Some Thoughts on the “Reinvention of College” and Why MOOCs Might Not Be Bad

Some quick thoughts and questions about this recent post from The Chronicle of Higher Ed, “For Whom is College Being Reinvented.” The authors of the article bring up several good points, including the crucial questions that MOOCs face. How legitimate is online education? How will online ed overcome the fact that face to face classroom time is crucial for learning especially for students who are behind? If mid and lower tier physical universities disappear, what will happen to those students? Universities provide more than an education, they provide an experience and a network, what happens when you take this away and replace it with an online “education factory?”

The problems in higher education revolve around the affordability of college, the value of a degree, and the glaring gaps in student preparedness. This is fact, but the article seems to think that access to online education and the future of MOOCs would only hurt these students who are receiving inadequate teaching in physical settings. I’m not convinced that online courses will ever replace degrees from physical universities entirely. In the face of increasing adjuncts, declining tenure, and rising tuition, I have hope that online courses will be able to alleviate some of the poor teaching that students are subjected to at the moment. Further, access to material presented by the best teachers, online, for anyone who has access to it, whether it be paid or free, is a good thing.

Regardless of the outcome of MOOCs, flipped classrooms, or online universities, the basic fact remains that education requires good teaching and that good teaching results in learning. Regardless of the medium, are the students learning and what are they learning. This is the task and it is a complex one indeed, but if MOOCs and online ed innovators are willing to give it a shot, I don’t see why there is any reason not to support a noble effort to improve on our current educational system through unorthodox means. In this post from Steve Horwitz, said, “No matter how right we think the ideas of freedom are, they have to be communicated and taught in ways that are powerful and effective. That means great teaching. The more great teachers we have and the more we think about how to do the job well, the better the prospects for liberty.” The end of education is achieved through great teaching and mentoring of students to make an impact on how they think and view the world so that they can go on to change the world for good.

Reading through this piece has raised many questions and I don’t think anyone has the answers, though there are some very bright minds that have put in serious thought and have great suggestions. Here are just a few more thoughts:

- Tenure is down, adjuncts teach an increasing percentage of students at most universities with very little support. Could online solutions alleviate the pressure placed on adjuncts who just can’t deliver the quality of education that they would like to given the numerous constraints?

- The importance of community colleges in preparing students for 4 year degrees. An online course or two could potentially supplement community college classes.

- The flipped classroom or some variation in which students watch pre-recorded lecture material at home has potential, if the students are motivated to watch the videos.

- Could gamification increase student engagement and learning?

- How sustainable is the tenure-track model, and will we see more schools create full-time teaching positions for teaching specialist teachers? Why not?