MOOCs and calculus
I’ve really enjoyed the discussion on my post from yesterday about MOOCs and how I predict they are going to affect the education world. I could be wrong, of course, but I think this stuff is super interesting to think about.
One thing I thought about since writing the post yesterday, in terms of math departments, is that I used to urge people involved in math departments to be attentive to their calculus teaching.
The threat, as I saw it then, was this: if math departments are passive and boring and non-reactive about how they teach calculus, then other departments which need calculus for their majors would pick up the slack and we’d see calculus taught in economics, physics, and engineering departments.
The reason math departments should care about this is that calculus is the bread and butter of math departments – math departments in other countries who have lost calculus to other departments are very small. If you only need to teach math majors, it doesn’t require that many people to do that.
But now I don’t even bother saying this, because the threat from MOOCs is much bigger and is going to have a more profound effect, and moreover there’s nothing math departments can do to stop it. Well, they can bury their head in the sand but I don’t recommend it.
Once there’s a really good calculus sequence out there, why would departments continue to teach the old fashioned way? Once there’s a fantastic calculus-for-physics MOOC, or calculus-for-economics MOOC available, one would hope that math departments would admit they can’t do better.
Instead of the old-fashioned calculus approach they’d figure out a way to incorporate the MOOC and supplement it by forming study groups and leading sections on the material. This would require a totally different set-up, and probably fewer mathematicians.
Another thing. I think I’ve identified a few separate issues in the discussion that it makes sense to highlight. There are four things (at least) that are all rolled together in our current college and university experience:
- learning itself,
- research, and
So, MOOCs directly address learning but clearly want to control something about credentialing too, which I think won’t necessarily work. They also affect research because the role of professor as learning instructor will change. They give us nothing in terms of socializing.
But as commenters have pointed out, socializing students is a huge part of the college experience, and may be even more important than credentialing. Or another way of saying that is people look at your resume not so much to know what you know but to know how you’ve been socialized.
It makes me wonder how we will address the “socializing” part of education in the future. And it also makes me wonder where research will be in 100 years.