Saturday, July 27, 2013

MOOC's: Be careful what you wish for.

There's an old warning that you should be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. Here's an article from the Slate "web magazine" cautioning that MOOC's are going to doom us all:

Countering that point of view, the article does manage to provide a link to a TED talk by coursera founder Daphne Koller, speaking at Edinburgh in June 2012: (21 minutes)

Now my own experience is limited. I took Udacity's CS101 course last year. It has no fixed schedule and I worked on the course when time was available and did eventually complete it with 100% on the final exam. I've signed up for another couple of Udacity courses, but haven't managed to get around to finishing either. Home Internet outages and a few weeks hospitalized distracted me from sticking to it. Of course, with no fixed schedule, I can always return to those courses and get down to work on them.

Koller and coursera seem to put much more emphasis on a fixed schedule than does Udacity. For example, I've been taking coursera's Systematic Program Design Course and have to concede that I have not kept up with it's mandatory schedule of weekly homeworks and quizzes. Realistically, I have to concede I'll not be completing that course this summer and will have to try it again the next time it is scheduled. Not a bad course, but it does get tedious in its attention to microscopic details. I also got distracted with learning a new programming language (Racket) along the way. Too bad as the course was to have 2 peer reviewed assignments and they were to be my first experience with peer reviewed work.

I think the gloom and doom suggestions of the Slate article are a bit too Luddite a point-of-view for my taste. I think MOOC's will lead to a lot of change in education courses in the future. The MOOC courses will establish baselines which future improvements will have to beat. Koller emphasizes that the MOOC offerings collect a lot of data which provide the prospect of guiding future improvements. The one thing that I can see screwing up a bright future of continuous course improvement is if copyrights are used to restrict building a better course based on an existing course. U.S. copyright law has seemed to get repeatedly stretched with additional years to make sure Mickey Mouse, et al, never pass into the public domain. I can only hope that the MOOC courses stick to the tradition of Creative Commons licensing so that it is possible to found an improved course on an existing good course.

On a related topic, although Bill Gates is not a person that I often have praise for, in this 10-minute TED talk by Bill, he does a nice job of arguing that teachers need more feedback. A modest bit of technology, such as a video camera on a tripod, can give teachers a basis for self-assessment and the possibility for peer reviews.