course you'll go to college!") For other people, it's a rich, deep, for-its-own sake kind of experience you get at Ivies or lil liberal arts schools or whatever. Which is what I want now, but can't have, because I'm a Working Adult now. Hence the "for fun" community college stuff.

It's *already* different things for different people and students *already* select into institutions that match their ambitions. (When financial and other resources allow — that's another huge, huge issue.) I think the problem is more generally a race to the bottom in all sorts of areas of people's economic lives. The reason for getting a degree has become divorced from the outcome, right? That's how I got a BA with zero civics/political science classes (we want educated citizens), only a remedial math class (we want well-rounded writers/scientists/poets) and zero cultural anything (we want to all be conversant some mass culture with things to say).

MOOCs won't fix that.

Dr.Dinosaur (#241,476)

@Miranda Everitt@facebook I think a big part of "Of course you'll go to college!" is that it's a hallmark of middle-class success. Parents who were only the first or second generation in their families to go to college are terrified to think of their children backsliding. Manifest Destiny is pretty deep in our cultural bones – everything is supposed to be moving forward at all times, always growing, always improving, and we expect every generation to have more than the one before – more prosperity, more opportunities, more education.

Now I don't really see turning away from the traditional college experience as regression, but I think a huge number of parents today do. I don't really know what to do about that, honestly.

@Dr.Dinosaur Agreed! I know that in my high school we tracked kids pretty early on and a lot of that was based on their current perceived class interacting with the consequences of having a harder life. This shit goes allllll the waaaaay baaaaack to class, race and poverty.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

Now imagine unpicking everyone at one of US News' Top 100 liberal arts colleges or universities. You’d expel anyone from the Ivy League…

Even goddamn Penn is in the top 100?

barnhouse (#1,326)

Hello Awl (Maria here.) Clay, I agree with much of what you say. I haven't claimed, though, that "in the world of higher education, things are going fine, mostly".

I know a ton of undergrads one way and another (I am the parent of one), and I can see results all over the map. Kids starting in community college and then transfering to the UCs and doing just gorgeously. Some cleverly figuring out how to graduate debt-free, some under a mountain of loans. Some are in fancy liberal-arts schools with the verdant lawns and not learning anything whatsoever. One who skipped school and went straight into Java programming and is doing great.

Dr. Dinosaur and deepomega have articulated well what I've been trying to say: if we can identify the methods by which the goals of higher education are best achieved, we can focus our efforts on providing those methods for as many people as we can—for every kid, eventually. I'm sure online tools will eventually have a role in this process, but it doesn't appear that MOOC providers are approaching the question with that focus in view—at least, not so far.

I am not against technology: I'm against jerks using technology to conceal their intention to rip people off.

As to the (slightly misleading) Citi chart, David Feldman's reasoning on this issue is very sound. Money quote, so to speak: "In 1975, states allocated roughly $10.50 to higher education for every $1,000 of per capita state income. Today the figure is around $6.00, despite a massive increase in the number of students seeking postsecondary education." (it costs a lot of money to keep all those people in jail!) Yes, I do believe, and fervently, that state legislatures must be forced, or shamed, or otherwise pressured into playing ball.

We've always had trade schools, always had massive lecture halls, always had autodidacts. None of this stuff is new and there are a million ways to learn, as there have always been. My question is, how do we preserve the good things we have—improve things, without wrecking them in the process?

Clay Shirky@twitter (#241,483)

@barnhouse/Maria,

I agree with you on two key points: first, as you know, I agree with this: "I'm against jerks using technology to conceal their intention to rip people off." Aaron convinced me to make a sharp distinction between non- and for-profit MOOCs.

Even with that caveat, though, I still can't see how making remedial math classes available for $150 is worse than doing so for $575? I am suspicious of commercialization of higher education, but I am not willing to believe that institutional actors always produce better outcomes. What is it about the SJ State deal — which saves students money — that bugs you?

Second, I agree that a focus on methods and value will help sort out what works and doesn't. Here, though, is where I find the hypocrisy of my peers most disgusting.

Both the Teppins piece and Mark Edmundson's bit of concern trolling in the NY Times last year came out against online education, on just these grounds, but both those men work at institutions that offer online degrees, and not only do they not explain why their (expensive) online classes are good, but EdX's (cheap) online classes are bad, they don't even acknowledge that their institutions are selling the very thing they are denouncing.

Whatever bad things you can say about MOOCs, of which there are several, they do a much better job of both measuring what's going on with their students and of extending access as widely as possible. Almost no one in the traditional academy has ever had ambitions to spread education as widely as University of the People, just as no one at Britannica ever had ambitions to make encyclopedic knowledge as widespread as Wikipedia.

Now to where we disagree most sharply. I don't think the Citi chart is misleading at all. College costs more and returns less. Put in human terms, the cost/benefit ratio of a bachelors degree has become more adverse in every year for the last dozen years. A big part of this is the de-funding of state universities, but that de-funding began in 1975.

You believe that this is reversible. I do not.

For a variety of reasons — including state governments becoming more spending conscious, more polarized, more beholden to their older citizens, less willing to fund national public goods, less willing to fund education if it is genuinely a social space for free thought, and less willing if it is genuinely a mechanism for promoting diversity — fully half of the massive run-up in educational funding between 1960 and 1975 has now been reversed.

College, for the median student, has gotten suck. I read you as saying, "It doesn't have to be that way. If we just tell state legislators how much better things would be if they would double educational subsidy, we could keep the current structure *and* have broadly accessible education at acceptably high quality and low cost."

From my point of view, you might as well be advocating free unicorn rides for all the children of the world. The entropy gradient for state funding is, I think, not broadly reversible. Only a massive supply-side shock — which will come, almost by definition, from insurgents, not incumbents — will reset the cost curve.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Deciding what is worth keeping doesn't mean clinging to an outmoded past. We don't have to demolish the whole of the New York Public Library because we want an online catalog. We can be smart about the preservation of our culture, keeping some old things and adding new ones according to (our best guess as to) what will benefit future generations.

As to unicorn rides, forgive me, but that is the rhetoric of a nihilist. I will never ever believe that it's impossible to take care of one another, never stop demanding that we provide for every kid equally, or that that should be our first concern, before every other thing. These things and others like them are possible, we have only to keep demanding them; even if not in our lifetimes, it can happen.

(p.s. Clay: this is fun! thank you.)

barnhouse (#1,326)

p.p.s. in answer to your question above, I'm worried that the $150 class won't be worth a nickel. Not that it's impossible to have great educational materials online, but they're just as expensive and difficult to prepare as IRL ones ("Shock of the New" springs to mind.)

jfruh (#713)

While I certainly don't think anything about this is wrong and a lot of it needs saying, I notice there isn't a lot of active defense of MOOCs in it. I mean, it's not a bad argument to say that if a student's experience of college (or some of their classes in college) is just sitting in a lecture hall being talked at, they might as well experience that at home in front of their computer for a lot less money all around, I guess. But Maria's article, in addition to making a defense of college as traditionally conceived of that is arguable, also makes some fairly specific criticisms of flaws for MOOCs even delivering what they claim to do. What I'm saying is I suppose that I buy that higher ed needs to be blown up but I question whethere MOOCs are the dynamite to do it.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

@jfruh The only active defense that MOOCs need is $$$.

College provides a service with an exponentially growing cost in an environment where real incomes will be declining for the foreseeable future.

jfruh (#713)

@Lockheed Ventura that's actually not true? If what MOOCs offer is garbage, they aren't worth the price if even if that prices is significantly less than traditional college.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Exactly. Also, all this nonsense about what we "can't afford"!! We can afford what we WANT to afford.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

@jfruh Let the consumer decide if it is worth it.

If the service is garbage AND the business is not subsidized by the Federal Government, it will amazingly go out of business. A few University bankruptcies would be a good thing. Failure should be an option.

Dr.Dinosaur (#241,476)

@Lockheed Ventura Hahaha that is hilariously untrue. Plenty of predatory, destructive, mismanaged, or just plain godawful businesses lurch around unimpeded every day.

K. Mae (#240,479)

@barnhouse This, absolutely. There's no inexorable force that requires us to spend billions on prisons instead of schools.

jfruh (#713)

Also, since Clay has spoken rather eloquently on how the Internet has unbundled media (i.e. people's love of the comics page no longer subsidizes foreign bureaus), I'm surprised he doesn't expand on his statement about the different kinds of "making people smarter" that universities bundle — specifically, research vs. teaching. I think that a huge majority of non-academics think of teaching undergrads as being the primary goal of "college," broadly defined, whereas many if not most academics see their own research as what they primarily do for a living. Or at least, what they would like to do: getting a job at a "research university," where you only have to teach two classes a semester and can spend more time on writing and researching, is for the most part socially more prestigious and better compensated, and when you come up for tenure your quantifiable research production (how many books? how many journal articles?) weigh more heavily than any assessment of your teaching prowess. I mean, you can see why the two are joined at the hip — the people who know the most about a subject tend to be the people doing research on it — but maybe this is also an unbundling that will happen. Or I guess it's already happening, painfully, what with the the excess PHDs (who were produced because professors wanted more teaching assistants) getting adjunct jobs that don't leave them time to do the research that they really wanted to do in the first place.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

@jfruh Does most research benefit society outside of the academic world circle jerk? Nope.

Fund research through charities or government grants, not by saddling 22 year olds with six figure debt burdens that they can never pay off. It is a question of justice.

jfruh (#713)

@Lockheed Ventura I don't disagree, but it's worth pointing out that the bulk of most university's income does not come from tuition. A lot comes from aforementioned grants, which are specifically earmarked for research.

Stina (#241,481)

@Lockheed Ventura My school, the University of Wisconsin, just in the past month published: 1 new information contradicting current thought about how MS damage occurs, 2 that Blood calcium levels may warn of Ovarian Cancer 3 Meditation can reduce chronic inflammatory conditions and 4 The effects of stress on parents of children with cancer.
Tell me those are unimportant?

Dr.Dinosaur (#241,476)

@Lockheed Ventura Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have a teenage libertarian on our hands here. Magical thinking about "the free market!" and "charities!" taking care of education and research even though by his own admission he thinks these things are worthless? If we're letting The People take care of everything instead of The Government (somehow not comprised of people, in Libertopia), but the people advocating for this plan don't actually want to contribute to anything themselves… what are we doing here? Sitting in the dirt until an invisible hand reaches out of the sky and fixes everything for us?

(Don't answer that, kid. Go do your homework and go outside.)

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

@Stina All wonderful things, and I think you would agree with me that such research should be funded by government grants, charities and corporate partnerships. It should not be funded through astronomical college tuitions that students cannot afford.

Still there is a great deal of research in academia that only has value within academia.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

@Dr.Dinosaur You are engaging in both name calling and a straw man argument. I said that research should be funded by charities and government grants. What exactly is so controversial or radical?

I think the current pricing model for Universities is fundamentally broken. Again, the cost of an college degree is growing exponentially and yet the incomes earned by college graduates are not enough to pay off these loans after graduation. If this trend continues, how do we cost effectively educate the public? MOOCs may be part of the answer. We should at least experiment with the idea.

The status quo is simply unsustainable, and increasingly indefensible. The only one engaging in "magical thinking" are those who think the current depressing rates of loan default among recent college grads can be ignored. One means of mitigating this problem would be to provide a more cost effective education that is not reliant on tradition University models.

It is a potential solution. There may very well be others. Simply doing nothing and defending the bankrupt (morally and financially) status quo is not.

Dr.Dinosaur (#241,476)

@Lockheed Ventura Everyone here opposes expensive tuition and high unemployment. You're the only one trying to claim that these things will be magically fixed by ~the free market~. And seriously, I don't get why people with such uncharitable personalities as yours always appeal to charity. If charity were enough to fund all the world's research needs how is it that even with government AND charity backing existing now, many projects are underfunded? How much are you donating to research right now, since you think that's the only way things should be done?

You admit that unsustainable things exist right now, yet think that if this dumb giant college idea turns out to suck it'll just poof right of existence because Capitalism. How do you not see the contradictions in what you're saying?

And look up what a strawman argument actually is before you throw that word around again, jellybean.

Dr.Dinosaur (#241,476)

@Lockheed Ventura It… isn't. You don't even know how college funding works! That research you're hating on IS funded through government grants and charities! There's a Mark Twain quote about you, you know.

Suspect Terrane (#241,479)

How do you become an engineer or nurse or physician with online classes?

The higher ed industry is built on selling high profit, low value (in a strict vocational sense) degrees in humanities, social sciences, education, and business. That's what you see in the chart. But some of those profits are used to subsidize less profitable degree programs in engineering and hard sciences.

Most of your doctors and civil engineers and nurses are produced by the non-elite institutions highlighted here. Sure the system is in trouble. But I don't think Khan Academy can train a new generation of people with the technical skills to replace the retiring doctors, engineers, and scientists society needs either.

anonymouse (#241,559)

@Suspect Terrane
Actually, online education is already a huge trend in nursing. There aren't close to enough BSN/MSN program slots to produce the needed number of nurses, and a majority of entry-level RNs in the US still come from Associate Degree programs (or hospital-run diploma programs, although those are dying out). But there's a major push towards BSN and higher RN staffing and hiring, so increasing numbers of employers will only hire ADN or diploma RNs with the understanding that they will complete their BSN or MSN within a set timeframe (sometimes paid for by the employer, sometimes not). Often those BSN and MSN completion programs are online.

And why not? The physical skills of nursing can be learned in a much shorter time frame (and are always going to be truly perfected on the job, as the clinical component of nursing varies too widely by specialty to ever be mastered in school) than the factual/critical thinking skills. The logic of putting working nurses through closely supervised clinicals (the major bottleneck in nursing education) is… questionable. And the additional material taught at the BSN-level is almost entirely related to managerial/research aspects of nursing, not clinical nursing (that's why ADN and BSN nurses hold the same license). For which purposes online classes are, in my experience, about as efficient as lectures.

Those online-BSN and MSN grads are highly employable, and are often able to obtain admission to traditional doctoral programs, so apparently leadership in the field considers it acceptable professional preparation.

I think breaking the training and degree components down to accommodate different career goals and needs is sensible. If you want to work at the bedside in a community hospital for your entire career, ADN is plenty of preparation. If you want to increase your employment options, teach, or move in to management, an online BSN or MSN can help or be a stepping stone to a traditional higher degree. If you want to go in to research or work at a prestige hospital or university, a big-name physical program (although many of those big-name programs are now offered online as well!) may be worth it. Not everyone needs the magic touch of a brick-and-mortar school to be productive at their job, and the reality of nursing training and employment today reflects that.

Dr.Dinosaur (#241,476)

Another little-talked-about part of "The College Experience," I think, is that it gets kids out of their hometowns. Not always, but a lot of the time. I know the average college student today is actually an adult and thus less likely to WANT to move, but for the fresh-out-of-high-school kid, going straight into online education seems like it would be socially stunting. What do they do with themselves then? Live at home, hang out with their high school friends and whoever they meet at their service job, if they can even get one? It's not that old friends and crappy-job coworkers are bad people, just that there's some value to the novelty and jumbling of the college social experience. It's important to meet people with different beliefs and experiences. Even a college with nothing but giant lecture courses still has that to offer – that's where that "well rounded education" academia appeals to actually comes from.

I feel like social skills are becoming less and less valued, and I think that's going to bite us in the ass. Just like it's easier to get chicken pox in childhood than adulthood, it's better to boggle at first meeting a stranger whose tastes and customs are unfathomable to you when you're both gormless teenagers and nothing much is at stake, instead of getting blindsided by those differences at your first career job.

jfruh (#713)

@Dr.Dinosaur I don't disagree — I went away to school, and one of my housemates my junior year was a first-year grad student who had lived at home during her undergrad year, and I was sort of shocked at how immature she seemed, despite being older — but at the same time the reality is that most peole don't go away to school and never have, and yet most turn out all right (or maybe they don't, depending on your assessment of humanity, I guess, but it's not a *new* thing or anything).

I think one difficult part of this conversation is that higher ed was a radically different experience for most academics and people who take time to contemplate what higher ed should be than it is for most people who actually go to some form of college.

Dr.Dinosaur (#241,476)

@jfruh For that mid to late twentieth century period where "The College Experience" was widely accessible, students did at least move out of their parents' homes and into dorms most of the time. I have a clear memory of coming back from class my freshman year and being faintly mystified that the dish I'd left out from breakfast was still there on my desk instead of just being magicked away like it would have at home (sorry parents), so even in the sheltered environment of a dorm there's some fostering of independence.

Moving away to college provided a kind of clean break of "well you're an adult now" with kid and parents too, and that line gets fuzzier without it. Plenty of societies do multi-generational households and the US will probably be fine once everybody adjusts, but right now the unfamiliarity of an adult child living at home leads to a lot of inter-generational sniping about millennials being immature, which is unfair.

Boy I cannot tell you how glad I am I was old enough to go to college in the waning afterglow of the 90s boom years. If I had to do it all over now I think I'd just run away and join the circus.

Alex Pieske (#4,852)

None of this addresses why college costs are so out of control. The primary answer to that question is increasing administrative costs.

From Forbes ( http://www.forbes.com/sites/steveodland/2012/03/24/college-costs-are-soaring/)
 A 2010 Goldwater Institute study finds, “universities have in recent years vastly expanded their administrative bureaucracies, while in some cases actually shrinking the numbers of professors.”  While enrollment rose between 1993 and 2007 by 14.5%, administrators employed per 100 students rose nearly 40% and spending on administration per student rose by 66%.

@Alex Pieske that Forbes study is correct about the rise of administrations, but that isn't the cause for the rising cost of higher education. The cost is much more straightforward: massive public disinvestment in higher education. This has been studied and proven over and over again. See, e.g., http://www.policyarchive.org/handle/10207/20659–but there are quite a few other examples easily found via Google.

And who engineered that disinvestment? The same political party that is now selling us all on the privatization of higher education.

Unlike Mr Shirky, I think democratic societies have both the power and the responsibility to insist that some institutions should have a shape decided upon by processes other than the market. I think we are already seeing the massively destructive effects of allowing markets to dictate journalism and healthcare, in both cases driven in part by legislative changes engineered by moneyed interests who use all kinds of methods to ensure the public really doesn't see what they are up to. It's been a disaster–a disaster which Mr Shirky celebrates while occasionally wringing his hands about it–and just as we should have protected newspapers and healthcare better, we should protect higher education better, or we are going to lose its primary contribution to society, which is not "making people smarter" but building an informed citizenry who can contribute effectively to our democracy.

MissMushkila (#42,100)

I really appreciated this, just because when I read Maria Bustillos article I definitely did not feel like most of it was talking about college education as I experienced it. My college education was anonymous and a lot of it happened online, even though I attended large lectures (that was where I read journal articles, interacted with students from classes on blogging or posting assignments, took Moodle quizzes, downloaded slides from the lectures, did research, and often turned in papers)

I think the biggest problem with MOOCS is that I need someone I know to take them with me for me to motivate myself to keep up. When I have a friend who meets me once a week for coffee and to work on/discuss the class in person? I feel like it is just as edifying an experience as was the actual university experience where I attended. I've taken a couple of Coursera classes this way, and I was immensely grateful to be able to have that opportunity.

Obviously there are a lot of kinks being worked out, but I think there is a ton of potential here. I like the idea that MOOCs may make the current establishment nervous.

via a friend on g-chat:

are universities flawed as a way to get people into the labor market? yeah
because they're inherently unequal (not everyone who makes it to grad school belongs there or deserves to be there)
but what's better — that or MOOCs, which don't really remedy that system at all, and attract people to commit time and money to a riskier bet?

stinapag (#10,293)

I went elite all the way. Top 5 liberal arts college with no more than 20 people in a class. Tutorials at Oxford (where I learned much more than I did than in the lecture hall). Socratic method in state law school. Graduate school with small class size and attentive advisor. I finished all of my graduate coursework 15 year ago, and this semester I have gone back to finish the two courses standing between me and (yet another) diploma.

My husband, on the other hand, joined the Marines after high school and joined the workforce after the Marines. A change in location timed with the economic downturn made staying in the workforce very challenging without a degree. So, this semester, well over 20 years after graduating from high school, he has decided to go back to college, and he's one of the 60,000 attending classes at Houston Community College. He intends to transfer over to the University of Houston after he gets some prerequisites out of the way. (He would have had to retake the SAT to directly go to UH.)

While our paths are different, I think our intent is the same: to get out with a degree that will help us going forward. I also think that we're both interested in actually learning what we are going to school to study. I was a great student, my husband is a reluctant one. I'm interested in pretty much everything, he's very focused. But we both want to absorb as much as we can out of our studies, and we take it very seriously.

Both of the classes I'm taking right now are taught across five campuses across the state over interactive TV. I'm at the main campus with the bulk of the student body, but there are about 160 people in each class. Both classes subdivide into sections, and I think the sections are much more manageable. Obviously, graduate students are much more motivated and self-directed than undergrads, but I haven't so far had any trouble with the massive classes (for what I'm used to) I'm in.

My husband is taking one online course and three live courses. All three of his in person teachers have flaked out on at least one course this semester. The class discussions can be interesting, but the classes are very basic. I think my husband appreciates not having to struggle in his first foray into education in 20 years, but I think he'd get pretty frustrated if he didn't move forward to more advanced discussions. The online course is offered free of charge; I think some distance education company is using it as a pilot for something or another. So far, I think my husband likes it, though he's had to change his learning style a bit. It's not a subject matter that he's particularly interested in, but it fulfills one of his requirements and transfers over to UH, so he's more than happy to be a guinea pig for credit.

So I guess my thing is that I don't think that MOOCs don't work, though I don't think they do very well since I believe that education needs to be recursive and reciprocal (as a humanities instructor, I'm biased). Nor do I believe that traditional education doesn't work, though I'm not sure it doesn't work as much as it just doesn't work like it used to and seems terribly misguided. The MOOCs are developed to meet a clear and apparent need in the community– but that need is not education. That need is a degree and access to better-paying white collar work. So this trend of employers using universities as early resume sorters just isn't going to work anymore. Nor is constantly trying to compete with other universities for students by building temples to student recreation (the student center, anyone?). Is the problem the education system or is the problem employment systems? If MOOC's were really about people desirous of a low-cost education, why the hell aren't community libraries more popular?

RBatty024 (#241,507)

So, let me get this argument straight. First, the article argues that higher education's classes are already shit. You shove a bunch of students into a single room and force feed them information without the requisite critical thinking skills to go along with it. So the author's solution is to exacerbate this problem but also make it cheaper. So we get an even crappier education but at least it costs less. This does not sound like a serious solution to America's higher education conundrum.

It is interesting, however, to see how far this arguments for MOOCs have drifted over the past year or so. They started off by using nonsensical terms that exaggerated their possibilities, often talking about their dynamism and the global marketplace. They steadfastly refused to give ground on the questions of quality of education. At least now every article on MOOCs practically admits that you will receive a piss poor education experience.

K. Mae (#240,479)

I'm troubled by Clay's assumption that non-traditional students will be better served by MOOCs simply because they're cheaper. I used to work in a large tutoring center at a community college, and the more successful students there took frequent advantage of tutoring and other support services the college provided. Having regular contact with instructors (office hours, class discussion time) was also very beneficial for them. Most of the students I worked with had much poorer outcomes in online courses because those classes lacked the structure and support of a traditional class setting.

Obviously, not all community college students struggle academically. But for those who do, (and for the first generation college students and non native English speakers who make up a good portion of college students now) I fail to see how online courses are going to be helpful. As others have pointed out, they're cheaper, but what good is saving money if you fail to learn anything? Vulnerable students need more personal interaction and support in the class room, not less.

Anarcissie (#3,748)

The main function of the education industry, or at least its collegiate and university sectors, is to serve as a class filter, not as a distributor of information and training ('vocational school'). The latter and other secondary functions can probably be achieved by a variety of means, but in our increasingly rigid, class-ridden social order, they are not going to do people a lot of good with respect to their 'careers', which will be primarily based on their class position.

scrbbleon@twitter (#241,518)

"Without a microphone, manageable class size tops out at about 50."

I beg to differ. Non of my big lecture courses had microphones, and they were all sized at 200+ students. It has to do with something called architecture and building engineering.

Abe Burnett (#241,524)

As a recent college graduate from a very typical state school, I completely agree with this article. It mirrors my feelings on the subject completely. In fact, college has become–for many–just a signal of their ability to jump through hoops, persist in the face of difficulty, and ultimately dot all their i's and cross all their t's on the road to completion. Is this really what college is supposed to be? And yet it is. And I think that–in combination with the exploding price of education–what has created an opening for radical change is the simple fact that there are a lot cheaper ways of signaling persistence and tolerance for BS. And MOOCs (or whatever) and other options like them–whatever we end up with in a decade or two–require the same kind of persistence and determination that a standard college education does. So why pay more? Plus, while some of the MOOC courses are merely video lectures put online with homework, others present a MUCH more engaging learning experience. I was absolutely amazed at how fun a computer science class could be when I dropped by Udacity and tried out some of their classes. Really well done material, well taught, with a great way of presenting the material.

I will say this though: I think our reliance on accreditation organizations has contributed to the undoing of college. Under the guise of ensuring rigor they only accomplished pervasive mediocrity. Professors who's specialty is in the pedagogy of their specialty cannot experiment outside of the strict guidelines established by the accreditors. So while the accreditors aren't responsible for the dramatic rise in the price of education, they are partially responsible for the diminishing value the education provides. We owe them our thanks for X number of group projects per course per semester; for X number of presentations; for the specific selection of topics that must be taught in a class covering X topic.

MOOCs lower the price, experiment with formats (hoping to find more effective ways of teaching material), and reduce barriers to entry. Now anyone with the internet can learn a lot about some pretty advanced concepts.

I'm excited for what the future brings and I'm glad that someone like this author is saying it like it is. The Academy whining and complaining about it and begging for government protection is the last thing we need. Though the scary thing is that there are those in the establishment who would do almost anything to "save" higher education as we know it. I expect we'll seriously see bills introduced under just such a guise aimed at marginalizing MOOCs and anyone attempting to change things up in higher education.

blambert (#241,525)

Thank you for another thoughtful piece of writing Clay. I don't think what you say goes far enough though. I think arguing about MOOCs vs. traditional large scale lectures is much like saying if we cut your leg off at the ankle it will be much better than if we cut it off at the knee. I don't mean to discount the idea of cost as a determining factor in educational opportunity, it clearly is. But in this case it is not the only one. Sure the bean counters at the top love the traditional model for much of what Clay says. Being able to increase income while decreasing resource expenditure. But to me the real reason why this model persists in both forms is that it is self serving to the actors involved in the game called higher education.

It is a game where you can not ever win by following the rules, but is set up to make you think it is the only way to win. To me both forms of education are demeaning, designed to cull the herd of those who can't or don't choose to engage in education. This is convenient for professors as they have an easy out for those who can't or choose not to engage. An efficient means where the field can be narrowed. This is not necessarily bad in itself, it is the flip side of the coin that is truly rotten. These large scale events are like a giant game of whack a mole, where anyone with ideas outside of the norm, are essentially whacked down to size. The game is on, where anyone who may have radical opinions get the hammer regardless of how informed their viewpoint is. When the class size is that large it is not possible to engage in meaningful education experience. The professor plays his or her part, and moves on. The student that wishes to challenge an idea is left to battle with the TAs, who will only escalate if they themselves think they have enough political clout, and can get behind the radical idea, which in practice means it almost always will not happen. Politically the student has no standing with the professor who is in an entirely different social class.

The truth of the matter is that if I as a student am highly motivated as a learner, there is usually always a more efficient way for me to digest the material being presented. This method of large scale lecturing used to be effective, when professors could hold a monopoly on the ideas being presented in the lecture. In this day and age, however, where information is rampant and at the fingertips of any student who may easily find it, it simply is no longer relevant. To me this is where the real eroding of higher education is happening, and it is ultimately for the better. The vast and wide body of information that is freely available on the Internet has freed the student from being subservient to academics. It also makes the professor honest, because other sources of information will set the student free if the professor is lazy, wrong or misleading.

The secondary truth is that the only way to truly learn is to apply the information and experience the results. I learned this the hard way while working on my PhD, and being assigned to do a research project. I set up the experiment at the local lab school, carried out what I thought was a pretty good attempt for doing real life research for the first time. To my surprise, when I came back with the data, I found that roughly two thirds of the professors in the department were not qualified to help me make sense of the experience. This has nothing to do with the qualifications listed after their names, or what they purported to know or not know. It was simply the case that they (the professors) were not involved enough in research themselves to know how to mentor me through the process. Large groups in this setting make it very difficult for students to participate in learning, and for any mentorship to occur.

I think that Clay is right, that we have long since passed the point where we can say that there is anything redeeming in either of these practices. Both are just fancy hoop jumping where you as a student are paraded around the grounds and being taught that it is not a good idea to think for yourself, or take your education into your own hands. If you play by the rules, you lose by becoming victim to the idea that you are dependent on others to learn, and that they hold your educational fate in their hands. Nothing can take the place of true mentorship, and for most students these large style classes are more a rite of passage in a political game, than a true meaningful educational experience. The fact that it also plays out in an economic arena that is not in favor of the student is salt rubbed in the wound.

@blambert
Please do not put apples and pears to the same basket.

EDX MIT Harvard Berkeley is not what you define above. Please correct it .

It is all right for the others . I do not defend them either .

But please make the distinction .

Prasanth@twitter (#241,530)

its the effect of selecting students based on just the byhard (studying rigorously for not the real cause – but to gain points ) rate of English vocabulary test ex-GRE.

Education is a public good in a way that the music industry is not. If we were absolutely certain that online education would greatly lower the quality of education that the average student receives, then we would say, ok, we'll have to find another solution. MOOCs are not the only possible answer to the current problems in education. It's pretty rich: for-profit and early online schools are poorly regulated and some, at least, are a total ripoff in terms of the education given, the false promises made, and the cost. And because that's happening, it has paved the way for further degradation of our education. It doesn't have to be that way. There are other alternatives, especially if we stop asking a public good like education to be a growth industry to provide profit to investment bankers.

@Heather Booth@facebook
I agree 100 % with you .
I am glad that you are aware of what happened to online in the USA in the last 20 years . Lowered the education level .

Today there are 2 initiative also .

One is by MIT Harvard Berkeley called edx non profit elite schools of the world with lots of assets regarding education, research, labs, sources .
It is the greatest luck of the world . They will save the world .

I do not want to talk about the others . They will be like the ones before . For profits, they will die soon I hope.

To everybody :
Everybody talks as if MOOCS are good or MOOCs are evil .

There are actually 2 MOOCs namely
Coursera Udacity Both has been set up by Stanford professors
Daphne, Ng and Thurn .
They made the world upside down . They are CS people but rock the world from the bottom .
Be careful they are for profit companies to monetise the new online trend.

Cost of online is less than $ 1 if we have sufficient numbers of enrollments . They found out that July 2011 at AI Stanford ONLINE Course enrollment 160,000 . Finish was still not bad I think 10,000 or so .
So both decided to monetise their ideas . They did . They did not make money yet . I think they will not make money later too.

They make many mistakes . They invite everybody to the club . They are not selective. Courses offerred are adult courses 4-5 weeks long academically no value . Still they did not declare their fees. It is very hard for them " to convince universities to provide degrees later too .

But there is another initiative started in 2001 by MIT . Opencourseware free for the world . After 12 years of experience MIT declared its first online course Electronic Circuits in December 2011 to start in March 2012 before Coursera was declared .

Then April 2012 Harvard has seen the beauty of MIT project and joined them . Smart fellows . Later Berkeley .
They are not for profits . They do not need money .
MIT is the first one discovering the cost of online is less than $ 1 if enrollment is high enough . So they started to experiment it . They have all the research facilities, labs, learning theory labs, media labs best in the world . They have assets and sources to make online better every day .
Therefore they declared they will have a small fee for exams .
MIT Harvard Berkeley will shake the world
Coursera and Udacity will be a fad . But still thank to them they stirred up the world .

To all people .
Please do not generalise .
There are 2 distinct movements
Coursera + Udacity for profit

MIT Harvard Berkeley non profit with lots of knowledge and assets.

Please do not say MOOCs bla bla bla

tiffany41 (#241,573)

im happy that you are aware in what happened in the USA

The point is that bricks-and-mortar colleges may survive—after all, a few people still buy Rolex watches–but it will be a luxury good, and that 90% of existing colleges will be decimated.

Myoonnyc (#241,621)

B.Eng '96, MBA Columbia '11 and currently taking several online courses. Three points in support of MOOCs:

1. Course Material is easy to leverage and continuously improve based on transparency and feedback (such as public reviews by lots of students) which gives hope for quality of course material

2. Interaction with other students contributes a major part to the education experience. Online forum discussions inclusively share thought provoking threads of vocal classmates, socially moderated by value. This is an effective way to share ideas (although I make no comment on social aspects not related to communication of ideas).

3. As a hiring manager, a degree means very little. The interview process (and other means such as online work/reputation) can be used to establish competency.

I can directly compare the CompSci Algorithms course I took at McGill with the one offered by Princeton on Coursera (for free). The online course is as good or better.

Brent Betit@twitter (#241,639)

Clay, I absolutely LOVE polished writing like yours – engaging, amusing, with well-turned phrases peppering the narrative from end to end. That kind of skill isn't – in my experience – learned online. While I don't have the empirical research to validate my theory, I have a suspicion that you learned to write like that at a very good school or at a college. Kudos on having learned it so well! Bravo!

Kajal Sengupta (#241,677)

Clay, thanks for a passionate post about MOOCs and as Brent has mentioned your skill of writing must have been acquired in an offline class. The reason could be you did not have a choice to opt for an OPEN ONLINE course, and not because face to face learning provides better education. For a moment can we come out of our traditional thoughts and not compare these two modes of learning? Who does not know the virtues of face to face learning ? The question is how many of us can afford it? And in today's world where you have to update your knowledge all the time and don't have the luxury of leaving your current job-what do you do? True the MOOCs may have failed on many occasions but then show me one venture which have not encountered this in the beginning. With time and patience can't the drawbacks be removed?

MyMOOC (#241,803)

While I agree that much of education is broken, I disagree with the doom and gloom "mea culpa" attitude. Much of education is disfunctional, because the powers that be believe in marketisation and monetisation of a public good.

In particular, things cannot get fixed, because:
- there is a mistaken belief that "technology is the fix to everything"
- there is the belief that one can fix the system by cutting funding, not by investing in change
- there is the attitude that making education an experiment is a good thing for the kids
- there is the illusion that anyone can provide education and any streetwise guy/company will teach just as well to secure a students future!

Wrong! So wrong!

michael1970 (#242,126)

Agreed with some of the posts that failure should be an option. Get government out of this business and let them compete.

Lush Acres (#245,074)

Lush Acres EC is a 99-years leasehold Sengkang EC development located Sengkang West Way / Fernvale Link in District 19. With expected completion in mid 2016, it comprises of 3 towers with 380 units and stands 25 storeys tall. It is situated right beside Kupang LRT Station.
Lush Acres

Lush Acres (#245,074)

Future residents will be able to access the nearby Compass Point in Sengkang and Greenwich V in Fernvale Link which is a short drive away for some family fun and gatherings. A truly unique lifestyle awaits you.
Lush Acres

Lush Acres (#245,074)

Future residents will be able to walk to the existing Bartley MRT in the Circle Line. With such a short drive to the city area as well as the orchard and bugis area, entertainment for your love ones and family will come at a stone’s throw away.
Kensington Square

Skypark Residences (#246,625)

Skypark Residences facilities provide full family entertainment needs for your family and loved ones. Indulge in a serene and tranquil lifestyle right in the heart of Woodlands.
Sky Park Residences

jeanjhamilton (#257,945)

I agree the fact that offline colleges are broken but in countries India and China there is no harm for traditional system of education.

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