“MOOC Point/Counterpoint.”

26 04 2014

Unlike Phil Hill and Michael Feldstein, I’m not exactly comfortable with the prospect of watching myself on TV yet. Nevertheless, I can tell you a few things about the above video anyways.

Unless e-Literate TV has a hidden camera in my office, the tape comes from the MOOC Research Initiative Conference in Arlington, TX back in December. While this is billed as a debate between me and Keith Devlin, we never actually got up on podiums at opposite sides of the room. I did, however, spend a lot of time with Keith in Texas (including over beers), so I pretty much know how this is going to go. Instead of “Keith, you ignorant slut,” it will be more of a debate about where to focus the MOOC discussion.

Keith will tell you about everything that went right with his MOOC. I’ll tell you about everything that might go wrong with everybody else’s. Keith will tell you about what his best math students learned, and I’ll talk about how hard it is to do peer grading in the humanities. Keith will tell you about finding math prodigies around the planet, while I’ll fret about all those students MOOCs will leave behind in America.

See! I don’t have to actually watch my own videos if I actually lived them.

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3 responses

26 04 2014
veraewatson15

Two very stimulating and different views of MOOCs. May be a more detailed look at the difference between the humanities and mathematics would clarify the position. In England we have had the Open University for 50 years, it now operates in many countries except the USA I think. It was never a cheap way of educating students who had not had the opportunity for Higher Education in the more usual way. The OU has academic respect. Are we oblivious to the dangers?
On that point there are now no new jobs in the humanities; everything is now directed to maths, science and technology. I have particularly strong feelings about this, my son has a doctorate in American history and no job. Your worst fears come to pass. Sadly mine is not a very well argued comment. I do follow your posts with great interest.

26 04 2014
Phil Hill (@PhilOnEdTech)

I may be biased, but like veraewatson15 I found yours and Keith’s as “two very stimulating and different views of MOOCs”. Michael and I did not set this up as a debate, per se, but rather as showing two different perspectives that illustrate that many issues surrounding MOOCs are complex and not reducible down to binary good-bad answers. You and Keith showed complexity that causes people to engage and think.

You also might be surprised that the selected topics were not as simple as you surmised. Keith actually spoke very little about his MOOC, instead talking about motivations, ideas of scale, and faculty roles. You talked about impact on quality and future scholarship. As an example, here is one section that I think raises some interesting questions on faculty roles (by the way, the ETV episodes have full transcripts, so you can read entire episode without watching yourself if desired).

Keith Devlin: “If you’re a faculty member, you should very much be interested in upending everything, because if society is paying you, one way or another, a pretty good salary to sit back and think about the future of society, then that’s what we should be doing.

“It’s our job to rattle the chains that way and to look for new things. We are given the privilege of thinking about the future; that is one of the things we do. It’s our job to rattle the chains and look for new things.

“We preserve the past, we curate the present and then we, we think about the future. So, first of all, that’s what we should be doing. We certainly should not be worried about the negative effects.

“And we definitely shouldn’t be worried about losing our own jobs. Very few people in society have that privilege, and I don’t think we should have that either, quite frankly.

“We should be doing research because that’s what we are paid to do, and that’s what we’ve chosen to do.”

Jonathan Rees: “You want to avoid an automated education, where the idea of a college education is to look at something on the screen and then they will do all your teaching for you.

“I think there’s a lot of value to close contact with a professor. You can have that close contact online, if your class isn’t too big; you can’t have that with 30,000 people.

“The kinds of things that historians do, good history professors do, cannot be done with 30,000 people or 80,000 people, or really just to be fair, even 4 or 5 hundred people. Cannot be done with 30,000 people

“You want to be able to look at people’s writing; you want to be able to critique it, as somebody who writes yourself.

“You want to be able to have conversations in order to get students to get to their own opinions about history, rather than saying, “Here’s a video of the Kennedy assassination. Go watch it.” And poof, you’ve learned about the Kennedy assassination.”

27 04 2014
Jonathan Rees

Geez, I really have to get over this not watching myself on film thing. My apologies to Keith (although I know I did recall our conversations correctly) and my apologies to the filmmakers. On Apr 26, 2014 9:47 PM, “More or Less Bunk” wrote:

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