Saturday, April 20, 2013

What's That You Say? MooCs?

So yesterday was Faculty Appreciation day slash Student Research day at our little university.

This means we spend the morning sitting in a big room eating cut fruit and Danish while listening to various deans list faculty accomplishments over the past year, plus usually a speech by someone on the state of the university/universities in general; then in the afternoon, our students have this event, a kind of an undergraduate conference, presenting research they have been working on this year.

That second part is actually very cool, and excellent for the students, many of whom are doing their first conference presentation ever (some are very nervous, even though it's just us, their professors, they're presenting to; others are cool and professional, but it's always lovely).

The first part, the Faculty Appreciation, is less so, I have to say.  First, most of us would rather be appreciated with a few extra hours to sleep or get work done.

Second, all most of the deans do is list, in a rapid drone, what everyone has published or presented.  This is accompanied with a rapid-fire Power Point list of the presentations, or a bibliography accompanied by each person's photograph.  This goes on, mind you, for about three hours. No one is listening: we're all on our phones or iPads or blackberries, getting work done.

Finally, the speaker shows up and makes his speech.  (Just in passing, I will not that all these speeches are always about how bad things are about to become in the educational world. Can't we even once have a speech about how great things are about to happen?  Why are we always being warned about how our field is doomed, I tell you, doomed?) Yesterday it was MOOCs.

In 1995 it was technology.  We had to get technology into the classroom or we were doomed I tell you doomed.

In 2005 it was assessment.  We had to start doing assessment or we were doomed I tell you doomed.

Now it's MOOCs.  If we don't start doing MOOCs ourselves we are doomed I tell you doomed.

This is after we admit that MOOCs don't actually work all that well (the stats I heard yesterday were that something like 20,000 students signed up for a course and 200 got a perfect score -- no data on how the rest did -- ) and that they have an abysmal graduation rate, with an equally abysmal rate of job placement (that is, employers don't like students who have degrees from, say, Phoenix U) and yet: we're supposed to imitate MOOCs, because...profit?

Listen: I have nothing, per se, against MOOCs as I understand them.  My kid right now is running John Green's Crash Course in World History (and so am I) and that is something like a MOOC.

And the whole flipped classroom thing strikes me as a good idea.

OTOH, MOOCs most universities will run them (who can't see this coming?) which will be Phoenix U cash cows -- yeah, no.


Unknown said...

did I miss something.... what are MOOCs?

delagar said...

Massive open online courses.

Basically, a course which someone (usually but not always some university) provides asychononously for a huge number of students to take at any one time, either for credit or for free.

If it's done for credit, the way Phoenix U does it, then $$$.

If it's done for free, the way John Green and some others have been doing it (I believe Oxford is doing some courses this way) then it can be kind of cool.

The problem arises when people start to argue that MOOCs can replace actual universities.

You see the potential for problems -- 3 million students taking a class recorded by one professor one time in 2012 sounds like a huge profit generator, but how well does this actually end up working in the field?

Of course, we already have actual abuse in the field, what with unqualified adjuncts teaching huge numbers of students, etc.