Thursday, May 16, 2013

Are MOOCs the Answer? Depends on Your Question

My son has been reading since he was three, and he said last night that he feels that there is too much emphasis on reading and writing and not enough on math in American education. He thinks we’d do better with a more balanced approach. He got an almost perfect score on his SAT and was a National Merit Scholar Finalist (the only one from his high school), so he might know something about this subject.
I've been thinking about education a lot, since I’m a former teacher, and also since I started my edX class on The Greek Hero. I’d never taken an online course before. (I went to Berkeley when the internet was but an infant).
If you’re not familiar with this subject, Bad Mom, Good Mom had something to say about it earlier this week,and I strongly recommend that you read the links in her posts.
There are some people who think that online education is the future. These people may be right that there will be more of it in the future, but while I have been enjoying my class, I do not think it would be a good idea to move all of our education to this platform.
People are very much the same now as they were in Ancient Greece. We like to think that we've improved and grown and changed, but as I see it we haven’t changed much in the way that we learn things. The best way to teach a child to read is to read to him or her and discuss the reading. When I taught high school kids who had trouble reading, amazingly enough , that was still the best way. No one had done this when they were small, so we had to make up for lost time, and read slowly together. I got such a feeling of satisfaction when they would start to catch on and figure out the trick. Reading is more difficult than you think - if you don't learn it when you’re small, it’s as if you're trying to read a foreign language; which in a sense you are.
Which brings me to online learning: it’s the worst way to learn something if you know nothing about the subject. If you were learning a foreign language, or calculus, or anything that a little interpersonal interaction would be helpful, online learning is not the answer. It’s great for people who already know how to learn, but for anyone else, it’s the second best option.
The problem - the really smart people of Silicon Valley are trying to monetize education. Since they are Really Smart People, the kind of people who, like my son, got perfect scores on their SATs and started reading when they were three, and corrected the tests for their third grade teacher, they do not know how difficult it is for some people to learn. They might not know what it’s like to try to learn under trying circumstances: parents don’t speak English, their family is on food stamps, they have a part time job, there is no place to study...circumstances that the RSP might not consider when they make their grand educational plans. They see State educational budgets as a resource to harvest. They aren't considering the human costs of one size fits all education. If we have a permanent underclass of uneducated people in our country, we all lose. It isn't saving money to cut costs on education - it costs us all money. But money isn't the only thing to consider - we’re losing brilliant kids - kids that might have made a great contribution to our world. And you know the saying, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”.
Don’t let your State Representatives try to sell you this as a “better” way to learn. It’s just cheaper.I don't think MOOCs are the answer for education. For lectures  for enrichment, I can see their place, but they can't really replace one on one teaching
Devoting huge portions of our educational budgets to MOOCs is a mistake.
I can already see what will happen - small states will close satellite campuses, have those students do online learning and go to  secure monitored place to take tests. It's clear as day that some states are desperate to save money any way that they can, so they will sacrifice learning.
Our educational system will become even more unequal than it is now. This is the exact opposite way to solve the problem of inequality
There’s politics involved - some want to eliminate teachers, close schools, raise tuition, lower taxes. There's a lot riding on your voice in this matter.The future of all education, not just online, is up for debate. I've already written to my State Representatives. Don't wait - as the MOOC people say, the future is now.


Anonymous said...

I stumbled onto your post from Male Pattern Boldness for the first time just now. Absolutely awesome post.

In Wisconsin where I live, there is a lot of recent anti-teacher/anti-education politicking, hence many budget cuts to an already strapped system. Gifted and talented education in our district was cut decades ago. Now the solution is online or community college courses (also with an online component). I have two kids like your son; my son is OK with online learning, but my daughter hates it. She really needs the interpersonal aspects and discussion. So I don't think online education is good for all kids at the higher end, either.

I'm so glad you are speaking out about this.

badmomgoodmom said...

I staff the lunchtime math help desk at a middle school library 3 days a week near Los Angeles. Several of the GATE kids do take MOOCs for enrichment and come to me with questions.

But, none of the kids have the discipline to stick through entire classes and do the work, despite the promise of personalized attention from a PhD at no cost. They are teenagers, after all.

I'm keeping an open mind about the MOOC thing. But I know that it should not be used to replace teachers or to increase the already awful student/teacher ratios.

Karen in VA said...

Preach it!!!! There is no one size fits all for education...Kids still need interaction with other kids and their teachers. The gap between the haves and have-nots is already way too wide,let's not increase it.

The master's program I went through used a cohort model - we were with the same people for the whole program. It was great - we all learned from each other. It was interactive and the professors didn't lecture, we learned as a group..