Service of MOOCs

February 4th, 2013

Categories: College, Education


I first heard about massive open online courses–or MOOCs–when I read Caroline Porter’s Wall Street Journal article, “College Degree, No Class Time Required.” Since then what Thomas Friedman called a revolution to hit universities in a New York Times op-ed piece a few days later has hit the mass media.

Porter wrote: “Now, educators in Wisconsin are offering a possible solution by decoupling the learning part of education from student assessment and degree-granting.

“Wisconsin officials tout the UW Flexible Option as the first to offer multiple, competency-based bachelor’s degrees from a public university system. Officials encourage students to complete their education independently through online courses, which have grown in popularity through efforts by companies such as Coursera, edX and Udacity.”

Scott Walker, Wisconsin Governor

Scott Walker, Wisconsin Governor

The state’s governor, Scott Walker, expects to join the program. He never finished earning his degree.

The purpose of the program is to strengthen the state’s workforce according to a university spokesperson. As noted in the title of the article, you can get a degree that’s equal to one earned in a traditional four year program without spending a moment in a classroom.

Time and money saved are obvious benefits as are recognition of bits of courses taken over a lifetime in addition to validation of on the job training. David Lando is the 41 year old whom Porter describes in the program who will take hours of tests at home so as to finish a degree “based on knowledge–not just class time or credits,” she wrote.

third-worldWell beyond Michigan residents, reporters address the impact of MOOCs from the fact that a professor who previously reached a few thousand students over a lifetime can potentially teach hundreds of thousands around the world in a semester. With a computer and facilitator, students in the poorest countries will take part in learning from recognized professors.

Porter quotes professors who warn about potentially watering down degrees. Do you think this might happen? Will traditional college degrees continue to be given to teens/20-somethings to give them a leg up so as to enter the workforce with knowledge? Or, will a college education become a dinosaur, a parking lot for the children of the one percent? Does the world benefit now that millions [who understand English] can benefit from learning from the best ? Should performance, rather than a degree, once again determine who is eligible for certain jobs as it was for the Wisconsin Governor?


10 Responses to “Service of MOOCs”

  1. Debby Brown Said:

    I recommend you read “Will Your College go out of business before you graduate?” by Mark Cuban in the Huffington Post, dated Jan. 26th. He makes some good points about how traditional education is changing, including on line courses.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I haven’t yet read the article–yet I would think that by adding zillions of online students or non-student test-takers applying for degrees, colleges and universities would flourish thanks to the new sources of income. They just won’t be anything like the colleges and universities many of us attended.

    Whether the quality of education remains high or that a degree has an ounce of value is another question. My hope is that whatever happens employers will once again look at the person in front of them and not be as impressed as many appear to be by a degree as even today, not all degress are equal and most administrative or desk jobs that require them don’t need them.

  3. ASK Said:

    What I wonder about is how many people really have the discipline to study online? From a practical point of view, who is going to grade papers or papers received from a class of 10,000 students? How are these online students to be evaluated?

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    And how does anyone know who is doing the work?

    I totally forgot about grading papers. First, there won’t be papers–who needs to know how to write or organize thoughts? Those are skills that joined buggy whips a long time ago.

    There will be computer programs that spit out the grades based on answers just as surveys today give the survey-initiators the most amazing information in minutes–something we’d take a day to figure out by hand before if there were enough respondents.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Existing schools with solid reputations, offering valid on line degrees would be a life saver to financially strapped students and their families. This amenity could also be flexible enough to permit the student to hold down a job while enhancing his education. It’s a fine idea as long as one exercizes caution by assuring oneself of the school’s credentials, since the education field is no more immune to crooks than any other.

  6. Scott Ossian Said:

    I believe Tom Friedman is absolutely right to call this, for a lack of a better way to describe it, “internet delivered university experience” a revolution!

    I first began to think seriously about what constitutes “a good education” when I was far too immature to have any business thinking about such things.

    Later, during the mid-1950s, after reading in an article somewhere that not one of the five greatest fortunes created in this country since the Depression had been formed by a college graduate, I remember cynically bearding one of my more accessible professors to question him as to what benefit I would get out of having had a liberal arts education.

    Still later, during the 1980s and 90s, as vice-chair of the board of a well-regarded private secondary school, I often wondered whether we were doing our kids, or their parents who were paying us, any favors with what we were teaching them, which were mostly liberal arts related subjects.

    I no more have the answers to this question today than I did then, but in today’s world, the “good” in “good education” is very different than it used to be. Whereas then being well-read, knowledgeable about everything from ancient languages, philosophy and history to current events, art and music, articulate in writing as well as speech, and capable of reasoning through complex problems used to be what made one well educated, now manual dexterity, hand-eye coordination and an exceptional ability to rote-memorize numerous key-punch sequences on a keyboard are what counts.

    Had dyslectics such as Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci been subject to such computerized educations, it is quite likely, of course, that all three would have ended up frying potatoes at McDonalds.

    On the other hand, when I was growing up, decisions about students’ futures were made largely on the basis of multiple choice questions, just as today, although nobody admits it, they are determined by diversity quotas. In the future, it seems that a student will be judged by how skillful he or she is at manipulating a computer. None of these judgment systems were, or are ever going to be, fair to all or do anything to advance the cause of civilization.

    As 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, “and this too shall pass,” but it will be a long time before civilization starts going forward again.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    True that more would have access at less cost. And an online dynamic compares well to a few hundred students attending lectures–a format that, like thousands hearing a voice on a computer screen, doesn’t lend itself to questions either.

    As for crooks, it’s not just academia that has its share of them. As I’ve written about previously, some students have a yen to cheat as well. In my response to ASK I pointed out who knows who is taking the test when the test-taker is in his/her bedroom or office? There are lots of potential kinks to iron out.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Something else weighed in during one of the periods you reference–the 50s and before into the 60s: What largely determined a student’s future [and often where he went to college] was what his father did, what his father’s name was, his religion and ancestry, how much money his father had and so forth. And I chose to say “his” because women in bulk didn’t have much choice: They were sales ladies, teachers, maids, secretaries and airline stewardesses.

    So the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, favoring in many cases, students with diverse backgrounds over those who landed in a family with the right societal credentials.

    We can hope that at least in these superficial aspects that should be unrelated to learning and success that in future there is moderation and balance–fairness–by the time the next generation or two are ready for college.

  9. Higher Ed Said:

    I am a graduate student and also an employee in the higher education system. The college where I work is moving to more online classes. This will allow more flexibility for international and working students. And more money for the educational institution…

    As a student, I have taken two online classes during my graduate degree. The first class I took, I wished that it was actually an in person class because the dialogue was not as rich as it could be. It was a corporate communications class. The professor was excellent but I can only imagine how much better he would have been in the classroom.

    I am currently taking an online class and the reason why I opted for an online course is that I needed an elective to graduate and wanted something easy.

    If online classes are going to be successful, they will have to create a more rigorous curriculum in order to be effective. I like the flexible schedule but as a student, I am less engaged.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Thanks for sharing with us your firsthand experience. You’ve put your finger on many of the sensitive aspects of MOOCs–such as how to maintain a rigorous curriculum that is respected and challenging and how to address the lack of dialogue issue.

    There was a gut course at the college I attended: Speech. Because of its reputation, I avoided it so as not to waste my parent’s money. Little did I know that it might actually have helped me in future! For those who have no alternatives, MOOCs may become even better than those of us fortunate enough to have experienced the alternatives can envision. They might be like speech. Let’s hope.

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