Saturday, January 11, 2014

India's MOOC experiment: is it ill-conceived?

India has kicked off a big experiment in MOOC with a hundred engineering colleges getting recorded lectures of IIT professors in nine subjects, according to an article in BS:

Under the QEEE programme, courses will be taught by a combination of senior Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) faculty and others. During regular class hours, the students will hear and see faculty deliver recorded lectures. Regular faculty will be present during class hours, in a supportive role. In the evening, e-tutorials will be held to enable live virtual discussions between students and tutors. Real time online experiments will be made available via e-labs.
According to a news report, as many as nine subjects will be delivered in MOOC format, including in the fields of mechanical engineering, civil engineering, computer engineering and mathematics. The courses will all be in advanced subjects such as wireless connections, linear algebra, and heat transfer for mechanical engineering.

What took my breath away was the quote from the founder of one of the leading MOOC providers, Udacity, Sebastian Thrun:
Thrun said in an interview he "was realising, we don't educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product. It was a painful moment (when I realised this)."

Thrun's statement came in response to the weak performance of students who took MOOCs over the Udacity platform at San Jose State University in remedial mathematics, college algebra and elementary statistics. Only 25 per cent of the online students passed, less than half the pass rate for students who took the course face-to-face in real time. Thrun is so distressed with the performance of MOOCs that he is changing the focus of Udacity from academic education to corporate education

The author, Rafiq Dossani, raises pertinent questions about the viability of the programme. He distinguishes between MOOC for basic courses and MOOC for advanced courses. The latter require far more interaction in order to contribute to learning, he contends. Hence the former are more likely to succeed; deploying resources for the latter is not efficient.

I would go along with this proposition and I would add that MOOC can be used for scaling up student numbers at elite institutions by using it to provide very basic concepts, background and additional information and analysis. Scarce faculty time can then be deployed for exposition of more advanced topics.

Where MOOC is intended as a substitute for class-room education (other than executive training), the employability of students who have taken a MOOC diploma must be tested before we commit more resources.


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