Diluting the brand.

4 11 2012

I’m pretty sure the author of this NYT piece on “The Year of the MOOC” was deliberately trying to ruin my weekend. I will leave it to others to give it a thorough fisking, but I’d like to take a few minutes out of my Sunday to discuss this line:

Most offerings are adapted from existing courses: a Princeton Coursera course is a Princeton course.

Well, yes and no. Certainly, my problem with my MOOC experience has been that the history that’s being delivered clearly resembles face-to-face history classes given all over the world. While this undoubtedly works wonders for Professor Adelman on campus, it loses something when it comes through the computer screen. For instance, the fact that you’re shelling out thousands of dollars to listen to this guy so you better pay attention.

On the other hand, my MOOC is not a Princeton course in the sense that Princeton courses have required reading. Princeton courses (if I remember all of Jeremy’s e-mail’s correctly) require more written work,. Most notably, Princeton courses have somebody with an advanced degree (or who is on their way to an advanced degree) doing the grading for you.

So why does Princeton and/or Coursera want to blur the distinction between Princeton courses and simulations of Princeton courses? This is from the same NYT article:

No one showed at the meet-up that Stacey Brown, an information technology manager at a Hartford insurance company, scheduled for a 14th-floor conference room on a Thursday after work, despite R.S.V.P.’s from a few classmates in the area. He’s taking three Coursera MOOCs, including “Gamification” from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School. In addition to the learning — and dropping to bosses that he’s taking a Wharton course — Mr. Brown says, “I hope to get a network.”

[Emphasis added]

Perhaps they like the idea of people dropping their name, whether the use of that name is really justified or not. Am I being elitist here? I don’t think so. To use a business metaphor, Penn and Princeton both know that they’re issuing “A” shares and “B” shares. There may be a lot more “B” shares out there some day, but the people with the on campus educations are the ones who’ll keep all the “A” shares and there will always be just enough “A” shares in order to keep control of the company.

I actually prefer the idea of a personalized, quality education for everybody. Does that make me a Luddite, a fascist or a hippie? I’m having trouble keeping track.



3 responses

4 11 2012
Contingent Cassandra

You’re on track with the A vs. B shares, I think. Princeton and Penn aren’t diluting the brand with MOOCs any more than Harvard was with the 5 foot shelf of classics with their name on it they issued sometimes in the early-mid 20th century.

And amen to this:

“I actually prefer the idea of a personalized, quality education for everybody.”

But I’m not sure what that makes me, either, especially since I think I can deliver at least parts of such an education online (but not in a massive course). So I’m not a Luddite (though I fully expect to be dismissed as one if I argue that certain online approaches — mostly the ones that will supposedly make education cheaper — won’t work). Maybe a hippie, if that’s what they’re calling socialists these days.

4 11 2012
Contingent Cassandra

P.S. The Washington Post also has an article on MOOCs on the front page of the print edition today (though MOOC isn’t in the title). Perhaps the whole thing has jumped the shark?

1 04 2013
Real college classes have writing assignments and required reading. | More or Less Bunk

[…] Professor Ariely and CIP. In defense of my point though, I’ll also note that the two Coursera world history courses that I’ve been directly involved with have no required reading at […]

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