Historiann stumbles out of the wilderness to find the Lords of MOOC creation have successfully placed an advertorial in the Washington Post

Does this read like a Coursera or Udacity press realease to you, too?

Whether for good or ill, MOOCs augur a disruption of the relationships among students, colleges and trade schools, and the credentials those schools offer — a relationship that has stabilized higher education for at least a century. Yet if done right — a big if, as recent events at San Jose State and Colorado State universities have shown — they may help address the quality and cost of higher education.

What’s the nature of the disruption?

For the moment, providers of MOOCs make their courses available to anyone. There is no admissions process. As in a video game, anyone can start, but you have to master levels that can include very difficult work. For the 10 percent who get to the end, the learning is real.

What about that experiment to offer dramatically reduced tuition for MOOCwork courses at Baa Ram U.?  It’s even more hilarious than you can guess:

Colorado State’s Global Campus advertised last year that it would give credit to enrolled students who passed a MOOC in computer science. This would cost students $89 instead of the $1,050 for a comparable course. There were no takers. Seven additional institutions are set to make similar offerings in the coming year. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, they expect only hundreds, not thousands, of takers.

But why are prospective students so reluctant to jump on the MOOC bandwagon when 10% of them stand to learn so much?  Why is it only a few tenured edupreneurs at prestigious universities who are pushing MOOCs by reassuring us that they’re inevitable “for good or ill?”  But why?  Santy Claus, why?  Why are you taking our Christmas tree?  Why?  Even the not-very-intelligent commentors at the Washington Post have called bull$hit on this advertorial:  my favorite is the one that says “Yeah, and blow up dolls are a good substitute for a wife…”

So, to sum it all up:  we have the Lords of MOOC creation, afloat for now on some misguided venture captial (and lots of sunshine blown up the skirts of university presidents), who are giving away a product that no one seems to want to pay even $89 for, probably because only 10% of users come away with much of anything.  And yet, we’re assured that this is completely”disruptive” “for good or ill” and, more importantly, “inevitable.”  (My guess is that this advertorial was written for the benefit of current and future investors, and as recent history has shown, they’ll fall for anything.)

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating:  Dow 36,000!  Invading Iraq to punish the Taliban in Afghanistan makes perfect sense!  Go ahead and take out that $500,000 mortgage on a $65,000 salary–you’ll flip the house and extract the cash before the balloon payment comes due!  Does any of this sound familiar to any of you?

Still on the road–more when I get back to the ranch.  Meanwhile, let’s see what Jonathan Rees has to say about all of this.  Did you see his article in Slate this past week?  If you’ve been reading Rees for a few months, you’ve probably already read previous versions of this synthesis, but it’s definitely worth a read if you have a spare 15 minutes.

16 thoughts on “Historiann stumbles out of the wilderness to find the Lords of MOOC creation have successfully placed an advertorial in the Washington Post

  1. Pingback: Sunday! | Gerry Canavan

  2. They are such rotten fuckers. There is not an iota of proof that MOOCs are anything more than an educaitonal divertissement. One Princeton MOOC on global history, which had a section of Princeton students attached to it, was all about the “global classroom.” Except it turned out the the Princeton students couldn’t be bothered to enter the virtual MOOC space, so eventually the proffie had to rustle up a few of them in front of a webcam so that the “global” students could dialogue with them. So it looks like Princeton students — who, whatever else you want to say about htem are expert students, think that MOOCs waste their valuable time, even if it’s the same syllabus and same prof who they are seeing 2-3 times a week.


  3. Historiann:

    The Princeton Proffie that TR refers to would be my old friend Jeremy Adelman. Should you (or anybody else for that matter) like to see the evidence for her story, the link is here:


    After all, you might be seeing Adelman at some place where a lot of historians meet in the not-to-distant future.

    Also, I here on the Twitter that the author of that puff piece is actually a distinguished classicist. I just think that makes it more pathetic as she should really know better.


  4. On one hand we have “Dow 36,000! Invading Iraq to punish the Taliban in Afghanistan makes perfect sense! Go ahead and take out that $500,000 mortgage on a $65,000 salary.”

    On the other hand we have people who reject evolution. Pakistan stops anti polio vaccination. Workers opposed the industrial revolution.

    We have to develop stronger arguments about MOOC. We have to face the reality of schools, like mine, where tuition is about $50,000.

    We can run away from technology and leave it to investors/criminals or we can preempt the criminals by using technology wisely and creatively.


  5. @Radical & Rees: aha! Now I know what our president meant when he referred to “giving students an affordable international experience” through “partnerships abroad” in a “visioning” meeting a few days ago. It will be interesting trying to get our students, who have way, way more complicated schedules than Princeton undergrads (and many of whom, incidentally, already have family members, friends, and acquaintances abroad with whom they are regularly in touch) to participate in that.


  6. The “refusal to do journalism” syndrome has become an online byproduct of the tech-driven “disruption” of traditional media culture and practices. If some alienated punk private is willing to be court martialed, or live for years in a Moscow airport hotel, sure, some actual knowledge may leak into the cosmic consciousness as branded content on a mainstream media platform. But otherwise, the “hands” are too busy blogging, tweeting, and brand-building to find the holes in these breathless narratives. This leaves lots of “news hole” for the true believers, or the careerist disrupter/change agents to work the “it’s here to stay and its not going away, so we should make it work for us” angle. I’m not sure about the WaPo, but the N.Y. Times at this point thinks of itself as an integrated cross-platform information distribution system (when it’s not too busy selling mysteriously acquired game-used 1927 Babe Ruth home run bat splinters at the “Times Store”) more than a shoe-leather inquisitive news agency. And in that sense, it identifies with the Coursera demographic and “story.”

    Sorry y’uz had to interrupt your idyll for even a little while to get on this episode, but probably best that you did. But if the Dow *does* hit 36,000, that’s probably my cash-out number; I’ll have to call my handler at TIAA-CREF.


  7. Jonathan, thanks for that link. I figured TR was talking about Jeremy Adelman, whose global history course you so expertly critiqued last fall. I didn’t know about the detail about the Princeton students blowing off the MOOC part of the MOOC (or I had forgotten it–I think you linked a few months ago to that P’ton alumni mag article.)

    Per Cassandra’s comment: I don’t think Obama knows anything about MOOCs. I don’t think Daphne Koller or Sebastian Thrun know anything about them either, quite frankly. This is why it’s important for people who actually work in classrooms and/or with university students today have to speak up and call bull$hit when we see it.

    (Because I get loads of hits from White House IP addresses on this blog. I’m not sayin’. I’m just sayin’.)


  8. I passed my MOOC and it was a bad course. Now I am starting one from “Zenith.” Professor is a known person and readings are legit, so it should be better. We’ll see. I have written 2 anti-MOOC essays and am looking for venues. 🙂 One is hilarious, describing the disaster of my first MOOC.

    Most important: language in my MOOC diploma stipulates it cannot count for credit at the issuing university, not even in the extension!


  9. The number losses — “Most of the 48,000 fell quickly by the wayside. Wentzlaff said 1,000 to 2,000 watched videos and did quizzes each week, but only 200 took the tough midterm and final, which were graded by fellow students.” — are astounding. What if I taught a course and only gave lectures, handed off my grading to the students themselves, and passed fewer than .5% of them? Would that still fly as a course? Would I be summarily dismissed or hauled into a very angry meeting with the provost? Or would our department fail its internal and external assessments?

    This shoddy reporting and acceptance of intolerable teaching practices is too much. We profs really have to step up and yell louder than ever to halt what will be a massive investment of money into a massive failure of education.


  10. Pingback: “Video killed the radio star.” | More or Less Bunk

  11. Right on, joellecid!

    Thanks for the links, Z and Jonathan. You all should definitely read them. Here’s a taste of “Video killed the radio star:”

    It’s still early yet in the process of MOOC-ification. We can still rewind. We haven’t gone too far. Those of us who haven’t given themselves over to the Cult of MOOCs simply have to make sure that anti-MOOC remains the new black until the providers all come crashing down courtesy of their non-existent business plans.

    Interestingly, Z’s link describing the personal nest-feathering of some superprofessors helps explain at least some of the incentives that many have for going MOOC. I’ll cut to the chase: it has to do with using MOOCs as a marketing scheme for the expensive textbooks they’ve written, as well as an overall plan for further enriching textbook publishers.


  12. So it looks like Princeton students — who, whatever else you want to say about htem are expert students, think that MOOCs waste their valuable time, even if it’s the same syllabus and same prof who they are seeing 2-3 times a week.

    Of course they realize this! They are smart enough to know that the value of a Princeton education has zero, zip, nada to do with listening to some fucken asshole professor in a dippeshitte bowtie blather at them in a lecture hall while they listen to his magical words. Nor does it have anything to do with interacting online with non-privileged Internet-connected rubes who themselves are listening to some fucken asshole professor in a dippeshitte bowtie blather at them through the Internet while they listen to his magical words.

    The value of a Princeton education is being part of a highly privileged community of scholars and thereby interacting face-to-face in a sustained and intense fashion with faculty and other students. The central lie is that elite higher education is about “education” at all, in the sense of “learning substantive subject matter”. Rather, the real value of higher education is (1) learning how to adopt the behavior and communication patterns of a privileged elite and (2) forming intense personal connections with other present and future members of that elite.


  13. Everybody explains things to others and shows them how to do things. So everybody teaches in some capacity. Everybody also learns. So why in hell is it so hard for people to understand that learning is an even more critical part of education than teaching?

    Also, too, I’m fed up to the eyeteeth with the BS about “Oh, all those dotty old profs are just protecting their jobs.” It’s got nothing to do with their jobs. If we really were totally useless, we fully deserve to go the way of the buggy whip manufacturers. What we are is the professionals in this field, and we’re telling you the MOOCs are Doing It All Rong.

    Or, as the pithy comment said it so much better: MOOCs are just blow-up dolls pretending to be lovers.


  14. Pingback: Will the MOOCpocalypse kill graduate science programs? | Jung's Biology Blog

  15. Oops — I was referring to the president of my university, not President Obama (I have not recently attended a “visioning meeting” w/ President Obama, but I can see where the confusion came from).


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