MOOCs: A Student’s Perspective

As massive open online courses (MOOCs) remain a controversial topic, there are frequently new articles from experts in the field of education arguing both for and against this new style of classes. However, it’s not often that we hear from the students who are actually taking advantage of this alternative form of education. Slate Magazine recently offered some insight from a student who earned the equivalent of a second B.A. through MOOCs.

A few decades after completing a B.A. in chemistry at a traditional college, Jonathan Haber found himself drawn to self-education in a variety of fields. He studied history and humanities through podcasts and online video lectures. Eventually he decided to pursue the equivalent of a second B.A. in philosophy through MOOCs. He decided to turn his pursuit into a sort of experiment, and set off to see if it was possible to complete the courses required for a 4 year B.A. in philosophy in one year using MOOCs.

The experiences he shares in the Slate article are largely positive. He reports a high level of engagement from professors and describes some great experiences collaborating with other students online. At the end of his year-long pursuit, Haber reports that he felt competent and comfortable at the American Philosophical Association Easter Division Meeting he attended as a self-imposed final exam to test his knowledge.

While Haber does describe some areas where MOOCs need to be improved, he seems hopeful for the future of online education. In discussing the legitimacy of MOOCs, it makes sense to turn to the students who use them for feedback. Opinions like Haber’s cast MOOCs in a more positive, and perhaps more realistic, light than many articles from so-called experts who have not so much as attended a single class.

One of the areas Haber offered a critique on is the quality of the assessment: “Others, in contrast, gave me a passing grade for just answering a handful of multiple-choice questions with obvious answers.”  As MOOCs become more prevalent, online test proctoring technology is playing an increasingly important role in protecting the legitimacy (and quality) of these courses. As remote proctoring solutions are employed more widely, students can expect better (and more convenient) testing experiences to come, and MOOC detractors will have fewer arguments.

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