Online classes can be enlightening, edifying, and engaging — but they’re not college

The future of higher education online is, at present, clear as mud, The Verge reports. Do Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs — college-level classes offered online through a number of corporate providers — offer students better tools for study, increased opportunities at lower cost? Can they provide access to higher education to those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it? Or do these canned classes portend the selling out of American education to Silicon Valley profiteers? I took the best MOOC I could find over the last several weeks in order to try to answer these questions, as well as the one perhaps too seldom asked: Are even the best of these classes any good, or not? Are the best ones now, or could they one day be, as rewarding, informative and useful as a real class? … It’s not even remotely like a real class. In no way did the rudimentary quizzes and forum discussions substitute for having to write papers, participate in class discussions or sections, swap information and notes with fellow students, talk with profs and / or TAs — all of the things that amount to supplying concrete proof, to teachers and to yourself, that you’ve learned something specific from your studies. Furthermore, humanities classes wherein we’re made to write essays have the more advanced goal (again, for those who can and wish to flex a bit more muscle) of getting students to generate their own new ideas from what they’ve learned — say by relating the lessons of history or literature to other books or ideas or periods of history, or to their own lives, societies, or circumstances.

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