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Français : Blason de l’université d’Harvard (USA) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reflections and comments on MOOCs

I’d like here to add a few comments to my presentation of yesterday night on MOOCs.

The preso in its Storify form is available herewith. After, I am going to raise a couple of issues from the comments that were brought by two of yesterday’s students.

A hyperbole

So, here are the points I wish to raise here.

  1. The myth of content. Saying “dictatorship of content” is one thing. Which does not mean content is not important. But it is not all-important. In fact, the myth of contents means being slave of one powerful prison: believing that knowledge is freezable into static chunks that need to be passed down (transmitted) from teacher to student. So we get the idea that knowledge can be “delivered” and consumed like a pizza. If content were that important, then a book would be all one would need to learn whatever subject (myself, I learned a few subjects this way). But sometimes we need discussion, passion or simple human participation not mediated by anything.
  2. The role of the professor. Is the gentleman really needed? Schank says AI and robots cannot (yet) analyze or correct a text. Ergo, the role of the teacher is pretty much safe for now! However, in Thrun‘s mind (and operation), a few algorithms are the only subjects who do the evaluation, apart some peer-based student assignment correction. It things were that simple, well, we’d disappear shortly. But things are not that simple, and generally speaking, one cannot set up a self-driving machine to produce a sensibkle learning experience. In some areas one can, actually, and perhaps programming may be that. I didn’t go to many classes, and in a few cases I jumped that part altogether and got the exams only –and passed them. Does this mean there is no need of the professor? Certainly not.
  3. Some say MOOCs will subvert education as we know it. Well, it’s happening, but not in the way MOOCs were supposed to. In fact yesterday I made the point that the Coursera-like MOOC (xMOOC as it is called now) is actually pushing us back to our industrial chain-like view of education. OMG!
  4. One thing MOOCs are subverting is the certification business, credentials and all that. Which may be good, and this may spun new ideas. For instance this may open the doors to competency-based curricula where one students enters a “course” or a micro module and exits when she feels confident about mastering some knowledge or skill. Of course, for this to happen our Universities must loosen the requirement concept, and allow non-credit certificates or similar to be accepted as part of the standard requisites for a given program of studies. This alone is very unsettling for institutions. But we may already have a case with Coursera (which I criticize but publicly say I like their doing).
  5. Last, a very important albeit minor issue is the culture that is propagated through the MOOCs. Apparently MOOCs are given free to everyone, even those who cannot afford an expensive education. But in most countries, unlike the US, education is a social feature free (or low-cost) for all. So, we’re really talking about Harvard-style education being free for all. Great! But, remember: marrying Harvard means marrying its family too: all its culture, which is based on (or at least stands upon) the Great American Values. All right here, but: aren’t thus the GAVs exported or imposed upon all the “poor, ineducate” people of the world? Isn’t this a colonizing principle?
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Antonio Vantaggiato