MOOCompetition and a Future of Education

Udacity.com [From swashbuckling Americans with a niche: programming and then some]
Coursera.org [From swashbuckling Americans again: the gamut]
Edx.org [Ivy leagueX and friends]
Futurelearn.com [The British have come, with Coursera part B]
Iversity.com [From German/Europe’s quest: expanding horizons]
Edcast.com [Another American vision: knowledge networks, expanding horizons]

And there are others.

The MOOCompetition hots up because there’s business and pride inside it.

In their own zones are:
Prageruniversity.com [Honourary mention: they simply make sense]
Saylor.org [Special mention: Visionaries]
Uopeople.edu [Special mention: should work with Saylor; same direction I think]

Side thoughts:
A teacher should have income such that he can teach for free.

The degree or diploma (nanodegree?) is the natural evolution. Further on, there may come a point in the future when a degree, as we know it now, would become irrelevant.

The various platforms could inter- or co-accredit their courses like saylor.org essentially does. They could then grow to award ‘full’ degrees if a user can show they’ve completed certain courses from any of them within a specified period. Forming a cartel would raise the bar for new entrants and/or encourage some would-be competitors to join them instead.

Why attend one university when you can cherry-pick courses from an assortment of providers and still get a degree. I think European universities have done very well here.

Society does not seem to value liberal arts education enough in the early years. Restore the Trivium and Quadrivium to our consciousness.

Why do we want to see and feel the presence of teachers and co-students; to relate with them in their physical presence. Beyond accreditation, expert assessment, and recognition, there’s more to brick-and-mortar universities; just like there’s more to reading a real book than an e-book. Something allied with our humanness.

While we engage with the content of a book, we engage with the book itself. However, an e-book has only content; there’s no unique substance that we can attach it to. The nearest substance is the devise we use to read it, but that has no link to the content of the ebook, so that there’s an anchor for memory, emotion, and relationship missing. And not just counting that, with real books, we read reflections of light and not the projections of it as is common with most devices. Eassier on the eyes I think; it hurts to look directly at the sun.

What would we be losing by killing ‘brick and mortar’ universities. Do they need to up the ante to retain those courses with distance learning competition, and/or focus on those that could more easily survive distance learning, or join the evolution…. Ride alongside it; the competition, and the emergence.

His classes were a bit tedious

His classes were a bit tedious, bringing some students through periodic mental odium for the course. Comprehension seemed a steep hill to climb every session, and a soft unknown dread filled every thought of the next lesson. In some sort of desperation, trying to fathom the lessons and the man’s methods, some students, who’d fancied themselves brilliant enough to handle the rigour, but still out of sorts on the course, sought for comfort in texts of old, those that might’ve been used by that professor in his school days. “This course is hard” they retorted severally. To which their tutor responded with little spoken near disgust at their poor IQs and foundations. He’d thought the school had taken majority of the students for their money and nothing else. He knew so.

They we’re mere customers, devoid of aspiration beyond the certificate. We would give them what we would, and then the certificate if they passed. After all, it is what they think they need. He’d agreed to their statistical suitability using the science of admissions. That’s why they could be admitted in the first place. But his main irk was that they were too many for comfort, for standards—his standards. He’d been overruled by the need for money first. They needed money to pay his superstar salary—being a research titan—and buy equipment. These should directly translate to reputation, which they would sell for grants and like, use to justify higher tuition, and attract the most suitable students for their objectives. It’s the way the system works so we play the cycle as it is, pure business.

One day, a known face walked into the class. The students had seen him around. They’d heard of him: dry, exacting, serious and temperate, and also, extremely organised and brilliant. Soon they added effective teacher to this list. He was taking the latter part of the course as previously arranged. The students were soon sure that the first professor, whose lessons had been a hard book to read, had somehow contributed to their slow comprehension by his delivery. Maybe it was a way of making the best students stand out or inspiring something in the students that they didn’t immediately appreciate. That professor would go on to focus on his research, a scheduled conference, and other responsibilities.

After about an hour, he asked them to ‘take five.’ Instinctively, one student said, “please sir, continue, we’re not tired.” Then it hit the rest of the class. The new guy is good! He interrupted their murmurs and sudden conference. “I’m taking my five minutes break. You drink some water and chat or something.” The concepts, and ideas, and associated tasks in the course hadn’t got any easier, but they had a better teacher, a better tutor, and a better communicator. To his chagrin, they took him back to topics previously covered by the other professor; it upset him because it wasn’t efficient to do so. He balked. When he was threatened with incessant office visits, he advised that they should work hard at it and that it would be more efficient to treat those issues in a review class at his convenience. He was a stern man, almost military. He’d more or less issued a command, and that ended the matter.

The functions of the university.

Wikipedia says that the word ‘university’ comes from a Latin statement that basically means ‘community of teachers and scholars.’ The idea of the university, as currently expressed, also existed millennia ago. The university of Babylon existed at about 600 BC, and they had a 3-year programme that taught language, culture, philosophy, law, justice, and administration. It produced civil servants. (Daniel 1, Bible.) The ancient Chinese and Indians were advanced in learning and thought and it may not be much of a stretch to consider that they might have had institutions of higher learning in the form that they exist today.

Developments in science and technology, evolution of commercial society, and confusions of morality and justice, are changing the times. These events are prompting the review of the university, its relevance, methods and means of instruction, and curricula. If we treat certificate awarding professional bodies as institutions of higher learning that promote homeschooling and alternative instructional associations, then, the place of the university (hardware, brick-and-mortar) becomes clearer in the mix of competing institutions and changing industry values.

You don’t need a university degree to become a certified professional in some industries (aviation, accounting …), but you need to have gone through a process somewhat akin to attending a university (residential or distance learning). They are all thus universities of different sorts in the mold of the institution of higher learning.

Let’s frame this question for ourselves to answer: why should the traditional university continue as it is now for another millennium (even with the evolution of instructional means and methods, and the changing perceptions of qualification and learning today)? To whom does this matter, and to what?

The following is a view of what universities are and do today, and why brick-and-mortar should continue. Nothing detailed.
1. Learning facilitation and knowledge transfer (teacher to scholar, and vice versa).
2. Certificate Authority (like Comodo, confirming a website is the website it says it is…). The university certificate affirms that a person has successful gone through a specific learning/training/development process, and by implication has specific knowledge.
3. Self/passion/vision/spouse discovery and character development.
4. Knowledge discovery and dissemination (Research and associated publications, and knowledge transfer to society, aka industry.)
5. Exclusive social and business network (from personal networks to student clubs/sororities/frats, and the alumni community).

Items 1 and 2 (and perhaps 4) may be regarded as the essentials. And we can arrive at the following conclusions about the relative importance of the functions availed some stakeholders:
The most important for the student (scholar) is item 1 above.
The most important for the lecturer is item 1.
The most important for society is item 2.
The most important for the university is item 5.

That students exist for teachers and vice versa is self-evident. The university exists for its scholars and teachers, itself, and for society. All of them beneficiaries of the system they make. The human, face-to-face, interaction involved in the above list and as created by the intello-socio-physical university environment is very important for students’ development, and for the university to continue brick and mortar.

The university performs academic, certification, and social/civic functions for the person and for society. Society may need or just want you to have your degree; either way, it benefits if you do, and it would assume you’re enlightened. It would gladly ask you, before granting you certain specified benefits, for your diploma (or other acceptable proof of successfully completing a particular course of study). The accredited or recognised institution delivers the proof on a piece of paper.

A continual flow of people go through universities with various hopes and dreams to become private/public servants and leaders/managers. Servants in that we all ‘serve’ (at least ourselves) in some capacity after the degree or diploma, and regardless of any correlation or otherwise with what we studied. This is perhaps a reason universities are (or should be) more than academics or research, for the teacher, the scholar, and the university administration.

After one steps off the campus (real or virtual) or signs out with that very important piece of paper, what should one have assimilated by that time? What should have happened to him (to build him), and what should he have happened to (or achieved). To create this atmosphere and learning process makes the individual a ‘better’, ‘selectively experienced’, and ‘richer’ person. This where the physical university experience (in contrast to distance learning) may have a niche as they necessarily provide valuable structured and unstructured physical presence interactions.