Reconsidering MOOC Mania

by Jay Schalin

There’s been so much buzz about MOOCs (massive open online courses) and how they are going to revolutionize higher education lately. But a Minding the Campus article by education author J. M. Anderson urges caution, suggesting that good teaching and making a video are not quite the same thing:

But even if [the MOOC model] makes good economic sense, it makes bad education sense and misrepresents what genuine teaching is and what the “best” teachers actually do. For starters, unlike TED speakers, they don’t simply deliver lectures and profess. They also work with students to help them become better thinkers, readers, and writers. How?

Through personal attention (such as tutorials) and classroom interaction (such as discussions and the guided close reading of texts). By constantly testing their students’ minds against theirs, forcing them to ask the hard questions and to explain them with significant answers. And by giving them appropriate personalized feedback.

I’ve had a few doubts about MOOCs myself lately. I’ve been thinking of taking a course for my own “edumacation” and looked at the available free online courses for a certain range of topics. I viewed a bunch of them, and they were frequently snoozefests. The quality is often poor, and it’s often hard to find the appropriate level of material.  Some are taught at an excessively introductory level, while in others, the professors ramble on, drawing on references and observations from every-which-where. Reading lists or syllabi are often hard to find. Other online courses that charge tuition and take a different approach, such as assigning mentors to help with individualized learning, seem a lot more promising.

If MOOCs are going to take over higher education, they’ve got a long way to go and lots of improvements to make. There is a good chance that traditional education will always have an edge in many ways for a long time to come.

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