As I’ve written, I had registered to take a MOOC through Coursera. Turns out, I’m a bad student. First I got behind, then I just stopped doing anything for the class. Much has been written about MOOCs lately, but I just want to lay out a short list of reasons why I did poorly or, more accurately, why I did mostly nothing for an English Composition I MOOC.
Most U.S. citizens have some sort of high-speed Internet, but more than a hundred million still do not. I don’t have it at home. When I was doing better in class, it was when the semester was still in full swing and I could read, write, and watch videos from my high-speed office. And it’s not that I don’t want high-speed Internet at home; it’s just that I live back in the woods in an older neighborhood, and the giant Internet providers, I’m guessing, haven’t found it beneficial to offer service back there. Cable television isn’t even available. We have a satellite dish for the TV, and I know that’s an option for the Internet, but it’s expensive to do it that way. And the cell service is too unreliable for a mobile hotspot. What I’m getting at is that MOOCs are great, but they aren’t quite the answer to educating the world if triple-digit millions are without an Internet connection that’s necessary to take a MOOC.
The first couple weeks of my MOOC were a slower time during the semester. Then it picked up. It seemed like I spent every spare moment reading student papers, teaching, planning, writing this column, or otherwise working; those pockets of downtime were nearly impossible to come by. Remember, I couldn’t really do the class at home because of the Internet problem. And before some readers tell me I should’ve spent more time in the office to work on the MOOC, I’ll remind you that I’m a father and a husband, so I need to spend time at home when I can. As an instructor, more empathy, especially for nontraditional students, is one of the best things I got out of the MOOC.
I’m a pretty ambitious person who usually sticks to things I commit to. But when I pay for the commitment, it provides that extra oomph I sometimes need to get it done. In other words, I don’t want the money I spent to go to waste. In this regard, that MOOCs are free contributes to both their success and to their possible demise. It’s wonderful that millions have access to education, but when the education is free, students may not feel a sense of urgency or accountability. Let’s face it, our culture revolves around money, and higher education is as much a part of this as anything. More and more, prospective students and their parents are looking at the rate of return on their college investment. So a free MOOC may have a high rate of return. But money is also a great motivator; if you buy something expensive, you may use it simply because you paid a lot for it. If you pay for a class, you may go and participate and even try really hard simply because you paid a lot of money for it; otherwise, if you don’t go, it’s a waste of money.
Then, the Other Reasons
Then there are all the other reasons, most of which I’m ashamed of. Like, I had a free promo for Redbox, or there was a good game on TV. Or it’s Thursday and Big Bang Theory is on. Or my son has soccer practice. These are mostly bad reasons to avoid school, but not entirely irrelevant to the previously mentioned reasons. Still, I would never accept such excuses from my own students, so I’ll do what many of them do. I’ll make up a terrible excuse about car trouble or a pet chicken dying. Then I’ll just say that I’m sorry and I hope I’ll do better next time.