Web U

21MOOC-articleLargeContinuing the theme of yesterday’s blog on mid-life career change, here are some excerpts from A.J. Jacobs’ New York Times article about the pros and cons of online courses.

“When it comes to Massive Open Online Courses, like those offered by CourseraUdacity and edX, you can forget about the Socratic method.

The professor is, in most cases, out of students’ reach, only slightly more accessible than the pope or Thomas Pynchon. Several of my Coursera courses begin by warning students not to e-mail the professor. We are told not to ‘friend’ the professor on Facebook. If you happen to see the professor on the street, avoid all eye contact (well, that last one is more implied than stated). There are, after all, often tens of thousands of students and just one top instructor.”

“MOOC boosters tend to speak of these global online classes as if they are the greatest educational advancement since the Athenian agora, highlighting their potential to lift millions of people out of poverty. Skeptics — including the blogger and University of California, Berkeley, doctoral student Aaron Bady — worry that MOOCs will offer a watered-down education, give politicians an excuse to gut state school budgets, and harm less prestigious colleges and universities.”

Jacobs, an editor at large at Esquire magazine, decided to enroll in 11 web classes to observe himself. He grades each category of the online experience, such as “THE PROFESSORS: B+.” Reading through his opinions is interesting; the overall grade is a B.

Here’s an example:

“STUDENT-TO-STUDENT INTERACTION: B- As psychologists will tell you, if you don’t talk about what you’ve learned, the knowledge will evaporate. With MOOCs, there is no shortage of ways to connect with other students: Facebook, Google Plus, Skype, Twitter, Coursera discussion boards — even shutting your laptop and meeting a classmate in a three-dimensional Dunkin’ Donuts. Despite the variety, my peer interactions ranged from merely decent to unsatisfying.

Consider my history study group, which met at a Brooklyn diner. Well, ‘met’ might be a generous verb. I showed up, but no one else did. A few days later, my Twitter study-buddy also blew me off.”

I can relate as I went to art school in my forties, though, I must brag that I was never stood up for sketching dates and many nineteen year olds lugged my supplies up the hill from the parking area and wanted to sit with me during coffee breaks. It was actually energizing for me to be learning with another generation.

Despite the cons of “Web U,” I’m psyched. With traffic, the hassle and expense of matriculating in college and graduate courses, I’m sold. The biggest problem I’m now facing is which to take.


One thought on “Web U

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