Monday, June 09, 2014

A random thought

You know how some universities catch hell (especially from conservative commentators) for having pop-culture classes, like ones on the Simpsons, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Klingon?

It occurs to me that these kinds of things are tailor-made for MOOCs. (inspired by seeing this. There's even a small charge for the class so apparently the developer has found a way to make it pay.)

Because: the people likely to take those courses are going to be motivated to pay attention to them, because it's a particular interest of theirs. The way MOOCs currently work (at least at most universities), you don't get specific credit for them, so someone couldn't avoid coursework in the natural sciences (say) by taking a course on alien xenobiology or something. And because they're sort of an add-on, people won't feel so much like a university degree is being (further) watered down.

I've said before, some of the ideas promoted as being done via MOOCs, like remedial classes, are a terrible idea. Remedial and intro classes, I think, for most people, need to be in a classroom or at least "traditional" online setting, where there is contact with the instructor and tests and a certain level of accountability. The last thing we need is having people who dislike math and did poorly on the math section of the ACT being herded into a 1000-person class where they don't really see the instructor, where the quizzes may be self-graded, and where it's all on the student to complete the class.

But "fun" classes, classes on stuff that only a very, very small percentage of people (e.g., comic book writers, media reporters, etc.) might actually use in their career - but which lots of people might want to take for fun - could work as a MOOC.

I could even see things like "Shakespeare for the Adult" (a course aimed at people wanting to learn more about the plays, but who are now done with school) or "Art Appreciation for non-artists" and that sort of thing.

But please, don't push intro bio students into a MOOC to learn genetics. That's just all kinds of bad.

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