How Our Achievements MOOC Us

Nobel_medalBy Peter Galuszka

According to many, higher education in the United States is a corrupt, self-serving, unsustainable mess.

We need to fire college administrators wholesale, go whole hog to the fad of Massive Open Online Courses, admit our major failings in another fad (STEM), get rid of art and Aeschylus and privatize the University of Virginia while turning oversight to a bunch of New York-based hedge fund Wahoo grads who, no doubt, are the source of all wisdom and virtue because they made zillions seeking alpha and playing edges. Real humanitarians, in other words.

This is the conservative refrain coming from a bunch of white, mostly male and mostly well off people who still resent the supposed liberal bias of professors back in the 1960s and 1970s. They are still seeking revenge.

So imagine my surprise when I saw the front page of the Wall Street Journal today. A bottom page graphic was titled “U.S. Universities Brim With Laureates.”

The beleaguered U.S. with its fat and overextended colleges has a grand total of 343 Nobel winners. The United Kingdom is next with 88, followed by Germany (74), France (35) and Switzerland (22).

Top Nobel schools are California’s system, Harvard, Max Planck, Chicago, Stanford and MIT.

In other words, the U.S. college system is the best in the world as far as science and technology research despite all the gnashing of teeth from every two-bit economic development hack whining about China and STEM.

Will MOOC improve things? It probably has its place but it is hard to see how putting stuff online will be a major world changer. Was the telephone a world changer? Radio? TV?

Maybe it is the human brain that is the game changer and maybe America’s universities are the best places to nurture it, MOOCs or not.

11 Responses to How Our Achievements MOOC Us

  1. Online learning, MOOCS, are just a new tool. There was a time when the printed book was a new tool, the mass communication miracle of the age. But I’m still of the opinion that the changes will be far less dramatic than you expect. Giant intro classes may go from 250 students in an auditorium to 1000 on line, but the sciences will still need labs, there will be seminars and opportunities for Q&A, people will still need to write papers and those papers must be read by an instructor, and testing in anything but the basics will have to involve more than a multiple choice online quiz. The Blue Book ain’t dead. On line lectures should improve efficiency, and for extension classes and post-degree opportunities, MOOCS will be incredibly effective. But their impact on a real BS degree will be minimal and on graduate degrees, infinitesimal. Do NOT give me a brain surgeon who was trained by MOOCS.

    • I don’t think anyone is expecting MOOCs will education brain surgeons (unless it’s the introductory anatomy class). But MOOCs can carry the load for a lot of basic college classes. It appears that MOOCs are more useful for certain disciplines, less so for others. The IT industry is leading the way. English Lit…. probably not so much. But we won’t know until we try. Mistakes will be made. Progress will be made. Trial and error will help us figure out where MOOCs and variants of MOOCs (like the so-called “flipped learning” model) are best applied.

  2. Please note that of the 343 American Nobel laureates, nearly ninety were born elsewhere and were allowed into this country when we opened our immigrations doors just a crack. We won NO science awards from 1901 until decades later, except for Americans trained in Germany or born abroad. We’re great because we bring greatness to our shores. Or, in the case of Eugene Fama, let his uneducated Italian immigrant grandparents in.

    • That’s a great theory so long as there is more demand for labor than a supply of labor. However, for the past 30 years median wages have been stagnant. In the past five years there has been a steady decline in the labor participation rate. Job creation is anemic.

      Shouldn’t we make sure that we can gainfully employ the people already in the country before we go searching more more people to being in?

  3. I’d be more impressed by the debate over MOOCs on this blog if more of the participants in that debate had actually taken a MOOC. I have. It was very useful. I learned to write Python code. It cost me nothing and was taught online by a team of professors from Rice University. There are free courses in history, economics, etc. Very useful.

    The big issue isn’t liberal professors, it is the falling labor participation rate:

    And don’t listen to the quacks who blame baby boomer retirements. If you are over 64 you don’t count in the labor pool. Baby boomers may be retiring early but “normal” retirement at 65 won’t lower the labor participation rate.

    “To put this in perspective: If the same percentage of adults were in the workforce today as when Barack Obama took office, the unemployment rate would be 10.8 percent.”. Source: Washington Post.

    The Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology recently predicted that 47% of all American jobs being performed today will be eliminated by 2030. That’s 17 years from now.

    According to College Board figures, tuition and fees increased 5.4 percent annually above inflation in the decade since the 2001-2002 school year. That represents approximately a doubling, in real terms, every 13 years. Again, in real terms.

    Meanwhile, much of American society is a Ponzi scheme whereby those who are working pay the money in taxes that support us all. Certainly, that is true of Social Security.

    So, where are we?

    1. We have a substantial employment problem with the lowest employment participation rate in 35 years.

    2. Almost half of all jobs being worked today will be eliminated over the next 17 years.

    3. College costs are escalating at a far higher rate than inflation – making college unaffordable to many.

    4. The future of our society is based on the presumption that the labor participation rate will not just keep falling.

    We are in deep kimchi. If MOOCs can help then God bless them.

    I also find it interesting that the same self-proclaimed progressives who demanded that something be done about the escalating cost of health care see no reason to do anything about the escalating cost of education.

  4. If DJ is correct about jobs going away, and I have yet to see a believable counter-argument that they’re not – going away…

    is education going to help reverse that trend?

    so.. we cut the number of instructors and replace them with MOOCS… where do those professors go to get a replacement job?

    These professors are not going to be “STEM-less” high school grads. These professors will have not only BS, but PHD degrees but what jobs are available to them besides professorships?

    It’s starting to appear that every job replaced by automation is yet another job gone and not replaced with another and our labor participation rate will just get worse and worse.

    Perhaps thats the Boomergeddon that Jim B should focus on, eh?

    • There are certainly new jobs coming and traditional jobs that go unfilled. America is 30,000 truckers short and there is an expected shortage of somewhere around 150,000 data scientists – to name just two occupations.

      However, these jobs require training and certification. I would think that MOOCs might be a good start on re-training college graduates who find themselves essentially unemployable.

      I also have to wonder why taxpayers are being asked to support majors that have limited employment prospects. If a student wants to study anthropology at a public university – fine, study away. I just wonder of taxpayer money should be used to subsidize that student.

  5. Pingback: How Our Achievements MOOC Us – Bacon's Rebellionmoocdesign | moocdesign

  6. re: ” I also have to wonder why taxpayers are being asked to support majors that have limited employment prospects. If a student wants to study anthropology at a public university – fine, study away. I just wonder of taxpayer money should be used to subsidize that student.”

    I agree with that.

    the entire purpose of taxpayer funding of education K-12 and higher ed is to build up our workforce, power our economy, create more taxpayers and less entitlement users.

    and yet both in K-12 and Higher Ed – we treat any/all “education” as essentially the same.

    I highly value education – ALL areas of it and you never really know when some obscure area brings unexpected returns but on the other hand – we are no longer in a fiscal situation where we can spend without priorities.

    we have to make cuts – if we cut too deep – we can back off later but right now we simply have lost our fiscal bearings as to what we can pay for.

    core-academic in K-12 with the extras paid for by parents and in higher-ed – we subsidize ONLY those degrees for which there is a demonstrated need in the workforce.

    It’s totally dumb for us to churn out millions of degrees in all manner of category and STILL end up SHORT on in our workforce … of other degrees.

    I cannot imagine for the life of me in the first place why ANYONE would pursue a degree – at cost to the govt – for which there is no demand in the economy. I agree with DJ. If you want to do that, then fine, but do it on your own dime.

  7. This would be a good MOOC for every blogger and comment writer on this site to take:

    Real Climate: Climate Science from Climate Scientists

    “This is class about science, but it is intended to be understandable by people without a strong science background.”.

  8. Here’s another course worth considering….

    “Basic knowledge of either statistics, data mining, mathematical
    modeling, or algorithms is recommended. Experience
    with programming is not required.”

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