Hands Off MOOCs, Advisors Tell POTUS

column | MOOCs

Hands Off MOOCs, Advisors Tell POTUS

Dec 19, 2013

The President's Council of Advisors on Science & Technology have sent "the first in series" of letters to President Obama on education technology. And at least for now, the group suggests that the government watch but not interfere with MOOCs.

The letter is a handy quick history on MOOCs.

Hundreds of US colleges and universities are experimenting with MOOCs and other related educational technologies, the letter points out, including partnering with the likes of Coursera, edX and Udacity. And guess what? "After only two years of practical experience with MOOCs and related technologies, it is too early to tell whether substantial gains in the quality of instruction, access, achievement, and cost will be realized." the PCAST letter notes.

Roger that.

PCAST says to be successful, MOOCs must:

  1. employ excellent technology
  2. foster excellent pedagogy
  3. apply the results of learning science
  4. deploy new techniques of big data analysis to provide rapid feedback to teachers and learners
  5. cultivate an online social ecosystem to enhance peer-to-peer learning and teachers.

The opportunity is there; now MOOCs have to deliver. PCAST consequently recommends that the federal government let market forces sort out the success of MOOCs--but also encourage accrediting bodies to be more "flexible" around these opportunities. And yes, the feds should support independent research on the effectiveness of online teaching and learning. (Here's what the NSF has under way.)

PCAST also promised to write the POTUS letters on the potential of IT to improve K-12 education, technical training and adult education as well as higher ed.

The members of PCAST include both education, administration and industry officials: John P. Holdren, Eric Lander, William Press, Maxine Savitz, Rosina Bierbaum, Christine Cassel, Christopher Chyba, S. James Gates Jr., Mark Gorenberg, Susan Graham, Shirley Ann Jackson, Richard C. Levin, J. Michael McQuade, Chad Mirkin, Mario J. Molina, Craig Mundie, Ed Penhoet, Barbara Schaal, Eric Schmidt and Daniel Schrag.

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