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Professor Leaves a MOOC in Mid-Course in Dispute Over Teaching

Twitter reactions from students in the course:

  • What he didn't like most was the students who WERE informed, but were fighting back on his rigorous rational economics model.

  • In fact, he asked the students who HAD knowledge about economics to SHUT UP.

  • He didn't like criticism from those knowledgable abt econ. And the text that was not free was HIS!

  • This was MOOC as ax grind. MOOC as self-promotion, textbook ad. MOOC as emeritus final salvo before becoming irrelevant.

  • Also, he scolded us as if we were wayward middle schoolers. I'm a full professor, dude. I'll log on when I want.

  • The above comments differ from those of people who read the article.

    Reader Comment: Here precisely is the achilles heel of MOOCs for credit. Same as the classroom

    Reader Comment: I wonder if Professor McKenzie or most of the professors hired to teach these courses have taught online courses before Coursera? Does experience teaching online make a difference? Coursera is about big names and affiliation with prominent universities. That doesn't always mean you'll get teachers who can navigate and make full use of the platform. I'm not blaming Professor McKenzie, but this idea that online courses from prominent people and institutions are respected means to learn and places like University of Phoenix are not quite up to par, needs to be reevaluated.

    Reader Comment:

    "I will not give on standards, 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."

    Having fought this battle--and losing--I applaud McKenzie's effort not to certify the unprepared and the unqualified. In an age when the system awards a pass to all students, he fights a lonely battle, and his protest will largely go unnoticed by his colleagues, who are more concerned about students' evaluations than with academic integrity. The MOOC ball is on a roll, and it won't be stopped by requiring high academic standards.

    Reader Comment: MOOCs started with good intentions but to monetise it was the biggest mistake. That is the reason I am against for profits.

    Ohanian Comment: There's interesting data on a MOOC here. This is a snippet:
    Enrollment and completion:

    *53,205 enrolled (clicked "sign me up").
    *53% (1/2) watched a video.
    *26% (1/4) took a quiz.
    *12% (1/8) submitted the first homework.
    *2,535 completed the course, which is:
    4.8% of those who enrolled;
    18% of those who took a quiz;
    39% of those who submitted the first project.

    Sidenote: Professor McKenzie, the author of some 30 books, wrote one about the Microsoft antitrust case.

    By Steve Kolowich

    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 departure marks the second debacle for Coursera this month. Another of the company's courses, "Fundamentals of Online Education," was suspended indefinitely after technical and design issues made it too dysfunctional to continue. That course has not restarted.

    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."

    Daphne Koller, one of Coursera's founders, said by e-mail that Mr. McKenzie had not been "removed" from his role and that Coursera officials had not been in contact with the professor in recent weeks--suggesting that whatever "disagreements" led to Mr. McKenzie's resignation had occurred at Irvine.

    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."

    Mr. McKenzie did not immediately respond to an e-mail from The Chronicle requesting comment.

    But 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."

    — Steve Kolowich
    The Chronicle: Wired Campus





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