After championing the march of technology for decades, university professors are finding out that they are the target of the next round of ‘creative destruction’, and they do not like the message at all. Two professors from Harvard published an analysis in Science magazine to show that those learning from MOOCs are likely to be from ‘evil one-percenters’. Next thing we know is that these Harvard professors will write grants to solve this new ‘digital divide’ problem they identified.
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are often characterized as remedies to educational disparities related to social class. Using data from 68 MOOCs offered by Harvard and MIT between 2012 and 2014, we found that course participants from the United States tended to live in more-affluent and better-educated neighborhoods than the average U.S. resident. Among those who did register for courses, students with greater socioeconomic resources were more likely to earn a certificate. Furthermore, these differences in MOOC access and completion were larger for adolescents and young adults, the traditional ages where people find on-ramps into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) coursework and careers. Our findings raise concerns that MOOCs and similar approaches to online learning can exacerbate rather than reduce disparities in educational outcomes related to socioeconomic status.
Here is the problems with above kinds of analysis. If the Harvard group decided to do a similar analysis for sequencing instruments, when Illumina first came out with their machines, or computers, when using PCs in classroom was starting to get popular, they would have come to very similar conclusion. Universities like Harvard had big advantage over colleges in poor areas in getting access to the first computers or first large sequencing instrument. Such articles did not gain popularity among academics, because their jobs were not threatened.
Sure, there was some hue and cry in those years about ‘digital divide’, and some people in MIT and Stanford got grants to ‘bring down the cost of PC to $100’. We know how that academic nonsense ended.
Benders departure from OLPC came after a disagreement over the organizations plans to break away from a pure open-source approach and offer a dual-boot version of its laptop that could also run a stripped-down version of Microsofts Windows operating system, something Bender said he feared would make OLPC just another laptop company. But Nicholas Negroponte, founder of OLPC and, previously, cofounder of MITs Media Lab, said that the move was necessary to boost sales and, consequently, expand the availability of the machines to children.
Getting back to MOOC, Compeau and Pevzner have more realistic view of what is inevitable (see “MOOCs Are Actually Books”).
Was the printing press a worthwhile invention? This may seem like a silly question, but some of the backlash against early MOOCs reminds us of a criticism of the printing press made by the prominent 15th-century polymath Johannes Trithemius. Believing printed books were inferior to hand-copied manuscripts, Trithemius wrote, The printed book is made of paper and, like paper, will quickly disappear.
Anyone who has witnessed the beauty of a Renaissance illuminated manuscript can sympathize with Trithemius. Likewise, anyone who has attended a lecture delivered by a brilliant teacher in a small classroom can sympathize with Vardi. Yet in reality, contemporary higher education often falls short of this ideal.