Jump your lane! MOOC U!


Jump Your Lane!

Michelle Alexander, in “Connect the Dots” [Sept. 23], honored Martin Luther King more forcefully than the countless TV hours devoted to his memory. What Dr. King so powerfully illustrated, and what Alexander so succinctly reminded us of, is that we are all Others within the homogenizing gaze of Power.

Mikael Homme
orlando, fla.

Michelle Alexander was moving and inspiring. The authorities pressure us to “stay in our lanes.” As Alexander says, we need to get out of our lanes and go beyond our usual responses. We need to find new, unexpected ways to challenge the mindless corporate machines that have taken over so much of our politics, our military and our media, and are devouring our earth and our lives.

Arden Buck
nederland, colo.

Michelle Alexander on connecting mass incarceration with corrupt capitalism, drone warfare, NSA spying, & more.

Michelle Alexander rolling up her sleeves, getting ready to speak more truth to power. @mnnakamura

This is what movements are made of. @HelloAlexCL


Re Jon Wiener’s “Inside the Coursera Hype Machine” [Sept. 23]: I find that a good online course is as good as or better than a traditional lecture course. I have two courses on Coursera. My lectures are full HD multimedia experiences with high-end sound—far more interesting than a lecture. One big advantage of Coursera over iTunes is that it can deliver exams—in my case, weekly quizzes, a midterm and a final. As Wiener notes, the discussion boards are also vital, and I expect mine to be well used—but they are only as good as the discussion prompts.

As for monetizing, the holy grail is certificate or for-credit courses. Coursera is learning (with UC Irvine) how to make these courses equivalent to (or better than) traditional lecture courses. I expect Coursera will steadily raise its standards, learn by doing and emerge as a top provider of quality education products. Good courses will drive out bad ones and eventually quality will be uniformly high. My bottom line: online education works if done right, and it need not put professors out of business. Educators must be able to do more than write on blackboards or whiteboards.

See you on Coursera!

Peter Navarro
irvine, calif.

I have participated in a number of MOOCs (massive open online courses). I am currently enjoying the UC Santa Cruz course on the Holocaust that Jon Wiener mentions. For me, the great value was the lectures by Dr. Kenez and the forum about books, movies, etc., for further study. Where, if not for the MOOC, would I ever be exposed to Dr. Kenez and Dr. Baumgartner? The course has galvanized my interest.

I also participated in Larry Diamond’s Stanford course on democracy. It was the best college course I have ever attended, and I hold two master’s degrees.

Would I be willing to pay for this? Indeed I would. I obtained my second master’s online at $1,000 per course. Most professors were noted scholars. The quality of instruction, personalization of comments and assistance far, far exceeded anything in my undergraduate and first graduate experiences and is priceless (or reasonably priced) for me.

Jane Arnold
madison, wis.

Like most anti-MOOC articles, this one set up a straw man—MOOCs are out to destroy traditional bricks-and-mortar education—and then shot it down. I don’t think anyone believes that these courses are a substitute for a classroom experience; they are adjunct enrichments to the classroom, like a textbook or film. I’ve looked at and taken and dropped a number of Coursera courses, including the two that the article mentions—“The Holocaust,” which I dropped because it was so bad, and “Modern and the Postmodern,” which was excellent. But the article glossed over the better course and concentrated on the worse one. No one should write about MOOCs without looking at “Modern and Contemporary American Poetry,” led by a master teacher, Al Filreis (University of Pennsylvania), along with TAs who participate in the discussion forums, as does Al. “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets,” an introduction to archaeology, is taught by Sue Alcock, a MacArthur grant awardee (Brown University). Both courses use the Internet in thoughtful and creative ways. Westviewer

Your articles on MOOCs mention but don’t discuss one of online learning’s biggest problems, what I call “talking head syndrome,” a relic of the physical classroom retained from habit. The talking head adds nothing to learning, and in fact detracts from it, necessitating note taking, divided attention, backing up and repeating unclear concepts and more.

I took an online course at my local community college with all the material organized for learning with no talking head. I mastered the material and received my certificate. I had no interaction with a professor.

The professor still has a role: to design the course for the online classroom, eliminating the unnecessary residuals of the physical classroom. Instead of lecturing, professors will be the knowledge depository and organizational basis for education. To those professors who resist adapting to the coming educational environment, I can only say, adapt or die.

Herb Caponi
upper saint clair, pa.

The actual payoff of MOOCs is not the classes, but the huge data harvested from the responses of learners. As learners make their way through the maze of questions and right or wrong answers, their every keystroke is logged into the database. This is where money can be made, in trading those data for the ostensible purpose of improving educational outcomes.

David Palumbo-Liu

Jon Wiener says The Great Courses (which, incidentally, advertise in The Nation) are expensive: the “course on the Civil War, for example, costs $440 for forty-eight lectures.” Umm, virtually nobody pays these prices. They have several courses on sale each month, and I get a letter about every three months telling me that all courses are on sale—prices typically being about $70.

Jim Larson

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