Embrace change

Universities should welcome rather than fight alternative education models

Our cover story this week (“The new learning curve,” page 18) explores the world of massive open online courses, aka MOOCs, which feature “celebrity professors” teaching a variety of subjects. One of the keys is that these courses are free, or very inexpensive.

In the few years they’ve been around, MOOCs have attracted quite a bit of criticism, particularly for their high dropout rates. When a bill was introduced to the California Senate last year proposing statewide online courses be offered for credit at state universities, many educators were up in arms.

Chico State is among the universities that came out against MOOCs. In August 2013, the campus newspaper, The Orion, posted a video on YouTube in which President Paul Zingg refers to the “bogus notion that information is education, that watching a lecture on your telly, no matter who’s giving it, is the same as learning with a professor and fellow students in a class.” (A strange thing to say, considering Chico State offers online courses.)

The main argument in favor of offering MOOCs, or similar online courses, for university credit is that too many classes students need to complete their majors are impacted. We all know this is a problem. On the flip side, schools seem threatened by the price tag and availability of MOOCs. But they shouldn’t be. By fighting the changing landscape of education rather than embracing it, they’re the ones that will be left behind.

Education is a beautiful thing, and MOOCs are offering a new way of learning, bringing some of the best professors out of their Ivy towers and into our homes. The MOOC model is far from perfect, however—we know this because of the high dropout rates—but it’s also too new to be called a failure.