James Atherton left our World History MOOC last week. The weekly e-mail explained that only 1800 of our 82,000+ students submitted first essays so he certainly wasn’t the only one. Atherton wrote at his blog that:
the experience has been distinctly unrewarding. After less than three weeks, it has become a chore
I can’t say I blame him. This part of his analysis in particular is spot on:
History is, like other humanities subjects, contestable. It is studied not only for its own sake, but also in order to develop skills of critical thinking and argument–and so its teaching media need to support that process.
I was having a similar thought while watching last week’s lectures (before I saw James’ post) when our super-professor, Jeremy Adelman, declared (I know this is right as it shocked me so much that I wrote it down):
“Thinking like a global historian is considering connections.”
That shocked me not because it’s incorrect. It’s not. It shocked me because he’s hardly been making any connections at all.
At another point last week, Adelman was talking about Peter the Great and I said to myself, “When did he start covering Russia in this course?” That’s when I realized something really damning: This class has no syllabus. There’s an announcement page, there’s a lecture page (that only posts the lecture videos on a weekly basis, I assume when they’re ready), there’s a gigantic forum, but there’s no place where you can get an overview of the entire course at once.
Maybe Adelman is slavishly following the textbook (which would be damning by itself), but I can’t believe that any textbook would be this disorganized. I don’t even know what century we’re in half the time. Geographically things are a bit better, but the writing on the map slides is too small to read the names of cities on them. Seriously, how hard could it be to do a close-up of the blue screen when a map comes around?
To make matters worse, Mazel has been pursuing another killer anti-MOOC argument in the comments to my last report on this experience:
I think we should all keep asking this question to keep ourselves from being bamboozled by what seems to have become the default “Gee whiz!” framing. You know, as in “Wow! The MOOC allows the masses to learn from the best minds in the world!” As if books don’t allow the same thing….
What we should be asking is this: What (if anything) is the MOOC doing BETTER than the book? Not much, if you ask me. That’s not to say that MOOCs cannot do lots of things, just that they can’t do those things better than a book.
Seriously, read the whole exchange. Now part of me wants to just quit and read The Wealth and Poverty of Nations again instead, but I’m going to stick with this ordeal for at least a while longer.
If you remember the post in which I explained why I signed up for this MOOC, you know that I was excited to list this experience in the section of my annual performance review devoted to further education. Now I’m thinking it really belongs under service to the profession. After all, somebody has to be able to explain why the future currently looks more like 1984 than it does The Jetsons.
You can thank me later, assuming I make it to the end.