Archive | November, 2013

learned luddites The Economist

23 Nov

Learned Luddites

Many professors are hostile to online education
Oct 12th 2013 | CHICAGO |From the print edition

SOME people hope that the internet will revolutionise higher education, making it cheaper and more accessible to the masses. Others fear the
prospect. Some academics worry that they will be sacked and replaced by videos of their more photogenic colleagues. Others argue that
MOOCs (massive open online courses) are nowhere near as good as a class taught face-to-face.

Earlier this year academics at Amherst, a liberal-arts college, decided not to offer MOOCs. Professors in the philosophy department at San
José State University wrote a letter of complaint because they were encouraged to use a popular online Harvard course, “JusticeX”, as part of
their own curriculum. Even at Harvard, which has invested $30m in MOOCs, much of the faculty is prickly. In May 58 professors wrote to the
dean of arts and sciences to demand greater oversight of MOOCs.

Online education reached 6.7m students in 2011. A third of those enrolled at traditional colleges took an online course as part of their degrees.
MOOCs are only a little different: they cater to learners outside an old-fashioned university, generally offer only certificates of completion, and
can be used by, and assess, large numbers of students simultaneously.

A recent study of faculty attitudes to technology by the online publication Inside Higher Ed found much scepticism about MOOCs, but also that
staff who have actually taught on them are far more positive about their quality. Nishikant Sonwalkar, the editor of MOOCs Forum, says
professors do not want to teach on courses they did not create. At the same time they are concerned about “academic marginalisation”.
Popular MOOCs are creating star professors, such as Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller at Stanford University. Mr Sonwalkar observes that many
of the academics he has approached to appear in MOOCs decline because they feel uncomfortable on camera.

Academics are over-reacting, argues Jack Wilson, the president emeritus of the University of Massachusetts. MOOCs are an interactive
textbook, he says. Not every professor writes a textbook, but all can use them. Pre-recorded lectures and multiple-choice questions can lighten
the load on lecturers. Sanjay Sarma, the director of digital learning at MIT, describes them as a “force multiplier”. Professors will eventually get
used to them. But first, says Mr Wilson, they must “get over the fear factor”.