The Anti-MOOC Panic

I’m not desperately interested in the “MOOC” on-line course thing, though I can see that I might be in future. I don’t have a lot of spare time; for example the 2 hours I had free last night I spent running + recovering, not learning. But others do, and CIP has been talking to “the enemy” – i.e. the tenured professors in minor universities who have the most to lose. John Boy is even more in favour than CIP. However, I don’t want to debate their virtues but do want to note CIP’s:

The flood waters in Colorado seem to have washed away my comments on yet another blog by a historian at a school (CSU Pueblo) I had never previously heard of. One thing these guys can’t stand is dissent, even politely expressed. I can’t really blame them. They are trying so hard to convince themselves that MOOCs can’t do anything right that any contrary message excites pure panic. They, the tenured profs, have a pretty good deal, even if they aren’t exactly teaching at Harvard, and they have worked hard to get it. Of course that keeps them from understanding the real weaknesses of the MOOC or guessing the shape of education a decade or so from now.

What interests me about that is that its exactly the same reaction as the GW denialists. They, too, have nothing interesting to say about their area of interest, because they are scared of phantoms. They don’t know what the weaknesses of GW are, because they are incapable of studying it. Which brings me on to my alternative post title…

On not speaking

Posting here has been thin recently. You can’t see the numerous posts I started in a brief flash of enthusiasm but realised, meh, its either just knocking back a bit more denialism, or, meh, I’m just another voice spouting off. There are plenty of people out there telling you about Syria, or why so many people are clueless about the tax system, or why so many people are scared of free markets. So this is the “misc” post.


End of an era

I’ve been rowing again. I knew you’d want to know.

Real science

Human and natural influences on the changing thermal structure of the atmosphere by Santer et al. in PNAS looks to be worth a read. Though to be honest I haven’t actually bothered to do so 🙂

Judith Curry’s understanding of climate is not helped much by climate models

Or so she says. Personally, I find that my understanding of the deeper aspects of General Relativity isn’t helped by me not taking the time to concentrate on the maths. But at least I’m able to realise that’s a flaw in me, not GR.

Mind you, Curry’s comment does help explain why some of her papers are crap – if you write a paper in which “the model simulations … were the main source of data used in the analysis” and yet you don’t think the models help, you’re not really going to write anything sane.

Tell me something I didn’t know

The NIPCC is drivel. Oh, that wasn’t news? Never mind. Like everyone else, I’ll read a little bit (thanks to Sou there’s a copy here) then get bored. I got to:

IPCC Claim #1: A doubling of atmospheric CO2 would cause warming between 3°C and 6°C.

and thought “that doesn’t sound right”. Then I looked about – because the report, you see, is all sciencey, its got references and everything, its like a dog walking on its hind legs – and thought “hold on, Shirely you’ve referenced that” because otherwise all your stuff is just voodoo. But no, they haven’t. So much so that its not even possible to know what they mean by this – do the mean the climate sensitivity? The equilibrium one? Anyway, rather than trying to interpret denialist junk you’re better off reading the IPCC AR4 which says:

The equilibrium climate sensitivity is a measure of the climate system response to sustained radiative forcing. It is not a projection but is defined as the global average surface warming following a doubling of carbon dioxide concentrations. It is likely to be in the range 2°C to 4.5°C with a best estimate of about 3°C, and is very unlikely to be less than 1.5°C. Values substantially higher than 4.5°C cannot be excluded, but agreement of models with observations is not as good for those values. Water vapour changes represent the largest feedback affecting climate sensitivity and are now better understood than in the TAR. Cloud feedbacks remain the largest source of uncertainty. {8.6, 9.6, Box 10.2}

So its pretty hard to avoid the conclusion that the NIPCC is simply and blatantly lying. Can you think of a way to avoid this conclusion, other than by not thinking?

10 thoughts on “The Anti-MOOC Panic”

  1. Eli, being more contrary than most thinks that MOOCs are a great opportunity for community colleges and smaller schools, someone has to do the recitations.


  2. Some of Curry’s papers are crap, how about this garbage she wrote in The Australian:

    <blockquote.Consensus distorts the climate picture
    IN February 2007, publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) was received with international acclaim.

    The vaunted IPCC process — multitudes of experts from more than 100 countries examining thousands of refereed journal publications, with hundreds of expert reviewers, across a period of four years — elevated the authority of the IPCC report to near biblical heights. Journalists jumped on board and even the oil and energy companies neared capitulation.


  3. A MOOC integrated with a calculus course would be much better than the course I received–a book and a recitation section taught by a graduate student.

    However, replacing the university with MOOCs is laughable.


  4. MOOCs are a brilliant opportunity to learn if you want to learn. However the evidence that you have learnt will be obliterated before the ink is dry. MOOCs are for private, individualistic education, they will do nothing for your resume or prospects. If you want to know, climb aboard. If you need evidence for a post, sorry not now, not here, not this.


  5. What clearly works in physics and appears to be being to work in Maths is immediate feedback problem solving, a form of recitation session but rather more often than a mere 3 hour lab once a week. This might well be combined with a MOOC-style for the lectures (offline, anytime) leaving more class time for the immediate feedback.

    Dunno, nobody seems to have tried it yet much less conducted the appropriate studies regarding what-works-best.


  6. I’m just reaching the end of my 4th MOOC.

    For those of us in the full-time-job / 2 kids / mortgage category, they represent perhaps the only way of doing university level study in the time available. So I’m a great fan in that way.

    I’m not convinced that they could replace a standard undergraduate course, due to the lack of contact time. But there again my reference point here is Cambridge NatSci Undergraduate early 1990s level, which is probably a bit more ‘contacted’ than most degrees nowadays.


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