MOOCs and the crisis in higher education

"MOOCs are the fad of the moment," said University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler yesterday on The Daily Circuit. Despite his skepticism, this week the U announced that it would offer Massive Open Online Courses through Coursera.

Clay Shirky argues in The Awl that while MOOCs may not be the answer for the crisis in higher education, the U and other bricks-and-mortar schools need to come up with solutions. To understand the scope of the problem, he says don't think about the students in the US News' Top 100:

If you want to know what college is actually like in this country, forget Swarthmore, with 1500 students. Think Houston Community College, with 63,000. Think rolling admissions. Think commuter school. Think older. Think poorer. Think child-rearing, part-time, night class. Think 50% dropout rates. Think two-year degree. (Except don't call it that, because most graduates take longer than two years to complete it. If they complete it.)

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Shirky, himself on the faculty of a traditional university, says he believes most schools try to work for their students, but that the system is irreparably broken. MOOCs may seem fad-ish, but they are harbingers of big changes for the University of Minnesota and other institutions.

I've been thinking about the effects of the internet for a couple of decades now. I've watched industry after industry forced to renegotiate their methods and models, in the face of a medium that allows for perfect copying, global distribution, zero incremental cost, ridiculously easy group-forming: The music business. Newspapers. Travel agents. Publishers. Hotel owners. And while watching, I've always wondered what I'd do when my turn came.

And now here it is.


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