kitchen table math, the sequel: Glen on the flood

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Glen on the flood

In a comment on another thread, Glen writes:
SteveH asked: But how about the MITx degree? What's the catch?

The catch is that nobody at MIT (that I know of) is talking about an MITx "degree". These and the new Stanford online classes only give you credit toward a degree if you are an admitted MIT or Stanford student.

Otherwise, the idea is to give you some sort of acknowledgement that is carefully designed to make it clear that it is NOT MIT or Stanford credit. Both institutions are desperate to avoid diluting their own brand equity.

However, these projects often take on lives of their own. Some Stanford students are now complaining that they have to pay $5000 to take the same online class that non-students take for free. No difference at all in the educational experience, assignments, tests, feedback from TAs, etc., but the Stanford student pays a fortune and gets Stanford credentials; the equally-taught non-student gets it for free and gets no Stanford credential. That's an unstable situation, I believe, that may end up like breaching a barrier between two oceans at different levels. I'm looking for a flood to pour through this opening, which might overwhelm the people who are trying to keep these projects under control.

I see them right now as desperate to defend their monopolies but well aware that huge pressures are mounting to change the system. I think they figure, rightly, that if they don't disrupt themselves, someone else will do it to them. They probably don't want to be the venerable Kodaks and Fuji Films of higher ed as the world goes digital.
The final section of Walter Russell Mead's The Ice Cream Party and the Spinach Party is directly relevant.

20 comments:

SteveH said...

"If credentials are awarded, will they be awarded by MIT?"

"As online learning and assessment evolve and improve, online learners who demonstrate mastery of subjects could earn a certificate of completion, but any such credential would not be issued under the name MIT. Rather, MIT plans to create a not-for-profit body within the Institute that will offer certification for online learners of MIT coursework. That body will carry a distinct name to avoid confusion."


This is a common marketing technique - remove functionality and call it something different. It might be a more difficult learning model, but I assume that the courses are exactly the same. The functionality is (supposed to be) the same.



"What will it cost to get a credential for a given course?"

"MIT is in the process of determining a fee structure for individual courses and groups of courses. The aim is to make credentialing highly affordable."

If the tests and grading are the same, then how can they pretend that the degree is somehow less? They are taking your money. What does that imply legally? If the credential is somehow less, what is it less than? Is it not an official college degree? What happens if businesses think this is a way to get top people on the cheap? What if you go to a community college but do MITx on the side? What if a community college offers MITx as one of its offerings?

What is likely to happen is that many people (who would NEVER be accepted into MIT) will get some top grades.

Potentially, MIT can make a huge amount of money off of this, but it's a double edged sword. Accepting money also means accepting responsibility, and that means responsibility over making it very clear what the credential means. The cat will be out of the bag. Can MIT (or other colleges) not accept the credential as a legal college degree? I think accepting money changes everything.

Get your MITx degree with help at your community college and then go to the fancy grad school. This is different because it is not just the University of Phoenix.

kcab said...

The focus on whatever the credential is from MITx misses the biggest point, IMHO. The real point of MITx is that MIT has committed to developing a model of on-line higher ed course delivery while making the software open source, and freely available to other educational institutions.

That's the point where they grab the initiative in changing the game. (At least, in my opinion.) It reminds me of Project Athena.

Allison said...

KCab, huh? what was game changing abut athena outside of MIT & DEC?



But otherwise, yes. It's not about MlTx for students; It's about schools.

the value of MlT to an undergrad is the Vast vast array of research opportunities. Coursework is secondary. Most kids don't regularly attend courses anyway.But as schools leave textbooks behind, this is the new equivalent.MlTx won't water that down.

MlTx, though. provides other schools away to teach coursework the way in a sense, a textbook by an MIT prof used to. As schools and courses leave textbooks behind, this is the equivalent.

kcab said...

I think you're younger than me, Allison. Project Athena changed the way a lot of coursework was handled & what was available to students. Not a disruptive change in the way on-line ed could be, but distinctly different.

Anyway, the point is, it was work done at MIT on a tool for the education environment and the results were widely distributed. You're right, textbooks written for MIT courses have been that too.

ChemProf said...

I will be interested to see if they can really open source without watering down the course material. Anecdotally, the Stanford machine learning course did wind up being watered down, because TAs got overwhelmed with email and so added more and more hints to later assignments. Even if the TAs are dealing with students and grading, that still gets expensive for large numbers of students.

kcab said...

OT but on the grading of on-line course homework: AOPS problem set grading is impressive. Best feedback I've ever seen on any assignment, ever. Also, nice to have someone other than me give some of that feedback to DD.

I don't think MITx is likely to get feedback of same quality to students, however it is done. I had the impression that it wasn't going to be TA (or prof) though - thought it was going to be computer or peers.

Allison said...

Athena changed how things were done elsewhere? Interesting. I didn't realize. It dramatically changed end courses there, but I didn't know the effect elsewhere.

Chemprof, the open courseware to date was exactly what was used in classes, so it will be interesting to see how this differs from what they had already done with ocw. But even that was just the logical extension of problem sets and solns and lecture notes being online already.

ChemProf said...

Sorry to be unclear - I was talking about the Stanford machine learning course, which did rely on TAs for grading/feedback, not MITx.

See:
http://pennyhacks.com/2011/12/28/stanford-free-classes-a-review-from-a-stanford-student/

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

The Art of Problem Solving online class is good, and the feedback from the instructors what good math profs give their honors classes. The AoPS model is not math for the masses, but honors classes for students who can't get them elsewhere. The AoPS class sizes are not large, and meet for only 2 hours a week, so a lot of the instructor time can be spent on feedback.

SteveH said...

From a NYT article.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/19/education/mit-expands-free-online-courses-offering-certificates.html


“It seems like a very big deal because the traditional higher education reaction to online programs was, yeah, but it’s not a credential,” said Richard DeMillo, director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “So I think M.I.T. offering a credential will make quite a splash. If I were still in industry and someone came in with an M.I.T.x credential, I’d take it.”

Time will tell.

I expect that this will drive learning research much more than anything done by K-12 educators. Success will drive the process, not pedagogy.

ChemProf said...

I wish I was as positive it would change things. UC Berkeley extension has been offering certificates for a long time, and they aren't game changers at all. I don't know that this will be any different, but we'll see.

Catherine Johnson said...

Anecdotally, the Stanford machine learning course did wind up being watered down, because TAs got overwhelmed with email and so added more and more hints to later assignments.

Is that the same thing as watering down?

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Responding here to gasstation, if you're around, do the AoPS classes meet 'together'? (I realize I could look this up myself!)

The AoPS classes have a once-a-week chat room session with the instructor, which corresponds to the normal sort of lecture, except that there is no audio or video, just chat room (with math formulas and some graphics).

They also have a class-only forum where students can discuss the homework problems (and the instructor occasionally chimes in with a hint). The top students usually end up posting all their weekly homework solutions, but not the challenge problems, which are what they are graded on and get the detailed instructor feedback on. The students provide feedback to each other on the weekly homework.

Catherine Johnson said...

Thanks! Do students rely primarily on the textbook to learn content? (No lecture or audio at all?)

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Giving a lot of hint on a programming assignment is a watering down of the course, since most of the learning happens from students thinking about and solving the problems that come up in doing the programming. If the pitfalls are avoided by having a path to follow with little thinking, learning is reduced substantially.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

In the AoPS class, I suspect that how much students rely on the book versus the chat-room lectures (transcripts of which remain available to the students) varies a lot from student to student.

I know that my son is more likely to go back and look at the chat-room lecture than to look in the book, but I don't know if that is universal. I've always gotten the Solutions books along with the texts (the bundled pair is cheaper than getting them separately), but I don't know if he's ever looked in the Solutions manual—at least, not since 6th grade, when he was teaching himself geometry, and needed to grade the work.

kcab said...

I know that my son is more likely to go back and look at the chat-room lecture than to look in the book, but I don't know if that is universal

DD had this preference too. She enjoyed the chat-room part of the class a lot, so perhaps that is why.

Catherine Johnson said...

Giving a lot of hint on a programming assignment is a watering down of the course, since most of the learning happens from students thinking about and solving the problems that come up in doing the programming.

Is this akin to problem sets in math texts?

Is there an analogue to worked examples?

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm finding this confusing because 'hints' ---

I'm not quite sure what a hint is in this context. (I haven't taken a programming course.)

Catherine Johnson said...

The AoPS classes have a once-a-week chat room session with the instructor, which corresponds to the normal sort of lecture

oh- sorry!

I missed this.

(I find reading on a computer screen very stressful - and lately I've been skimming too much.)