The Facebook effect of moocs

There’s this thread of analysis on how bad Facebook make people feel. When he sees his friends vacation photos pop up during late night debugging in the NOC, or when his friends paper is published in Nature or Science when he’s stuck writing a QA spec, or experiencing a fire sale of his own company and seeing his friends companies were funded in an up round by yet another friend who’s a partner in the funding VC, both of whom posts braggy posts to their wall on Facebook… sucks to be the watchers on Facebook.

The depressive effects of social media has also leeched into moocs. As leading moocs sites like Ng’s Coursera, Thrun’s Udafity, and edX, etc. have taken hold and continued their growth. More and more courses of higher and higher production value are being disseminated online. Recently I saw a video of highly popular Harvard course. And wow! A student, an Asian kid, at Harvard, had the audacity to get up in a lecture hall of hundreds and challenged the professor in his assertion. Professor handwaves him off, but before relinquishing the mic, the kid gets one shot that stumps the prof for a good 15 seconds! The sheer intellectual liveliness of this exchange, and a lot more for the rest of the lecture. It makes me wish I was 20 years younger and went to Harvard and chose that major… I might even nudge my kids towards that path. (Of course, the Harvard professor says the Asian kid’s English name wrong, and everyone else’s name was spoke correctly… but… still… the diversity and tolerance in the class is commendable imho… The episode has high production value highlighting the cultural and intellectual diversity at Harvard that other universities maybe hard pressed to generate)

In the end, after the fun I had watching someone else debate the professor… I am alone, in my room, in front of a browser… at the end, this moocs gives me great regret and sadness. Watching younger smarter people enjoy themselves in a place and time that I never have or will experience in reality. Knowing that there is much more beyond what I can see, the learning and mentorship that happens in person… It’s School Porn!!

“But you’ve had your chance” you might say to me. Think of your wonderful time at CMU and the massive fun you’ve had… and yes, I did indeed already experience the wonderful joy of learning at an all-around-best university, college and department. It is perhaps because I know of how wonderful it can be that I am upset at these teasers of moocs…

I hope the leaders of this mooocs industry maps out more clearly a path forward. Can a moocs student meet the profs and other students live? Is there a path from all the undergraduate courses towards graduate study? Is there a path from moocs to social-economic advancement? What is the plan? I mean at least say that you have an AI with big data to help the students to map out their longer term learning outcome. State the expected educational outcome–beyond: “look ma, I’m taking a Harvard class”

Admittedly, at the birth of a technology and industry, nothing is really clear. But what is clear to me is that these courses are not as intense as real classroom. The information seem to be maybe about half to a third of a typical course with the same name. Of course I may be biased because I attended a good university and that the average university level course may be equivalent to moocs course. If this were the case, maybe we do need to more seriously invest in American education infrastructure from daycares through higher education. Because other countries are working hard on their kids. How is a future American to compete with an immigrant if they grow up being taught to achieve only these moocs?

ps it is with great optimism that I write this, I’ve scheduled it for publication a long time after its writing that viewer may feel it is outdated comment.

pps as of this writing, there is great grief among Chinese students that Harvard discriminated against them and admits relatively fewer than fair portion of qualified applicants. Several actions are ongoing.

ppps there are micro-degrees on moocs right now. Perhaps the idea is continue pursuing the complete education at a distance idea. If this is true, then certainly a lot of work is to be done, these courses can hardly help most normal students to gain the knowledge taught in the full course

pppps agreed, a motivated student could learn everything today, but a normal average kid cannot imho.

ppppps The founders teach, as examplar courses in their field of expertiese. They teach very high quality survey courses that are vocationally oriented. It enables a person to learn and become kore and more fluent in working with their technology. The same is not true for most moocs courses though.

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