I laughed at this story from The Chronicle of Higher Education, "Faculty Backlash Grows Against Online Courses". According to the story, philosophy professors at San Jose State rejected the administration's request to use an online course from a renown Harvard Professor. The SJS professors' argument was that this was the first step in a plan to reduce teaching positions in the Philosophy Department.
The President of the university is an advocate of reducing the time and cost to get a degree by increasing the use of online courses. Tuition has increased over 100% in the last 10 years for in-state students at public universities (such as SJS) and 60% for private universities, according to the College Board as reported by CNN. These increases are far in excess of inflation and suggest an "industry" likely to be disrupted. Looks like the President of SJS has a legitimate concern.
If we step back and look at the problem universities face, I conclude the following:
- Few students benefit from lectures unless the professor is both brilliant and an excellent orator (George Polya comes to mind); this is a rare combination
- Textbook reading is more efficient and effective than lectures for conveying basic facts and simple theories
- Most students look to professors for help with applying the coursework in real world, practical ways
- Problem solving and analytical techniques are the areas where students can most benefit from teacher involvement
Where I think MOOCs and online courses will end up at universities is as part of a two-tier tuition scheme:
- Lower cost online courses with no live professor involvement
- More expensive courses that combine in classroom time with a professor and online lectures
I know lots of motivated students who take Coursera courses in addition to their full-time class load. Given the choice, more students would opt for online courses without a live professor if the quality matched the best professors on Coursera or edX and the courses counted toward their degree. Maybe we should focus the problem on what the students prefer.
The views stated herein are my personal views and do not reflect the opinions of any organization, university or client with whom I am affiliated.