Perpetually Under Construction

Tech & Innovation in Higher Ed

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How faculty (higher education) are using and/or reacting to social media, MOOCs, and/or other “disruptive” technologies.

One of my favorite talks is the one given by Greg Wilson at Scipy 2014 about the lessons learned from Software-Carpentry. Software-Carpentry aims to teach the Best Practices for Scientific Computing.

Scientific computing is a skill lacking in education, especially in higher education where research is being performed. What is lacking in scientific computing education is the lack of courses for the researcher, rather than the computer scientist. I think this is why MOOCs came to existence, people found the current system of teaching courses too restrictive so they went outside the university and created the course they wanted. For example, trying to get a Software-Carpentry workshop as a university course is difficult because different departments around the university feel like its their jurisdiction to create the course (I’m looking at you computer science). However, faculty are already heavily burdened with trying to fund themselves with grants and performing other responsibilities as faculty, that it’s hard to create a generic multi-disciplinary course on scientific research. Also, assessing students is tricky in the software-carpentry context because of how many hours a class can meet per week. SWC works because it’s a very condensed 2 day workshop aimed to teach all the basics in Bash, Git, Python or R, and SQL. To formulate and re-arrange the workshop into a weekly course means many skills will not be integrated until the very end. In which case you risk loosing students. MOOCs are just a natural evolution to address the limitations in a university setting.

MOOCs have their own problems, mainly attrition. Only a small fraction of the students who begin a MOOC complete it. I am guilty of starting courses and not finishing the course, or only hand-picking a few topics relevant to myself. But, I am happy to know the content is there for when I need to go back to it one day.

I think many of the backlash towards MOOCs are the same criticisms regarding open eduction and open textbooks: how can something ‘free’ be good? My response:

  • How many teachers begin teaching Calculus I every September when the new school year begins?
  • How many of those teachers are writing his/her own curriculum?
  • How many of those teachers lean the same mistakes on their first year to fix on the next iteration?
  • How many hours of resources were wasted for all the teachers to learn the same mistake?
  • What if all that knowledge was already compiled into an open curriculum to be refined?

There are companies that teach MOOCs. DataCamp is an example. They have a subscription service where experts in a field aim to teach a programming concept. This allows companies to purchase bulk subscriptions for their employees to give them targeted training without having to come up with their own in-house resources.

Maybe if we have people pay a dollar for a MOOC, they will feel obligated to finish the course?

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