rolling online education thread

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I uh...mostly agree w/ megan mcardlol?

iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 17:53 (twelve years ago) link

I think I disagree with every word of that post.

Euler, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 19:09 (twelve years ago) link

it's not a value judgement about whether it's good or bad fwiw and I think it's mostly bad. but I also just find it hard to see paths for these things *not* to happen.

95% of tenure-track professors will lose their jobs is prob a stretch.

iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 19:12 (twelve years ago) link

I just wanna be all

"Otherwise, I suggest you discover something worth teaching and teach a class about it."

Euler, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 19:16 (twelve years ago) link

overall I sorta see higher ed today as the music industry in the 90s. "computers, eh?" the value *and* accessibility of the product is shifting radically for most people which undermines the whole business model and I don't think people are prepared for how violent the shift might be. I don't think the people in charge are having 'the right' discussions or are really aware how quickly things can change. but whoever 'figures it out' first and it's gonna be a prestigious school - mit, stanford, whoever - is gonna be the itunes.

iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 19:24 (twelve years ago) link

that analogy is weak because the act of listening to music is still the same whether it's an mp3 from iTunes or from a blog or from a cd, or if it's a song played on a record player. Whereas the act of learning isn't the same on a computer & in the classroom.

your point, though, I think is that whilst learning on a computer may be debased compared to ideal classroom experience, it's way cheaper & massively scalable, & the desire for cheaper is enough to make the debased experience "worth it".

to which I say, we (in higher ed) haven't helped things by allowing classroom experiences to get so shitty, because if they were uniformly great, then the debasing would matter more. but giant mcclasses with multiple choice work aren't lots better than a well-done online class.

Euler, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 19:31 (twelve years ago) link

Few organisations have the capacity to really drive that radical shift internationally. I might work for the only one that does (not a university) but, even then, it still seems a long way off.

The concern within the sector is that it won't be an MIT or Stanford that pulls it off, it'll be Google or Apple - but that seems a little fanciful at the moment.

There's still such a huge value associated with brand names and the idea of quality that comes with them i'd see franchising, rather than campus-free learning, as the medium term move.

Mohombi Khush Hua (ShariVari), Wednesday, 15 February 2012 19:36 (twelve years ago) link

the thing is, the classes matter less than the results. if mit/stanford/etc. is willing to put more of their 'prestige' on the line w/ a form of approval that 'this person can do multivariable calculus at a very high level' or whatever, 'this person can write a 10 page paper about nietzsche' - then they can figure out a way to do it on a v. large scale. and as long as they keep standards high (and ensure cheating can't happen - I think taking tests irl is still essential)

apple and google prob have people trying to figure out ways to do this, but they don't have the right brand. 'apple says this person is smart'
doesn't have the same effect as 'stanford says this person is smart'. but the first mover is gonna have to put a lot on the line.


iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:10 (twelve years ago) link

franchasing is an interesting idea and already has been happening w/ yale-singapore, nyu-abu-dhabi, cornell's gonna open a tech campus in nyc soon. those are all 'big' projects but they do show that people believe the brand of a prestigious school can exist outside of its physical location.

iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:19 (twelve years ago) link

for sure I would not want to be working for a non-prestigious school in the upcoming environment. There are about 1,800 private 4-year universities in the USA, with an average tuition of $28,500 per year. I'd say that at least 1,500 of them are going down.

McArdle is a product of the Ivies & I think her article reflects usual Ivy snobbery; i.e. she fails to grasp the massive scalability of state universities already, that can give students terrific experiences if they care enough to take it seriously. Many, most even, do. She thinks the only "brands" worth having are Ivy brands, but she's understating the value of state universities, unsurprisingly.

Euler, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:24 (twelve years ago) link


Absolutely - it also applies to the less prestigious organisations still offering standardised US / UK / Aus quality around the world. People like RMIT, Hult and Kaplan are turning over huge numbers of students and making extraordinary amounts of money.

The campus is still fairly integral to the model but it's clear that the idea of a name being tied to one physical location, or even one country, is increasingly outdated.

Mohombi Khush Hua (ShariVari), Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:35 (twelve years ago) link

she's not really talking about value tho, she's talking about financial-sustainability. state universities do have their own brands, political value and sports teams that matter to the community. many already operate w/ the 'franchise' model that can be scaled. they will need to go under major structural adjustments, but yeah small not-prestigious private unis are the ones who are really fucked I agree


iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:42 (twelve years ago) link

massive research universities also provide towns / states with access to scholars & labs & even students that makes them appealing places for creative businesses e.g. the tech sector. So states will continue to want to support their flagships, thus keeping their tuitions down. I am obv biased on everything here but I think the unsustainability argument unconvincing, except as applied to very low value / cost institutions e.g. most private American 4-years.

Euler, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:46 (twelve years ago) link

So states will continue to want to support their flagships, thus keeping their tuitions down.

I want this to be true as much as you do, but...

iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:48 (twelve years ago) link

modulo the rising cost of health care, this is already under way. that's a big modulo, but it fucks the whole nation, not just higher ed.

Euler, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:49 (twelve years ago) link

I mean I can see penn state as being a football team + state-wide credentialing body + and state-wide center for gov't subsdized academic research. it does not have to be a place where students live or do their learning for 4 years. already isn't, even, since a large % of their students transfer from a branch.

iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:52 (twelve years ago) link

haha is this just another version of your "everyone should just live in NYC" thing?

Euler, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:53 (twelve years ago) link

well they should, but no that has nothing to do w/ this. if anything it'd be more people living w/ their parents during college.

iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:54 (twelve years ago) link

yeah I guess I don't see living expenses as being what's driving up student debt, or at least it's not what people seem to be complaining about

Euler, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:56 (twelve years ago) link

the thing is, the classes matter less than the results. if mit/stanford/etc. is willing to put more of their 'prestige' on the line w/ a form of approval that 'this person can do multivariable calculus at a very high level' or whatever, 'this person can write a 10 page paper about nietzsche' - then they can figure out a way to do it on a v. large scale. and as long as they keep standards high (and ensure cheating can't happen - I think taking tests irl is still essential)

― iatee

this is happening already:

"renegade" gnome (remy bean), Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:57 (twelve years ago) link

it's a pretty big part of it actually! xp

iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:58 (twelve years ago) link

there was an article about it the other day, forgot where

iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 20:58 (twelve years ago) link

xp to remy

yeah that was the subject of the atlantic article too, the question is whether this is 'going in' enough.

iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 21:02 (twelve years ago) link

udacity seems interesting too but I can't get over how crappy a name they went w/

iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 21:04 (twelve years ago) link

I think a good analogy for this whole issue is the Wikipedia/Britannica debate: the issues of correctness, legitimacy, and commitment are v. similar...

"renegade" gnome (remy bean), Wednesday, 15 February 2012 21:05 (twelve years ago) link

Do you have anything equivalent to the Open University in the US? They offer distance learning that ends in a legit UK degree. Exams are done in person, most of the rest is done remotely.

Mohombi Khush Hua (ShariVari), Wednesday, 15 February 2012 21:05 (twelve years ago) link

not on any large scale (yet)

"renegade" gnome (remy bean), Wednesday, 15 February 2012 21:08 (twelve years ago) link

this is prob the closest thing:

iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 21:08 (twelve years ago) link

well I'm pretty harsh when it comes to living expenses: students can live on a lot less than they are accustomed to doing, but I think we've been over this before

online programs will only provide online access to faculty; but without personal connections to faculty students won't be able to take proper advantage of the access faculty can provide them to jobs & professional connections ("oh, you're interested in X, I have a friend you should talk to"). that kind of thing happens all the time; & it's not just for X = studying some academic field. faculty travel a lot, meet lots of interesting & smart people in lots of walks of life, & that opens doors to students. that's to say, among one thing you're buying at a top college is that access. you're also buying access to fellow students, where if you're just reading slides on your laptop you don't meet them.

what's that access worth? enough to keep America's top universities going. (which is much of what matters to me)

Euler, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 21:11 (twelve years ago) link

I don't think the MITx model will be widely emulated. MIT has deep pockets and can afford to experiment, but ultimately online universities are going to have to at least break even to be sustainable. Most online students will and do pay tuition and in return expect a transcript that looks like those of F2F students.

Brad C., Wednesday, 15 February 2012 21:15 (twelve years ago) link

there is a big and important distinction between explicitly 'paying for access' and potential access being a nice aspect of our current system. (for a fairly small % of college students.)

like my gf went to a very access-y school in a very access-y place and really I don't think - outside of those who went to grad school - very many people she knew seemed to get the type of 'access' you'd want to pay 200k for. I'm sure some people did, it's just not like it's a sure thing for people who aren't networky to begin with. tho I guess if her school transforms back into a rich ppl finishing school, the access would better than ever.

iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 21:40 (twelve years ago) link

enough people at present use the access of top universities to keep those who provide financing happy. It's too bad more students don't take advantage of that.

I mean, isn't this a key argument for why cities matter: they enable access? universities pay people to facilitate access. we are like matchmakers.

Euler, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 22:03 (twelve years ago) link

trying to butter me up eh? look - absolutely they are like cities. and yet what % of people in america live in dense cities? smart long-term social investments are not inevitable things. again, look at the way states have been supporting their universities over the last few decades.

I don't believe the majority of people in college are currently paying for 'access' - it happens and it is an added benefit, but that's not the overarching narrative of why people go to college today. they're paying for the degree signal. they're paying for the fact that you can't be a secretary today without a college degree.

iatee, Wednesday, 15 February 2012 22:47 (twelve years ago) link

two weeks pass...

Guardian piece with a few examples of how this is taking off.

Une semaine de Bunty (ShariVari), Friday, 23 March 2012 15:32 (twelve years ago) link

iatee, Wednesday, 4 April 2012 19:57 (twelve years ago) link

mostly notable for the Larry Summers side

iatee, Wednesday, 4 April 2012 19:59 (twelve years ago) link

nine months pass...
two months pass...


caek, Wednesday, 27 March 2013 09:05 (eleven years ago) link


iatee, Wednesday, 27 March 2013 11:53 (eleven years ago) link

two years pass...

After the initial flurry of interest, is anyone actually using these (or more to the point, finishing their courses)?

There seems to be a huge number of providers sucking up venture capital investment without providing much of a business model in return. Interesting to see getting bought by LinkedIn for $1.5bn in April.

Petite Lamela (ShariVari), Tuesday, 9 June 2015 08:59 (nine years ago) link

i finished 3, doing 4th now

quality v variable. have dropped maybe 6 after a week or two.

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Tuesday, 9 June 2015 12:57 (nine years ago) link

a lot of the open ones have been regrouping, adding pay-to-certify options, etc., sharivari

i have not worked in a position of privileged information in a university since the regular use of online courses really took off in my (geographical) area, so i don't know the political/institutional details well. but based on the way my own online courses were handled, and what i've heard whole departments of faculty say when they were a regular part of their teaching loads, it seems like their adoption at lower-tier schools is at present an admin-driven mandate (brings in the students who want 'convenience' and faster time-to-degree, makes school look modern, plus shadowy possibilities of lowering costs in the future) which weak programs are often forced to accept in preference to losing funding due to low-enrolled meatspace-only courses. and 'learning centers' (w/ the latest in pedagogical advice for faculty) on campus to the contrary, pretty much no one seems to want to talk about how these courses are shit.

i have a friend who was forced into teaching a logic course online for the above sort of reasons, and like, yknow, i'm sure something can be done with it (i know someone who runs a similar course via a quizzes-and-discussion LMS, makes the students turn in word documents w/ pre-selected symbols in them for their proofs), but the friend wasn't really in a position to do that, so the course is the bare minimum of content and instruction in an area where the in-person hand-waving and gesturing and by-hand chalk-on-the-blackboard pedagogy is p. key for students who are terrified of anything written in symbols. friend says, of the course, 'it's flat out immoral.'

j., Friday, 12 June 2015 03:08 (nine years ago) link

That's really interesting, thanks.

Petite Lamela (ShariVari), Friday, 12 June 2015 07:11 (nine years ago) link

I work in a sector where free market rules brought in under the Major govt have meant that vocational training is carved up amongst a cartel of private institutions who have all driven their course fees up consistently by about 5% over inflation every single year. It looks like this might be reformed in the near future and it will probably allow for far more flexibility in training methods, so I've been looking at a lot of this stuff lately with an eye on what we might be doing in two years' time.

I went to a talk during the week with a guy from futurelearn (for profit but owned by the OU). They have a freemium certification model, and he was pretty honest about the fact that partner institutions probably weren't making money off it - the statements of participation normally sold enough to cover the cost of a single run of the course (they're not wholly open in that courses still have loose weekly schedules) but wouldn't have covered the cost of developing the course in the first place.

sktsh, Sunday, 21 June 2015 09:32 (nine years ago) link

j massively otm, i worked in online course development and implementation for years and "immoral" sums it up pretty well. if it's not a few pdfs linked on the CMS it's 90-minute lectures recorded on a single camera and posted uncut. there were of course exceptions, instructors who worked really hard to make some kind of connection with their students and had really rich involving courses, but in general it was very disheartening.

adam, Sunday, 21 June 2015 12:29 (nine years ago) link

I'm looking in to this as a side project at work and have come to similar conclusions about most of the existing offers. The free / freemium stuff is fine as far as it goes but doesn't present an attractive financial model. Calling a lot of the premium courses "immoral" seems entirely legitimate.

It's interesting as some reasonably prestigious universities in the UK, like Liverpool, have started offering fully online postgraduate degrees. In their case, it seems to be effectively rubber stamping courses designed and delivered by L@ur3ate. I think more will follow, and will want to drive quality up to justify higher fees.

who epitomises beta better than (ShariVari), Sunday, 21 June 2015 15:28 (nine years ago) link

one year passes...

Anyone still doing any MOOCs? Any courses or providers anyone has good or bad things to say about?

I keep signing up to Futurelearn courses (OU-owned, courses are free but pay for a certificate of "participation" - or some courses allow you to pay even more and sit some kind of test and get a certificate of "achievement" instead) and not managing to keep up with them. Not sure if it's their idea of how long each course takes per week or my idea of how much free time I have and how long I'm spending on things which is way out.

Some of the courses are interesting (some don't live up to their descriptions at all) but each week's work is split into 30 separate pages with a short video on most pages and comments and maybe assignments or things to follow along with. Feels like even just clicking "done", "next" and waiting for a page to load 30 times takes a non-trivial chunk of the 2-4 hours per week, never mind actually engaging with the content.

There's also a higher emphasis on discussion than I'd like. Hi, it's week one step one of the course, everyone discuss in the comments how you hope to apply what you'll learn! Er, I've no idea, I don't even know what the possible applications are yet. Hi, it's week one step 4 of a programming/data course, here's how to add two numbers, let's all discuss the conclusions we can draw from the results of adding two numbers! Uhh. Also I stupidly signed up with my real name like it encouraged me to and have no desire to stick my idiot thoughts on the internet with my real name.

(Sadly it looks like a lot of actual degree+-level distance learning courses also have a required amount of discussion participation per week. Come and be judged by internet strangers and/or just repeat the obvious answers already given by 60 other people for 20% of your degree...)

a passing spacecadet, Thursday, 3 November 2016 14:14 (seven years ago) link

The difficulty is keeping people engaged - i can't remember the real statistic so i'm going to say that 2.3% of people actually finish the courses they start - and it's often not much more than 10% even if you've paid money for it - so socialisation and the idea of bringing in the full classroom experience, including debate and discussion (not to mention the positive side of wanting to learn so you don't look like a dope in the comments), is seen as absolutely essential.

Working out how not to alienate people who literally just want to tune in, learn and tune out is tough though. The added pressure of peer-to-peer learning / students wanting to help out others who are struggling, as they might in a university context, is probably quite useful from an educational perspective but can add extra time / emotional pressure.

Bubba H.O.T.A.P.E (ShariVari), Thursday, 3 November 2016 14:33 (seven years ago) link

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