I went to a meeting last week with a room full of scientists. At one point, the guy at the front of the room lamented the fact that nobody wants to read anymore. “You have no idea,” I said reflexively to no one in particular. On second thought, I realized that they did have some idea as they’re probably trying to coax their students into reading boring textbooks. I can at least pick interesting monographs.
“For about 80 U-Va. students, there are required reading, quizzes, written assignments, a midterm and a final exam. That is all fairly standard.”
Indeed it is. Zelikow also runs sections with his students, which is why that article is all about his flipped classroom. Zelikow’s MOOC students, on the other hand, are required to do none of these things, which is a shame as Zelikow has an excellent reading list. Those books are only recommended for his MOOC students (as was Jeremy Adelman’s textbook) because they have no incentive to actually do the reading since they’re only being tested on the MOOC lectures. University of Virginia students read books and watch lectures because they’re getting real credit from a real college for doing so, but only the most committed MOOCer would ever do all of that. Requiring everybody to handle a UVa workload would make Zelikow’s MOOC a lot less massive.
I’ve seen plenty of people claim that MOOCs are just like textbooks. In fact, they’re not like textbooks at all. They may perform the same function of conveying information, but watching videos requires a lot less effort on the part of students and therefore results in a lot less reward. As a guy from the Gates Foundation told the Chronicle back in November:
“In that way, Mr. Jarrett said, MOOC’s may turn out to be a high-tech replacement for a textbook.
“We think in the short term the blended, flip-the-classroom model is going to be the one that’s most effective for the first generation, low-income students, the kind of students that we work for,” he said.”
Let me get this straight: First generation college students get to earn degrees without reading, while kids whose parents know better get sent to real schools with required book lists? What kind of education is an education without reading? A lousy one, of course, but Coursera’s future profits depend upon a steady stream of eyeballs, not on whether the brains behind those eyeballs actually learn anything. Therefore, the “customer” (who isn’t actually paying anything) is always right. It’s this give-the-people-what-they-want mentality behind MOOCs that make them death to textbooks.
Honestly, I wouldn’t mind one bit if MOOCs only killed textbooks. Textbooks are boring and almost nobody reads them – including the professors who assign them. However, if MOOCs ever manage to killing reading in its entirety, I’m going to pack it in and find another line of work. After all, how can you teach college history without monographs or English without novels? In fact, how can you teach anything above an introductory course in any humanity without assigning required reading?
Of course you can’t, but maybe that’s precisely the point.