Monday, February 20, 2012

MITx, and the illusion that online course work is ground-breaking.

In the constant debate on whether technology is a tool or a solution to our Education dilemma in the United States, we seem to have forgotten the introduction MITx, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s attempt at creating free professional development to the masses in an environment that some hope will be the answer to expensive college costs.  Think of it as Khan Academy for the college student, only you get a certificate from MIT that says you completed actual coursework from MIT, because apparently MITx is just like going to MIT, only its free and online.  Consider education changed. 

Or not.  The debate rages on whether or not education’s dive into the online environs will have an effect on getting the “best and brightest” of society into a higher gear while ending the classic university system as we know.  Megan McArdle of the Atlantic took a look at the potential apocalyptic horror that could befall the post-secondary system if online-distance learning took hold.  She’s a bit cynical of course, as am I due to the fact that everyone seems to forget in a lot of courses the online environment simply can’t replicate the real world laboratory.  Try and prepare to be a teacher online and see where that gets you.  Oh wait…..

And you wonder why there are some lousy teachers out there. 

Which leads us to a quote from the article:

 “….imagine a personnel manager at a mid-sized corporation who's looking for an employee with some particular knowledge. There are two candidates: one with an appropriate college degree from the local state school, a second with relevant MITx certificates. Let's say all other things between the candidates are equal. Which should the manager choose?”

These are typically stupid comparisons.  If a personnel manager is finding that the job comes down to an online certificate from MIT or a degree from Cal-State San Luis Obispo (which by-the-way is tougher than most California UC’s), then the personnel manager needs to be fired.  This is classic high-end college snobbery; if you can sit through a bad teacher at Stanford or Ivy League schools then you are better at a specialized task if you had good professors at state schools.  It’s all bullshit (hear that Teach For America).  Just like the author’s answer to the quote.   He said that the manager probably chose the MITx candidate because they had less student debt (therefore will ask for a cheaper salary), and because the state candidate probably just went to college to get the “college experience”. 

The real answer to any application of human capital has a lot more to do with experience, work ethic, and actual knowledge than some certificate or degree from any institution.  And while I can appreciate MITx trying to upgrade post-secondary education to 3.0, it’s still simply an online certificate that’s going to have to pass muster within the private sector. 

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