Monday, April 29, 2013

Our First Hangout on Air

On April 26, we held a Hangout-on-Air with Wayne Anderson, president of the Associated Colleges of the South.  The theme of the conversation was MOOCs and the liberal arts college.  We discussed how small colleges might respond to the MOOC phenomenon.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Radio Free MOOC?

This article about the radio-based "MOOCs" of the 1920s and 1930s is a great read.  There are some big differences between the current phenomenon and what is described therein that I want to mention:
  • In the early-mid 20th century, college was not the seemingly necessary ticket to the middle-class life that it has now become.
  • The expense of college had not spiraled upwards as it now has.
  • The Internet was not available to facilitate two-way communication as it now can.
Aside from those points, I think the basic thrust of the article is on-target.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Preregistration: Students, you have the right to be refused

Here at Hendrix, we just finished preregistration for the 2013-14 academic year.  I want to reflect a bit on how the system is not designed to put the needs of the students first.

More often than not, only one section is offered of any given course in any given academic year.  It often happens that there is a time conflict with another course.  Widespread frustration with this phenomenon is given voice in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Hermione uses a "Time-Turner" to enable her to solve this problem.  Alas, time-turners are pure fantasy, and thus if a student wants to take two concurrent courses, the attitude of the institution is to say, "I don't care that you're interested in both things.  This semester, you may only study one of them."

Even if the student is fortunate enough to avoid this problem, there is also the problem of class limits.  The institution can only handle a certain number of students in a course.  There is often a good reason for this.  Nevertheless, the institution says to the ejected student, "Tough luck.  I don't care that you are interested.  You just don't fit."  I don't mean to minimize the efforts that an institution will undertake to address this; often, new adjuncts are hired and new sections opened for just this reason.  Nevertheless, the institution reserves the right to say "No" to a student.

Contrast this attitude with the attitude of a MOOC.  Sign up whenever you want for whatever you want.  The field is open.  If you are curious, we will help you feed your curiosity.  Of course, Coursera, with its own time-limited courses, does not take this advantage as seriously as Udacity does.  I am intrigued at how strong my negative feelings are towards Coursera on precisely this point.

I don't want to pretend that there is a straightforward means for a brick-and-mortar institution to emulate this possibility.  But as a department chair who just had to evict at least two dozen students from courses they wanted to take, I can't shake the feeling that the MOOC world may be sincerely trying harder to serve students than we are.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

MOOCS and Academic Advising

It is academic advising time here at Hendrix, which has given me some thoughts about a potential role of MOOCs.

It is very common for a student to sign up for a course and discover that the material is really not interesting or compelling. But this realization might not happen until several weeks into the course, well past the deadline to replace it with something else. Furthermore, courses are something of a scarcity for the student.

At Hendrix, students take four courses per semester, with 32 courses required for graduation. In speaking with some of my advisees over the past two weeks, some of them have expressed that the trade-offs in deciding how to invest their precious course credits in filling out their academic portfolio are really quite stressful.

It could be suggested, then, that a student who is feeling indecisive about what to take could sign up for a couple of MOOCs in the pertinent subjects. The student could then use this experience to inform the registration decision. Unfortunately, the synchronous model employed by Coursera makes this really difficult to do. You have to get the timing right. Coursera's offerings would really be a lot more useful (both in this regard and in other ways) if they would do what Udacity does and archive the course videos indefinitely.