Friday, May 18, 2012

Will MOOCs Promote Superstar Teaching Over Superstar Research At Princeton And Other Ivy Universities?

By Paul Glader

PHILADELPHIA – Ivy League school officials suggest that one of the biggest impacts of massive online open courses – MOOCs – could be a renewed focus on teaching over research at elite American universities.

“Coursera already is affecting our campus,” said Jeffrey Himpele, associate director of the McGraw Hill Center for Teaching and Learning at Princeton University, ... .

He says many faculty members have been more focused on research instead of teaching in the past. Open education classes are changing that. Because of MOOCs and Princeton’s upcoming participation in Coursera, ... .

What’s changing?

“It really is the ability to reach tens of thousands of students,” Himpele said, during a panel discussion at the Education Writer’s Association annual meeting in Philadelphia on Thursday. “They’re aware of their own role in the classroom in a way they were not before.”


Himpele says the MOOC courses are also forcing professors and universities to rethink the traditional 60 or 90 minute lecture structure for classes. Princeton’s upcoming Coursera course uses a 50 minute lecture format, broken into several 12-minute parts with quizzes in between.


Some are considering ways to flip their lectures, having students go over some basic material at home and going with a more engaging, discussion-oriented setting in class. [snip].

At the panel discussion on MOOC courses, other experts and faculty expressed more skepticism at the impact of MOOCs on top schools and the traditional college system.

Dr. Peter Struck, an associate professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, is teaching a Coursera class on classics and mythology. He compares online teaching to hosting a TV show rather than a classroom, which functions more like a play. His upcoming Coursera class has 14,000 student signed up already and counting.


Kevin Carey, policy director at Education Sector in Washington DC, said the fact that Harvard University ...  recently teamed up with MIT on edX is significant. [snip].


Meanwhile, Joshua Kim, director of learning and technology in a program at Dartmouth College, identifies himself as a MOOC skeptic. He thinks the idea is trendy at the moment and a way for colleges – especially elite institutions – to bolster their PR and further the argument they are doing good in the world . But a MOOC focus, he thinks, can drain the resources and attention within a university to what it should be doing.


University of Pennsylvania Professor Peter Struck shares his thoughts on what MOOCs will do, won’t do and might do:

What MOOCs Will Do: 

1) Will make the TV show class free to people.

2) It will allow professors and colleges to be better than the history channel at providing knowledge on history and other topics.

3) It will allow some real pedagogical advances, challenging the notion of a 50 minute lecture. [snip].

What MOOCs Won’t Do: 

1)   Won’t revamp higher education as we know it. [snip].

2)   It won’t kill the lecture completely.

3)   Won’t democratize knowledge the way some think it will.

What MOOCs Might Do: 

1)   Expand wisdom.

2)   Broaden empathy ... .

3)   I don’t know, if in the aggregate, it will make us smarter.


5)   It might add to the credentialing frenzy of high school students who want to go to a Princeton or University of Pennsylvania, who see MOOC badges as another way to demonstrate their achievement, similar to AP classes.

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