UVA, MOOCs, Teresa Sullivan and the Future of Higher Education

16uva2-articleLargeI was a little disappointed in Andrew Rice's story of UVA and Teresa Sullivan in last Sunday's New York Times. It didn't provide much new information or any new analysis. The online chattering class had already chewed that bone to its nub. 

Well, I am not sure this conversation is entirely over. I think that there's something going on that we haven't really pinpointed yet. 

MOOCs have been much discussed in the press by loads of folks. Including me. They aren't going to change education for most of our kids. In a few years, Jonah will be sitting in a classroom learning pretty much the same way that I learned and my mother learned before me. It does offer some potential for international students and continuing education types. It could cut into some of the bogus degrees offered by community colleges, though even that seems like a far off concern. 

The part about MOOC is that the most fascinating is the branding aspect. Colleges are looking to expand their name recognition. They are selling their image of Ivy walls and tweed clad professors. There's profit there.

What are they are they going to do with this? Harvard sweatshirts and Columbia caps for sale at the mall? Or are they going to start absorbing the small, struggling colleges and slap their names on the front? Will they go into business selling lesser degrees – a Harvard-Lite degree – around the country? I'm not really sure.

The faculty certainly won the battle at UVA. Teresa Sullivan was reinstated and status quo continued. Somewhat. UVA is now offering MOOC courses, too.  However, I'm not sure those who like the current model won the war. Something is going on, but I haven't put my finger on it yet. 


10 thoughts on “UVA, MOOCs, Teresa Sullivan and the Future of Higher Education

  1. I think we’ve already seen the “absorbing/name slapping” thing, though not with “struggling small colleges.” The schools are increasing their branding through new programs that are seen as profit centers: adult education, business schools, genomics centers. Some of those new “schools” and “centers” are run as essentially separate operations (for hiring, management, and money).
    I also expect other lower ranked schools (2nd tier) using the branding as a way of increasing their name recognition, and some of those might actually absorb other schools.

  2. I am frustrated by seeing no evidence of the learning that’s occurred in any of these MOOC courses. I’ve signed up for a few to see what the offerings are. I’ve followed through on none of them (though I still get emails telling me about the classes — a sociology class at Princeton, a Computer Vision class at Berkeley, and a web programming class at Udacity.
    My intent was never to really take those classes, so I’m not an example of someone who dropped out because the class wasn’t good. But, I’d like to see more analysis of who actually completes a class and what they’ve learned. Do studies like that exist? It would be interesting, to see, for example, what percent of the folks who signed up got the 70% that the computer vision class at Berkeley says will earn you a certificate.

  3. I think the completion rate is low. I’m taking a class on Coursera right now and the time commitment is definitely higher than I thought, which is good and bad. But it’s a lot of fun and I’ve been impressed at the quality of discussion among the thousands of students (it’s Modern and Contemporary Poetry). I’m not sure the assessment is super rigorous but then I haven’t turned an essay in yet.

  4. JennG, I’m taking ModPo too! My bet is that a lot of the drop-out happens right around the time of the first assignment for many of these courses–I’ve been greatly enjoying the poems and discussion, but ave not yet found the time to write the first essay….

  5. Saw this today. There was some movie in the 1980s (I wonder if anyone can remember it for me!) set at a college, where over the course of the semester more and more students were setting up tape recorders in the lecture hall, by the end the main character walks into the room, and it is just row after row of tape recorder, recording the professor who has set up a video of himself giving the lecture. With online courses, it can be even easier to rig it so no actual teaching or learning takes place.

  6. There you go! Thanks, MH. And in only 7 minutes.
    For some reason, I was thinking it was from “Soul Man,” but that didn’t seem quite right.

  7. Alright here’s another professor trivia movie question for MH. Burt Reynolds plays a college professor. It starts with him teaching a class, finishing the perfect lecture, and then looking up at the clock to notice that only 7 minutes have passed. What is it?

  8. I have no idea. There’s a narrow window between when I was allowed to leave the house on without my parents and when I started driving around drinking beer. In those years, I saw a lot of movies (very few R rated because the theater owner knew me). After that, not so much.

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