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From an article in the NY Times Education Life section (Nov 4, 2012) by Laura Pappano —
The educational happening of the moment is MOOCs. Everyone wants in, but no one is quite sure what they’re getting into.
A nonprofit called edX is a startup from Harvard and MIT; it has garnered 370,00 students for this fall session. Coursera, which was founded in January 2012, has reached more than 1.7 million (growing “faster than Facebook,” according to Stanford’s Andrew Ng).
Udacity started the revolution last fall after 150,000 people signed up for Sebastian Thrun’s “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.” Says David Stevens, “A year ago we were three guys in Sebastian’s living room and now we have 40 employees full time.”
MOOCs have been around for some time, but this is the year everyone wants in. Pappano writes
Elite universities are partnering with Coursera at a furious pace. It now offers courses from 33 of the biggest names in postsecondary education, including Princeton, Brown, Columbia and Duke. In September, Google unleashed a MOOC building online tool, and Stanford unveiled Class2Go with two courses.
What Is a MOOC?
The MOOC is — unlike traditional online courses — free, credit-less, and in a word massive. Anyone with an Internet connection can enroll, so obviously faculty can’t respond to individual students; course design (how material is presented and interactivity) counts for a lot. Fellow students also matter; study groups organize in online forums or in localities and to share and grade work.
Education, entertainment (gaming) and social networking knit together in MOOCs. This is unlike current open courseware, which is usually written materials or videotapes of lectures which make you feel as if you’re spying on a class from the back of the room. MOOCs are full courses, made with you in mind.
The medium is still the lecture. MOOC makers got the memo on the benefit of brevity from the Khan Academy’s free archives; 8-10 minutes is typical. Then (key point) the videos pause perhaps twice for a quiz to make sure you understand the material (or, if it’s computer programming, to let you write code). Feedback is electronic. Teaching assistants may monitor discussion boards. There may be homework and a final exam.
Some problems are substantial. Grading is imperfect. Cheating is real. David Patterson, professor at UC Berkeley, says “We found groups of 20 people in a course in a course submitting identical homework.” Udacity and edX now offer proctored exams. Some students aren’t prepared for work at this level. And few stick with it.
It takes 5 minutes to sign up, “assuming you spend two devising a stylish user name,” says Dr. Ng. Of the 1.7 million who signed up for his course, only 46,000 attempted the first assignment and 13,000 completed the class. They earned a certificate — not from Stanford — but from him.
But that’s still a lot of students.
What are the benefits? Well, free courses can bring the best education in the world to remote corners of the planet; they really help people in their careers; and they are able to expand intellectual and personal networks.
The Big Three
- Profile — Nonprofit run out of MIT and Harvard; with Berkeley and University of Texas system.
- Courses — 8. In chemistry, computer science, electronics, public health; plans for 20 to 30 in the spring.
- Assessment — Software grades tests and homework.
- Academic Integrity — Some final exams are proctored at Pearson testing centers for varying costs. To prevent copying, users get different, randomly generated numbers in their problem sets.
- Social Interaction — Rudimentary; only one course, given by Harvard School of Public Health in quantitative methods, has regional get-a.
- Pacing — Courses have start and end dates. Registration closes two weeks after start date. Students may miss a week but lose points if they don’t make a deadline for turning in an assignment.
- What you get — Two certificates available, one designating an honor code, one a proctored exam. Both bear the edX and campus name — for example, MITx, HarvardX, BerkeleyX, UTAustinX.
- Profile — For profit with Stanford roots but no university affiliation.
- Courses — 18. In computer science, mathematics, physics, business.
- Assessment — Software grades tests, problem sets and programming assignments.
- Academic Integrity — Proctored final exams at Pearson testing centers, for $89.
- Social Interaction — Online forums and study groups, meet-ups organized by students in over 450 cities.
- Pacing — Courses taken at own speed.
- What you get — Certificates according to academic performance: completion, distinction, high distinction, highest distinction. Colorado State’s Global Campus accepts transfer credit for a course in building a search engine. In a free job-matching program, resumes are sent to partner companies, including Google, Bank of America, Twitter, Facebook and TrialPay, based on their job openings and student analytics (grade, participation level.)
- Profile — For profit with Stanford roots; 33 university partners, including many Ivys, Duke, California Institute of Technology, Berklee College of Music.
- Courses — 197 in 18 subjects, including computer science, math, business, humanities, social science, medicine, engineering, education.
- Assessment — Software grades quizzes, homework, problem sets; five other students grade written responses. Many instructors allow quizzes to be taken multiple times, with highest grade counting (a different quiz each time).
- Academic Integrity — Click a box agreeing to an honor code.
- Social Interaction — Online forums and study groups, meet-ups organized by students in about 1400 cities.
- Pacing — Most courses have start and end dates, though it’s possible to join a course after it has begun, as long as it is before the registration cutoff date.
- What you get — Some instructors offer signed certificates of completion, but not from the university.
For the complete article by Laura Pappano in the New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/edlife on Nov 4, 2012.
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