Real college classes have writing assignments and required reading.

1 04 2013

Do most MOOCs have required reading? I’ve been conversing with the proprietor of the blog Capitalist Imperialist Pig about that question in the comments here. They challenged me to look at all the excellent readings in two MOOCs, Gregory Nagy’s Ancient Greek Hero and Dan Ariely’s Coursera MOOC from Duke, so I did.*

Here’s the “Suggested Reading” statement for Ariely’s MOOC:

I will cover some of the material that is in my 3 books Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (2008), The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home (2010), and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves (2012).

In other words, there’s no required reading, and one writing assignment which is (of course) peer-graded.

The Nagy course is better on reading. There’s a lot of free downloadable translations of Greek texts that you clearly need to read in order to pass the typical mulltiple choice lecture quizzes. But here’s the assessment and evaluation portion:

Students will be evaluated on assessment performance and participation. Assessments will be conducted each “hour” of the course. These will consist of quizzes on the reading (names, places, who is speaking to whom, etc.), as well as the application of principles and concepts central to the course.

Class participation, multiple choice quizzes and no writing at all.

Do you see a trend yet? Then consider this:

Yes, that’s right. You can learn all about great 20th Century ideas at the University of Texas without having to read about any of them. And don’t forget about Harvard lite (law school edition)!

The trend should be clear now: MOOC providers don’t want to scare off potential students with too much work. Talk about teaching in a strait jacket! This is exactly why higher education should never be privatized in the first place. It degrades the quality of the product…a lot.

I’m sorry if this bursts anyone’s bubble, but watching videos on the Internet and maybe writing a few very short essays that the professor never sees isn’t college. Real college classes have writing assignments and required reading. Real college classes require access to the professor. To say MOOCs like these can somehow replace an actual college education is tantamount to fraud.

But that fraud isn’t just going to hurt students left with no access to college but for MOOCs. It’s going to hurt society in general too. This is from UW-Madison History Professor (Go Badgers!) Bill Cronon’s presidential address to the last American Historical Association convention (no subscription needed). [Warning: this story will make any real English or History teacher (and probably more than a few others) cry.]:

Still more poignant and worrisome was the young man who came up to me after a lecture I had just given at another university introducing the major themes of the very long book about Portage, Wisconsin, on which I have been working for longer than I care to admit. I sometimes describe that book as “Michener-length,” though that is a reference few students born in the past thirty years would recognize. So I usually add that I expect the final book to be at least five or six hundred pages long, covering as it does the history of this small Midwestern town from the glacier to now. The illustrated talk I give about Portage is intended to be a crowd-pleaser, with lots of engaging images and stories, and at the end of this particular lecture, a shy young man came up to say how much he had enjoyed it. I thanked him for his praise, but was then mystified when he added that he was very sorry he would never be able to read the book on which my talk was based. I sheepishly told him that although I was taking a long time to finish it, it would eventually be published, and he would certainly be able to read it then. He shook his head and said that was not what he meant. He reminded me that I had described the book as being more than five hundred pages long. Then, with a sad and embarrassed look on his face, he said he was simply incapable of reading such a book, that he had never in his life read anything so long. I was taken aback, but I am quite certain he was speaking in earnest, and that his regret was quite real.

Educating the masses without fixing the problem which that story represents isn’t really educating the masses, no matter what the MOOC maniacs tell you. At least we can blame the delusions of the venture capitalists on self interest. What’s the excuse of everyone in academia who should actually know better?

* These MOOC syllabus links require accounts from the MOOC providers in question. And yes, if you’re wondering, I did get an edX account in order to write this post. [The things I do for this blog!]

Update: A reliable source tells me that I screwed up in my quick read of Professor Ariely’s syllabus. Apparently, there is a substantial list of regular readings scattered around the Internet that I didn’t see. That would make his class more like Professor Nagy’s, a MOOC with a higher workload than most. My apologies to both Professor Ariely and CIP. In defense of my overall point though, I’ll note that the two Coursera world history courses that I’ve been directly involved with have no required reading at all.

Late Update: Since this post is getting a lot of late attention from people who are likely new visitors here, they might also want to read my follow up post on this subject, Some MOOCs are more inferior than others.

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48 responses

1 04 2013
Noelle

Readings are not scattered across the internet – required readings are listed along with recommended readings in the list of assignments each week of the course – all neatly organized. There were even pre-course readings listed before the class formally started. They are listed by week, are in addition to the ones you cited in your article, and in addition to the video lectures, the multiple quizzes on the readings and the lectures, the writing assignment and the participation in forum discussions. There are several, lengthy and complex readings per week. As in offline university settings, some courses are more difficult than others, some have more readings, some require more writing, some have more tests, others are quite easy.

1 04 2013
Jonathan Rees

Noelle,

While I am in no position to question your assessment of the Ariely course, I strongly contest your conclusion. I have never, ever encountered a face-to-face history course, even an easy one, with no required reading.

The other point worth making which I didn’t make above is that MOOC providers take credit for all the people who’ve enrolled whether they participate or not. Even in a course with assigned reading, they still aren’t educating the masses unless the masses actually do it. I can fail students who don’t do my assigned reading. In MOOCs, they just quietly disengage. No harm, no foul – unless a MOOC is the only access to higher ed you have, and sadly that’s the way it appears things are headed for too many people.

1 04 2013
Noelle

History is my primary field of study, and no I’ve never taken a course without required reading – I’ve also never taken one during which I didn’t do my own related readings. There isn’t a point in my life where I could read that I wasn’t reading history books – even when I wasn’t taking related history courses. I did have classmates that only read what was required in class – and avoided as they could, courses with a rigorous slate of readings. They graduated, but I’d not consider them better educated on chosen topics than someone who simply read rigorously on their own and otherwise followed what more knowledgeable people shared with them through any non-university environment. Each person brings their own level of intellect, curiousity and standards of being ‘learned’ on a topic.

The Higher Ed you are defending is very different than obtaining higher education. Everyone has access to higher education – become better educated. Our social challenge is how to make Higher Ed available to as many people who desire to become better educated.

Most of us know that while we give higher regard to some universities over others, that a person attending a less-regarded university can not only be as knowledgeable but even far better educated than those who attended a very prestigious university. In many cases, the argument for attending a more prestigious university is based more on the desire to be associated with the prestige – to claim superior intellect and social status, than to actually be knowledgeable. The way in which society judges knowledge is not consistently accurate or fair.

Many formal academic scholars of today are mostly scholars of the intellectual legacies of people who could not provide a sufficiently impressive CV based on academic courses taken, passed and degrees held in the proper field. They studied on their own, did their own experiment, wrote about and challenged their own observations. They found ways to build their knowledge and met their own standards for testing that knowledge – such that it has stood for centuries after their deaths, spawning scholars who are mainly considered brilliant because they have learned what those self-learners thought, and then published a books, articles trying to find ways to restate and add a bit of their own thought to the original ideas. Maybe set up a nice website, gave some lectures to people less familiar with those original ideas, and talked a lot to people similarly familiar.

I think MOOCs provide flexibility for learning. My interest is in expanding into new areas, preparing for academic and professional shifts. Some are learning topics they find interesting but don’t have time, money or confidence to take them as a traditional university course. Some are refreshing knowledge in areas they’ve studied or obtained degrees, or gained professional experience but not formal academic experience. Some are people who’d feel too uneducated to sit among students, too shy about not being young enough, smart enough, in a degree program, but see a way to learn – and perhaps challenge their perceptions about what they know or can’t learn.

I see the challenge for brick and mortar universities – less people paying for their classes. The challenge for professors is the idea that people can learn – and be actual students of a topic – without requiring their oversight. There is also the challenge for MOOCs to not follow the same path as universities that are indeed more focused on filling classes with paying students. Some of my friends are professors at fine universities and the extent to which they pander to the desire of students to pass classes with the least amount of learning is sickening. I don’t see this as different than the low-standards of MOOCs as you’ve described – except that students aren’t paying for the privilege.

Is the competition between universities and MOOCs about actually educating people, or about money and ego? Many traditional universities already have options to evaluate, credit and otherwise include students arriving with knowledge or pursuing studies independently. Many people will take their MOOC experience into formal academic and professional settings, and are aware they need to pursue a higher standard of knowledge than someone just taking a course to learn a bit more than before. I like the idea of people having such easy access to learning because we need learning to not just be considered something you do to pass tests in a university course. My perspective on learning was certainly shaped by many adults that for various reasons never entered a university course.

Some people exposed to a topic through MOOCs will realize that they can do well in the topic – countering bad experiences they had in classrooms and teachers that told them otherwise. They will gain confidence to go enter classrooms and compete with students only learning in classes to pass tests. They will often likely become the superior students and the most knowledge students.

I am taking Prof. Ariely’s course and find it interesting precisely because it is so rigorous. Prof. Ariely won’t know how much I have truly learned, and I certainly will take formal tests and classes later, will build upon it in other ways, to prove it to doubters such as yourself, but that I know I have learned means the most to me. Some of the classmates have undergraduate and or graduate degrees in economics. Some are completely new to economics. Everyone has their own plans for what they are going to learn – and everyone who wants to learn, will. My primary complaint is the same I’d have in a traditional course with so large numbers of students – some aspects of your work can’t be evaluated. I notice that many courses today have so many students that the evaluation is done by teaching assistants – the professor just gives the lectures. Large classes make it difficult for the classmate/teacher interaction that is a unique value, be it in a traditional or online class.

22 04 2013
ExpendibleNo

We are in total agreement. Having acquired my bachelor’s degree from Kaplan (online) and my master’s from Argosy (online), I can testify that I was quite impressed with the curriculum which included reading lists, both mandatory and recommended. After six straight years of online college education I can also attest to the fact that the level or quality of learning online depends as much, if not more so, on the individual student. I was ambitious enough to follow readings that weren’t even considered by the school because of my curiosity and craving to learn more. Many students lack that interest and instead restrict their focus to obtaining the degree as soon as possible.

In just two years at Kaplan University I had written over 200 papers (of which I kept to assist me in future classes) and read more than 40 books and at least 500 research papers. But then there are so many in this country that still look down on for-profit online colleges. There are many improvements I would make but I have to say that in my experience, it takes a serious commitment to learn to actually acquire a “higher education” regardless of the school’s reputation. Only adults attend college and even if the school of choice demands zero reading outside of the mandatory curriculum, the adult student holds the responsibility to get as much out of the experience as possible or else they are wasting their time and money.

My personal belief is that any education should be available to anyone that wants to learn. If it were not for online university, I would simply never have had the time to get my degrees and the immense knowledge that came with the endeavor. Now I interact with compatibility with graduates from Stanford and Harvard and I do not feel at all inferior when doing so.

Thank you Kaplan and Argosy for a chance I would not have otherwise had.

1 04 2013
libbysawyer

As a small note, it would be helpful if the acronym MOOC linked to a definition. I wasn’t familiar with the term and had to go elsewhere to look it up.

I agree with you that online courses do not compare to in-classroom instruction. I always worry about people going out into the workforce with high school and online courses (such as those offered by The University of Phoenix) as their only educational background. Can they really perform their job with the same quality as someone who sat in a classroom or lab and was hands-on with their field of study?

16 04 2013
Midwestern Plant Girl

I still don’t know what an mooc is. But my guess it’s an online college.
I think it’s all the individuals fault, not the university. If you want to learn you will, if you want to skip thru life doing things half assed, well, there are those people also. Remember, D’s get degrees!

1 04 2013
Noelle

Interestingly, you had a preconceived notion based on maybe just two courses forming your knowledge, then used that to (wrongly) judge Prof Ariely’s course as proving your knowledge. Disregarding all of our conversation on the topic, including those better ‘educated’ (those who actually know the full syllabus of the course) – had you been more thorough in your self-study you could have been as educated to prevent your initial assumption. You are an educated person, even related to the points you are making, yet you were entirely wrong because your own process of obtaining knowledge wasn’t as rigorous as it should have been. Shouldn’t you be among those most mindful about such things? Surely some of us who spoke up to correct your point aren’t as educated on most or all of the topics involved, but whether or not we have personal motive to counter your point, we all engaged in/benefited from the process and attentiveness for thorough understanding. Mainly, I am wondering how you managed to “know” that there were no required readings for the course and that even the recommended readings were only what you cited. You had a strong bias, and held on to it.

Even when proven wrong, you held on to your original bias while admitting only that you were wrong in this particular case. However, it is easy, as was the point of my overly-long, coffee deprived, distracted by ‘some professor’s really long reading list’ comment, to consider that the same flaw that made you wrong about Prof. Ariely’s course, would also apply to many, most other courses and hence MOOC’s in general. The variation in courses that would make you wrong rather than right in your assumptions should itself be enough to make your fundamental perspective functionally wrong.

If you changed to simply say some courses are more rigorous than others and should be given due regard based on how rigorous they are – and how much people have learned – you’d be accurate and maintain your overall value of judging a course by how much is taught and learned. This would be a good way to critique MOOC’s and abide by your own standards of knowledge. I can’t imagine most people wouldn’t agree this view of learning – and we’d all share the criticism of academic institutions that focus on profit – or numbers in seats – regardless of the overall quality of teaching and learning going on within their actual or virtual walls.

1 04 2013
Jonathan Rees

Noelle:

The only reason I picked those courses is because CIP suggested them. Please don’t use my mistake to assume that I am wrong about all MOOCs because I am not. All the humanities courses mentioned here which do have readings have less reading and far less written work (if any) than students would do on campus. Just because some MOOCs are watered down more than others does not make my overall point incorrect.

1 04 2013
Noelle

I absolutely agree with your assessment about standards. I think they should be upheld – and improved – in all educational settings. I wonder if programs that are consciously inclusive of people for whom academics isn’t their full-time and primary activity alter according to such an audience, and therefore would attract people who while they don’t want to learn less, do want a structure that allows them to still learn. Same experience as students who are going to school part-time or have to work, as compared to those students who are full-time and have no competing priorities. I don’t assume people are unmindful of the differences, and perhaps this is how MOOCs provide access to different though no always lesser students in start or outcome.

From Dr. Ariely’s required readings:

“In a famous passage of Mark Twain’s novel Tom Sawyer, Tom is faced with the unenviable job of whitewashing his aunt’s fence in full view of his friends who will pass by shortly and whose snickering promises to add insult to injury. When his friends do show up, Tom applies himself to the paintbrush with gusto, presenting the tedious chore as a rare opportunity. Tom’s friends wind up not only paying for the privilege of taking their turn at the fence, but deriving real pleasure from the task—a win–win outcome if there ever was one. In Twain’s words, Tom “had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”

I do understand how people consider the more difficult knowledge is obtain the more valuable it is, and sometimes the quality of that difficulty is what provides the value as it results in this discussed case a higher level of learning. But again, there are varied requirements and student motivations. Academics are watered-down also in settings where students have a greater sense of entitlement to good grades and passing classes, especially if they or their parents pay a lot or are of a particular social class, than on actually challenging them to learn on the level most of us expect.

Interesting side note, the Tennessee legislature rapidly pushing through a rule to penalize families that receive welfare with reduced/ended benefits if one of their children performs below a certain standard in school. Proponent argue this is done to enforce learning upon a needy population, but of course they are most interested in ways to cut welfare recipients. In a family with just one child falling below standard and others excelling, I wonder if benefits are still cut? How will the threat or actuality of having benefits cut impact a student? Do we want parents blaming children for lack of welfare benefits? If the goal was truly to just encourage greater learning by the system, aren’t there other ways to help those weaker students than by holding their families financial survival as hostage? Is there a corresponding penalty to students in families not on welfare for a cycle or semester of grade that don’t meet a standard? Are there similar penalties for other behaviors of children that financially target the parents? Maybe alternate access to education can help those students and parents targeted by a definite social bias with regard to family income and education-levels.

As mentioned, I don’t think you are all wrong, just that you are not all right. While universities measure their value by how inaccessible they are to certain students, we should as a society value learning as a tool outside of those more inaccessible venues. I thought your initial comment was an unfair blanket assessment based on the idea that too much accessibility automatically degrades the learning opportunity.

I agree with the concern about the extent of reading, writing and overall learning going on in classrooms that produce our ‘educated’ members of society. As a nation it makes us less competitive – but then again so does limited access to education due to costs. When people have more access to education, there is the potential for more people to pursue higher education – instead of believing that it is something only some people can do based only on time, money, academic beginnings/class structures.

Ideally there should be some way for traditional colleges and MOOCs to share the value of education in a way that makes it accessible to all. However, there is a definite bias in the U.S. about who can and should access higher education, and the challenge to those desiring to limit it not by ability or interest, but by more traditional demographic hierarchies.

We can’t have everybody running around thinking they can learn too, can we? That leads to anarchy! How will we maintain the traditional boundaries of who has the most prestigious degree, and who took a real course and who didn’t? Or – perhaps we spark more people to realize that despite the multiple barriers they may encounter to higher education, they can indeed learn too – and perhaps become better educated.

It will be interesting to see how MOOCs and traditional universities work together to provide better access, and how this challenges traditional social biases to broader access to education and credibility around being knowledgeable. A more rigorous and effective learning environment is not determined exclusively by how much homework is given, and does not exclude the variation in extended learning engaged in by students relative to their particular environment and goals. Those arenas should be flexible enough to allow movement between them for students, and in our perceptions.

1 04 2013
Jonathan Rees

“We can’t have everybody running around thinking they can learn too, can we? That leads to anarchy! How will we maintain the traditional boundaries of who has the most prestigious degree, and who took a real course and who didn’t?”

I hope you don’t think this blog (or this post in particular) is all about shutting down access to education. It’s about making sure that everyone gets access to the highest quality education possible. As I’ve noted before, MOOCs should be like the WPA for college professors. Teachers should create a huge demand for teachers to help students learn more, but that’s not even on the table because that won’t cut costs.

This is function of economics, not education. That means that even the best MOOC possible is not the best higher education has to offer. I think that’s a problem.

2 04 2013
Mike H

Hello,

Your use of UT’s edX MOOC as an example of how little reading is required seems very odd as the course is not yet available so there is no way of knowing how much reading is required or not required in the course.

The item you note is a prerequisite for the class. Here are the requirements for the course:

PREREQUISITES

None, except for intermediate fluency in English reading/writing.
NOTE: While not formally required, prior to or during the course, you might wish to read the book:
Churchill, Winston S. The Gathering Storm. Mariner Books, 1986.

MOOC’s have their problems no need to create fictional ones.
Thanks

2 04 2013
Jonathan Rees

Mike,

What we need to test the strength of this argument is a systematic study that examines reading and writing requirements across all MOOCs everywhere. I’m not going to do it, but I will refrain from making further massive generalizations on this front until some aspiring higher ed researcher inevitably does that work.

4 04 2013
Some MOOCs are more inferior than others. | More or Less Bunk

[…] got caught in a bind earlier this week trying to judge MOOC quality on the basis of the number of assignments a course […]

10 04 2013
Susan Davis

Reblogged this on Learning and Labor.

15 04 2013
pezcita

College doesn’t need to be easier or harder, just more practical. I don’t care what the major, everyone who has put in their 2-4 years should be ready to take on a real job. One look at the percentage of college grads still living with their parents tells you that’s not the case, and it hasn’t been for a long time. Economic woes are just an excuse universities hide behind to cover their own poor performance. Some of us put a lot into college in the way of papers and reading assignments. We expect to see some sort of return on this massive investment of time and money, but of course that’s too much to ask.

15 04 2013
gigibson

You make a very potent point, university/college doesn’t actually prepare you for the real world the way it should, arguably. Having studied International Politics for 3 years, I feel I would be pretty capable at policy research/analysis/formulation. I could write a history text book too, with the funding. But human resources? Press relations? Diplomatic dialogue? Speech writing? These things should have been covered in the course, I think, so that us graduates would already have the experience and knowledge to take into a work place fitting for the degree scheme.
Don’t get me wrong though I do not blame the university fully for my woes, I’ve spotted the holes in their cirriculum and am attempting to fix them for myself. Not really what I paid £3000 a year for though.

15 04 2013
allthoughtswork

I put in five years at a major university that spanned two majors, five minors, and a slew of extracurricular interests and here is what I know for sure. It was my insatiable curiosity and love of learning that fueled the whole experience. I didn’t go because I thought it would get me a job, I didn’t go for the prestige of being able to drop the name of that school at cocktail parties, I didn’t go because I had any sort of team spirit, love of community, or world consciousness. I went because learning stuff was fun. Still is.

I don’t credit my alma mater for that, I credit myself. I was always the kid bringing home the upper limit of library books every week. Three decades later, I still go straight to the nonfiction section to see what new goodies science and philosophy is churning out. I’ve gobbled quantum theory, consciousness, neuroscience, epigenetics, world spirituality, marketing, cellular biology, cosmology, business theory, and music with gusto–none of which came close to my original majors.

Most people think I’m nuts, they call all that research “work.” I call it fun. Perspective is everything. Some people just get off on autodidactic exploration. Others need to learn in an entirely different way. The only sad part is that people laud one route and scoff at the other. To me, the knowledge is what counts, not the delivery method. I always ask people, “When was the exact moment you learned what gravity was and who taught you?” They don’t know. I ask, “Are you pretty much an expert at using it now?” They laugh. Then I say, “Do you think it would have made any difference if you had learned about it at school or on your own out of a book or in a story from your great grandmother? Would that affect how you use it now?” They usually get the point.

My guess is that we’re headed towards a system of multifaceted testing that disregards type of schooling. How you learned it will become far less important than the fact that you know it. We’ve left it up to the reputations of colleges and universities to regulate mastery in their graduates but that system is crumbling. People see the famous name diplomas on the walls of their doctor’s office and they assume those mean excellence. But how do they know that doctor didn’t just go to medical school in response to family pressure or out of a desire for money and prestige, screw around in all his or her classes, and squeak by with a C average? Wouldn’t we all rather have the person fascinated by the human body and determined to master its secrets holding the scalpel?

If you love to learn, dive in. If you don’t, find another way to enjoy life. Variety exists in this paradigm for a reason.

15 04 2013
rami ungar the writer

I’m proud to say at Ohio State University we are regularly required to read very long books, write essays that teachers (or sometimes GTAs) read and grade, and that I regularly read books over 300 pages, and occasionally ones that are over 1000 pages.

15 04 2013
nikhilvenkatesa

Interesting post, but I want to direct your attention to the MOOC from Wesleyan on Coursera: The Modern And The Postmodern. Every week we read new texts, most times complete books, including most recently Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents and Woolf’s To The Lighthouse. I think it has a pretty solid reading list, but I’m fairly certain the peer assessments are the real letdown of this course, as well as MOOCs in general.

15 04 2013
broadsideblog

With all due respect to a 600-page book — really?

I’m in my 50s and read all day every day to make my living as a journalist and non-fiction author. Very few books are sufficiently well-written to sustain anyone’s interest through 600 pages and few subjects compelling enough either. How many books of that length have you ever read — for pure pleasure? Demanding that much time and attention of readers today, whether for academic credit or not, is a pretty high bar. Not that they are stupid or lazy but that many other writers are quite able to tell their stories in a tighter narrative. I agree with other commenters here — why should learning de facto be a painful and exhausting experience? Intellectual rigor doesn’t mean wading through 600 pages of anything!

And, again, with all due respect to that professor’s deep and abiding passion for Portage, Wisconsin, there is probably a very limited market of readers lined up to consume 600 pages about a small Wisconsin town, let alone 300 pages. My two books have been well-read and well-reviewed and used in college classes. Neither is 600 pages in length and both cover national issues in depth.

15 04 2013
Benny

I think that the challenge put forth by MOOC’s is that they provide information, but they force the students to educate themselves and look through the vast reaches of the internet to research and gather information.

The low level testing of the course material is where they go wrong, but I think a system like this can be, in fact, very beneficial for the learning process of the real world. For instance, I’ll learn of something on a TedTalk, then look it up and click through links until I am satisfied. That’s how real learning works outside of school.

As a counter-argument, many assignments don’t help in the learning process, as I have encountered and I’m sure many reading this have come across as well. By saying required readings and writing assignments makes a class REAL college class is overgeneralizing.

But for the argument given in the article. The approach has it’s flaws and can be greatly improved. I don’t approach the professor and if I do an email to him, the teaching assistant, or my peers tend to solve the problem.

Just my two cents.

— 3rd year Student

15 04 2013
lawrenceofcanadia

While I agree reading is an intrical part of learning, I also believe that other learning materials should be available in order to help learn. It is wrong that if students aren’t expected to read and study but it is important to remember that we all learn in different ways which is why I never understood why people insist on teaching us all the same way.
Personally I don’t agree with exams but prefer assignments
Wasn’t it Einstein who said “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

15 04 2013
barnabus50

I have to admit that I can remember more about my education as an undergraduate when I received my BA in 1986 than when I received my online MBA 24 years later in 2010. I still rely on great foundational ideas concerning history, Economics, American studies to name just three areas of interest. I can even list most every class I took and give an overall impression on my less interesting courses and very detailed account of the courses I was deeply interested in. Whatever I learned as an online MBA student I have almost completely forgotten. And here’s the dig: I worked my way through my undergraduate studies never borrowing a dime. For my MBA I took out school loans amounting to 60,000 while working full time. Talk about regrets. The brick and mortar face to face environment worked better for me even though I graduated with distinction from my online MBA program. I found the human element in traditional learning much richer than that which I did online. And I did meet some excellent professors online, one of whom I still stay in contact with because she impressed me with her ability to teach a very difficult management organization course. The work just didn’t stick. It could be because typical MBA programs are pretty dry and I prefer a variety of topics especially in the humanities. The online experience was convenient and I worked harder than I did as an undergraduate. Maybe I just picked the wrong course of study. It has certainly not given me any career advantages in this economy.

Of course, I am willing to admit that due to the vagaries of age my long term memory is undoubtedly better than my short to mid term memory and that may have been a factor. But I still remember things which I have learned recently as long as the subject interests me. Maybe that’s the key.

16 04 2013
debramoolenaar

every educational opportunity offers as much from it as the student is willing to put into it- those that want to learn will and those who do not will not -I believe the problem is lack of work ethic -those who believe or are taught to believe that the world owes them a living and not the other way around will not get good jobs – and those who do (eventually) will (or even become a creator of jobs)

16 04 2013
S.C.

I’m not sure how I feel about online courses. They’re great for people who can’t attend school normally, but I don’t think regular college students should be allowed, under any circumstances, to take courses online. There’s a world of difference between sitting behind your screen and actually having to go to a classroom or a lecture hall.

As for the reading load, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a history or related course that I didn’t have to read a thousand pages for (on the low end.) I’ve also never been able to pass a course without writing something, usually in the ballpark of 30 – 50 pages combined throughout the course. Spread out over a semester, these are relatively easy courseloads to carry. If any of these kids plan on going to law school, they’ll be in for a nasty shock.

16 04 2013
moderndayruth

I am in SE Europe, Montenegro and not so long ago i listened to tv debate where two credible academics claimed that many of the student who graduate from HUMANITARIAN departments have not read a single book in the course of 3y long BA studies… Right, many of those are simply diploma mills, but several (presumably)are not. My own saddest experience is flabbergasting as well, i witnessed a MA in English literature asking an Irish person (on an official gathering mind you) whether KKK was an Irish clan (?!) and i was there when MA in economy extended their condolences to a visitor from Gaza strip on passing of Benazir Bhutto… I am not kidding you, the levels of global dumbing down are outrageous. I’ve said it before – i am afraid that the movie “Idiocracy” at the end of things will turn out to be a documentary :(((

16 04 2013
beefygeek

I currently attend the University of Phoenix online. We are required to read 3 chapters in one day, participate in weekly discussions (twice a week), answer back to weekly discussions (twice, 4 times a week), and usually have assignments due for a math course and 2 papers due from the additional course in one week. Anyone who said University of Phoenix online was a cake walk is sadly mistaken.

16 04 2013
katie

My two cents, I took a course on Coursera, everything it covered I had previously read out of my own interest on the subject. All of those readings were significantly easier for me to pay attention to, I guess bland videos don’t do it for me though.

I would never consider them a new replacement for traditional university, but maybe something for those with busy lives who still want to learn new topics?

16 04 2013
Will the last non-super professor in academia please turn out the lights when they leave? | More or Less Bunk

[…] realize that I’ve been kind of shrill lately, but this kind of complacency just scares me to death. Yes, skilled iron and steel […]

16 04 2013
elhuerote

My first 1300 page book was “Executive Orders” by Tom Clancy. I read it in the third grade. It was published in 1997 and eerily begins with a commercial airliner being used as a terrorist’s weapon to kill government leaders on Capital Hill in D.C. I say eerily because of what happened later on September 11, 2001.

16 04 2013
Freshly Riffed 28: I’ve Hidden Knives, Like, Everywhere | A VERY STRANGE PLACE

[…] Real College Classes Have Writing Assignments And Required Reading: Writing assignments? Writing assignments?! […]

17 04 2013
phoxis

It completely depends on a person if he/she will look up for the answer then back calculate, or work out the sum. MOOCs does provide an introduction to the topics. One can just invest minimal time and get the answers correct, or can select to read related materials, do practical work and then learn the answer and the bigger picture behind it. In my experience MOOCs were really very helpful. I have completed the Machine Learning class by Andrew Ng, and the Neural Network class by Prof. Hinton and some other classes. These classes definitely *does not* replace university courses, but shows paths and creates an interest of complex subjects in a simple way, and a path which you can follow. If I am interested I can just search for good books and resources and get started, or even get a formal course. It will depend on me.

“To read/write or not to read/write” depends on the person. If the person does want to learn he/she will definitely go down various text, others will just skim things superficially, this happens in physical universities too. In university no one can “teach” us, they can provide resources and support, rest is on our hand.

As a bottom line, i think MOOCs are doing very well reaching out to each and every people interested and not only keeping the subjects inside a boundary, helping students to be exposed to new topics in a simple manner and teaching the basic things, but at this moment they, strictly, should not replace an actual university.

17 04 2013
Ann Kilter

I, too, had to look up MOOCs to find out what it was (sort of). How is a MOOCs different from a traditional on-line course? When I went back to school in 2001-2004, I took five or six on-line courses, along with my campus courses. These online courses did require writing, quizzes, timed tests, and reading assignments. In the case of my business law classes, the “quizzes” were quite challenging. But in some of the online courses, some students could have gotten away without cracking a book, if their general knowledge was broad enough. I could have easily passed a political science course without reading the books. Not as many professors look at your papers as you think… My daughter is a TA (teacher assistant) and it is her job to correct tests, quizzes, and grade papers. At least that is the way it is in the U.S.

Our kids have been told that Wikipedia is not an acceptable “source.” But I said that Wikipedia could be a good place to start your research…it could lead you to other sources. Probably any college/university worth it’s salt should steer away from these loose MOOCs.

19 04 2013
Real college classes have writing assignments and required reading. | examindlife

[…] Real college classes have writing assignments and required reading.. […]

19 04 2013
jrlookingbill

Wherein does your post evaluate written assignments for MOOC’s? This would be, in my opinion, by far the more interesting topic. There is no way for a teacher to evaluate the quality of the students’ reading without written assignments (or in some rare cases multiple choice — but this is at elementary levels only).

21 04 2013
23 04 2013
Tim

Perhaps MOOCs aren’t educational at all? Are they just info-tainment? And are they symptomatic of a wider societal shift?

28 04 2013
@mishidems

I’ve taken a few MOOCs to try it out and I’ve never done any reading, just watched a couple of videos. I know there’s interaction in the form of group assignments, peer based grading and forums (and some do meetups), but it doesn’t feel the same..

28 04 2013
Hitchiking Colorado

More and more, I feel like college is becoming just a social game and not much to do with actual intellectual ability. Can you afford college? Are your parents rich? Well, come on in, the doors are open! Are you creatively intelligent, read widely, but not a test performer and come from a middle class/ poor family? Well, take a risk and get a student loan that is equal in financial bulk to a mortgage loan, and forever be indebted and released to an ever-failing job market. I’m back in school now, but I think academia, overall, is not so much about education, but only about “getting a job.” There is a difference, and it needs to be recognized. I do enjoy academia, but some of my classes, frankly, are a waste of time as I could gain more knowledge from educating myself through books and life experience, as many of the classes, according to a senior professor I have who actually organizes an intellectual classroom experience, with required novel reading, says have been “dumbed down.” It’s wrong for companies to require degrees to get a job- intelligent, creative people are being held back because they a) do not meet the status quo, or b) they don’t have enough money for college. What happens when you are middle class (which means you won’t get financial aid till you are most likely 26), and your parents don’t help you with college? It means you are stuck. Great blog.

2 05 2013
Will Coursera make us stupid? | More or Less Bunk

[…] with Coursera’s format, but I’m not just talking about the format here. I’ve learned not to stake my life on a quick reading of anything MOOC. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of the courses that they offer seem to be […]

10 05 2013
“Warning: This is not college.” | More or Less Bunk

[…] I anticipated, Coursera/Vanderbilt is doing practically everything possible not to scare anybody off. Indeed, […]

12 05 2013
queentruthe

Reblogged this on truthemultimedia.

15 05 2013
Emanuel

What occurs if you are not joyful with the product when you get it?
Some others may perhaps have household obligations that
call for a fully capable motor vehicle.

8 06 2013
separateddavid

I think MOOCs are audio books for people who don’t like to read, or never learned to read on their own. But, from my friends who have (half) participated, it’s more of a commitment device where no one actually holds you accountable.

15 09 2013
What exactly does that certificate represent? | More or Less Bunk

[…] of the most popular posts in the history of this blog is also one of its worst. I published “Real college classes have writing assignments and required reading” on April 1st of this year. It got mentioned in Aaron Bady’s Sunday Reading twice over two […]

6 11 2013
“I’m not a real professor. I just play one on the Internet.” | More or Less Bunk

[…] sexy unless it has a sexy spokesperson. If you don’t want to turn off students with all that nasty reading, why would you want to turn them off by having an old, unattractive person take over their computer […]

8 01 2014
“Andy Warhol, silver screen. Can’t tell them apart at all.” | More or Less Bunk

[…] the lowest common denominator or end up on the dustbin of history. I’m not just talking about required reading or writing assignments here. I’m talking about the material covered in the course overall. As Ann Little implied […]

1 04 2013
Jonathan Rees

CIP,

It’s funny you say that. I just signed up for a nutrition MOOC this summer. We’ll see if I can stick.

As for puting the cart before the horse, if there’s any class at Duke which gives multiple choice quizzes, then my war is already over and I’m on the losing side.

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