Online courses do not signal end of lecture halls

As technology is pushed into the everyday lives of people, the amount of electricity replacing human interaction is a troubling issue, one now appearing in the education field.

Yale economics professor Robert J. Shiller painted a future in a recent New York Times article which stated there is a need to craft a human teaching experience that will constantly be able to surpass what technology may offer.

For Shiller, a big concern was tackling the reality that Yale had made his course on economics available to the public through the Internet, most recently on the website Coursera, which is a hub of more than 10 million people that can choose from over 1,000 courses offered by 119 schools.

Yet, these professors should not be concerned about online courses as taking massive open online courses (MOOCs) does not grant an individual the same benefits of enrolling in an actual course, nor do they offer the same support system as the classroom.

With courses offered from schools such as Princeton and Columbia, Coursera allows users to take free courses that have a syllabus similar to one a college student would receive on the first day of class. The payoff of completing a course is simply a statement of accomplishment.

For Shiller, as stated in his column, there was a sense of absence of himself as professor now that his course can be taken digitally without the need for a classroom or himself lecturing in the front of the room, a future sounding as if Ray Bradbury had written it himself.

The cofounder of Coursera, Daphne Koller, is excited by the prospect raised by her TED Talk, in which she stated MOOCs are growing and boasts that the most popular class, a social psychology course from Wesleyan University, has 259,969 students.

While the hook may be amusing that one can take a course simultaneously with over 200,000 students, just how many of those students are on the same page becomes questionable.

For Shiller, the answer was to simply update the course by adding what is practical for people and to keep his Coursera class alive by constantly tweaking it.

However, making updates that are somehow more useful to students for the long haul seem pointless when 2012 completion rates stood at 7 percent according to

Shiller and other professors should not worry about online courses or advancing technology terminating their positions. Professors like Shiller need only to consider MOOCs as something to keep an individual brushed up on psychology or math and not a real threat to the education system.

It appears MOOCs will evolve into a step below online colleges, as Koller announced in February that Coursera will be working with 19 universities to create a version of a degree, dubbed “Course Specializations,” which will run students about $500 in fees according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

While this is great news for people that cannot attend college, it does not signal extinction of traditional higher education, but rather validates it, as the MOOCs push closer and closer to the equivalent of being yet another online school.

For professors such as Shiller, there will always be a place for them in front of students. 

Adam Mathieu is a senior majoring in studio art.