Almost three-quarters of students who enrolled in the first year of online classes at Harvard and MIT were from outside the United States, demonstrating the global reach and growing popularity of the free, open courses. Of the 840,000 students who registered for online classes in the 2012-2013 school year at the two Cambridge universities, just 28 percent were from the United States, a new study by Harvard and MIT researchers has found. About 13 percent were from India, followed by the United Kingdom, Brazil, Canada, and Spain.
Global reach and popularity are all good and well, but what is happening to the hiring practices and course accreditation at American universities is not.
The studies I looked at in Iceland and the USA did not figure in costs for paying teachers to create courses. Is creating these courses paid work? Do professors get tenure credit for these courses? How does collective bargaining get affected? More and more universities are hiring adjuncts and cutting sections led by TAs.The research also shows that UNESCO’s dream of OER (open educational resources) being shared by teachers and learners on a global basis is not tenable. Universities have to resort to creating their own OERs, as it is impossible online to find out if an OER has the right content and quality (hmm, sounds like why we have editors and publishers).
In massive open online courses the professor is not able to engage in discussion with the thousands of students enrolled at one time, and peer grading is often used. Who is guaranteeing the quality of learning? I think this is fine for courses taken on a hobby basis, for personal interest, or, for example, for teachers like myself wanting to expand our general knowledge in an area. But are these really the same as college courses?
I have just done some research on this topic, and it is close to my heart. I am myself taking an online degree, but one that was highly competitive to get enrolled in, with max. 11 students in each course. That is an ok model for online learning. Otherwise, the research shows that the worst possible educational environment is an online-only course. The next best is a face-to-face only course. The best model is a hybrid course that includes online and face-to-face elements. But – and here is the clincher – the online elements need to be using a technology that is integral to achieving the specific learning goals. Just posting lecture notes online or giving online tests is not making use of the true nature of online learning.
So what about these massive open online courses at Harvard and MIT, and other major universities? There is no denying the jaded fact that offering them has become part of a school’s marketing profile. How the school is going to regard them is another matter. According to one study, 70% of professors teaching online courses did not think students should be given credit for them. Another study showed a 90% attrition rate in free, open online courses. Some researchers believe that is ok, since the nature of open, online courses is that students explore, get a taste, expand their horizons. So dropping out is part of the game.
At the same time, students are beginning to demand that attending these courses should give them clout and credit when applying for a degree. What I am afraid of is that international students are hoping to get more out of these courses than the courses, by their nature and design, and even their intent, can offer.
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There we all were at a Technology in the Classroom conference, busy twittering and blogging each other about the great strides in technological advancement we were learning to bring back to our schools… not. We were busy trying to get started with this, and here I am a half a week later still working on the layout of my new teaching-related-blog.
I am not new to blogging. I have a poetry blog, a photography blog, a simple-but-wise-observations blog, and a newspaper column which can could be seen as an intermittently paid blog. I am quite pleased to have realized the chance for an entire different type of blogging related to my job as a teacher. Still, I am not quite convinced – yet – that we are all aware of why we are so gung ho about technology.
Maybe if I find that I become part of an intelligent, dynamic conversation about teaching English, of the sort that can only occur online, I will have found the answer. So far, the students who were at the conference to convince us teachers of the worth of the effort only talked about the chance for students to explore learning about things they want to learn about. The students made a deal out of the fact that teachers will be better off not having to read 30 essays on the same topic.
That, my friends, is not dependent on blogging. I just got 28 papers on 28 different topics from my first year English class. Each paper was the student’s own design of graphics, visuals, learning aids, and comprehension tasks relating to the topic they wrote about. Topics ranged from the history of denim (written by a young lad who is proud of his job in a jeans store) to the digestive system, Mont St. Michel, and the spread of cult media.
The only difference if my students had produced these texts online is that people outside the classroom could read them. Strangers. I’m going to ask the class if they would have preferred this. I am also going to try to get them to start blogging reflections over having done it, as well as their reflections on other topics.
But — I need to share the thoughts that were handed to me by a small group of students who studied vocational media at my school: they hated blogging. They were supposed to blog every day – writing their work logs and reflections on the progress of their projects. These projects covered many weeks or even months, and still the students found it stressful to fit in the blogging time. They resented having to interrupt project time to blog about it. (Yes, I thought to say to them that it could have been done as homework… but I decided to hold my tongue. Chances are they know this, and that they did work outside of the classroom. These are high achieving and ambitious youngsters.)
It wasn’t just the time spent blogging that irked them. While the technology in the classroom course taught us that students are highly motivated by being able to share information and receive comments from the world at large, these media students said that was the very thing that stopped them. They were so caught up in creating the best appearance and format for this blog that the entire world was to see, read and ultimately judge, that they were never satisfied.
Having spent days figuring out how to organize my wordpress teacher blog so that not every lesson and posting I make queues up below here in one long scrolling list, I must say I can relate.
Maybe it will be worth it, if the aforementioned brilliant connectedness occurs. But if, as with most blogs, I sit here talking to myself… can I convince my students that ought to be doing the same?
One thing I am sure about, the time my students spend “talking with your neighbor” – which I try to make happen at least every 6-8 minutes in the classroom – must not be sacrificed for time spent mucking around with pixels and widgets. My students may not be connected to the rest of the world on their computers, but they actively use English in real time every day. Now if blogging in English will help them sharpen their attention to how they write and express themselves, and they can continue using EO – English Only – in the classroom as they try to get their blogs up and running – then they will benefit full out.
The media students just shook their heads when I said this. “You have no idea how horrible it will be for them, and how useless,” they warned.
I felt it is a warning worth sharing.