Smorgasbord: A/C, Team Pics, Math Puzzles, MOOC Puzzles, Hanging Out

Image of Saylor.org staff wearing team t-shirts

Another week gone by! As sad as it is to say goodbye to the offices for two whole days, do rest assured that we’ll be keeping our minds squarely on free and open education. The A/C is fixed right in time for the heat wave to have passed, and we’re back on speaking terms with our wi-fi network, so all is right with our little part of the world.

Of note: we took a little break on Thursday from the normal run of things to hand out some staff awards (well, t-shirts and honorary titles), after which we visited our neighbors around the corner to eat, converse, and show off our team spirit. Take a look at a couple of the pictures from our very own Jen Shoop. We didn’t tag them — you know how folks are about getting tagged — but you can try to ID everyone using the team page (because, surely, you don’t have other things to do on the weekend).

A couple more things from the week behind:

Our K-12 and university-level math programs got a nice boost from the good folks at The Math Forum of Drexel University in their weekly InternetNews. The short article and the rest of the resources are well worth a look; in their words, “The Math Forum is also home to Ask Dr. Math, Problems of the Week, MathTools, Teacher2Teacher, the Internet Math Library, math discussion groups, and over 1,000,000 pages of mathematics information and discussions.” We took a look at the Problems of the Week blog and couldn’t help diving into the first one we saw — a systems of equations puzzle. You can find a newsletter archive here, and you can subscribe by email here.

Stephen Downes in his OLDaily comments on a Slate article by Jonathan Rees on “The MOOC Racket” and the dangers of online-only higher education for both students and faculty. “How do you teach tens of thousands of people anything at once?” asks Rees. “You don’t. What you can do over the Internet this way is deliver information, but that’s not education.” Calling the new-style MOOCs “nerdy edu-tainment,” Rees caps his piece by supposing that “a workforce trained without close contact with professors of any kind might as well not attend college at all. Going to the library and reading a bunch of books would be equally effective, and probably a whole lot cheaper.”

Downes improves on Rees’ somewhat backhanded compliment to books while offering a feasible middle ground and a warning:

“[T]he beauty of books is that if one doesn’t work for you, they’re not expensive, and you can always start another one. Add to the book the community and interactivity of a MOOC, and you have a viable learning experience. The danger to universities isn’t MOOCs – it’s professors who assume they are the one and only path to knowledge. On such hubris far greater empires have fallen.”

What do we think? Well we work with (and love) lots of professors, and we don’t think that higher education is on the way to being horribly damaged by the xMOOC wave. Downes is right; the paths to knowledge are many and wonderfully diverse. What we may see in the coming years is a fuzzying of the clean lines that mark learning experiences. The time may soon arrive when having some college and no degree (but a variety of documented learning experiences and various recognizable credentials) — or indeed having no college or four years of it — may make you plenty competitive in the job market. What may come to an end is the idea that putting in the time, paying your fees, and taking a degree without engaging in other deep learning experiences will earn you your ticket.

In related news, we had the pleasure to engage with Mr. Downes in a Google Hangout on Air this past Wednesday. He gave a short talk that he called “Through A MOOC Darkly,” followed by conversation on a number of questions. You can watch the whole thing here.

And speaking of Hangouts, we hosted another to talk to our Saylor Summer School folks about proctored exams and how to pick up (potentially) some college credit for our courses. That makes our third Hangout on Air…we’re getting better at it, slowly.

Last but not least, here’s a quick guide to our posts this past week:

Photo credit: our own Jennifer Shoop!

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