MIT LINC 2013: ‘Consistent but Stupid’

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

[Updated 6 July 2013]

I attended the June 17 LINC 20131 morning and afternoon sessions via webcasts: the afternoon session live and the morning session on demand on July 32. I was especially interested in the morning session, “Four Perspectives on MOOCs,” featuring keynote addresses by Sanjay Sarma, director of MITx and the MIT Office of Digital Learning; Sir John Daniel, former president of The Open University (UK) and of the Commonwealth of Learning; Anant Agarwal, president of edX; and Tony Bates, research associate with Contact North, Ontario’s Distance Education and Training Network.

I expected some courteous differences of opinion but hoped for some heat. For most of the 3-hour 50-minute (3:49:44) session, I got what I expected, gracious statements of differences but no direct confrontations. Then, as the end of the open panel discussion drew near, at the 3:22:54 mark in the video, Dan Hastings, MIT Dean for Undergraduate Education and panel chair, said, “I’m going to insert a question from the Twitter feed, which is, will MOOC certification soon become meaningful educational currency?”

This was the spark, and what followed was a brief clash that lit up the issue of academic legitimacy for MOOCs that all were very careful to dance around throughout the discussion. The question, in this case, was: If a student, who has not been admitted to MIT, successfully completes the MOOC version of an MIT course at a distance, shouldn’t s/he receive academic credit that could count toward an MIT degree?

The 3:42 video below captures the exchanges among the panelists.

Agarwal was the first to respond, followed by an exchange between Daniel and Sarma, pictured in the video. Daniel said, “I think there’s still a fundamental question of intellectual honesty. I like the idea of the two funnels [hard in, easy out vs. easy in, hard out] but there’s nevertheless a disconnect in that one funnel [F2F MIT course] leads you to a degree and the other [MOOC equivalent of the course] leads you to a certificate.” He then asked about the 15-year-old high school student in Mongolia who aced Agarwal’s MOOC and will be entering MIT in the fall: Will he receive credit for the course or will he have to take it all over again?

Sarma replied that the Mongolian student would not receive MIT credit for the MOOC course, and Daniel replied, “At least you’re consistent, even if it’s stupid.” 

Sarma, by way of explanation, reiterated the theme of his presentation, “The Magic”: MIT campus-based experiences add an element of “magic” to learning that cannot be duplicated over the internet, that without this firsthand onground experience, learning is not quite whole. (See the 4:56 video3 below; in the original video, this presentation begins at the 30:14 mark.) In his presentation, he explains that this magic is in informal interactions and relationships, water-cooler conversations, impromptu meetings and discussions in the “infinite corridors” of MIT. He also admits that this magic is difficult to quantify and that anecdotal data is all they have for this “special thing,” this “magic of the campus.”

The videos below provide selected audio clips from each of the three remaining presentations. This selective process reduces each 30-minute presentation to approximately 5-7 minutes for easy viewing. They provide glimpses into the different perspectives on MOOCs as well as general background on key issues. However, I’d recommend viewing each in its entirety, which includes photos and illustrations. The starting points for each presentation in the original video are also provided.

Sir John Daniel’s presentation, “MOOCs: What Lies Beyond the Trough of Disillusionment?” On the right is the panel chair, Dan Hastings. Length 5:08. In the original video, this presentation begins at the 1:01:37 mark.

Anant Agarwal’s presentation, “The Developing World of MOOCs.” Length 6:11. In the original video, this presentation begins at the 1:33:41 mark.

Tony Bates’s presentation, “How to Make MOOCs Really Effective: Lessons from 20 Years of Research Into Online Learning” (view .pdf of presentation). Length 6:05. See David Pritchard‘s (professor of physics, MIT) comment at the 3:02 mark. In the original video, Bates’s presentation begins at the 2:05:37 mark.

Eric Grimson’s introductory presentation on MIT’s progression to MOOCs. Grimson is Chancellor of MIT. Length 7:21. In the original video, this presentation begins at the 14:40 mark.

The Man in Blue

Immediately after the “consistent but stupid” segment during the open discussion, David Singer, a visiting MIT scholar who runs an international students foundation, asked a question. (See the video below.) In the original video, he appears near the end, at the 03:26:35 mark.

Here’s a transcript of his comment.

I’d like to make a comment that maybe you should get some feedback on. I think that it’s an interesting question that maybe everyone here could ask themselves. The presentation that you’ve made and even the response to the questions asked can all be done under distance learning. The need for you to be here from a knowledge base doesn’t seem, doesn’t really make sense logically, but, why are we here?

[Hastings laughs.]

Each of us maybe ask yourself, What is the benefit of me being here when I could be somewhere else back home? That’s an interesting thing …

[Hastings:] Yeah. Let me comment. There are people watching us on the internet …

Yes, of course …

[Hastings:] Are they getting the same experience as being here?

I don’t know …

Singer, The Man in Blue, is the proverbial kid who points out that the emperor is naked, the student who asks the question that leaves the teacher slack-jawed. He’s the know-it-all’s worst nightmare. He’s the one who dares to acknowledge the elephant in the room and asks, “But what about him?”

The question couldn’t be rendered any simpler: Why are we here when we could be at home? Surely, this panel discussion could have been offered at a distance? We don’t need to be here to get the content in the presentations and discussions. Why are we here? The unspoken half of the question is: Is there something special or magical about being here, in person, that enhances the knowledge that I’m gaining? If yes, then what is it? I don’t know, and I’d like to learn.

Ironically, Singer’s question goes to the heart of the issue discussed in this nearly four-hour session, exposing what may be fundamental disconnects between theory and practice. But the panelists and audience were tired and lunch was waiting…

The Afternoon Session

The Future Direction of Virtual Universities” featured presentations by Patricio López del Puerto, President of the Virtual University of the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Monterrey, Mexico (view .pdf of presenation); Bakary Diallo, Rector of the African Virtual University, Nairobi, Kenya; and Naveed Malik, Founding Rector of the Virtual University of Pakistan, Lahore, Pakistan (view .pdf of presenation).

The current running through this entire session seemed to be MIT’s BLOSSOMS initiative. See the brief overview page. Without going into specifics, I felt a bit uneasy about the program. On the surface, it makes a lot of sense. High school science lessons are presented in short videos, and each segment is followed by an interactive teacher-led discussion designed to develop critical thinking skills. Teachers are trained to use this scaffolding system, and they are also encouraged to design, develop, and share their own videos and lessons.

My concern is that approaches such as this could easily turn into teacher-proof regimens that reduce teaching to prescribed procedures and teachers to technicians, trained to memorize and practice standardized methods of instructional delivery. This is a throwback to industrial age scientific approaches to efficiency: Develop a fool-proof teaching process, train technicians to apply it, measure the outcomes, and revise the process to improve outcomes. To teach well then means to master and apply the process.

Kenneth Zeichner, Director of Teacher Education, University of Washington, in a series of papers, examines and discusses the role of teachers as technicians vs. teachers as “reflective professionals.” I was able to locate an online copy of what appears to be one of the papers in this series, but it’s not listed in his CV, it’s not dated, and it seems to be missing a list of references.

As a teacher, I’d like to think that teachers in the BLOSSOMS program are being treated and viewed as reflective professionals and that the focus is on training them to become experts in best practices for critical thinking rather than technicians who obediently follow scripts. I realize that the technician route is quicker and cheaper and, in some or many circumstances, may be the only practical alternative. If this is the case, I’d also like to think that this is a temporary, stopgap measure similar to barefoot doctors in China. Once the crisis has been met, the emphasis would turn to developing a corps of reflective professionals.

1 The Sixth Conference of MIT’s Learning International Networks Consortium (LINC) ran from June 16 to 19, 2013, at MIT. See “About LINC” for general background and “LINC 2013 Conference” for specifics.
2 Time zone differences put the live morning session on the 17th at 2:00AM my time, and on-demand wasn’t an option until after the conference.
3 Some of the videos embedded in this article are actually audio files in video format with a single photo running throughout. Each 30-minute presentation has been reduced to a fraction of the length by selecting highlight clips. For each audio-video: I recorded the audio off the LINC 2013 video, selected clips with an audio editor, captured a still from the video, and combined the two in a video editor. I then uploaded the result to my YouTube account for embedding in this article. For the two videos, I used Camtasia Studio 8.1 to record, edit, and upload.

29 Responses

  1. “The question couldn’t be rendered any simpler: Why are we here when we could be at home?”

    The answer could not be more obvious. They are there because of two factors. The first is that they wish to meet with like-minded individuals and establish relationships. You CAN do that online, but it’s much harder for many reasons and takes longer. The second is that they wish to be an influential part of the debate, that they aren’t “speaking” but wish to speak and be heard. Again, it’s possible to deal with this online but not so easy.

    The discussion of a “delta” for MOOCs spills over into this question too but in a different way. Are the delta benefits of attending in person worth the delta costs? Some are sort-of meeting junkies and cannot get enough of pressing the flesh. They have to see and feel and smell the conferences themselves. They have to be in the physical presence of the movers and shakers that the conference organizers have brought together at great expense. Others — not so much.

    As long as virtual and physical presence represent very different experiences, people will attend physically. Each will judge the value of attending against the cost and will decide. On a different thread here, I commented recently of the value of having a presence at the recent ISTE conference in San Antonio. Literally, this mere presence, costing us somewhat over $1,500, could be worth over one millions dollars annually to us (but not certainly). Without our physical presence, this result definitely would not have happened.

    Could the ISTE conference have been arranged so that we could have obtained the same benefits for the cost of the booth without the added costs of travel, lodging, etc.? Possibly, but the organizers would not do such a thing today because of the hype they get from numbers of attendees, speakers, and exhibitors. They covet large crowds even though overcrowding inconveniences attendees. There’s a certain dynamic that stimulates our lower brain areas in such crowd situations, and you don’t get it online. BTW, that fact may be positive or negative.

    Going back to the morning, the MIT people talk about “magic.” I am a firm disbeliever in magic. You may argue that the word was poorly chosen, but I disagree. It was carefully selected and is spot on. I spent four long years in the halls of a similar institution and found no magic there. I can recall only a couple of situations that added to my learning outside of structured learning, and they were not life-changing or even life-affecting. My primary benefit, aside from learning an enormous amount in a very short time, was the non-academic summers when I did research. That’s when I truly became a scientist.

    The example posited by MIT was an electrical engineering professor overseeing a student developing a physical circuit. Bypassing the issues with respect to what circuits will look like in twenty years, in most schools, students do not have this experience because professors do not have time for such oversight of large numbers of students. Also, the future may well bring the opportunity for similar oversight virtually. It’s already feasible.

    Virtual and physical courses have the same issues a conferences. As I mentioned above, if the physical and virtual experiences are similar enough, many fewer will attend physically. Smaller audiences will impact the nature of the sessions unless some way is found to add in the virtual attendees effectively. The conference organizers covet large crowds just as universities covet physical students on campus. These people then project their attitudes onto the students who may not entirely agree.

    Magic is wishful thinking. It’s time to get back to the real world of virtual reality. (Connotations intended.)

    • The disconnect between, on the one hand, the unprecedented impact of technology on learning and, on the other, the campus imperative is, in my mind, the hot issue. And this issue is reflected in the underlying controversy over blended and completely online approaches. “The magic” of F2F experiences seems to be the deciding factor for blended, but this line of argument ignores the wide range of interpersonal interactions that are possible via technology — including eF2F (electronic F2F) options. Ignored also is the trend among the young who don’t make the kinds of distinctions between F2F and virtual that their elders make. For them, neither is more “magical” or real than the other. Both are “magical” and real in their own way. Finally, as Sir John Daniel points out, online is where the students are, and online is where higher ed ought to meet them.

      The ideal outcome is not either/or, one or the other. “The magic of the campus” is palpable. I don’t think anyone is arguing for its end. But the magic of online learning is also palpable in ways that we’ll never discover or acknowledge as long as we insist on the campus imperative.

      • I think that the “magic of the campus” is overrated. However, that’s not the issue here. Instead, we should be comparing the “magic of the campus” to the “magic of the virtual campus.” Few seem to understand that we’re dealing with competing magics.

  2. Without reviewing all of the materials with respect to the afternoon program, I have to agree with Jim S. These are dangerous waters.

    You don’t have to go further than today’s ordinary classes in K-12 education to see the problem. With NCLB and expanding high-stakes testing, even good teachers have been forced to become more technicians and less mentors and guides. Schools do not go for the best teacher candidate but rather the one who will use the “tools” to create the highest test scores. A candidate with innovative ideas will not get the job. In other words, we’re already there.

    Now, layer a program like BLOSSOMS on top of what’s already happening, and it happens even faster. Our brave new world of education will be neither brave nor new.

    How can we elevate our teachers to the level of challenging our young people constantly to do better, to think better, to learn better? In the face of those who would make lower cost of education a major priority, it will be very, very hard.

    And so it is that technology, once again, has the potential to do much good or much harm. Who decides? We all do, not just teachers, parents, or administrators. Our society makes these decisions based on what we hear from our media and politicians. Given NCLB, it’s clear that this system has become dysfunctional. Just look at Washington, DC! Too many of our population have forgotten or never learned how to think well.

    Only if every one of us who knows better does everything in our power to realize our dream and thwart those who would become wealthy from our pain can we overcome. We must stop the downward spiral. We shall overcome — some day.

    • Zeichner understands what many in power don’t, that K-12 teachers as “reflective professionals” can’t be developed in a few months or even a few years. It’s a slow process of growth. If the U.S. is serious about an effective professional corps of teachers, it has to commit to a new vision of teacher training and teaching that reflects the need for a longer development cycle. Simply taking them out of teacher training programs and plugging them, full-time, into schools isn’t working.

      Growth won’t happen unless it becomes an integral part of the teaching equation as a robust professional development component. Growth requires time — time off from teaching. That is, 25-40% of a teacher’s time ought to be devoted to professional development activities. And this should extend throughout the life of her/his career.

      Technology can play a huge role in creating and enhancing this critically important time for professional growth. It can free teachers from the need to be in constant contact with students, and it provides teachers with easier access to professional development resources.

      • Yes, those are two ways that technology can help. I hope that technology will ultimately find its way to the most crucial part of teacher training, a part that is currently underutilized or not used at all — teacher apprenticeship. Yes, it’s too “expensive,” but look at the real expenses from not doing this, not forgetting the long-term costs of having our students under-educated.

        Teaching is too difficult to master and too important to do the current way. An education school provides courses of uncertain value in the real world and some, often very little, internship. That’s not preparation, it’s just more schooling that emphasizes one’s ability to pass tests. No wonder that our students are measured by their ability to pass tests too.

        I remember all too well the first time that I stood in front of a group of students as their “professor.” I was scared and uncertain, and I had absolutely no support. Surviving that first class was not nearly enough. Eventually, I came to be comfortable in front of classes, but that was only a single step. I read extensively about good teaching and found lots of advice, some contradictory. While I began to apply it, I left teaching before I had really learned to teach, just six years after my first class.

        I had discovered many things. One is that teaching a class of hundreds is very, very different from a class of a dozen. You really have to have someone at your side when you’re starting out. And, we give tenure to K-12 teachers after just two years of experience. I cannot find the expletive strong enough to express my displeasure with this situation.

  3. […] watched the highlights of each speaker’s presentation [courtesy of Jim Shimaburkuro's blog post] and the first hour of the opening of the conference via the webcast, which provided a […]

  4. I am so happy to have woken up to this discussion and have learned a lot already from both Jim and Harry, so thank you both! If I took the time to mention all the areas I agree with you on it would be a novel, so I am just going to offer my personal experiences. As I’ve said before, I recently graduated college, and took both online and in class courses and while I am a huge fan of using technology to enhance learning environments, I sure hope it never completely replaces it. The classes I took online never fully engaged me like my in-class classes did. Sure, there are discussion boards that professors facilitate but it’s not quite the same. The real benefit to online classes was convenience. So I enjoyed using technology as a tool (i.e. having my iPhone be a clicker for questions in lectures, using my iPad to keep all my textbooks on, having a home-base website where I could find all my assignments and course info, and having Skype lectures from professionals in other cities) but I did not get the same experience when my entire course was online.
    In K-12, students are using technology so heavily at home, it only makes sense to me for schools to embrace it and bring their education to places they already enjoy being. I fully agree that teachers are becoming more like technicians than mentors, which is a shame, but eventually all teachers will be so familiar with the technology that using it will be second nature, taking less time away from providing guidance to students. I just think that having technologies, like virtual grade books, not only make teachers’ lives easier (say, by being able to enter grades easily and post assignments and free up time for professional development), but also help parents have a better grasp on how their child is performing and be able to be more involved in the education. In my opinion, making education more tech and gadget friendly is a must, and it needs to be approached as a long term goal.

  5. […] By Jim Shimabukuro Editor [Updated 6 July 2013] I attended the June 17 LINC 20131 morning and afternoon sessions via webcasts: the afternoon session live and the morning session on demand on July 3…  […]

  6. Morgan, thanks for your thoughtful comment! It’s started the gears turning for an article on blended vs. completely online. I’ll try to have it up in the next few days.

  7. ONLINE replaced traditional HE in the USA for the last 20 years with 7 million online students with degrees too., by many, unknown colleges.
    Now online by elite universities are available , I assume the quality is much better than previous online .
    How can we discuss now if MOOCs can replace the traditional HE.
    To me sure GOOD MOOCs can replace the traditional HE .

    • Hello, my friend. Good to see you here at ETC-J.

      You have made good points. Let’s hope for continuing improvements.

      • hanks Harry
        You guide the World with your scientific experience .
        Thanks billion . Nice to see you here too .

    • Hi, Muvaffak. Good question. I think yes, “GOOD MOOCs” will replace traditional HE blended courses — but for a different population of students. That’s disruption theory. Traditional college students will continue in blended courses run by traditional campus-based HE institutions. The real disruption will occur with nontraditional students who can’t afford the high cost of traditional HE. They will increasingly seek MOOCs, fueling the need for the development of evermore — and BETTER — MOOCs, and for millions of students around the world, college education will be synonymous with MOOCs. MOOCs will evolve strategies for awarding credits and granting degrees, and these will increasingly gain currency throughout the world. This MOOC process will coexist with traditional HE programs, but the vast majority of students will gradually abandon the traditional and shift to MOOCs, either part-time or full-time. Again, this is what disruption is all about. It doesn’t affect the traditional systems and their students — at least in the early going. The disrupting system provides a cheaper and accessible alternative and, thus, creates a whole new clientele, and in time, the majority of clientele from traditional institutions will also switch to MOOCs. In the end, traditional blended HE institutions will be for the very wealthy only who value and can afford the luxury.

      • Thanks billion Jim :
        You said all what I wanted to say .

        Here are my forecastings for the next 10 years :

        1.- Only 100 or so research universities will be alive.
        2.- They will develop very. good online courses for their DİGİTAL DIVISIONS .

        3.- Digital Divisions will provide credits and degrees as
        MITx, Harvardx, Stanfordx etc.
        4.- Fees will be $ 1-10 per course. So every body can go any schools they want.
        5.- More than 60 % of the people of 25-65 years olds will have degrees as Obama asks .
        6.- Graduates will find jobs easily since they graduate from a good school.
        7.- States will sell the land and buildings of the state schools and will generate funds to retrain the 2 million jobless teachers.
        8.- No subsidy for HE then we will pay less State taxes.
        9.- No subsidy from Federal Government therefore no $ 1 trillion loans and less Federal tax too .
        10.- Money will flow to uSA from foreign students..

        More to come . Thanks.

        • 1.- Only 100 or so research universities will be alive.
          Research and teaching are not closely correlated. With an increased desire for good education at reasonable cost AND more non-educational research institutions appearing, I’m not sure where this trend is heading. I’d be careful in my predictions, however.

          2.- They will develop very. good online courses for their DİGİTAL DIVISIONS .

          The best teaching professors are not all at prestige universities. This result is not at all clear.

          3.- Digital Divisions will provide credits and degrees as
          MITx, Harvardx, Stanfordx etc.

          The local colleges will provide seminar-style courses using MOOC materials so that students can interact with professors directly in small groups AND have the benefits of the best MOOCs PLUS an accredited degree.

          4.- Fees will be $ 1-10 per course. So every body can go any schools they want.

          I see three tiers developing. 1. Free use of MOOCs by anyone without any certification. 2. Very low cost “identify verification” for a certificate. 3. Reasonable cost (maybe $100-500 per credit) for a fully supervised, possibly even in-person, course by community colleges and small 4-year colleges that will lead to a full degree.

          5.- More than 60 % of the people of 25-65 years olds will have degrees as Obama asks .

          I don’t see this happening unless the economy improves beyond expectations. The cost in time of even a cheap degree goes against the necessity to make money. A glut of degrees will cheapen their value.

          6.- Graduates will find jobs easily since they graduate from a good school.

          Only a few employers are so discriminatory as to require a top-tier school. Many famous scientists did their undergraduate work at ordinary colleges.

          7.- States will sell the land and buildings of the state schools and will generate funds to retrain the 2 million jobless teachers.

          I don’t see either happening in the current political and economic climate.

          8.- No subsidy for HE then we will pay less State taxes.

          See 7 above.

          9.- No subsidy from Federal Government therefore no $ 1 trillion loans and less Federal tax too .

          Lower costs will help reduce student loan demands. Taxes are not a consequence of student loans.

          10.- Money will flow to uSA from foreign students..

          Already happening. The MOOCs will tend to reverse this trend as local schools in various nations take up the seminar-style means of adding value to MOOCs. Only the free part will be necessary. The seminars will be conducted in local languages, although English will be necessary for the MOOCs themselves until automatic translation improves (just a bit — it’s close now).

          • Harry
            Thanks billion for your time .

            1.- I classify there are
            Research Universities
            Teaching universities

            Teaching universities prepare you for life, to make living .
            RESEARCH UNİVERSITIES do research for bettter life .
            Reserch Universities also knows the theory of learning and learningscience .
            In my model Digital Divisons will be just like teaching universities.
            It may be 100 or at most 200 may be less. Time will Show that .
            2.- They are smart. They will find the best teachers in the World .
            3.- While Digital Divisions are providing good online and degrees nobody will even come close to other colleges .
            4.- Today Coursera , a commercial company sellls online courses at $ 36 to 10 . state universities. That shows a research university can sell at $ 10 very easily .igital Division .
            Sorry I will answer later.

          • 5.- You may be right. I just thought that people are willing to go to college. But Money hinders them from going .
            But then it is sad. Obama can never reach his target .
            6.- GrADUATES WİLL BE FROM 100 RESEARCH UNİVERSİTİES dıgıtal dıvısıonS. . I also say very often even it is free not everybody can handle the difficult courses of MIT Harvard. So they will go still good schools of Uni of Michigan, Uni of Illinois, PennState and similar.
            I was an employer for 30 years. I never hired a college graduate below the first 50 schools in the USA. May be I am unusual .
            7.- You are right : I cannot handle the political power in the USA. But I predict that they will do it . Because the conditions will force them to do it .
            8.- Yes same as above .
            9.- I srongly claim that Federal Government cannot collect half of trillion dollars from students. Plus there will be no subsidy for schools, that means less Money will be needed for education . I ASSUME 6 % of the budget of Federals go to HE , then I expect we will pay at least 3-4 % less tax when my predictions come through.
            10.- Foreign students are after degree. They will get USA degree without leaving their country, at 40 courses x $ 10 = $ 400
            It is amazing . Potential is 200,000,000 foreign students .
            They love to take courses in English. English is a must for every college graduate anyhow . Plus Courera Works on local languages too.
            Me too by the way

            Dear Harry
            Thanks for your enlighting comments.
            I wish everybody comment so that we see our future somehow .

            I do not claim everything. These are my prediction for the future. I hope it will happen.
            It all depends upon MIT and Harvard policies.
            If they do others would follow .

            Thanks billion again Harry .

          • Overall, we have similar ideas about the future. We differ in details.

            For example, the idea that Harvard, MIT, et al. will dominate online education makes little sense to me. I was a Caltech undergrad; my daughter was MIT. (Son was Brown.) These schools are not designed for the average college student. The average college student would flounder badly at them. Even UCLA, U Mich, U Texas, et al. are not at the same level. One of my classmates failed his freshman year, enrolled at UCLA, and obtained straight A grades.

            I like that MOOCs are opening up new avenues for learning at lower cost. I think that the future will show us more options. I see all three that I mentioned in my previous comment already available. What about vocational training, which is valuable and being done in U.S. to a great extent by community colleges? Students have more courses in communication too in these school and so benefit doubly.

            The business of taxes is very complex. Today, we have a serious infrastructure problem plus an employment problem. Saving money from HE could mean putting savings into infrastructure while simultaneously helping employment. It could mean something else, maybe some tax adjustments, maybe not. It’s hard to separate cause and effect with such a complex system. You would not see a direct link between federal HE savings and taxes or even state HE savings (likely larger on per-student basis) and taxes.

            On selling off university land, the trend has been the opposite for decades as universities expand their land ownership. They will find a use for this space other than just selling it. I do see conversion of large lecture halls in the same manner as we saw conversion of large movie theaters in recent decades. Who will choose to sit in a lecture with 300 or 500 or 1,000 students? I taught a class of 350. It doesn’t make lots of sense anymore.

            Those colleges and universities who do not provide a great service will fail. That’s where the land selling will take place. Many of the smaller ones will have to cater to local needs to survive. The ones who fail will those unwilling to change.

            I agree that large numbers of students for U.S.A. university digital courses will be overseas. Will this situation continue? Or, will other countries compete effectively? Many professors in many highly ranked schools are mediocre teachers.

            I suggest that our future will be in small classes meeting to discuss the latest assigned MOOC lesson. Few students can learn entirely on their own even with the best materials online. This may change in the future, but today it’s true. Those small classes can be held anywhere in the world where Internet is readily available. You can have U.S. MOOC in Addis Ababa or Istanbul with the local university providing the seminar part with a local subject expert in the local language and so have the best of both worlds for students. U.S. will still receive some money but most will go to local institution. This is my expectation of the future but is just a guess because it is about the future, and we cannot know the future precisely.

        • Muvaffak, may I have your permission to publish your prediction comments as an article in ETCJ? If yes, then I’ll need an author photo from you and a brief professional bio. If they’re online, give me a link and I’ll download them. Best, Jim

          Sent from my iPad

      • 11- PENTAGON will be happy, there will be sufficient students for STEM
        12.- 80 % of the students of Digital Divisions will foreigners.
        13.- Most nations will be thankfull to USA since USA had solved their HE problem .
        14.- Yess Even GOOD MOOCs will be disrupting the education World but to me a good way . Sure politicians should go with veery careful steps like edx is doing . I say Coursera is going too fast .
        15.- Somewhow GNP will increase too .

        Please comment where I am wrong and right .

        Thanksa billion to all .

  8. “The question couldn’t be rendered any simpler: Why are we here when we could be at home?”

    Take MUSIC as a metaphor: Why do we go on concerts, when we can listen to a recording at home? Because we like to experience the same stimulus in different ways. Is the experience of a live concert different from the experience of hearing the recoding at home? Of course it is. But does that means that someone that is really interested in music, will not understand it, UNLESS experiences it live? I doubt. I believe there are several parallel alternative paths for human beings to achieve the same goals. Maybe we should just accept that and make an effort to turn off our natural inner “complicometers”.

    Instead of being comparing the ‘magic’ (or lack of it) of the face to face or online learning, maybe we should concentrate in researching to try to find AFFORDABLE RELIABLE instruments to evaluate learning outcomes (independently of the way they are acquired by the students). That is the real problem of education. Unreliable assessments due tot he costs of developing and applying reliable instruments. And that applies to all delivery modalities of education. Its not a MOOC problem. Its an Education Science problem.

    • Sandra, thank you for your thoughtful response. I agree with you that, as educators, we tend to compare and judge different approaches on the basis of subjective, anecdotal experiences and observations rather than on valid and generalizable studies.

      The task of applying scientific research methods to real-world education problems, however, is immense. The fundamental difficulty is generalizability. The number of variables at play in any given case is huge, and when we try to control them for the sake of validity, we automatically limit generalizability. When we limit generalizability, then we limit the cases to which the results could be fairly applied. And when we limit the “reach” of the results, then we limit the value of the study for the multitude of cases that don’t match up.

      It’s the catch-22 of educational stats. On the one hand, the more rigorous your scientific approach, the narrower the generalizability; on the other, the less rigorous your controls, the less valid your results.

      My guess is that the only studies that make sense are longitudinal and individualized, i.e., studies based on data continually gathered from individual students (cases) that identify and clarify the variables that impact their progress through various programs of study — through schools, colleges and into the work force and career. All of these would be fed into a gigantic live database.

      These massive databases could then be mined in infinite ways to answer specific questions. I think we’re at a point now where this is possible.

      But achievement stats is just one of the key issues on the subject of educational reform. Arguments could be and are made for other issues such as ease or facility and cost. Does the change translate to easier and cheaper?

      If the change means having the world’s digital information in a 7″ tablet, isn’t that “better”? It’s a lot easier than lugging heavy outdated textbooks in a backpack, a lot cheaper than continually buying expensive hardcopy textbooks for all students and the school library.

      If the change means anytime-anywhere access to some of the world’s finest teachers via video on tablets or smartphones, isn’t that better than a F2F lecture from a mediocre teacher?

      If the change means that students can learn from anywhere at anytime, that they can review and repeat lessons whenever and as often as they want, isn’t that better for mastery learning?

      We don’t have, nor need, stats for these issues. We’re all able to grasp the benefits of easier and cheaper.

      Does “better” in terms of easier and cheaper mean “better” achievement? Better learning? Maybe yes, maybe no. But the question’s moot when the answer is, “I don’t know, but it makes learning easier and less expensive.”

      • Easy, inexpensive Internet access will continue to evolve as an important part of education. However, few students can organize this vast array of information and misinformation for themselves.

        Soon, we’ll have decent Internet devices for under $100. (Some indecent ones are here already near that cost.)

        Yet, education is more than looking stuff up or watching people lecture. Yes, it does extend access, and that’s good. However, I envision (or envisage) much, much more for computer-based technology in education. That great education enhancement is just around the corner, within a decade and perhaps just a few years.

        A pure Internet access device will not be adequate for this purpose. I see a just a few years at most separating the inexpensive Internet-access device from a true education instrument that uses the Internet and costs as little as its predecessor.

        While textbook publishers are pouring money into the former, more forward-looking companies, many new, are concentrating on the latter.

        I merely suggest that we not be too myopic in our vision. It’s easy to lose the long view with so much exciting stuff to see near by.

  9. Thanks billion Harry

  10. […] exploration. This exploration might start with Sir John Daniel’s statement that this policy is consistent but stupid and then MIT’s acknowledgment of “magic” in the learning process. A colleague who I admire […]

  11. I hope that my remarks indicate an open but skeptical mind. I hope that I continue to ask the next tier of questions that go beyond the immediate and obvious. I hope that I find a few answers.

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