Corvese’s Rebuttal: Do you support Brown’s online learning venture?

Opinions Columnist
Friday, October 12, 2012

Eppler ’13 seems to be surprised by the prospect of people wanting a university education, even if plenty of knowledge is readily available in books. Unfortunately, simply reading a book is not the key to acquiring knowledge. That is why we have classes – to provide discipline and guidance in learning about a specific subject. Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, provide this same structure.

I found that his assessment of what one receives from a MOOC to be unfair and presumptuous. Online classes do not provide extracurriculars, internships or research experience, and they do not grant students a Brown degree – which I believe is very obvious to those taking classes online. These classes are not offered as a substitute for a university education, but as a resource to those who may not be able or want to attend a university by traditional means. Admittedly, I praise MOOCs with quite a bit of rhetoric, but it is because I believe they are a valuable and beneficial contribution to education.

Eppler mentions other technological advances that were expected to revolutionize education, such as television and radio. They did. No, they did not replace the traditional university education, but they supplemented what was already in place. There is a good reason the Discovery Channel has 1.7 million viewers each week. People want to learn, and we should not take away their ability to do so.

Issues such as plagiarism in MOOCs do leave room for concern, though. It could be debated whether or not it is valuable to attempt to educate people who are just going to cheat their way through the system. But that is not a reason to dismiss online learning entirely. Plagiarism happens offline as well, recently and notably at our nation’s oldest “brick-and-mortar” institution: Harvard.

Online learning is a new and improving field. We did not stop using the Internet because dial-up got on our nerves. As we have with countless technologies in the past, we should work to improve it for the sake of the technology and ourselves.