Saturday, October 24, 2009

Free Online Higher Education Courses?

Despite all the "opencourseware" activities in higher education, the business model for delivering these courses remain in question. In a review of this work in the Chronicle of Higher Education, many of these issues are summarized.

There are many problems with this article and the whole discussion, for example:

"A freshman at Podunk U. can study with the world's top professors on YouTube."

Sentences like this are misleading. The idea that simply viewing lectures or having the homework is the equivalent of "taking" a course is very troubling. One of the essential features of "taking" a course is getting feedback and clarification of your ideas and your understanding of the material. Watching the video is not "studying with" a professor it is merely "listening to a lecture." This may be informative and you may learn something, but you have not studied with anyone.

"Social life we'll just forget about because there's Facebook," Mr. [David] Wiley says. "Nobody believes that people have to go to university to have a social life anymore."

Wrong. Surely there is no one left who really thinks that "Facebook" replaces social experiences at college or anywhere else. Scholars who have studied this work have shown repeatedly that online and real life social life is completely intertwined and some online social activity is with people that one knows already.

There was at least one sensible note in this article that is a significant reminder of the limits of much of this talk about our current round of open courseware.

"There's a pretty significant fraction of the population that learns better with instructor-led kinds of activities than purely self-paced activities," says John R. Bourne, executive director of the Sloan Consortium, a group that supports online learning. "Can you have a group of students who know nothing about quantum mechanics and have them work in a group and discuss it and learn a lot? I think it's going to be difficult."

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