TITLE: MOOCs: Have No Fear! -- Or Should We? AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: February 22, 2014 2:05 PM DESC: ----- BODY: The Grumpy Economist has taught a MOOC and says in his analysis of MOOCs:
The grumpy response to moocs: When Gutenberg invented moveable type, universities reacted in horror. "They'll just read the textbook. Nobody will come to lectures anymore!" It didn't happen. Why should we worry now?
The calming effect of his rather long entry is mitigated by other predictions, such as:
However, no question about it, the deadly boring hour and a half lecture in a hall with 100 people by a mediocre professor teaching utterly standard material is just dead, RIP. And universities and classes which offer nothing more to their campus students will indeed be pressed.
In downplaying the potential effects of MOOCs, Cochrane seems mostly to be speaking about research schools and more prestigious liberal arts schools. Education is but one of the "goods' being sold by such schools; prestige and connections are often the primary benefits sought by students there. I usually feel a little odd when I read comments on teaching from people who teach mostly graduate students and mostly at big R-1 schools. I'm not sure their experience of teaching is quite the same as the experience of most university professors. Consequently, I'm suspicious of the prescriptions and predictions they make for higher education, because our personal experiences affect our view of the world. That said, Cochrane's blog spends a lot of time talking about the nuts and bolts of creating MOOCs, and his comments on fixed and marginal costs are on the mark. (He may be grumpy, but he is an economist!) And a few of his remarks about teaching apply just as well to undergrads at a state teaching university as they do to U. of Chicago's doctoral program in economics. One that stood out:
Most of my skill as a classroom teacher comes from the fact that I know most of the wrong answers as well as the right ones.
All discussions of MOOCs ultimately include the question of revenue. Cochrane reminds us that universities...
... are, in the end, nonprofit institutions that give away what used to be called knowledge and is now called intellectual property.
The question now, though, is how schools can afford to give away knowledge as state support for public schools declines sharply and relative cost structure makes it hard for public and private schools alike to offer education at a price reasonable for their respective target audiences. The R-1s face a future just as challenging as the rest of us; how can they afford to support researchers who spend most of their time creating knowledge, not teaching it to students? MOOCs are a weird wrench thrown into this mix. They seem to taketh away as much as they giveth. Interesting times. -----