I really liked a comment by Mark Urban-Lurain on Mark Guzdial’s blog:
Here’s a fun game to play with everything you read about MOOCs to help sort out the signal-to-noise ratio.
Substitute TEXTBOOK for ONLINE/MOOC COURSE to see how transformative the discussion of MOOCs is in that context.
Below are the results for above breakthrough announcement. I’ve yet to see an example that is any more exciting. Anyone have one?
The fast-moving world of TEXTBOOKS, where anyone can READ TEXTBOOKS from a world-famous university, is making new foray into the community college system, with a personal twist.
In a partnership billed as the first of its kind, the PUBLISHER edX plans to announce Monday that it has teamed up with two Massachusetts community colleges to offer computer science classes that will combine TEXTBOOKS and classroom instruction.
Beginning next term, Bunker Hill and MassBay community colleges will offer versions of a MIT TEXTBOOK that will be supplemented with on-campus classes. Those classes, to be taught by instructors at the two-year schools, will give students a chance to review the TEXTBOOK and receive personal help.
“This allows for more one-to-one faculty mentoring” than exclusively READING TEXTBOOKS, said John O’Donnell, president of MassBay Community College in Wellesley. O’Donnell added that the schools’ involvement allows edX “to test its TEXTBOOK content on a broader range of students.”
Students will pay the same amount they would for a standard class.
I think that this comment sums up a lot of my feelings about the MOOC hype: that they are mainly a rather expensive replacement for textbooks, rather than a better way of offering courses. (And by “expensive”, I mean expensive to produce, not expensive to consume, as MOOCs are currently heavily subsidized by their producers as an attention-getting gimmick and offered free, like other advertising.)
A lot of the hype about the advantages of online education (like being able to rewind and view stuff again) seems to be just a poor approximation of books (which can be reread, annotated, indexed, …) for illiterate people. The video lecture is mostly a book for illiterates.
Of course, a MOOC is more than a collection of video lectures, as such collections have been around for a long time, but have not got the social cachet of a MOOC. In fact, most of what makes MOOCs popular is that they are fashionable. I suspect that the fad will not last long, and that MOOCs will become just another minor part of the education landscape, increasing online education by a little bit. Of course, in the meantime, universities will have created a bunch of high-level, overpaid executive positions to manage online education, and such positions will be damn near impossible to eliminate, even when the underlying educational enterprise is seen to be of minor educational value.
I think that MOOCs will attract primarily two groups of students: adults who want some continuing education and home school students who are desperate for content at a reasonable level. Neither of these markets will make much of dent in traditional college education. MOOCs will be competing mainly with “university extension” courses: those unaccredited courses that use university names without really being a significantly connected with the rest of the university.