An interesting (short) interview with Keith Devlin, Mathematics Professor at Stanford University, on the subject of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Devlin recently finished teaching “Introduction to Mathematical Thinking” to more than 62,000 students, aged 16 to 70. Devlin describes the new forms of teaching that the virtual classroom encourages. He does not offer a traditional lecture, for example, but invites students into a kind of intimate proximity with his own writing, thinking, ideas. Students peer over his shoulder as he works through problems. For all of the technology at work in delivering these courses, it is a relatively low-tech approach that approximates a one-to-one encounter with a mentor. It also hints at the field of alternative teaching models that the MOOCs are generating.
These courses have the potential to change our approaches in the non-virtual classroom as well. This will be especially important in Britain, where large lectures remain the norm and fees for this learning environment are on the rise. If our students can enroll in MOOCs free of charge, taught by some of the world’s leading scholars, what justification do we have for continuing to offer such an outdated pedagogical model? And charging extraordinary sums of money for it? MOOCs (I hope) will force us to think more carefully about how we teach. We either need better arguments for lecture-style learning (I’m not convinced that any really exist) or we need to focus on what real-time, on-campus learning can offer that this first generation of MOOCs cannot.
In related (visual culture) news, MOOCS seem to have produced a new video genre: the MOOC trailer, complete with a green screened Stanford campus.