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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Seven Questions to the MOOCFest

Photo from "UC Online Courses Fail to Lure Outsiders," San Francicso Chronicle.

UCLA's "Reboot" with MOOCs extravaganza begins right about now.  Here are a few questions I'd like to see answered.

1. Whether for-profit or not (e.g. Coursera vs. Udacity), offering free online courses generates no revenue.  10*0 = 500*0 = 2,700,000*0 = 0.  There's great politics here but not a business model.  What are your core revenue sources?

2. A recent piece in the New York Times suggests that Coursera's main revenues now come from click-through sales of college products and selling information about test results to potential employers. Is this correct?

3. Assuming (1) and (2) don't financially support the massive, open teaching operation you envision--or won't attract investors looking for multiples on their capital--is your main revenue plan to provide online courses to existing universities for their enrolled students?

4. If (3) is true, what share of the development costs and course revenues will you take? One number we have heard is 50% of course tuition for 7 years. The NYT article has an even higher number.  Since you use salaried university faculty to create course content, so far, it appears, without pay, are you going to wind up in the business of selling universities their own courses back to them at a big production markup?

5. Given substantial costs for quality on-line development and operation, how exactly will you save money for students enrolled in degree courses (who are already paying tuition)? Given enrollment problems with MOOCs that aren't free, on what basis can you say that you will save universities money? What is your estimate of how much?

6. Public universities have always been trying to synthesize broad access and top quality, with ever-decreasing funds.  What is the concrete evidence that MOOCs can improve or simply maintain educational quality in a time when graduates need a higher order of creativity than ever before?

7. You have generated excitement about MOOCs by claiming that they will expand access and lower costs while maintaining or increasing educational quality.  The only way you can lower costs is by making more teaching and support staff redundant.   Have you thought through the extent to which your PR's main effects have been to make academic labor even more precarious and encourage public officials to make additional budget cuts?


MOOCs said...

MOOCs will have to charge for classes. They can still be self-paced and scalable. StraighterLine is proof.

hmarcuse said...

I always fear that having conditionals in questions allows the answerer to avoid thorny issues--they simply negate the condition (even if it is true). I hope they don't do this on your first few.

Also, aside from the revenue questions, I think more fundamental is the issue of researching, determining the conditions under which and the extent to which online courses are didactically equal or superior to face-to-face courses.

For example, online lectures and interactive modules may be better for content delivery to highly motivated, advanced learners, but I would guess that creative insights are better generated between individuals (whether experts or not) in a shared space of communication. Has anyone compared the results of such interactions in virtual spaces vs. physical spaces?

Lots of research desiderata before we know how learning of various sorts takes place.

Anonymous said...

These are all great questions-- I missed the event but hope some were taken up. But/and-- why the exclusive focus here on MOOCS and their problems, when as I understand it the conference (despite the high profile presence of MOOC people) was on online education's potential in the larger context? Was it only about MOOCS?

Surely the larger trend is for systemwide enrollment (for UC students, for fees) in UC online classes, allowing for smaller subjects to get larger enrollments,as well as for more popular lower division classes suitable for online methods (esp. in STEM) to handle more students, so they don't have graduation delayed due to classes being chronically overfull.

Shawn Warren said...

All good questions, but I particularly like the last one (#7).

My comment here also applies to your Jan 6 post on MOOCs and privatization. You present higher education as stuck between a rock called public and a hard place called private.

However, I believe this is a false dichotomy. There are two alternative means of providing higher education and research that walk a middle way between public and private.

The issue raised by #7 is the potential condition of academic labour in this inevitable era of electronic education progresses. I agree with you. If this new era evolves from the current one of institutional higher education, then academics are in serious trouble.

But because this electronic era is new we can pioneer another path for academics that protects not only their labour but their students and enterprise.

The MOOC public relations campaign claims they expand access, reduce costs and increase quality.

You claim the “only way” to achieve this is to make more teaching and support staff redundant.

I also believe this is false. I make the same claims for the professional and cooperative alternatives I propose. In fact many more individuals could work in academia than can hope to under the current service paradigm, especially as we head into the era of virtual higher education.

As I see it, the progressive introduction of electronic education (in all its forms including MOOCs and course sales) is a grand opportunity for academics to assert themselves as the only proper, essential labour of the civic enterprise. The institutions that presently employ us will be diluted and dissolved in a binary solution leaving the academic as the only essential element of higher education.

Universities are not more than legal entities that facilitate higher education and research conducted BY ACADEMICS FOR STUDENTS AND SOCIETY – not for institutional position or purse.

As the relevant technology advances the need of physical proximity for meaningful human interaction will decrease – look at medicine, sex, business, retail…. Why would we need a university let alone be employed by one in this future of higher education?

If we turn our backs on these institutions and their paradigm now, before this early phase of adoption settles, then we have a good chance of controlling our labour in the future.

Agrodut Mandal said...

Thanks a lot for the outstanding article. I enjoyed very much.

Agrodut Mandal
Thesis Writing

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