Saturday, July 27, 2013

MOOC that MA!

I was reading this article on Slate the other day about Georgia Tech's MOOC based MA in Computer Science which will cost around $6,000 for those interested in taking part in it. Even though Georgia Tech's Online Education MOOC crashed and burned, I am really curious to see this launch and succeed. If this is the program they are thinking of going full MOOC on, I think it may just work. Why do I think this?

Well, first of all, it's a program in the sciences. Unlike the humanities, the deliverable requirements, on the part of the learners, are a bit different. This is something that can can be seen in the Coursera and EdX platforms. Since their genesis was in the sciences, they are not immediately a good fit for a collaborative, social constructivist learning environment that has come to be expected in the social sciences. While I have no doubt that the platforms will evolve, there are some initial constraints there due to their science genesis. Since  the science homework deliverables can be put through a compiler and tested, and even read by a human to see how clever, or plain, an algorithm implementation is, I think that massive automation can work fairly well for an initial pass at grading homework and exams.

This brings me to the price: The price is right. If a regular MA degree costs anywhere from $8,000 to $40,000 per year, a $6,600 in total MA is a bargain. I don't recall seeing the details, but my guess would be that this is what the math breaks down to:

  • $550 per course (3 credit course)
  • From those $550, $150 probably goes to proctoring
  • From the remaining $400, $200 goes toward campus based grades and checkers
  • and the remaining $200 goes toward administrative costs

Going along the "the price is right" line, this model makes failure is less of a financial burden.  In college, if you fail you have two issues, first your GPA takes a dive.  Then, there is the financial costs of having to take the course over again in order to do better, pass the course, and raise your GPA. The low cost of the courses makes failure sting a little less, from a financial point of view anyway (your pride may take a ding). Also, if  you aren't completely confident about the course, you can audit, for free, work your way through things, and then decide to demonstrate your skills when you are ready.

There is only one caveat that I can foresee at this moment: Autodidacts only.  MOOCs rely on peer support networks.  If you don't have that peer support network, for whatever reason, there isn't a tutor that you can ping in order to work through some issues. So, unless there is some pay-for-tutor arrangement, I am not sure how a student who isn't used to learning on their own will fare.

Your thoughts?
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