Do-It-Yourself Education

Education is about sharing knowledge, social networking for teaching and learning and for accreditation and assessment. Technology today can indeed make it easier to make education more accessible and affordable for all people. A student today has the ability to sit in on a class via the Internet from MIT and in the very next hour shift to another class from Stanford, and so on. This opens up the world of possibilities for certain learners who would never have had such opportunities. However, I could not help but ask myself who is this really benefitting? Is the average person, who struggling for a job and has no time or money for a traditional education going to be truly motivated to go on a quest to seek out knowledge from these institutions, however prestigious they may be, without the prospect of any reward or monetary incentives down the road. Are the types of learners that this system (of free learning, free access) claims to potentially help through the attainment of knowledge even prepared to benefit from such a system? How can students who can barely able to finish high school be expected to thrive as self-learner in an online environment?

Organizations like the KhanAcademy are indeed attempting to bridge the gap between the rich and underprivileged students by offering now free instructional videos, practice for various topics and interactive test prep, services which underprivileged students were traditionally lock out of. In 2015 in partnership with the College Board they are planning free test prep software to help all students get ready for the SAT test.

Another angle to consider are the online learning institutions that accept all students for a price. They wave around the prospect of the degree no matter what your background is in a short amount of time at a very high cost. They calculatingly even provide their version of financial aid, which equates usually to loans for their high price tuition.  and in the environment of these online schools, it is pay to play where you pay first and play at your own will. The problem with this is that many of the accepted applicants are by no means prepared for the rigors of the coursework they are faced with and inevitably discontinue their enrollment and are simply left with staggering debt. Is this what we mean by accessible education for all?

Teach Now (my personal “favorite”) offers 9 months long course to get Master’s degree and teacher certification all for only $23,800. According to their website their program prepares teachers “to think digital who can create ways to educate with smartphones instead of taking them away””

University of Phoenix – offers hundreds different degrees with an average 4 year degree cost of $66,340…

6 thoughts on “Do-It-Yourself Education

  1. Pamela Thielman (she/her)

    @Joshua Belknap
    I absolutely see the difference between the kinds of links on our list, and the sketchy for-profits. I’m just wondering about how easy it is for someone using a search engine without a lot knowledge about the online education community finds a good education online. Bing sent me to University of Phoenix first thing when I searched “online degree programs.” Coursera was number five when I searched “free online courses.” My concern is really that the wrong search terms could mean the difference between a quality online learning experience and an exploitative mess.

  2. Jared R. Pike

    Isn’t all education self-selecting to a certain extent? I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of trying to force our students to learn in our classrooms, only to face extreme resistance. If a student doesn’t want to learn about a particular topic, they aren’t going to, regardless of the platform. On the other hand if a student it interested in a particular topic, they will seek out way to learn. Now, this brings up a complex array of questions regarding privilege and access. Maybe our job as teachers, as education advocates, is to maximize accessibility for those who want to learn and eliminate the rampant profiteering of the education industry (both in online and face-to-face Universities). Coursera is a free online learning site that several of my friends have used to great success for continuing their education outside the traditional university. Perhaps that is a model to examine as well.

    I am also wondering if there isn’t a bourgeois value system at play here as well. Are we concerned with education or accreditation? Do we value some forms of education and subjects over others? The idea of DIY U allows the student to pursue their particular interests and piece together their own “degree program” in their own time. They learn the information and skills needed to do what they are looking to do. Is the liberal education model necessary or even desirable for everyone? or, does it create a “one size fits all” attitude (and does that imply a drive towards an “all fit in one” model of society)?

  3. Karyna Pryiomka

    Joshua, Pamela, and Aleksandra,

    I can’t agree more that one of the biggest differences between those companies and universities who truly aspire to bring learning into the homes and computers of those who want it and those for-profit organizations who are big on promises and fall short on delivery is the motivation and probably their life and business philosophies. I personally signed up for MOOC’s twice; never finished. There is something about the depersonalized structure of the massive online course, with all its inappropriate automatics reposes which signal that the system is not even aware about my course activity, that drives me away. I missed 3 assignments and have not contributed to the discussion, but the MOOC kept sending me “thank you” notes for my valuable contributions to the class. I wonder what was so valuable in the contributions that never existed?)))

    But maybe it’s just me. I am a stickler for in-person communication as one of the significant elements of learning. So hybrid course is as far as I am willing to go, and even that is a bit difficult. As we discussed in class, there is a difference between teaching technology and substituting the teacher with technology.

    One of my best friends, who lives in Minsk, on the other hand, takes MOOC’s all the time and is very happy with them. It allows her to improve her english, experience different education system, and learn from ivy league professors. But as Pamela pointed out, my friend is a part of that small self-selected population for whom MOOCs work. She is highly educated, with a set of self-managment and study skills that allow her to productively engage with a mostly self-guided course, such as MOOC. Well, she learned all those skills through her in-person education.

    So I guess my take away from thinking about “do-it-yourself education” is that it works for those who know how to learn and self-manage in the first place. These skills, however, have to be learned somewhere. Whose job is it to teach them then? What about those who never got a chance to learn them? As per for-profits, don’t even get me started…

  4. Joshua Belknap (He/him/his)


    I agree that many of these sites are targeting small, self-selecting audiences, and I think that’s okay for the most part. If the site/educational resource is an asynchronous, truly open source destination, potential learners can find what they want from it, when they want to. There is a big difference between that and the predatory, for-profit degree mills like University of Phoenix, which often exploit people and plunge them into debt, deploying tactics that should not be legal. Just about all of the other models our seminar blog is linked to this week show are preferable, from the POOC, to Khan Academy to Trade School. Don’t you think?

  5. Joshua Belknap (He/him/his)


    I have been thinking and writing about MOOCs [Massive Open Online Courses] over the course of the last year or so, particularly MOOCs that attempt to teach writing/composition. The questions you raise are worth discussing, and much of the data on the newer [2012 to now] for-profit MOOCs is not encouraging. The hype surrounding MOOCs generally stresses the “access to world class higher education for underprivileged and low-income students” angle, but recent data indicates that 94% of all students who enroll in these online courses do not complete them, and that moreover the small percentage of those who enroll and complete MOOCs are not in fact underserved and poor students, but are people who already hold advanced degrees. For-profit MOOC companies like Coursera and Udacity are backed by venture capitalists, who will want a return on their investment eventually (and even EdX, the MIT/Harvard-partnered non-profit MOOC owes the endowments of those institutions $60 million), so the MOOCs are already experimenting with various strategies as to how to generate income (blended/hybrid/flipped courses, partnering with brick-and-mortar classes, charging fees for completion certificates, employment headhunting, creating course content for corporations, etc.).
    My point is that, behind much of the noble rhetoric/hype surrounding the kinds of online courses to which you refer, there are many players with many motives.
    Also, I enrolled as a student on a Coursera freshman writing MOOC, and was not terribly impressed with the MOOC platform as it exists now, particularly with regard to pedagogy and assessment/evaluation, particularly in a writing course. There are several reasons that I came to the conclusions that I did, which we can talk about at some point.
    One last brief point: Sebastian Thrun, founder of the MOOC Udacity, and formerly of Stanford and Google (where he invented Google Glass and a driverless automobile), admitted that his company’s partnership with San Jose State University turned out to be less empowering and revolutionary than he had originally thought it would be. In the SJSU/Udacity hybrid courses, the lack of student engagement and low-completion rates caused Thrun to admit, in a “painful moment,” that the SJSU/Udacity-partnered MOOCs were a “lousy product” for educating underprepared college students. Thrun then announced that Udacity planned to “pivot” from the environment of higher education to corporate training courses.

  6. Pamela Thielman (she/her)

    I was also wondering about who some online learning is really targeting. I like the idea of “edupunks,” but reading the book really makes me feel like it is targeting a small, self-selecting audience. It seems like a great guide, but do the majority of people who are trying to learn using the internet start with a book about learning on the internet? Or do they just jump in? I would bet that most people just start looking for info about online education and they run into those questionable for-profit schools before they run into more reliable resources.

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