Except maybe. . . profit!??!?!
Here’s a university administrator who apparently sees through the smoke, mirrors, and Thomas Friedmanesque rainbows-and-unicorns technofluff of the Lords of MOOC Creation, Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zeland (h/t to regular commenter truffula. Maybe it takes an ocean of winds and a position outside of the U.S. and Europe to blow away the bullcrap and see them for what they’re worth?) Hayne writes,
The University of Otago has considered the issue of MOOCs very carefully. Over this past January, I personally studied everything that I could lay my hands on about the subject. I sought specialist advice on the issue from international experts in distance education and online learning. I discussed the matter extensively with my counterparts in New Zealand and overseas. The conclusion from all of these quarters is that, although there may be a handful of opportunities in this space, the concept of the MOOC will not displace the traditional university experience and the business case for the future of MOOCs actually hangs by a thread.
Although the current enrolment in MOOCs is extremely high, completion of any given course is very low. In most instances, more than 90 per cent of the students who sign up for a course, never complete it. Given this, we have to ask ourselves two questions. First, why do so many sign up? That one is easy – the courses are currently free. Once this aspect of the MOOC system changes (and it will have to change if anyone is going to make any money), then I suspect that enrolments will plummet. Second, why do so many students fail to complete? There are probably many reasons, but the most parsimonious one is that the courses quickly get boring. Even when you place the best speaker in the world on the internet, the experience pales in comparison to face-to-face interaction.
Hayne cites three major problems with the MOOC scam: first, “a university education is about much more than knowledge transfer. . . . Through their university education, students learn tolerance and compassion, they develop teamwork, oral communication and critical thinking skills, and they also learn the values of the world in which they live. All of this requires high-level human contact on a day-to-day basis.” Secondly, “in a world that depends more and more on science and technology, it is vitally important that university students have more, not less, laboratory-based experience. . . . World-class universities are defined by the quality of their scientific facilities and by the opportunities that students have to spend time, hands-on, with passionate scientific experts.”
And finally, “a MOOC is only about inputs, not about outputs. At present, the work that students produce in MOOCs is marked by peers or computers, not by professors. Students receive no feedback whatsoever from the world-class leaders who appear in the videos.”
But the BEST PART (I know!) is when she calls bull$hit on the TED talk promotions that focus on outreach to the tweenage geniuses of the developing world as the justification for MOOCifying first-world higher education. Just go read it. Of course, there are other reasons that (for example) an intellectually gifted tweenage girl might want to live in Oxford, England or Palo Alto, California besides meeting her proffies and getting to know other students–like not getting shot in the face by the Taliban!–but it’s precisely this manipulative approach to pushing MOOCs that needs to be called out.
I can hear the complaints already: “Historiann, How can you not be against shooting tweenage girls in the face?” As Jonathan Rees always asks, can’t we do both? Why is it always construed as an either/or choice? Can’t we be against tweenage girls being shot in the face and in favor of preserving the value of a university education?
Besides, if MOOCs were in fact a solution for shooting tweenagers in the face, we could still deploy them without it having any effect whatsoever on university education in the rest of the world. But I’m afraid that MOOCs are probably neither the solution to the defunding of higher education in the first world, nor to the deadly war on women in some parts of the developing world.