Tag Archives: MOOC

Joel Cohen: Malthus Miffed: Are People the Problem, the Solution, or Both?

I highly recommend that you inspect Floating University’s Great Big Ideas: An Entire Undergraduate Education While Standing on One Foot. 

In the Fall of 2011 Big Think teamed up with the Jack Parker Corporation to launch The Floating University, an online educational initiative that debuted at Harvard University, Yale University, and Bard College. Seeking to upset the status quo, evolve the structure of higher education, and democratize access to the world’s best thinkers, FU’s inaugural course, Great Big Ideas, became the most requested class at all three schools where it was offered.(…snip…)

There are twelve lectures, each taught by a leader in the field who is also a great teacher. The first lecture of the series is the captioned Malthus Miffed by Joel Cohen, a mathematical biologist and a professor of populations. It is a suitable topic for the first lecture because an understanding of demography is one of the foundations for understanding how the world works, and especially what policies are likely to succeed (e.g., immigration, development, climate).

Prof. Cohen really is a great teacher – a skill achieved by investing a lot of energy in developing the craft, including practice. Even if you don’t think you are interested in demographics I predict you will be glued to your screen for the duration of this lecture. The course package includes Readings and Discussion Questions. 

Enjoy!

KNOWOSPHERE: can MOOCS make a difference?

I think Andy Revkin's KNOWOSPHERE is a useful framing of one of the core development challenges. 18 months ago Andy wrote about how even South African students couldn't access higher education. SA is relatively rich compared to many neighbors.

I also think Tyler Cowen's “Average is Over” is fundamentally correct. So how are the Bottom Billion going to find jobs that lead out of the bottom? The only scalable, affordable pathway I've been able to think of are MOOCS. Remember that the top 72 students in the first Stanford online AI class were NOT Stanford students!

Here's Andy from 2012: What Can U.S. Universities Do About a Student Stampede in Johannesburg?

…To me, there is nothing more tragic than seeing young people who are already eager to learn denied that chance — whether through inequity created by poverty or simply, as in this case, the lack of infrastructure. (I had that same feeling when I first saw photos of kids, lacking electricity in their slum dwellings, doing homework under the lights in an airport parking lot in Guinea.)

From South Asia through much of the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, it’d be impossible to build schools or train teachers fast enough to keep up with the “youth bulge” that has given humanity more than a billion teenagers either to nurture or tame — the difference depending largely on access to education beyond elementary grades.

But in these same places, explosive expansion in mobile phone subscriptions and fast-dropping costs for smart phones provide the architecture for a partial end run around such bottlenecks. That’s why the decision by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to open more courses to online users is probably just a taste of what’s to come. [Stanford University has had remarkable outcomes, as well.]

What’s needed now is the educational equivalent to Paul Polak’s work fostering progress in rural agrarian communities in poor places. His mantra is “design for the other 90 percent.”

Universities in the developed world seeking a place (and a business model) in a century in which knowledge is no longer cached in ivory towers would do well to find ways to “educate for the other 90 percent.”

So here's the question: what do we have to do to enable Nigeria to Somalia to leverage all those free MOOCS into useful education and brainwork jobs? Just a smartphone is not sufficient. We are starting to see some enabling models in the rich world — WGU Western Governors University is great example. Check it out, how could it be adapted to South Africa?

 

MOOCS: Should celebrities teach online classes?

As part of the production team, yes of course! The reason South Korean tutors earn multi-millions per year is because they generate engagement and satisfied customers. An education model that requires a teacher or professor to do everything is like a Hollywood producer having to direct, act,   film, promote and distribute the film. Is that a winning scheme?

A savvy student wants to buy the best product for her needs – the quality of that product is ultimately measured by the subject mastery she achieved using the course-product. The innovators like Sebastian Thrun’s Udacity are already finding more effective ways to deliver the concept of “great teaching”. Here’s an excerpt from Jeffrey R. Young writing for Slate:

(…snip…) Casting Damon in a MOOC is just an idea, for now: In meetings, officials have proposed trying one run of a course with someone like Damon, to see how it goes. But even to consider swapping in a star actor for a professor reveals how much these free online courses are becoming major media productions—ones that may radically change the traditional role of professors.

One for-profit MOOC producer, Udacity, already brings in camera-friendly staff members to appear with professors in lecture videos. One example is an introduction to psychology course developed earlier this year in partnership with San Jose State University. It had three instructors: Gregory J. Feist, an associate professor of psychology at San Jose State University, who has been teaching for more than 25 years and who wrote a popular textbook on the subject; Susan Snycerski, a lecturer at the university who has taught for 15 years; and Lauren Castellano, a Udacity employee who recently finished a master’s in psychology from the university, advised by Feist.

In the course’s opening lecture, the three stand together and go over the ground rules, but after that, Castellano takes the lead on camera. Feist and Snycerski make regular appearances throughout the 16 lessons, but often only briefly, to explain a concept or two, or to be part of a demonstration or skit with Castellano.

Does it bother the more-experienced professors that they get less screen time than their younger colleague? “That’s a Udacity decision,” said Feist. “They’ve discovered that it works well if you have these younger people doing most of the instruction, but in fact the content is coming from professors. They wanted someone who students can identify with.”

The professors say they typically develop the lessons and then send them to the Udacity employee to turn the lectures into scripts, complete with demonstrations and suggested jokes. For the lesson on sensation and perception, for instance, Castellano came up with the idea of staging a “sense Olympics.” She and another Udacity employee pretended to be news anchors giving updates from contests that demonstrated human senses. The scenes are playful, and the professors even filmed mock advertisements for products related to the lessons, as a way to add variety to what could otherwise have been a series of talking heads lecturing to the camera.

Sebastian Thrun, Udacity’s founder, said that he models the approach on the way popular television shows are made. “It’s similar to a newscast these days— they have a dialogue,” he said.

“All our instructors are knowledgeable in the subject area,” Thrun added. “However, we often rely on teams of people to produce a MOOC, and often the individuals who show up on tape are not the primary instructor who composes the materials. This really depends on how camera-shy an instructor is, and how well we believe an instructor is able to do a great job in front of a camera.”

None of us know where this going – but I’m hoping to see Udacity-type experimentation multiplying throughout the education space. We especially need it in K-12 where the institutional structure makes it unspeakably difficult to change. 

Udacity & Georgia Tech MOOMS (M.S. Computer Science online)

Inside Higher Ed has a long article on this remarkable new venture – “based on interviews and documents, including some that the university provided to Inside Higher Ed following an open records request.” There are 22 pages of internal Georgia Tech docs referenced. Example: 

“It is an experiment that no other institution of our caliber has embarked on (yet!) but everyone is talking about moving in this direction, so if we want to do it, we should do it right away,” the report, produced in late February, said. “There is an opportunity to be a leader rather than a follower if we act quickly and thoughtfully.”

There is a glimpse of the financial projections as well:

The Georgia Tech program will have four enrollment tracks for students. Enrollment starts in January, though the first year will feature a small test run of several hundred paying students drawn mostly from the military and the corporate world, particularly AT&T.

Georgia Tech and Udacity expect the program to cost about $3.1 million in its first year. With a $2 million one-time sponsorship from AT&T and about $1.3 million in tuition and fees, Georgia Tech and Udacity
expect to split $240,060 in gains at the end of the first year.

In the second year, without AT&T’s large subsidy, Georgia Tech and Udacity plan to spend $7.5 million and scrape out gains of just $14,848 for the whole year.

By the third year, when the program is expected to be running at full steam, Georgia Tech and Udacity expect to spend $14.3 million on the program but bring in $19.1 million in revenue — for a total gain of about $4.7 million.

Georgia Tech will receive 60 percent of the revenue and Udacity the rest. The money to Georgia Tech will flow through its research corporation. Professors and the computing college both stand to gain from the effort. A professor will receive $20,000 for creating a course and $10,000 for delivering the content — meaning most professors will receive $30,000 per course. Professors will receive a royalty of $2,500 each time the course is offered again.

The posted Georgia Tech document is a wonderful source of insights into how the new degree program will actually operate.

Udacity and Georgia Tech join to offer a $7,000 M.S. Computer Science online

This very exciting bulletin came up simultaneously on two of our favorite feeds: Tyler Cowen and Sebastian Thrun. Here's Tyler:

The Georgia Institute of Technology plans to offer a $7,000 online master’s degree to 10,000 new students over the next three years without hiring much more than a handful of new instructors.

Georgia Tech will work with AT&T and Udacity, the 15-month-old Silicon Valley-based company, to offer a new online master’s degree in computer science to students across the world at a sixth of the price of its current degree. The deal, announced Tuesday, is portrayed as a revolutionary attempt by a respected university, an education technology startup and a major corporate employer to drive down costs and expand higher education capacity.

Georgia Tech expects to hire only eight or so new instructors even as it takes its master’s program from 300 students to as many as 10,000 within three years, said Zvi Galil, the dean of computing at Georgia Tech.

…The deal started to come together eight months ago in a meeting between Galil and Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun.

“Sebastian suggested to do a master’s degree for $1,000 and I immediately told him it’s not possible,” Galil said.

(…)

And here's Sebastian:

Today is my opportunity to give back. Ever since Peter Norvig and I launched AI Class, I have been dreaming of putting an entire computer science degree online, and to make access to the material free of charge, so that everyone can become a proficient computer scientist. With Georgia Tech and AT&T, this is my dream come true. If, as a young student, I had the chance to learn from the best professors in the world, my life might have been different. I have been fortunate. Yet so many potential learners are still denied access. Education has become much more exclusive, and getting into a top-10 computer science department, like Georgia Tech's, is still out of reach for all but a chosen few.

I co-founded Udacity to bring the very best of higher education to everyone worldwide. With Georgia Tech, we have a partner whose computer science program is among the best in the world! And equally importantly, with AT&T, we partner with a Fortune-500 company which is relentlessly innovating in the space of digital access to information. This triumvirate of industry and academia is now teaming up to use 21st Century MOOC technology to level the playing field in computer science education. And while the degree rightfully comes with a tuition fee — after all, to achieve the very best in online education we will provide support services — the bare content will be available free of charge, available for anyone eager to learn. We are also launching non-credit certificates at a much reduced price point, to give a path to those who don't care about Georgia Tech credit or degrees, but still want their learning results certified.

I wish I had been born in the 1990s. Back when I was a college student, the Web did not exist. How many young students are there in the world today as eager to learn as I was? Only time will tell how many young people we'll be able to empower to reach for the stars. If you are a student in our program and come across this blog post, please drop me a line at sebastian@udacity.com. If only a single life can be touched with this program, it will be a success!

I think this is a very big deal – hope I'm right!

Update: here's the Georgia Tech site for OMSCS with FAQ and intro videos. From the FAQ:

How is this degree different from residential Georgia Tech MS CS?

The OMS CS will deliver educational content completely through the massive online format. This means it will differ from the residential MS CS in course structure, for example, but will provide an educational experience no less rigorous than the on-campus format.

How is the OMS CS different from other distance-learning and/or online degree programs that have existed for a long time?

The Georgia Tech OMS CS is the first online degree in computer science from a top-tier university that students can obtain exclusively through the massive-online format.

How much does the degree program cost?

We’re not yet ready to announce a specific program cost, but the plan is to offer the Georgia Tech OMS CS for a total cost of under $7,000—a fraction of the cost of Georgia Tech’s on-campus program and even less than that of comparable private universities.

What evidence do you have of market demand for this program?

At present, around 160,000 master’s degrees are bestowed in the United States every year in computer science and related subject disciplines; the worldwide market is almost certainly much larger, perhaps even an order of magnitude larger. We conjecture that the present structure is vastly underserving the market and will conduct market research in the first year to check these estimates and help target our course offerings.

How long does it take to complete and receive a degree?

We anticipate the typical time for students to complete the OMS CS will be about three years, though we will allow for longer enrollments— up to six years—for those students who need greater flexibility.

How does the student workload compare to a residential degree? How many hours a week will students spend on it?

The total workload is the same as the residential program; the weekly or hourly workload depends on how quickly students wish to complete the program.

Who can take courses?

All OMS CS courses will be available free of charge for anyone, anywhere in the world. Degree-seeking students will be virtually separated from “open” students to ensure degree program rigor.

 

Who’s afraid of a MOOC?: on being education-y and course-ish

Here's a very informative post by Greg Downey @GregDowney1 on the Neuroanthropology PLOS Blog. Did you know about all the MOOC developments in Australia? Such as the Open Universities Australia? Well I didn't, but am going to follow their work closely. Greg is one of the prime movers. A sample:

(…) My project was chosen to be the first cab off the rank at Macquarie after I pointed out at a panel discussion last semester during ‘Learning and Teaching Week’ that the technology made opening classrooms electronically inevitable. At the time, I argued that if the University didn’t promote open classroom efforts, the academic staff were going to start opening up our classrooms on our own. Either do it with us, or stand by as it happens without you. Anthropology (as well as a lot of other disciplines) wants to be free, or at the very least we are inexorably leaking onto the internet.

The leaking lecture hall

Web 2.0 opportunities are simply making it too easy and cheap to put teaching materials online. Our universities are often forcing us to tape lectures, generate electronic syllabi and provide access to our students already, so many of us are asking ourselves, why, after we put so much energy into lectures, slides, student readings, and the like for our classes, should we not share these much more widely. We have watched as lecture-like presentations – most notably, TED conference videos, but also iTunes U, Slideshare, and the like – have grown as a genre through podcasting and other avenues. There are copyright issues, and many of us are nervous about what will happen when as these materials become public, but enough of us are ready to dive into the deep end that the process is only likely to accelerate.

More…

 

Overcoming the legacy of prior education

Stanford's Keith Devlin is giving his second MOOC. Prof Devlin is a superb source of insights into everything related to the MOOC phenomenon. Here's a fragment from his latest post:

(…) Still, the very wide reach of MOOCs means we are likely to see new kinds of activities emerge, some of them purely commercial. The example I cite above, though right now a very isolated one, may be a sign of big things to come – which is why I mention it. There is, after all, a familiar pattern. The Internet, on which MOOCs live, began as a military and educational network, but now it is a major economic platform. And textbooks grew from being a valuable educational support to the present-day mega-profit industry that has effectively killed US K-12 education.

Talking of which (and this brings me to my main focus in this post), the death – or at least the dearth – of good K-12 mathematics education becomes clear when you look through the forum posts in a MOOC such as mine, which assumes only high school knowledge of mathematics.

Devlin offers important insights into the real world of learning as a process. Another example:

First, many forum posters seem to view education as something done to them, by other people who are in control. This is completely wrong, and is the opposite of what you will find in a good university (and a very small number of excellent K-12 schools). ”To learn” is an active verb. The focus should be creating an environment where the student can learn, wants to learn, and can obtain the support required to do so. There is no other way, and anyone who claims to do anything more than help you to learn is trying to extract money from you.

Second, there is a common view of education as being primarily about getting grades on tests – generally by the most efficient means (which usually means by-passing real learning). In education, tests are metrics to help the student and the instructor gauge progress. That does not prevent tests being used to assess achievement and provide credentials, but that is something you do after an educational experience is completed. Their use within the learning process is different, and everyone involved in education – students, instructors, parents, bureaucrats, and politicians – needs to be aware of the distinction.

Even worse, is the belief that a test grade of less than 90% is an indication of failure, often compounded by the hopeless misconception that activities like mathematics depend mostly on innate talent, rather than the hours of effort that those of us in the business know is the key. (Check out Carol Dweck’s Mindset research or read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink. Better still, read both.)

This is compounded by the expectation that a grade of 90% is possible within just a few days of meeting something new. For example, here is one (slightly edited) forum post from a student in my class:

Right now I want to quit this class. I don’t understand ANY of it. Hell I don’t understand anything regarding to math except basic equations and those barely. When asked to give a theorem on why something (let’s say a right angle) is that way my answer always was “it is because it is”). So now I don’t know what to do. I got 14 out of 40 … 14, and the perfectionist in me is saying might as well give up … you gave it a shot … there is no way to catch up now. The person in me who wants to learn is saying to keep trying you never know what will happen. And the pessimist in me says it doesn’t matter – I dumb and will always be dumb and by continuing I am just showing how dumb I am.

In this case, I looked at other posts from this student and as far as I can tell (this is hard when done remotely over the Internet) she is smart and shows every indication she can do fine in mathematics. In which case, I take her comment as an indication of the total, dismal failure of the education system she has hitherto been subjected to. No first-line education system should ever produce a graduate who feels like that.

Certainly, in learning something new and challenging, getting over 30% in the first test, less than a week after meeting it for the first time, is good. In fact, if you are in a course where you get much more than that so quickly, you are clearly in the wrong course – unless you signed up in order to fine-tune something you had already learned. Learning is a long, hard process that involves repeated “failure”. And (to repeat a point I made earlier) anyone who says otherwise is trying to extract money from you.

 

Online Education and Jazz

There is a lovely essay on Marginal Revolution by Alex Tabarrok, who rebuts Mark Edmundson’s criticism of online education. I’m very confident that time will prove Tabarrok right and Edmundson embarrasingly uninformed.

A common responses to my article, Why Online Education Works, is that there is something special, magical, and ‘almost sacred’ about the live teaching experience. I agree that this is true for teaching at its best but it’s also irrelevant. It’s even more true that there is something special, magical and almost sacred about the live musical experience. The time I saw Otis Clay in a small Toronto bar, my first Springsteen concert, the Teenage Head riot at Ontario Place these are some of my favorite and most memorable cultural experiences and yet by orders of magnitude most of the music that I listen to is recorded music.

In The Trouble With Online Education Mark Edmundson makes the analogy between teaching and music explicit:

Every memorable class is a bit like a jazz composition.

Quite right but every non-memorable class is also a bit like a jazz composition, namely one that was expensive, took an hour to drive to (15 minutes just to find parking) and at the end of the day wasn’t very memorable. The correct conclusion to draw from the analogy between live teaching and live music is that at their best both are great but both are also costly and inefficient ways of delivering most teaching and most musical experiences.

Edmundson also says this about online courses:

You can get knowledge from an Internet course if you’re highly motivated to learn. But in real courses the students and teachers come together and create an immediate and vital community of learning. A real course creates intellectual joy, at least in some. I don’t think an Internet course ever will.

Edmundson reminds me of composer John Philip Sousa who in 1906 wrote The Menace of Mechanical Music, an attack on the phonograph that sounds very similar to the attack on online education today.

It is the living, breathing example alone that is valuable to the student and can set into motion his creative and performing abilities. The ingenuity of a phonograph’s mechanism may incite the inventive genius to its improvement, but I could not imagine that a performance by it would ever inspire embryotic Mendelssohns, Beethovens, Mozarts, and Wagners to the acquirement of technical skill, or to the grasp of human possibilities in the art.

Sousa could not imagine it, but needless to say recorded music has inspired many inventive geniuses. Edmundson’s failure of imagination is even worse than Sousa’s, online courses are already creating intellectual joy (scroll down).

(…) 

Read more.

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

MOOCS: The Coming Wave

Prof. Anthony Finkelstein, proprietor of Prof Serious Engineering posted this commentary 24 Feb. He captured succinctly my intuition about the education-innovation wave. While we cannot predict much of anything about where this is going, nor how fast, I’ll risk speculating that by 2020 the retarded landscapes like the US will look quite different (at least on the coasts). The revolution is likely to start at the tertiary level – simply because it isn’t as institutionally rigid as the state public schools, which are typically under the thumb of the teachers unions. Anthony begins with this:

You might have expected that I would have opined on the e-learning and the MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) phenomenon before now. After all, everybody else in Higher Education has. I feared, that I had nothing further to add, and after reading this you may be tempted to agree. The course of the emerging debate suggests to me however, that some perspective is needed and this is what I would like to provide. I will do so now by way of a preliminary excursion.

A few years ago I was undertaking some research on behalf of a large industrial organisation whose primary business was photography. An organisation that was then, and still is, undergoing a significant and painful transformation in the face of a changed technological environment to which they had failed to adapt. A senior researcher, in confessional mood, reflected: “I became aware of the possibility of digital cameras many years before they became a practical reality … and then my mother had one. I just don’t know what happened in the intermediate period.”

This reflection strikes a familiar personal note, for me at least. Technology can, however far sighted you believe yourself to be, catch you unawares. Indeed, in certain cases at least, the greater your foresight the more likely you are to be surprised by the way trends unfold. Let me illustrate this by way of an example. Again some time ago, perhaps twenty years or more, I was attending a public lecture at the then Institution of Electrical Engineers. The speaker opened with a slide image that I had seen many many times before. I remarked on this to a friend sitting next to me, ‘not again’. The image was sufficiently well known that it had a nickname ‘the MIT rings’ (due to Nicolas Negroponte). It illustrated the potential for ‘digital convergence’: the coming together of communications, computing and content (seen as including data networks, television, telephone). Already the point being made seemed hackneyed and obvious.

Now wind forwards. Digital convergence has arrived. It is not a technical possibility, it is an everyday fact. My children rarely, if ever, watch television but browse video fragments and streams on the computer, I use Skype video calling, and listen to the radio on my ipad, just ordinary life. Unconverged technologies are dead or dying.

So what was I doing in the intermediate period between accepting the inevitability of digital convergence and living with the reality? Truthfully, I am not sure. Regrettably, not investing in Skype, YouTube and so on. The worrying thing is that, despite the fact that I knew what was going to happen, I discounted the consequences. Perhaps I had not fully absorbed the inevitability of the change, perhaps I attributed too much significance to the minor ebbs and currents in business, to the incidental features, to recognise the slow progress of a technological tidal wave that would sweep all before it. Or, maybe I simply lost focus.

(…)Please continue reading Anothy’s original essay.

Clay Shirky: Can MOOCs save college?

Another terrific essay from Clay on pushback by the academy. Excerpts:

(…) Bustillos’ answers seem to be that in the world of higher education, things are going fine, mostly, and that the parts that aren’t going fine can largely be fixed with tax dollars. (Because if there’s one group you’d pin your hopes for an American renaissance on, it would be state legislators.) I have a different answer: School is broken and everyone knows it.

(…) If you want to know what college is actually like in this country, forget Swarthmore, with 1500 students. Think Houston Community College, with 63,000. Think rolling admissions. Think commuter school. Think older. Think poorer. Think child-rearing, part-time, night class. Think 50% dropout rates. Think two-year degree. (Except don’t call it that, because most graduates take longer than two years to complete it. If they complete it.)

(…) In the academy, we’re fine with anything that lowers the cost of education. We love those kinds of changes. But when someone threatens to lower the price, well, then we start behaving like Teamsters in tweed.

* * *

I’ve been thinking about the effects of the internet for a couple of decades now. I’ve watched industry after industry forced to renegotiate their methods and models, in the face of a medium that allows for perfect copying, global distribution, zero incremental cost, ridiculously easy group-forming: The music business. Newspapers. Travel agents. Publishers. Hotel owners. And while watching, I’ve always wondered what I’d do when my turn came.

And now here it is. And it turns out my job is to tell you not to trust us when we claim that there’s something sacred and irreplaceable about what we academics do. What we do is run institutions whose only rationale—whose only excuse for existing—is to make people smarter.

Sometimes we try to make ourselves smarter. We call that research. Sometimes we try to make our peers smarter. We call that publishing. Sometimes we try to make our students smarter. We call that teaching. And that’s it. That’s all there is. These are important jobs for sure, and they are hard jobs at times, but they’re not magic. And neither are we.

(…) For all our good will, college in the U.S. has gotten worse for nearly everyone who relies on us. For some students—millions of them—the institutions in which they enroll are more reliable producers of debt than education. This has happened on our watch.

The competition from upstart organizations will make things worse for many of us. (I like the experiments we’ve got going at NYU, but I don’t fantasize that we’ll be unscathed.) After two decades of watching, though, I also know that that’s how these changes go. No industry has ever organized an orderly sharing of power with newcomers, no matter how interesting or valuable their ideas are, unless under mortal threat.

Instead, like every threatened profession, I see my peers arguing that we, uniquely, deserve a permanent bulwark against insurgents, that we must be left in charge of our destiny, or society will suffer the consequences. Even the record store clerks tried that argument, back in the day. In the academy, we have a lot of good ideas and a lot of practice at making people smarter, but it’s not obvious that we have the best ideas, and it is obvious that we don’t have all the ideas. For us to behave as if we have—or should have—a monopoly on educating adults is just ridiculous.