Students regularly drop out of massive open online courses before they come to term. For a professor to drop out is less common.
But that is what happened on Saturday in “Microeconomics for Managers,” a MOOC offered by the University of California at Irvine through Coursera. Richard A. McKenzie, an emeritus professor of enterprise and society at the university’s business school, sent a note to his students announcing that he would no longer be teaching the course, which was about to enter its fifth week.
“Because of disagreements over how to best conduct this course, I’ve agreed to disengage from it, with regret,” Mr. McKenzie wrote. ...
Mr. McKenzie’s microeconomics course, however, will continue—just without him. “The very able course managers have everything they need to post the remaining lectures, course assignments, and discussion problems, week by week, as scheduled,” the professor wrote. “However, I will not be involved.” ...
Gary Matkin, the dean for distance education at Irvine, said the problem had stemmed from Mr. McKenzie’s reluctance to loosen his grip on students who he thought were not learning well in the course.
“In Professor McKenzie’s view, for instance, uninformed or superfluous responses to the questions posed in the discussion forums hobbled the serious students in their learning,” said Mr. Matkin in an e-mail.
Irvine officials, however, “felt that the course was very strong and well designed,” he said, “and that it would, indeed, meet the learning objectives of the large audience, including both those interested only in dipping into the subject and those who were seriously committed” to completing the course.
Ms. Koller said that teaching a MOOC “can, indeed, be a challenge to deal with for someone used to the much more uniform population of a typical university setting.”
At least 37,000 people had registered for the course, according to Mr. McKenzie, although the professor noted in a post on the course’s “announcements” page that “fewer than 2 percent have been actively engaged in discussions.”
... posts from the professor on the course’s “announcements” page suggest that Mr. McKenzie had spent a great deal of time attempting to respond to student feedback—an effort chronicled in the many addendums on “housekeeping issues” appended to his notes on course content.
The professor apparently had faced criticism from students who objected to his decision to assign a textbook that was not available free. Mr. McKenzie also had heard complaints about how much work he assigned.
“I will not give on standards,” wrote Mr. McKenzie in one post, “and you also should not want me to, or else the value of any ‘certification’ won’t be worth the digits it is written with.”
There are three lessons from this:
- MOOCs must be as near free as possible
- MOOCs must be as easy as possible
- MOOCs do not require a professor
Some comments on these lessons:
- Textbooks are way overpriced, but it is hard to find a high quality substitute that doesn't cost anything.
- Students in regular courses want it to be easy too.
- If there is no professor, why would you need a MOOC? Students have always been able to buy a book and read it. If MOOCs devolve into high-tech correspondence courses (I graded those for extra money in graduate school) then they haven't really revolutionized education. The trick is to get great professors in front of thousands of students at one time.