MOOC’s, or Massive Open Online Courses, are the newest innovation in online education, and as a result, as Katherine Mangan comments in her post, “for the academic world, which isn’t exactly known for being quick to embrace change, the past several months have been a whirlwind.”  MOOC’s are met with both praise and criticism.  Here are some of the arguments, questions, and implications to consider:

Into the Future With MOOC’s,” by Kevin Carey, begins with a personal anecdote of Carey’s experience with a freshman college course.  The purpose of his anecdote was to examine the “cognitive dissonance” that Carey believes exists in the established, narrow idea of which types of credits are accepted towards traditional degrees.   He juxtaposed his own situation, where he received 4 college credits for a C in a course that he never physically attended, with the experience of online students taught by a renowned Standford roboticist, where students performed “just as well on the assignments and exams as the whip-smart students in Palo Alto who took the course in person,” but still received no academic credits of any kind.  Carey believes that MOOC’s will assuredly be a presence and change the world, but recognizes the questions that accompany their use involving “financing, quality assurance, and – most important – credit.”

Concerning credits, the first issue that arises is the college monopoly on the sale of college credits.  However, Carey believes that the MOOC explosion will “accelerate the breakup of the college credit monopoly.”  He consequently believes that the economics of higher education will be inevitably broken down and “restructured at a marginal cost” as colleges start accepting MOOC certificates as transfer credits.

In Katherine Managan’s “MOOC Mania,” she also discusses the implications of MOOC certificates and credit acceptance.  She states that the big question is whether “employers who are used to scanning résumés for evidence of completed degrees will value certificates and badges earned through free courses,” because if so, MOOC programs could pose competition for traditional degrees.

Mangan’s article discusses some of the front-running, larger MOOC providers.  She mentions Udacity, a provider attempting to develop a MOOC model in which students learn by solving problems, not by listening to a professor tell them how to solve them.  She quotes Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of Udacity:

Online education rightfully has a bad rap because in the past it’s been trying to replicate the classroom experience at a small fraction of the cost…Even today most MOOC’s are videotaped lectures followed by a quiz, which is commendable but doesn’t go far enough.

Thrun would uphold that advances in technology have resulted in increasingly interactive courses.  Managan also mentions Coursera, a provider that offers courses taught by professors from well-known institutions such as Princeton and Stanford.  Lastly she mentions edX: free access to online-courses created by MIT, Harvard, and the University of California at Berkely.  For more on MOOC providers, check out Ben Gose’s post 4 Massive Open Online Courses and How They Work.”

On the flip side, Greg Graham, an instructor of writing at the University of Central Arkansas, refuses to participate and join the MOOC bandwagon.  In his articleHow the Embrace of MOOC’s Could Hurt Middle America,” he states that we are

exhausted and desperate for answers…tempted to think that technology can save us. But it can’t.

Graham’s major concern is the implications that MOOC’s will have for the average and struggling demographic of students, whom he believes will suffer if this trend continues to grow.  In the end, he warns that it will be this lower half of the student population that will be forced out of the traditional classroom, “widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.”  Here are some of the grounds for Graham’s argument:

1. Graham asserts that the MOOC hype is detrimental, causing educators to make the mistake of valuing quantity over quality (with the large MOOC enrollment numbers), confusing their notions about what is wrong with our education system what is needed to fix it.

2. He notes that MOOC’s may work for intellectually driven people, but the impact on the average student, who needs what Graham calls “immediacy” (personal relationships with teachers, customized instruction) is a negative one.

3. He warns that place matters, and that not all students have a conducive to learning space for these MOOC’s at their disposal.  In conjunction, screens could potentially replace the classroom learning environment that, for certain students, serves as an escape from an otherwise chaotic environment.

Graham ends with a powerful statement:

Wonderland isn’t the answer. The greatest things happening in education are occurring in classrooms around the world, as teachers look into the eyes of their students and find ways to bring learning to life.

What do you think? For more information, check out the page What You Need to Know About MOOC’s at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website.


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