Wednesday, November 26, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Higher education needs soul MOOCs can’t supply

By Bill Maxwell

A former classmate from the University of Chicago telephoned several months ago and asked if I would teach an online journalism course for the university in Illinois where he has taught for the past 15 years.

I declined the offer. But before doing so, I reminisced about the great face-to-face lectures and discussions we had in Chicago’s Classics Building, our debates on the lawn in the quads, how our late afternoon classes moved to Woodlawn Tap and how a group of us regularly studied together in Regenstein Library on the third floor.

My classmate pointed out that such nostalgia wouldn’t do anything to help the nation’s tens of thousands of students being shut out of our colleges and universities because there is not enough space and professors for them.

He said that MOOCs, short for massive open online courses, are the answer. I said that higher education today is about budget cuts and body counts. It is not about nurturing the whole student.

“Today’s education doesn’t have any essence or soul,” I said. As I expected, my friend countered that “essence and soul don’t pay the mortgage.”

Since that conversation, MOOCs have been making headlines. These are courses taught online to large numbers of students, with most professors having little involvement with their students. Students usually watch video lectures and do assignments that are graded either by other students or by a machine.

Currently, no colleges or universities offer credit or accept transfer credit for these mega-classes, which are typically taught by outside groups that include unaccredited for-profit outfits. And there is a distinction to be made between these offerings and classes that leverage new technology to maintain direct faculty-to-student interaction despite distance.

But a movement in California has educators everywhere paying attention to MOOCs. Last month, Democratic state Sen. Darrell Steinberg introduced a bill that would require California’s 145 public colleges and universities to grant credit for low-cost online courses offered by outside groups. The bill has a good chance of passage.

I wanted to hear from someone whose opinions I trust on such matters, so I spoke with Donald Eastman, president of Eckerd College, a private school in St. Petersburg. He said that online courses have a useful place in higher education. So far, that place has been in courses for adults who, for various reasons, have limited options to attend regular classes.

“Much more importantly, a string of courses — online or not — does not add up to a real college experience, even if these courses do add up, at some places, to a degree,” he said. “As the Wizard of Oz says to the scarecrow, ‘I cannot give you a brain, but I can give you a diploma.’ ”

Eastman argues that the real value of a college education comes through face-to-face debate and discussion with teachers and students before, during and particularly after class.

He said he takes a lesson about the status of undergraduate education from what the president of the Chautauqua Institute told him about the legal profession over the last generation.

“He said the legal profession used to be about relationships, but now it’s about transactions,” Eastman said. “That is exactly what politicians with their insistence on ‘no child left behind’ and their advocacy of excessive and unremitting testing of students at virtually every grade level are doing: reducing education from a holistic experience to a series of discrete and often meaningless transactions.”

It is nonsense, Eastman said, for public or private universities to pretend that online courses for young undergraduates provide quality education.

Like Eastman, Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago, sees essential value in the campus experience. In a recent article for the Atlantic magazine, Zimmer wrote that college “provides young adults with the intellectual capital to succeed and the social capital to help them make connections, build networks, and establish lifelong relationships.

“It provides them with skills in analysis and reasoning combined with confidence that will lead them boldly to articulate and embrace new ideas. It transforms their perspectives, opening them up to different cultures, different world views, and different ways of seeing – and solving – some of the world’s most complex problems.”

MOOCs may be the future in this budget-slashing era, but the intrinsic value of higher education will diminish, and the nation will suffer in unforeseen ways if we continue on this path.

— Bill Maxwell is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times. Reach him at bmaxwell@sptimes.com

Comments

comments

Special to The Enterprise

.

News

Fremont Weir parking lot remains closed

By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1

 
Occupy movement settles in at UC Davis

By Tanya Perez | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Time to give thanks for nature’s beauty

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Food fight … in a good way

By Tanya Perez | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Guard reinforcements contain damage in Ferguson

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

 
Weather affecting Thanksgiving travelers

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

 
Second cat-hoarding suspect arrested

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

LCI marks 50 years with special service

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Pedal around Davis on weekly bike ride

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Happy Thanksgiving from The Enterprise

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Year-end films to see, or not, on KDRT

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Girls who volunteer may apply for grant

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Round up at the registers for Davis schools

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Davis Community Gift Project brightens holidays for children

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A4

Speaker proposes changes in humanities doctorate

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Senior Center hosts holiday sing-along

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Sutter sponsors qigong for holiday de-stress

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Learn to use Skype at Connections Café

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Boy Scouts start Christmas tree sales on Friday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Volunteers needed to grow plants for habitat restoration

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Rainbow City community meeting set Dec. 1

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

 
.

Forum

She wants more from him

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

 
Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

Musings in the wake of Ferguson decision

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

 
Rich Rifkin: Is it time to be a bear or a bull?

By Rich Rifkin | From Page: A6

Planting love at new home

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Innovation parks comparison

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

.

Sports

No excuses, but there’s hope for UCD after 2-9 season

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

 
Joseph, Manzanares lead 10 All-Big Sky Aggie picks

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

DHS wrestling is not just for boys

By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Let’s not lose another good DHS coach

By Chris Saur | From Page: B1

Blue Devils prepare for a new season on the mat

By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Davis Little League offers early sign-up discounts

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

 
Kings get past Pelicans

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

.

Features

Salute to non-steamed broccoli

By Dan Kennedy | From Page: A7 | Gallery

 
.

Arts

It really is ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’

By Debra DeAngelo | From Page: A11 | Gallery

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

Death notice: Buddy Ralph Mills

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
Elzyne Thompson

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Comics: Wednesday, November 26, 2014

By Creator | From Page: A9

 
.

Ready, Set, Shop!

Shop locally: You can have your pie and eat it too

By Enterprise staff | From Page: RSS1

Santa’s little helper: secrets to happy holiday shopping

By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: RSS2

Make sure it gets there: deadlines for shopping and shipping

By The Associated Press | From Page: RSS2

Downtown lights up at holiday open house

By Enterprise staff | From Page: RSS3

Full of warm wishes and over-sharing, the holiday card lives on

By The Associated Press | From Page: RSS4

Shop smart: Protect your wallet and your identity this shopping season

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RSS5

Woodland celebrates the holidays downtown

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: RSS5