David Touve is assistant professor of business administration at Washington and Lee University.
In recent months, many of the most prominent research universities announced forays into free online courses. As a greater number of these universities go online with such free education platforms, the nature of the market for — and even the meaning of — a college degree could change in both subtle and significant ways.
Behind the screens, beyond the more collaborative desire to educate the world, a rather complex sort of competition may be playing out. Aside from the question of competition, however, is the question of what the classification of these online programs signals in terms of our beliefs about the purpose and value of a college degree, as well as the qualifications for such a degree.
On the one hand, universities or their partnered courseware platforms describe these MOOC experiences as analogous to classroom-based course experiences, in terms of either the academic rigor or at least the capacity to assess mastery of the course material. For example, edX describes the rigor of its online courses as the same as that of the partnering institutions. Coursera, citing a 2010 meta-analysis conducted by the Department of Education, claims that online learning is at least as effective as learning in face-to-face classroom settings.
On the other hand, those universities now experimenting with MOOC offerings are quick to clarify that they will grant course credit or college degrees only to those students who first pass through the highly selective admissions process, which occurs before these students ever register for a course — online or on-campus.
As a result, the nature of these recent experiments in massive and open online courses risks triggering a paradox in certain galaxies of the higher education universe: evidence of mastery in university coursework will warrant only a certificate, while evidence of mastery in work prior to university coursework will determine the degree. Simply stated, the line between an online certificate and a degree from any particular institution shall be drawn by the admissions office.
This paradox was expressed in point-blank terms by MIT’s news office, in December 2011, within the original FAQ for the MITx program:
“Credentials will be granted only to students who earn them by demonstrating mastery of the material…. MIT awards MIT degrees only to those admitted to MIT through a highly selective admissions process.”
Expressing, in mathematical terms, the degree-does-not-equal-certificate logic:
Course + Admissions Selection + Mastery = Degree.
Course – Admissions Selection + Mastery = Certificate.
“Course” and “Mastery” cancel each other out, and so:
(+) Admission Selection = Degree, while
(-) Admission Selection = Certificate
Perhaps as evidence of the danger presented by this paradox, the edX FAQ now makes no explicit reference to the qualifications — such as a lack of equivalence in subject mastery — that distinguish a degree from a certificate. Frankly, however, the resolution of this paradox cannot be resolved by simply not mentioning it…
Learning In A MOOC
Currently, there are two ways to find out what learning in a massive, open, online course is like: One, you can participate in such a course, provided you have the time necessary to invest in such a learning experience. When your time is the limited and precious commodity that we all know it to be, you may not be able to participate, however.
Don’t feel bad about that. That’s life, and for the majority of us mortals, we work for a living in a world that will not let us simply employ our time in any pursuit. We have to be selective, to be balanced with the way in which we invest our time. Families, friends, hobbies, rest & relaxation demand an equal share of the 24 hour clock. So, if we can’t participate in a MOOC, that leaves option two available.
Option Two? You can read this book…
My #CCK11 Experience
by Thomas Jerome Baker
Stephen: “On Jan. 17 George Siemens and I will launch the third offering of our online course called ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge’ – or CCK11. We use the term ‘connectivism’ to describe a network-based pedagogy. The course itself uses connectivist principles and is therefore an instantiation of the philosophy of teaching and learning we both espouse.” This book is the result of my participation in the #CCK11 course…
The global search for high-quality education, embedded in high-performing education systems, has taken on mythical proportions, almost resembling the alchemists’ quest to turn common metals into gold.
It is my hope that the present day search for global education, equitable and providing equality of opportunity for all, shall not cease until the “gold” we seek, has been found.
I therefore dedicate this book to all the educators, researchers, parents and students the world over, who strive to achieve this elusive goal,high-quality education for all the citizens of the world.
In this endeavour, it is my belief that the International Baccalaureate merits a closer look, based on their more than 40 year history of delivering consistently excellent results.
I add that all of the reflections and views in this book are mine alone, unless otherwise noted, and can not be attributed to my employer or any other organization I am affiliated with, past or present. For any errors or oversights, I bear the complete responsibility.
Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He is the Head of the English Department at Colegio Internacional SEK in Santiago, Chile.
He is the Co-Founder and Co-Organiser of EdCamp Santiago, free, participant-driven, democratic, conversation based professional development for teachers, by teachers. EdCamp Santiago 2012 was held at Universidad Mayor in Santiago.
Thomas is also a member of the Advisory Board for the International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association (HETL), where he also serves as a reviewer and as the HETL Ambassador for Chile.
Thomas enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. Thus far, he has written the following genres: romance, historical fiction, autobiographical, sports history/biography, and English Language Teaching. He has published a total of forty four (44) books overall.
The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family, his wife Gabriela, and his son, Thomas Jerome Baker, Jr.