Posted by: clholoman | July 25, 2013

We have met the enemy and he is …

me? At least according to one author. The issue is on-line education generally and MOOCs in particular. If you somehow have missed this development, an article in Slate today gives a nice background and, to me, accurate, albeit opinionated, view of the main issue–can these types of classes provide an effective student learning experience? (Although one sentence may be misleading: “The term was coined by a group of Canadian academics in 2008 to represent a recently invented type of online class that depends upon small group interactions for most of the instruction.” While I don’t have any reason not to believe that, it is certainly not the way the term has been used for the past several years. The author notes that the term has been “appropriated,” but doesn’t indicate how inaccurate that definition has become.)

Put another way, are MOOCs a solution, and if so, to what problem? I don’t think the answer is “student learning” at least not broadly defined. So far most of the data suggest that students fail to finish (the average completion rate for MOOCs is less than 5% right now) or don’t learn as much as in a traditional class. Much is being made of the result published last week that in a MOOC offered for credit at San Jose State, the failure rate was above 50%. (Note that the completion rate was very high, however–83% if I remember correctly–giving credence to the notion that most people don’t finish MOOCs because (a) they usually haven’t paid to take them and (b) there is not a tangible product at the end.)  Now, I do think that MOOCs and the like can be effective and have a role to play. We’ll return to that.

If not learning then, what? The obvious answer is costs. MOOCs are seen by some, at least in the myth, as a way of cutting costs and/or enhancing revenue. This article from the Chronicle yesterday is getting passed around a lot, it appears. It is in this version that I am the enemy. According to the author, on-line education is being rammed down the throats of faculty, students, and employers by administrators egged on by politicians: “Clearly, the online train that threatens to roll right over us has an administrator at the throttle, gleefully pushing the handle toward “full power.””

I dunno. The author is at a community college and leaders there face different pressures, especially direct interference from politicians, in ways that I am not familiar with. And we do need to control our costs–the demands to lower student debt, lower tuition, etc. are getting louder every day. But I have not heard many  of my colleagues looking to MOOCs as a significant solution to the cost problem.

This is only about half of what I want to say about this, but I will save the rest for tomorrow, but don’t look for a nice, clean answer.



  1. […] Hilbert College Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Christopher Holoman, Ph.D. has a new blog post on his higher education blog – What’s Liberal about Liberal Arts.  Dr. Holoman addresses the issue of online education and MOOCs in particular.  Read the entry here: We have met the enemy and he is… […]

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