The discussion about MOOCs brings in a lot more than just Massively Open Online Courses. Actually, I would venture to say that MOOCs are NOT the issue. A MOOC is just a platform, as Caufield so clearly articulated (here) “…the best way to think of a MOOC isn’t really as a class brought to your doorstep — it’s more a textbook with ambitions…” To think that they are more than that misses what I think is a huge part of education (communication & relationships – more on that below), but MOOCs do force discussion of the problems in higher (and K-12) education today (i.e., cost, access, standardization, and what a college degree “is”) – and offer another option.
First, what would a MOOC decree be worth? – does a degree from Udacity hold the same marketplace value as one from a standard public university? I doubt it – a degree from Phoenix does not have the same weight as one from any state school. It isn’t cheaper for students if they have to go back to school to get another degree (or take more courses to get the accredited credit).
On the surface, MOOCs seem like a solution to the financial problems facing higher education. Show thousands of students a series of recorded lectures, keep the documentation (tests, discussion boards), and that’s a wrap! Oh, I mean, class! Cheap will attract some, but only if that degree can get the job. Otherwise, it will continue to attract people who are “just interested” – and that’s fine!
Secondly, Thomas notes that MOOCs could push the non-elite colleges into precarious positions, but only if a MOOC degree is valued as a public college. Higher education is a “hostage situation” for most people (Shirky’s term); it’s the stamp needed to get the job interview. I am not arguing for or against this system, but until MOOC degrees are accredited and respected as standard ones, I don’t see the threat.
Colleges realize this and have responded with online courses. The CUNY Online Bachelor’s is one of many examples of fully online programs – with the flexibility of MOOCs, but with full accreditation, but they are considerably more expensive (per class, Udacity = $150, CUNY = $920, Lansing Community College= $324. So a bachelors is $6,000 at Udacity, $27,600 at CUNY, and $9,720 at LCC). It’s not a solution – $27,600 is a lot of money for a student, and CUNY is under emormous financial pressure, but CUNY is a recognized and respected institution. Which means I’ve said families should have to pay (per adult) for access in to job interviews (until government funding increases, Bustillos puts it perfectly, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to just fund education to the levels we had back when it was working?”). That’s not something that I want to say, but find myself trapped into it.
There are many ways institutions can cut costs without operating without instructors, but the first step has to be reconciling admin and faculty goals (though this isn’t a post about that), and justifying why we exist at all. It’s no surprise that high-stakes testing and MOOCs are appearing at the same time – a time when education is being distilled into a final exam… This is a time when we must start articulating why education is valuable beyond memorizing facts and visiting chat rooms.
Education depends on communication and relationships. Online courses allow both of these to be present and built – mediated by technology; instructors provide the scaffolding and framework (and redirection) that students need to navigate seemingly endless information. I would guess that the ratio of good teachers to mediocre (or bad) is about the same from face to face vs. online. But, since student-centered teaching (which I correlate with “good” teaching) requires student-student, student-faculty AND faculty-student interactions, I’m not convinced MOOCs have the capacity to be student-centered.
Likewise, online programs (as opposed to MOOCs) have admissions requirements. Students have to justify why online is a good fit and why they want a degree. They have to gain membership into a community and have their prior education validated, and show that they the skills necessary to keep up with course work. Admissions also allows the institution to keep track of its students and validate all of the coursework for the degree. The no-admissions policies can’t create the same community. (This is not an endorsement for huge administrative staffs.)
I don’t have any funding solutions for higher education, but I know we can validate our existence by showing that the relationships, direction, and personalized communication make a difference in education, and link this to accreditation, MOOCs will have no more power than a good documentary.
(here are my thoughts on why MOOCs will not bring better education to Africa).