‘MOOC World’: Experts clash over differing visions of education technology (News at Princeton)

Posted April 10, 2014; 04:27 p.m.

by Daniel Day, Office of Communications

University leaders and government officials from five continents on Thursday explored challenges and opportunities from economics to diversity that higher education faces. The second day of the Princeton-Fung Global Forum in Parisalso featured vigorous debate on whether online learning platforms pose more risks or rewards for academia and society.

Gideon Rosen, the Stuart Professor of Philosophy and chair of the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University, described a “nightmare scenario” spawned by Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. In “MOOC World,” Rosen said, institutions lured by lower costs and greater efficiencies switch fully to online learning and forsake traditional interaction between students and teachers, who may no longer know students’ names.

“When those things go missing, something of real value is lost,” Rosen said. “If you doubt that, just ask yourself the question, is that the sort of education you would want for your children?

“The worst-case scenario,” he continued, “is that the scholar becomes a genuinely rare bird.”

Rosen’s remarks followed a presentation in which Daphne Koller, a professor of computer science at Stanford University, described — and made a compelling case for — the rapid international growth of the Coursera online learning system that she co-founded.

Koller described how students around the world had benefited from MOOCs from a wide range of colleges and universities, including Stanford and Princeton. She said that an online course certificate today does not carry the same weight for employers as a college diploma. But she said employers increasingly use online learning certificates as a “signaling mechanism” putting a value on online learning.

Koller said she expects a faster and broader adoption of online education in countries other than the United States that would “leapfrog” the U.S. by establishing better digital networks. She told the story of a woman in Bangladesh who changed her and six other women’s lives after immersing herself in MOOCs to learn business skills.

 

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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