It’s Time for Pomona to Take Advantage of MOOCs

One year ago,
if you were talking about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), many people would have thought that you were
talking about some kind of chocolate cake, but now, who doesn’t know what a MOOC is?

A MOOC, per the
Wikipedia definition, is an online course aimed at
unlimited participation and open access via the web. With the help of
MOOC technology, you can now crunch some numbers in Princeton’s Analytical Combinatorics
class via Coursera, a MOOC-supporting website, or design your own Supreme
Marios through Udacity’s Game Development course. You can forget about course
limits or prerequisites while taking classes with some of the most prestigious
professors in the world. However, many people believe that with the advent of MOOCs,
we won’t need to go to college anymore, because if you can take the same
courses online for free, why would you bother to pay $100,000 for a college

As a Pomona College student who knows the importance of a personalized education and
intimate interactions with professors, I find MOOCs far from a substitute or
threat to our liberal arts education, but rather a bonus that we should take
advantage of. 

MOOCs can
easily substitute big lectures. Though we are famous for an average class size of less than 20 at the 5Cs, we still have lecture-based courses such as Computer Science 5 at Harvey Mudd College (around 100
students) or Chemistry 51 at Pomona (around 50 students). If students cannot easily interact with professors
and freely engage in conversation, why ask them to show up to class three times
a week at 8 a.m., when they can listen to the same lectures while wearing
pajamas on a Sunday afternoon? Uploading those
intro-level lectures online and holding a separate weekly seminar for students to
meet professors and ask questions directly could improve the quality of these courses. By holding big lectures online,
professors can use the time they save to offer more courses with smaller class
sizes and diversify their course offerings, while students can spend their time
more flexibly. This way, students also won’t have to freak out when Chem. 51 is
not offered in the spring.

MOOCs can help students more effectively shop for classes. Many of my friends
have eight courses in their prospective schedule, with the hope of choosing
four out of those eight. However, a lot of times several classes they are
interested in meet at the same time, so they have to go to one class, e-mail the
professor of another class for the syllabus, and spend hours trying to figure
out what to take. Instead, we can actually record the first four lectures
of every class online so students can just watch the videos, shop for their
potential classes online, and thus have a better idea of the courses they want
to take. These lectures can be repeated and used in future semesters, as most large
lecture courses are designed to be the same each year.

As one of the
nation’s premier liberal arts colleges, Pomona should start to take better
advantage of MOOCs and the technology that makes them possible. Effectively
utilizing MOOCs will allow us to offer an even more personalized education, let
professors focus on seminars and tutorials, and allow students to focus on
getting the most personalized educational experience possible. This way,
when other colleges and universities start to complain about being threatened
by MOOCs, we can say, “Chirp chirp, we nailed it.”

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