Time to retire from online learning? – by Tony Bates

Posted: April 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

Dr. Pamela Rutledge‘s insight:

Bates shares frustration over the advent of MOOCs, particularly being driven by computer scientists rather than educators and psychologists.   He makes some interesting points and I don’t blame him for being cranky.  Fielding has been successfully doing distributed learning since the late 1960s, but the Ivy Leagues are getting most of the glory for being so innovative as to take curriculum online.  

Nevertheless, the online courses that I’ve seen on Coursera and iVersity have been brilliantly designed with top notch content and instructors, often big names in the field.  They are not rigorous but they are informative (especially if you do the work).  They encourage community and conversation among participants, but not instructor feedback or  support that you would expect in a normal sized course on or offline.  Most of those, however, aren’t free.  (Fielding caps their courses at 12, so as instructors, we invest a LOT of time with each student and with course development because, in spite of misguided stereotypes about online teaching, you lose some of the leverage that you have in person and the syllabus and course design have to be not just well-designed but tight.  There’s no “winging” a lecture like you can do in person.)  But I get Bates’ concerns and his point and think they’re valid.  

The part Bates doesn’t mention is that for many people around the world, MOOCs provide access to a world of knowledge that was previously not available.  To me, this is the value of MOOCs whether it’s run by a computer scientist or not.  Like the Manobi Foundation that provides rural farmers with market prices so they are not held hostage by middle men, MOOCs can open doors to possibilities so that people’s futures and aspirations aren’t held hostage by isolation.  

See on www.tonybates.ca

  1. Laraine says:

    While i couldn’t agree more about the wonderful community conversations MOOCs sometimes generate, I have not experienced the “top notch” content or the “brilliant” design. Particularly awful have been courses that don’t lend themselves to right or wrong answers, such as world history and modern poetry.

    Multiple choice quizzes and peer reviews, the forms of assessment in every one I have taken, badly limit what can be assessed. To fit the multiple choice format, the questions are often trivial and the student body so huge and varied, it’s possible to have a non-native speaker with very limited skills assessing the work of a native speaker, who writes with a complexity incomprehensible to the person still struggling with the language. The resulting “assessment” is a waste of time for both parties.

    In addition, the lack of instructor interaction with students often leads to students relying solely on one another for information and, guess what, we are students so sometimes we get stuff wrong and then we pass it on. That’s why there needs to be a way for instructors and/or tutors to interact with the student body and I’m mean tutors with knowledge, not just overworked grad students struggling to stay afloat on the forums.

    MOOCs, as designed by Coursera, may be great for teaching programming. But when it comes to teaching anything that involves ambiguity or multiple and competing interpretations,they are just god awful and suggest exactly what Bates says, that those interested in education are losing the battle against the computer scientists, and the real losers in that battle will be the would be learners. (That last part of the sentence is me not Bates, but I don’t think he would disagree. )

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