The MOOC Hype Fades

I have been seeing this trend over the last two years and I predicted this trend when I first heard about moocs. My reason? I have stated it before but one of the comments from this article sums it up nicely so I will repost it. Here is the comment from the article by user hyptiotes

“Remember too that universities have been around since the middle ages. They are resilient institutions. The demise of universities were also claimed with the invention of books (who needs a teacher now!), invention of public libraries (free books to learn at your own pace!), invention of mail order courses, invention of closed television courses, and now the invention of online courses. You can at least understand why academics aren’t worried about their demise (again). Self-motivated learners obviously benefit from MOOCS, just as they did with the invention of public libraries. What keeps universities in business is essentially human laziness. Without a cattle prod and the pedagogical equivalent of a life coach standing over you and checking your work, most people would never finish a course. This is borne out by the abyssmal completion rates of MOOCS. Unless you can cure procrastination, laziness, and minimize cheats in the system for credentials, there will also be a place for credentialed brick-and-mortar universities…”

Who really wants more online courses and why?

Thought this article on the chronicle was pretty much spot on. Very good piece:


“Proponents of online learning often use train metaphors to describe its growing impact on the educational landscape. Those of us who teach at two-year colleges, especially, are constantly encouraged, prodded, hectored, cajoled—and sometimes even ordered—to get on board. Otherwise, we’re told, we’re likely to be run over.

As one who is skeptical regarding the long-term benefits of online learning, I would attest that the train metaphor is pretty apt. I sometimes feel as though I’m standing on the tracks, signaling “proceed with caution,” while the online locomotive bears down on me, air horn reverberating.

I suspect others share that vivid nightmare. But what makes it especially sobering now is that, with the advent of MOOCs, the train is picking up steam and we’re no longer alone in its destructive path. These days entire departments, disciplines, and even institutions potentially stand in the way, at risk of being pulverized along with the rest of us.

Thinking about that phenomenon has led me to wonder, lately, just who is at the throttle. I think that’s a question well worth asking, and the answer ought to inform our response as faculty members. It seems to me that there are only a handful of possibilities:

Students. Supposedly everything we do in higher education is for the students, and we tend to be especially insistent on that point whenever we fear people might question our motives. Online learning is a perfect example. The reason we keep offering more and more classes online is that students are demanding them. Right?

Well, maybe. It’s true that during the past decade, the number of students enrolled in online courses grew at a significant rate. But according to a recent study, that growth started leveling off in the fall of 2010, when about 31 percent of all postsecondary students were taking at least one online class. Researchers concluded that “the slower rate of growth … compared to previous years may be the first sign that the upward rise in online enrollments is approaching a plateau.”

Moreover, a survey conducted this year by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University found that students at two-year campuses, in particular, prefer face-to-face over online instruction, especially for courses they deem difficult.

So while some students want, need, and benefit from online classes, the argument that students in general are clamoring for them doesn’t exactly hold up.

Faculty members. Are they driving the train by demanding to teach more and more classes online? After all, faculty members are often faulted for putting their own scheduling preferences ahead of students’ needs and desires. Is this simply another case of professorial self-centeredness?

I don’t think so. Speaking anecdotally for a moment, I’ve talked to literally scores of people who teach online, at my institution and others. Hardly any of them prefer it. Oh, they might prefer it in the sense that teaching online allows them more flexibility or reduces their commute. But the overwhelming majority of them tell me that, all things being equal, they would much prefer to teach in a traditional classroom, because they enjoy the personal interaction with students.

According to a 2009 report by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, only about 36 percent of faculty members have any experience developing or teaching an online course—a number that conforms closely to the roughly one-third of students who take classes online. Moreover, according to The Chronicle’s report, the study also found that professors’ general attitude toward online courses remains unfavorable—even among those who teach online: “70 percent of all faculty members believe the learning outcomes of online courses to be either inferior or somewhat inferior, compared with face-to-face instruction.”

When it comes to MOOCs, even fewer faculty members are on board. In fact, as we saw during the recent exchange between San Jose State University’s philosophy department and the Harvard professor Michael Sandel, for every faculty member developing a MOOC, there appear to be dozens who object to using such courses in lieu of more traditional offerings.

More telling, perhaps, is the recent Chronicle survey that found that 72 percent of faculty members who teach MOOCs don’t believe their students should receive college credit. In other words, even supporters of MOOCs don’t think they’re as good as face-to-face instruction.

So it’s not our colleagues at the throttle of the monstrous locomotive threatening to squash the rest of us.

Employers. Maybe it’s the end users, the companies that hire our graduates, who insist on more and more—and bigger and bigger—online offerings. Certainly, if you listen to the administrators and politicians (and yes, I’ll get to them in a moment), that would seem to be the case.

Unfortunately, that theory doesn’t wash, either. Another recent survey conducted for The Chronicle found that employers have a favorable impression of all types of colleges and universities—except for online institutions. And while there’s certainly a difference between students who complete their entire degrees online and those who just take a few online courses, the findings clearly suggest that employers don’t trust online instruction as much as traditional methods.

Just a few weeks ago, in “Giving Employers What They Don’t Really Want,” Robert J. Sternberg, president of the University of Wyoming, tackled this issue directly. He noted that most of the employers surveyed by The Chronicle said they were looking to hire people with “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems” as well as having “ethical judgment and integrity; intercultural skills; and the capacity for continued new learning.” The problem, Sternberg said, is that “those are not skills optimally developed through passive learning … including MOOCs.”

Whatever we’ve been told, I don’t believe employers are demanding that students take more online classes or sign up for MOOCs. Which brings us to …

Administrators. Since the “online revolution” began in the mid-1990s, I’ve taught at three different two-year colleges, visited many others, and sat through countless conference presentations trumpeting the latest technological breakthrough. My observation is that administrators, along with a handful of true believers among the faculty, have always been the primary proponents of online learning. On campus, at least, they’re the ones driving the train.

Why? The main reason, I believe, is money. Online courses enable colleges to enroll students and “deliver content” inexpensively, since they don’t require classrooms, parking spaces, restrooms, or, in some cases, even faculty offices. I’ve heard people argue that, done well, online courses can cost just as much as the face-to-face variety. That may be true, but I dare say that at most two-year colleges, they are offered as cheaply as possible, and that is one of the reasons, if not the main reason, for their existence.

California’s higher-education leaders basically admitted as much when they considered, a few months ago, the possibility of “outsourcing” some of their course offerings. The problem as they saw it was that they couldn’t afford to offer all the classes students wanted; and the solution, they thought, might just be MOOCs, which would enable them to provide those courses (in a manner of speaking) at comparatively low cost. Fortunately, that idea fell through.

Another reason that campus leaders—especially at two-year colleges—seem so anxious to embrace online learning is that it’s “innovative.” If there’s one thing every community-college president wants carved on his or her tombstone, it’s that he or she was “an innovator.” (That, and maybe a “transformational leader.”) Ironically, for many of those presidents, being innovative seems to mean doing exactly what everybody else is doing, only more of it.

Clearly, the online train that threatens to roll right over us has an administrator at the throttle, gleefully pushing the handle toward “full power.”

Politicians. On the other hand, administrators are not alone. Joining them in driving the train is a politician (or two, or a dozen) shouting encouragement, or perhaps threats.

Administrators, after all, especially at public institutions (which nearly all community colleges are), serve at the pleasure of politicians. And what is it that pleases politicians? Apparently, it’s for as many students as possible to take as many online classes as possible.

Exhibit A is an opinion essay by Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, and Randy Best that ran in Inside Higher Ed back in May. Entitled “Higher Ed in 2018,” the essay foresees an educational landscape in which “more than 80 percent of professional degree programs [sic] … will be earned online.” Why? Because “rising tuition, declining government subsidies, stagnant endowments, and increased competition are challenging higher education like never before.”

In other words, it’s all about the cost. As the friend who sent me that essay noted, nowhere does it say anything about the quality of education people will be receiving in this brave new world. That’s because all too often politicians, like administrators, aren’t concerned with quality; they’re more interested in the bottom line. And it’s not just Republican politicians, like Jeb Bush, who fall into that category: The state senator in California who originally proposed outsourcing to MOOCs is a Democrat.

I understand that politicians have a duty to be good stewards of public money, as do college administrators; and I certainly don’t have any objection to cutting costs where we can. But when our primary objective becomes making degrees as cheap as possible, rather than providing the best education possible, we’re missing the mark as educators and doing no good for the future of our students or our nation.

That’s why it’s so important for us as faculty members to realize who’s driving the online locomotive. It’s not students, only about a third of whom take any online classes. It’s not our colleagues, the vast majority of whom still aren’t fully on board with online learning in general, much less with MOOCs. And it’s certainly not employers, who over all seem to prefer that students take most of their coursework in traditional classrooms. It’s the administrators and the politicians, whose priorities—let’s be honest—are not the same as ours.

I sometimes wonder if the train is so big, and moving so fast, that it’s just going to derail itself due to basic physics. But unless that happens, and until it does, the only way to slow it down is for enough of us to refuse to get on board and instead line the tracks, signaling “proceed with caution” with all our might.

Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College and author of “Building a Career in America’s Community Colleges.” He writes monthly for our community-college column and blogs for “On Hiring.” The opinions expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.”

MOOCs: Why I am confused

Why am I confused about MOOCs? I am confused because we have had online learning since the mid 1990s. We have conducted a million research studies on them, we have tried them, tested them, all colleges have them, etc. But all of a sudden we change their name to MOOCs? What changed? I honestly cannot figure it out. Maybe the way universities would accept credit could change but nothing about learning in the course has. For instance, I was reading this article sent to me by a colleague yesterday and saw something really interesting in the article “Tennessee will run two kinds of courses — traditional and online — side-by-side, and the results will be compared.” I thought wow – didnt we do this 1000 times in 1995? Dont we have a book entitled the no significant difference phenomenon? Havent we tested everything in online courses from comparing them for achievement, looking at social presence, class numbers, workload, time to teach, etc? SO WHY THEN ARE WE REPEATING THESE EXACT SAME EXPERIMENTS? Its not like we have 1 experiment, we literally have 1000s to look through which answers all of these questions. So are MOOCs the future of learning? Here is why I think they are not. 1) Online learning is tried and tested. Completion rates are nearly half that of regular universities. That means on average 60% of students graduate from a normal college who start, around 30% graduate from online universities. Why the high drop out rate? MOTIVATION. Why do MOOCs, who actually have less intructor/student interaction believe that they would improve that? I think motivation will actually be worse. 2) Why would someone pay $1200 for a course that has 5000 students in it vs paying $1200 for a course that has 10 students in it and a dedicated instructor? 3) The biggest scam of all MOOCs – believe that the content designed by leaders in the field is somehow better than the content designed by UoP. Guess what UoP, Walden, etc hire these same people to develop their courses. There isnt a difference. Its no different than using that person’s book in the class. Unless you have them as a professor and have access to them, there is no difference.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for the day. Until I see how MOOCs are any advantage to a student I will continue to think they are just an extension to online learning and soon enough coursera will be another online school that competes with UoP and Walden.

MOOCS – The good and the bad – My experience

After taking several MOOC courses I am ready to speak about what I think are the good and bad qualities about them. Just to described what I did. I look at several of the larger sites like Coursera and signed up for courses with them and also went to smaller MOOCs that were available just so I could see what was out there.

Honestly if I had to sum up the experience, it was like finding a good website with tons of good information about one topic. It didn’t really have that ‘course’ feeling because there was nothing at stake for me but it was more than just a website. I guess I would describe as a website with a emphasis on learning rather than just sharing information. I now think MOOCs are just learning websites, not really courses. Anyway…

They organize a lot of good material in one place. This is great if I am interested in a topic. It’s easier than having to search the internet or library for the material. In many ways, I felt like MOOCs were just organized text books that were digital and more alive than an actual book – again, learning websites. Kris is a leading expert in ADA website compliance, who can guide you and consult.

Most of the courses were set up the same – video, quizzes, and a discussion forum.

The videos were good. It’s nice to have an instructor talk about a topic. But some were like 70 minutes. Really can I look at you present your PPT for 70 minutes? I would encourage those professors to break up their videos in 5 minute chunks. An issue with the videos is that if I had a question, I could not stop the instructor and ask them about it and the discussion forums were not much help as the instructor cannot answer a question when 70,000 people (let alone 25) are in a course. Some of the courses videos were better than others, with some using professional video editing software and others just using youtube. I preferred the youtube videos because I could bookmark or save them if I wanted to use as resources later on.

Quizzes were very generic. Hitting mostly low level knowledge. I guess this is to be expected unless the instructor has been trained on assessing high level knowledge though multiple choice questions, which is not easy feat, I would guess most of these automatic scoring assessments are not really that good and leave a bad taste in most people’s mouths. A few of the courses had assignments and again these were not graded by people but rather automatic score checkers. Not a bad thing but I think these features were highly underutilized and there needs to be a better system if these are to be actual courses.

Forums. I thought the forums were ok. I think this had to do with the instructors experience teaching online. Some of the courses had like 30 different places to talk to each other which is obviously way too confusing. The courses that had less than 10 topics seemed a lot more organized however you are really just talking with classmates. It was tough to get the instructor to read the posts, so these are not much better than any internet forum. I didn’t feel like I was in a course forum – Not that its bad but you need instructor interaction for this to be a course. Otherwise its just a website geared towards learning.

Overall I found the experience fun but there was nothing new here. There are plenty of websites out there that teach me about something and are better than MOOCs. There were some really good ones though but I was never wowed by anything. It just seemed like a lot of the courses were thrown together in order to ‘teach’ a MOOC rather then put together a really good course. Again, I guess that is what you should expect when you are not paying anyone to put these courses together and you do not know if the instructors have ever really been taught to teach online. I am not saying there were not good instructors but even a good instructor needs to learn how to teach online before doing so. I guess overall I was somewhat disappointed I wasn’t wowed. I was expecting more. Everything just seemed to rushed.

Anyway, those were my initial feelings. I avoided posting stats about MOOCs in this post but will do so in the near future.

My take on the future of MOOCs

I just responded to a post in LinkedIn and I thought I would share this here. I have not spoken about MOOCs much because I still feel we are in very early stages of them. So here are my current thoughts when someone asked if these will replace traditional colleges:

It is way too early to see where MOOCs really fit in. I saw these same conversations in the late 90s when online education first became popular. The problem with MOOCs and other forms of distance ed is that the dropout rates are nearly double that of F2F colleges. Until we can get over that motivation (really self motivation and discipline) barrier I am not sure how these will replace the traditional colleges. That is just one issue of many. MOOCs might solve some problems in higher ed but they also create some as well. Considering most are in experimental phases and the companies pushing them have really yet to test their business model, I would guess that we have a ways to go before we start seeing if there is a UoP or Walden U type success in the MOOC world. I am not saying it will not happen. I am saying that there are a lot of hurdles MOOCs need to first overcome. When I see one of the main companies roll out a proven successful business model, then I will be less skeptical but as of now its way too early to tell.

Minnesota Bans MOOCs….then doesn’t

Last week the state of Minnesota banned MOOCs. Why? Apparently they have a law that states that any university trying to operate within their border must meet state standards (as in get approval to operate). This would be OK if Minnesota had some kind of quality program but my guess is that the people in charge are not even educators and that there are companies that stand to lose money if the state pushed to get MOOCs out. Here is an excerpt from the chronicle:

“The state’s Office of Higher Education has informed the popular provider of massive open online courses, or MOOC’s, that Coursera is unwelcome in the state because it never got permission to operate there. It’s unclear how the law could be enforced when the content is freely available on the Web, but Coursera updated its Terms of Service to include the following caution:

Notice for Minnesota Users:

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.”


Apparently, facing backlash from the higher ed community, Minnesota plans to ignore the law and let these programs exist within its borders –

Now there are a lot of good issues here. First, these MOOCs are free and offer no credit….plus they are online. How could a state really police them? Should a state really be able to police what is on the internet? On one hand you have states rights and on the other you have a state telling its citizens what they can and cannot see online which brings up a whole host of issues. I would not be surprised if we see more of these types of situations in the very near future so keep your eyes peeled:)

MOOCs: MoocDonald’s article a must read

Massive open online course’s (MOOCs)…..I see some advantages, disadvantages, and learning and research opportunities within their domain but am still undecided as to what my predictions are for them and how they will impact education so I am holding off writing about that. But I did read an article yesterday by one of my favorite faculty (Dr. Kyle Peck) from Penn State University and think it is a very good read. Dr. Peck is an expert in this field (probably more than anyone else I know for this kind of thing), he has both corporate and education experience, has managed his own charter school, has served in management at the university, and has worked with many many school districts, so he knows his stuff. I do have to say I really like some of the ideas coming out of this article:
“Most of us have options when it comes to food.  We can buy groceries and make choices in terms of quality — from junk food to organic, from Captain Crunch to granola and corn dogs to kale.  When we eat out we can grab fast food, stop at a chain restaurant, or choose a fine dining experience, although for these restaurants to run they need the best POS, and they can get the meaning of POS from to find the best software for their establishments.  We can eat there, eat in our cars, or take it home. We can finish it off at home as a midnight snack.  Different options make sense at different stages of our lives, and on different days, and these choices have implications in terms of cost, time, social interactions, and ultimately, in terms of overall wellness.  For billions of less fortunate others, however, options are few and a next meal is not guaranteed…..” rest of article here