MOOCs for Mooks: local proffie takes one out for a spin

You know what I’ve been thinking?  More of you should read Jonathan Rees at More or Less Bunk.  Here’s why:  the man shows a commitment to explaining why if the future of higher ed is online, then the future of the republic is a dim one.  (See for example his riff on selling As based on Michael Moore’s question, “Why doesn’t GM sell crack?”)  While some of us just  rip something out of the mailbag, or rant about politics, or put up a YouTube of a song we heard in yoga this week, Jonathan has signed up for a MOOC and is posting regularly on the results.

Here’s his reportage so far on Princeton Proffie Jeremy Adelman’s World History course:

Historiann, overexposed!

Eh, everyone’s a critic.  I don’t know about Jonathan, but soon the rest of the world will have the opportunity to judge my teaching, as well as my haircut, voice, weight, wardrobe, and overall appearance, as C-SPAN has contacted me about recording one of my lectures from HIST 358:  American Women’s History to 1800 this semester for their Lectures in History series, and it looks like we’ve got a nice room for the recording.  (Baa Ram U. surely didn’t want to use the actual classroom in which I teach, which is a sterile, windowless icebox built of cement blocks and featuring brutal fluorescent lighting.  But at least it’s air-conditioned, right?)  And get this:  I’m lecturing about historical undergarments–doesn’t that sound like fun?

I was talking to Fratguy the other day, saying how I wish I had thought up RadioLab and that I wanted to be Jad Abumrad.  After all, I said, “I have a face for radio.”  He said, “No, you don’t have a face for radio–you have a face for CSPAN-2!”  Oh, snap!  (Can you tell we’ve been married for 15 years?)

12 thoughts on “MOOCs for Mooks: local proffie takes one out for a spin

  1. Is it possible to get C-SPAN if you don’t have a t.v.? Like, can you just stream it on your devic- um, er, I don’t have one of those either! Maybe Netflix will ship it out or it will be in Redbox down at the old groc, in which case I can simply pop it into my… Rats!! There’s gotta be some way of seeing this thing. Maybe at the gym, or if I can get one of the sports bars up on P. Street to pre-empt the Packers and Vikings for one night. One way or t’other, I have to catch this one.

    So this is how Princeton is holding it’s cost per student-acre within the guidelines set by the Trustees for partnering with Corsaira? By using multiple choice exams?!? Can you sign up for one of the dining clubs on a virtual basis and have some cool friend patch-in for your e-nterview? Could a MOOC student go out for the rowing team on Lake Firestone, or whatever it’s called? They’re doing this with home schooled students all the time now.


  2. Thank you as always, Historiann. Nothing makes my stats counter go quite so crazy as a link from you.

    In all fairness, though, I should note that blogging your MOOC experience was old hat long before I started doing it. I’m typing this comment on my phone, so interested people will have to Google these: 1) Laura Gibbs’ Coursera Fantasy (particularly devastating as she’s pro-MOOC 2) James Atherton’s Recent Reflection (who makes me seem like Jeremy Adelman’s best friend) 3) V.I.M. Ph.D.’s Twitter feed (Fire Camels!!!) 4) and one really terrific post at Music for Deckchairs in which Kate compares the MOOC experience to Lucy and Ethel in that chocolate factory.


  3. It’s time to take off the gloves. Several observations from my perspective: Many decent universities don’t contemplate replacing all regular classes with online courses. The use of online material is essential for the evolution of university education. A mix of online and in class, called by some hybrid, courses may actually improve the quality of teaching and learning.

    In other words, if you scream 24/7 “online in coming” you are simply fighting the wrong war.

    Current I teach a course on an evolving approach to health care. No textbooks of value exist; they will in 5-10 years. 60% of the material is surveying methods and tools. The rest requires discussion, rigorous work, statistics and some cryptography. The students read the material online. They prepare presentations to the class. We meet every other week. This way we cover more material, the students must know the material and we have plenty of time to get in-depth work.

    This class is way more productive for both sides than when I talked my rear end off for 3 hours every week and then checked assignments and exams. The latter is downright obsolete mindlessness.

    By the the Australians have the “School of the Air” since 1951. It works! (Now it works on the Internet.)


  4. I’m pretty sure that “read the material online” is not the same as teaching online.

    My concern about MOOCs has as much to do with class as pedagogy. If these types of classes come to be understood as equivalent to real live classrooms, they will be the least-cost default for the hoi polloi. Meanwhile, elites will continue to send their children to ivy-clad brick and mortar campuses for small class sizes with real live professors and real live opportunities to pledge into the networks of the ruling class.


  5. Thanks for posting this and NC will check out the class on C-SPAN. Keep us update when it will air.

    I also am going to email my husband this piece because he works in online education. Universities hire his company to set up online programs and we were just talking about MOOCs the other day (yeah our conversations at the dinner table are always exciting) ~ckl.


  6. koshembos, how about the concept that you do a fine job in your web-assisted classes, and that that is a whole different ballgame than a MOOC? Come back when you’ve grasped the distinction.

    Telling the people to give up who are refusing to go gently into that good night either means you don’t get it or you’re part of the problem.

    (You did say the gloves should come off.)


  7. This is right on: “Meanwhile, elites will continue to send their children to ivy-clad brick and mortar campuses for small class sizes with real live professors and real live opportunities to pledge into the networks of the ruling class.”

    This has always been my objection to online ed. While some web interface has value for some programs (again, the MLS or MLIS M.A. programs–good for them!) But gen ed courses for first-generation undergrads who need to learn how to do college, not just a bunch of information in a webcast lecture? Not so much.

    I feel like everyone needs to re-read Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, and think hard about the Gradgrindian nostrums that are being pushed in lieu of real education simply because they’re cheaper and because all they can do is push the “facts.”


  8. Susan, your comment (snarky as it is!) raises an interesting question about online ed, which goes back to the issue of intellectual property that concerns a lot of folks who are under pressure to develop online courses.

    What could a university–esp. a university encouraging their faculty to teach online, or to hire and manage adjuncts to do this–do to a faculty member who declined to deliver hir own lectures and just plugged in Adelman’s lectures, for example? Would the students feel cheated? Would the university see that as a violation of the faculty member’s contract? Would the students feel like it was pointless to do their coursework honestly, and just cheat their way through?

    How far does it all go?


  9. Well, where I am, if you were a ladder faculty, I think you’d face issues at merit reviews, and you’d probably also face a faculty disciplinary procedure for your conduct in the classroom, for “failure to meet responsibilities of instruction”. For lecturers and untenured faculty, it would be the kiss of death.


  10. Rees’s pieces are a fine companion to Catherine Stimpson’s essay on becoming a Phoenix (or as she says, a Phoenician), in the CHE.

    She took a creative-writing course online. Then she told all.


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