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Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The New York Timesdeclared 2012 to be "The Year of the MOOC" as millions of students enrolled in massive open online courses (known as MOOCs), millions of investment dollars flowed to the companies making them, and the media declared MOOCs to be earth-shaking game-changers in higher education. During the inevitable backlash that followed, critics highlighted MOOCs' high dropout rate, the low chance of earning back initial investments, and the potential for any earth-shaking game change to make things worse instead of better. In this volume in the Essential Knowledge series, Jonathan Haber offers an account of MOOCs that avoids both hype and doomsaying. Instead, he provides an engaging, straightforward explanation of a rare phenomenon: an education innovation that captures the imagination of the public while moving at the speed of an Internet startup. Haber explains the origins of MOOCs, what they consist of, the controversies surrounding them, and their possible future role in education. He proposes a new definition of MOOCs based on the culture of experimentation from which they emerged, and adds a student perspective -- missing in most MOOC discussion. Haber's unique Degree of Freedom experiment, during which he attempted to learn the equivalent of a four-year liberal arts degree in one year using only MOOCs and other forms of free education, informs his discussion. Haber urges us to avoid the fallacy of thinking that because MOOCs cannot solve all educational challenges they are not worth pursuing, and he helps us understand what MOOCs -- despite their limitations -- still offer the world. His book is required reading for anyone trying to sort out the competing claims, aspirations, and accusations that color the MOOC debate.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32298-0
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. ii-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)

    The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series offers accessible, concise, beautifully produced pocket-size books on topics of current interest. Written by leading thinkers, the books in this series deliver expert overviews of subjects that range from the cultural and the historical to the scientific and the technical.

    In today’s era of instant information gratification, we have ready access to opinions, rationalizations, and superficial descriptions. Much harder to come by is the foundational knowledge that informs a principled understanding of the world. Essential Knowledge books fill that need. Synthesizing specialized subject matter for nonspecialists and engaging critical topics through fundamentals, each of...

    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-18)

    In the summer of 2011, professors at Stanford University decided to offer video versions of three computer science classes, originally delivered via the school’s OpenClassroom learning portal, to the world. Excitement was high that this experiment might attract hundreds, maybe as many as a few thousand, students.

    By the time the first of those courses began in the fall, enrollments had topped 160,000.

    The professors behind this project recognized an opportunity when they saw one. And by spring semester of 2012, the “Year of the MOOC” had begun.

    MOOC, which stands for massive open online course, became one of those...

    (pp. 19-46)

    When looking for precedents regarding the symbiosis between technology and education, one could go back to the Protestant Reformation in sixteenth–century Europe when a new communication technology, the printing press, became associated with a theology that stressed personal study of the bible, which the new printing technology made more widely available. This historic combination created the need for a more widely literate public, a need that could be met only by expanding education beyond clerics and aristocrats.

    But it was the value later Enlightenment figures placed on universal education that led to the creation of public school systems as...

    (pp. 47-88)

    For anyone who has taken a massive online class from one of the major MOOC providers, the answer to the question of what constitutes a MOOC might seem obvious: the same lectures, reading and homework assignments, assessments, and discussions you would find in a traditional college class, albeit delivered in a digital format to thousands rather than live to dozens.

    But, as I learned while taking dozens of such courses, when the content of a class moves from live to digital with the assumption that this material will be consumed by tens of thousands of students of differing and unknown...

    (pp. 89-132)

    The transition from a period of exuberance over the potential for MOOCs (corresponding to Gartner’s Hype Cycle “Peak of Inflated Expectations” described in chapter 1) to a “Trough of Disillusionment” was marked by a series of controversies within the academy driven largely by educators concerned that serious questions regarding academic quality and rigor were being ignored by the engineers, administrators, and policymakers who were excitedly hailing MOOCs as a solution to problems ranging from class overcrowding and college affordability to global underdevelopment.

    Such naysaying was first treated as the carping of Luddites,¹ which could be balanced by the enthusiasm of...

    (pp. 133-164)

    As the quotes that ended chapter 3 indicate, those involved with the MOOC project have always highlighted the importance of research and experimentation when explaining the value of massive online learning to educational constituencies as well as to the public. This chapter takes a closer look at what some of this investigation, trial, and error looks like to determine whether a culture of experimentation can be considered the differentiator between MOOCs and other forms of online learning.

    As centralized programs with hundreds of thousands of participants, MOOCs are generating the type and volume of data needed to perform meaningful statistical...

    (pp. 165-194)

    As the manuscript for this book was being completed, a major story making education news was the decision by Sebastian Thrun, founder and CEO of the MOOC pioneer Udacity, to “pivot” the company from his original vision of remaking the entire higher education system toward a more modest goal of training people for job readiness.¹ This decision touched off a round of schadenfreude-laced commentary, such as a piece entitled “ The King of the MOOCs Abdicates the Throne” by Slate educational commentator Rebecca Schuman,² who used Udacity’s change of course to declare the MOOC experiment a failure with high drop-out...

    (pp. 195-200)

    As I mentioned at the start of this book, the “final exam” for my Degree of Freedom One Year BA project consisted of attending the 2013 Eastern Division Conference of the American Philosophical Association (APA) in Baltimore, Maryland, where over 1,000 philosophy professors and graduate students gathered to give papers, discuss the field, and party and refute one another into the night at evening “smokers.”

    That trip was meant to help answer one of the questions that came up frequently as I was finishing up my informal philosophy degree: whether or not MOOCs and other forms of free learning could...

    (pp. 201-204)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 205-216)
    (pp. 217-218)
    (pp. 219-220)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 221-227)