Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Democratization of Education

First there were MMORPG's, now there are MOOC's (massive online open courses). If anything is a natural for the internet, this is it. It hearkens back to the internet's original purpose of keeping scientists informed. Universities such as Stanford and MIT began offering on line courses around the turn of this century. Apple with iTunes-U gathered a lot of these courses together in 2007. Now there are companies like Coursera, Udacity and edX which have brought us into the MOOC age with millions enrolled in free courses. The NYT has a short video story about the topic. Free college education courses could be the greatest boon since the GI bill.

However, (there's always a 'however') this is the age of physical therapists and health trainers. We may have lost the skills to do things on our own. As the NYT video states, only a fraction complete the courses.

There is another 'however', however, with education on line. Ars-Technica reports that with all our social media inclinations, much science information is not coming from traditional scientific sources, but from the whims of search engines, sources we prefer, which may not be completely trustworthy, or even comments made by whomever on scientific articles.

Nothing's perfect, but it will be interesting to see how MOOC's impact our society.


Big Myk said...

First off, I'm not so sure that we now live in an age of physical therapists and trainers -- any more than any other age. Remember the scandle in the movie Charitots of Fire when Harold Abrahams hired Sam Mussabini to train him for the 1924 Olympics. Of course, he coached him to a gold medal in the 100m and silver in the 4x100m.

So, why couldn't Abrahams have done it on his own? Well, for one, we are social animals, who like human contact, even when we're training. As importantly, trainers, coaches, physical therapists are a humble acknowledgment that we are live in sin, and are frail and weak. And if we get by, its usually due to a little help from our friends.

To labor in isolation is a difficult thing. I suppose can be done, but I fail to see virtue in it.

Online courses can give lots of people a window into great thoughts and perhaps wisdom. But it can never replace the feedback and give and take among students and between students and professors that distinguishes the academic community.

James R said...

I think you're right that this may be no different than any other age. Perhaps it's more like a social or cultural high pressure area that moves around. In some times and in some places the pressure may be 'rugged individualism'; other times, "it takes a village."

And perhaps that is even less important than individual preference. Some individuals prefer study groups, others like to head out on their own. Most people probably do a little of both.

And it could be that the significant factor is money. Free education is more of incentive for some.

Big Myk said...

Curiously enough, I just heard an NPR story today which discussed how, even withn full scholarships, poor people do not go to top-fight colleges. See Elite Colleges Struggle To Recruit Smart, Low-Income Kids.

For example, in 2004, Harvard began a program which offered both free tuition and free room and board to any student whose family earned less than $40,000. This program, however, has added only about 15 poor students to each freshman class of 1,650.

Students from poor families don't get into Harvard because they don't apply. And they don't apply because -- I'm paraphrasing here -- no one ever suggested it. It's just not on their radar screen.

This suggests to me that the democratization of education is going to take more than making things free. As Dennis Moore realized years ago: "Wait a tic... blimey, this redistribution of wealth is trickier than I thought."

James R said...

You bring up an interesting point. Personally, I doubt that MOOC's will change education like the GI bill for a variety of reasons. But you introduce a factor in their favor that I hadn't thought of.

For a lower income student to attend a prestige school, it not only takes awareness, as stated in the article, but also the considerable risk of entering a non-familiar location, with a different cultural/social makeup, and where you are familiar with no one. How many 18 year olds want that, in addition to living away from home for the first time?

Perhaps that would favor a MOOC.

Big Myk said...

Of course, much of the discussion in the New York Times video concerned the eventual need for MOOCs to make money.