Observing Thinking

Observing Thinking
Observing Thinking

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Changing Face of Education Part 3

June 9, 2013

In Part 1, what a MOOC was and compared it to a prototype that I implemented in the 70s to see if we had made any educational progress over the past half-century. Don’t laugh, it took 25 years for the overhead projector to move from the bowling alley to the classroom.

In Part 2, I compared present-day MOOCs to present-day classroom environment and concluded that although current MOOCs have downsides (what doesn’t?), they will probably be addressed and solved and they will be the wave of the future.

In Part 3, this column, I want to wrap up the discussion and address some pedagogical and political issues associated with MOOCs:

They don’t yet solve the classic problem of pedagogy: Every discipline requires mastery in two areas: theory and practice. We need both because they strengthen each other: practice helps you better understand the theory and a better grasp of the theory makes you a better practitioner. But which aspect should be taught first? The pedagogical model I grew up with was always: present the theory with a lecture and give the practice as homework and while this worked fine with me I know that it failed miserably with many of my peers.

In graduate school I was lucky enough to be taught by a professor who used a minor modification to great benefit for me: he always ended a lecture with a brief introduction to the next topic, then for homework we were to read the text’s explanation and practice with some homework problems. In the following lecture he would answer any questions we had on the theory that he and the text had previously covered as well answer any questions we had on the homework assignment. Years later I realized that his solution to the “theory before practice or vice-versa” problem was to make it  into an A-B-A process where A stands for theory and B for practice.

There are also B-A-B theories where the students begin by trying to discover the theory for themselves by attempting to solve problems which fit under that theory (as you might expect, this can be very effective and/or very frustrating). A wag friend once told me, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.”  So how does all of this mumbo-jumbo relate to a MOOC?

Many MOOCs have adopted a hybrid approach. This pedagogy has the student first acquire the theory online through video lectures and other resources such as online books. Next the students meet in online chat rooms as well as live lab sessions where they are helped by teaching assistants and by each other as well to solve the assigned problems on the current topic. This is a variant of the current hot pedagogy in education, the “flipped classroom” where the lecture is delivered outside of the classroom (over the Internet) and the “homework” is done communally with guidance by the instructor(s) during class meeting times.

With regard to the politics, there is a very interesting article, “Who Owns the MOOCs?” by Ry Rivard, March 19, 2013 on the Inside Higher Education website (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/03/19/u-california-faculty-union-says-moocs-undermine-professors-intellectual-property) which examines not only the intellectual property issues involved when a university faculty member relinquishes their ownership of course materials they have developed to a for-profit MOOC provider like Coursera, it also raises the issue of a Union contract renegotiation. While University administration may claim that the faculty member voluntarily gives up their intellectual property rights, the union argues that this is a broader issue and affects the livelihood of all faculty. In fact, I remember an advisor on my doctoral committee who had grave doubts about my designing a Computer Managed Instructional system which could then be used by administration to let faculty go.

On a lighter note, the Inside Higher Education website  has an entry by Ted Fiske, Feb 12, 2013,   which suggests new college songs for those institutions using MOOCs.

Here’s the one from Cornell:

“Far above Cayuga’s waters with its waves of blue,
Stand our noble M-O-O-Cs, glorious to view.
Massive Open Online Courses, loud their praises tell.
Hail O dig’tal Alma Mater, now called e-Cornell.”


Scout Report: March 22, 2013 -- Volume 19, Number 12

Colleges Assess Cost of Free Online-Only Courses

The Professors Who Make the MOOCs

Google Will Fund Cornell MOOC

California’s Move Toward MOOCs Sends Shock Waves, but Key Questions Remain Unanswered

UW-Madison to offer free public online courses starting in fall

Who Owns a MOOC?

The new wave of technology-based education has now gone one step further: colleges and universities, large and small, are develop! ing prog rams to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs). The ensuing debate over how these courses can alter the future of higher education is ramping up: while more institutions are signing on to pioneer MOOCs, there is controversy over whether credits should be applicable to degree paths, as well as over proposed legislation that forces institutions to accept MOOC credits. Companies such as Coursera, edX, and Udacity are already offering MOOCs for college credit, while universities such as Cornell and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have plans to consider this option in the near future. Many interested parties have been wondering whether MOOCs will bridge the education gap, or simply become another roadblock to the coveted college degree. [MP]

The first link will take users to a New York Times profile on how colleges are responding to this new development. The second link is an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education that decodes the hype behind MOOCs and the professors who are leading the way in creating them. The third link is an announcement from the Cornell Sun about its new venture with Google to create MOOCs at the prestigious institution. The fourth article, from the Chronicle, covers the recent debate in California over SB 520, a proposal to use MOOCs outside of the state higher-education system for credits in the system. The fifth link goes to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s plans to offer MOOCs .

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