I assume you’re all familiar with Sebastian Thrum’s “ooopsie–my bad” last week on the argument that MOOCs can educate the uneducated masses and at the same time make money for his deluded investors. I haven’t had the time or energy to say “I told you so,” especially because Jonathan Rees has a nice round-up (with a bonus Monty Python joke and clip) of the issue.
However, I’ll chime in this morning to note this survey of MOOC users at the University of Pennsylvania: 80% of them already hold advanced degrees! This makes perfect sense in terms of what Jonathan, I, and every other critic of MOOCs has pointed out from the very beginning, which is that the people who really need college educations also–unfortunately for the edupirates like Thrun and Daphne Koller–need human beings to teach and guide them. Professors like Jonathan and me who actually know and teach non-elite college students have known this all along, which is why no one ever asked our opinions. It’s the professors at Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Virginia who were consulted, not us, because EdX, Coursera, and Udacity pushers just knew that we’d be wet blankets!
Trust me: I have to teach up to 123 students in a U.S. history survey next semester, and I’m desperately trying to cook up tricks and treats to keep them coming to class, keep them engaged, and get them to do the reading and writing assignments. It’s hard enough teaching my first- and second-year college students at this (admittedly ridiculous) scale, especially because most of them take the course to satisfy a distribution requirement and are newly enthralled with the notion that their attendance in class can no longer be impelled by Johnny Law.
I’ll say it again: MOOCs may be a nice PR tool & maybe something that can be deployed to generate alumni interest and financial support, but the notion that they’re useful for educating the uneducated is just ridiculous. Somehow, though, I’ve got to come up with something else to say other than a big, fat raspberry at the panel I’m on (at Jonathan’s initiative and invitation) at the American Historical Association annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Maybe I’ll just read Scott L. Newstok’s article, “A Plea for Close Learning” in the latest issue of Liberal Education published by the American Association of Colleges & Universities out loud on the podium.
Better yet, I think I’ll just declare victory and invite the audience to join me, Jonathan, and the other folks with Nostradamus-like powers of prediction in the hotel bar.