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Can MOOCs lead to graduate school?

  1. Jan 27, 2014 #1
    Hello,

    Out of curiosity, can MOOCs lead to getting accepted into a graduate school? I'm interested in knowing under what conditions (if any) MOOCs lead to graduate school.

    Thank you for your responses in advance.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 27, 2014 #2
    None if you mean by themselves. They don't substitute for a degree.

    They can be used to study for pgre's.
     
  4. Jan 27, 2014 #3
    I don't mean any specific situation, that's what I'm asking. For example, can someone out of high school work through all the serious MOOC courses for mathematics and then apply to grad school? How about someone with a two year degree that continues with MOOCs? Or maybe someone with a 4 year degree that wants to study a different discipline from his major?
     
  5. Jan 27, 2014 #4
    You basically can't get into grad school without an undergrad degree.

    If you do have a degree, a MOOC might substitute for a course you skipped at your own college. You should take the opportunity to explain this sort of thing in your application. But no number of MOOCs will substitute for a degree, since admissions committees are likely to be unsure about the rigor of MOOCs, there are very few "upper-division" MOOCs, and graduate schools are looking for research experience (which is very hard to get outside of a school environment) in addition to coursework.
     
  6. Jan 27, 2014 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    No, you need a real degree.
     
  7. Jan 27, 2014 #6

    Choppy

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    No. MOOCs give you access to the material, but generally they have no way of certifying that you've worked through it, understood it, and have been ranked against a cohort of your peers. For graduate school the potential applicants are assessed in these respects via several methods.

    I'm not sure what exactly a "two year degree" is, but if that's the first two years towards a bachelor's degree then the answer is still no and for the same reasons.

    If the major would otherwise qualify you for the graduate school and the candidate has simply supplements that base with additional courses then marginally yes. An example might be someone who completes a degree in physics, but wants to enter into a cross-disciplinary graduate program like neuroscience where the candidate's core coursework would have been sufficient to gain admission. The MOOC could supplement and strengthen the application by giving the candidate more knowledge about the field and therefor assist with chosing a project, writing a statement of purpose, etc. It would work the same way as reading up on the field.
     
  8. Jan 27, 2014 #7
    Before I continue this discussion, I'd like to make it clear that I'm not defending MOOCs or claiming they're a substitute for a traditional degree. I'm attempting to understand where MOOCs are going and they're relationship to a traditional degree.

    How does the verification of the MOOCs from Coursera differ from what you're stating? Coursea has both "Verified Certificates" and "Specialization Certificates". Here's a quote from the website about the "Verified Certificates":

    Coursera seems to keep track of both your progress and identity. Is this significantly different than a traditional course?
     
  9. Jan 27, 2014 #8
    One significant difference that I can see is missing out on the labs if it is a scientific subject. Another thing, as mentioned before, is the level of rigor. Coursera, and other online educators such as edX and Udacity, allow you to take courses from different universities. One university's course may not be as rigorous as that of the graduate school you are applying to. Also, one factor which might be important is that there is no way to prove that you actually completed the work (perhaps this could be irrelevant by taking the GREs and other tests).
     
  10. Jan 27, 2014 #9
    First, I like your username. The labs is clearly a problem for engineering and the sciences. Though, I could see that being easily supplemented in the future. But, ignoring the disciplines that revolve around labs, doesn't the problem of rigor apply to all schools and universities? When dealing with admissions from various universities, I've found no consistency between which courses were considered rigorous.

    Also, I did not think of the GRE. How would a graduate school react to someone with all the MOOC courses for a major and a decent to high GRE score? Wouldn't the GRE act as a form of a proctored examine?
     
  11. Jan 27, 2014 #10
    Thank, there's also a wannabenewton. I think it should, but it generally isn't enough.
     
  12. Jan 27, 2014 #11
    substitute vs supplement

    As someone who has taken MOOCs for fun on coursera and edX and has taken some of the classes in their respective classes they are not equivalent even some of the MOOC instructors tell you that the constraints of the MOOC has forced a change to the coursework.

    OCW courses are closer to the actual thing but are just notes since you dont have an instructor to grade you.
     
  13. Jan 27, 2014 #12

    Choppy

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    The GRE is used more as a kind of moderator. Some schools will have inflated marks. Others are just generally more challenging. You might end up ranked at the sixth out of six really smart graduating physics students at a smaller university. The GRE will give you a score relative to everyone else applying on a common exam to help mitigate these factors. It's not perfect, but that's generally what it's used for.

    You can't substitute a 170 minute test for four years of assignments, lab reports, quizzes, term-papers, mid-terms, presentations, and final exams.

    And you're still faced with the issue of getting people to write reference letters for you. Chances are a reference letter that reads: "This student claims to have watched a series of lectures I gave three years ago on YouTube" is not going to get very far.
     
  14. Jan 27, 2014 #13

    IGU

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    Nobody here can answer these questions in any way useful to you. I'm pretty confident that the future will be different than the present. At present it is difficult or impossible to do these things. Check out saylor.org for one approach. The closest you could come at present I think is to do something like Georgia Tech's online master's in CS -- you can probably get in with no credentials, nobody caring how you know what you know. Then if you're well prepared and work at it you might be able to parlay a good grade in that into a more real grad school experience in that subject. If that program is successful, others will appear. If not, others will appear but they'll look different.

    Credentialing (i.e. getting degrees) is going to change in a variety of ways; what we have now will not survive in its current form. I believe the likely evolution is that there will be a decoupling, that those who teach and those who grant credentials will be in different organizations. That will involve some painful changes, as mostly people are willing to pay for credentials but not so much for teaching. How that goes is anybody's guess.
     
  15. Jan 28, 2014 #14

    ZapperZ

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    If I were looking over applicants for graduate school in physics, and I have to decide on who I will pick based on limit capacity, someone with JUST MOOCs courses will not be part of the candidates that I will consider, especially when there are other candidates who (i) went through a standard educational process that I am familiar with and (ii) come from schools that I know the standard of.

    And since I'm an experimentalist and will tend to look for students who have such skills, I will also tend to not pick someone who had gone through purely "online" education. This is because I do not know the level of "practical skill" that these students have had. Do they know how to work with an oscilloscope? Can they make simple wiring? Have they even used laboratory vacuum pumps? Do they know how to collect data properly and keep a lab book?

    When question like this pops up, I always think that people who ask this question only think about themselves, which is a natural thing to do. What they seem to forget is that they are NOT the only belle at the ball. You are going to be compared to other candidates, and often, a LARGE number of other candidates, from not only various schools of varying prestige in the area/country, but possibly from other parts of the world as well! As this moment, I know more about the level of education of students coming out of Tsinghua University in China, or Uppsala University in Sweden, then I know of someone who went through just a series of MOOC courses.

    Put yourself in my position, and who would you pick?

    Zz.
     
  16. Jan 28, 2014 #15

    IGU

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    While there's great truth in these observations, I think an important point is being overlooked. When you see "lab" experiments like this crowdsourced RNA folding thing being performed, shouldn't we anticipate a point where you choose students who are familiar with these online approaches and eschew those who know only how to operate a scope? And do you trust somebody's ability gained from being in some physics lab class where you don't know what they contributed (maybe their lab partner did all the scope work?) or is it better to have a certification in operation of a scope gained through a VR simulation of the equipment by its manufacturer? And maybe six other pieces of standard equipment as well? We're not there now, but that's where we're going.

    When the time comes that a large number of people on the committee do have experience with MOOCs and other forms of non-traditional education, then won't they start to favor people who come in with that background? Won't they prefer people with the initiative and self-sufficiency to forward their own education rather than those who just go down the standard path?

    I'm not saying that this time is here now, but aren't we heading in that direction? Won't it be the case four or five years from now that our decision space will look different? Ten years? Sticking with what you're comfortable with and understand well is a sure path to obsolescence.
     
  17. Jan 28, 2014 #16
    deep inside if you are asking if MOOC's substitute in for traditional bachelors when you apply for graduate school than you know they dont because by going to graduate school you are buying in to the same system you claim MOOC's substitute for. Why draw the line at graduate school since MOOC's offer graduate level courses as well?

    Why not ask if you can apply for a tenure track position or a post doc with MOOC's as your qualifications?
     
  18. Jan 28, 2014 #17
    No because when that time comes (if it does) there is no reason why grad programs themselves wont be replaced MOOC's.
     
  19. Jan 28, 2014 #18
    You dont want to argue this point in regards to MOOCs since there are a lot of known issues with cheating in MOOCs.
     
  20. Jan 28, 2014 #19

    ZapperZ

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    First, let's assume that students do the things they were supposed to do in class. When that's the case, a student that goes through a typical undergraduate physics degree will often see a more advanced physics lab beyond just those large, intro physics lab. Here, more often than not, students tend to either do the experiment by himself, or at least, have one other lab partner. Now, there is a reason why this is an experiment that needs to be performed, rather than just doing a simulation online. There is a certain level of physical and mental skills that is involved that can only be acquired through repeated practice. I can teach you till I'm blue on how to ride a bicycle, and I can give you a certificate letting the world know that you've been taught on how to ride a bicycle. But until you sit down on one and try riding it repeatedly, including a few falls here and there, you'll never gain the skill to ride a bicycle. You'll never learn or get a feel of doing an experiment simply by watching it. And this includes making mistakes, which is the most important lesson one can learn in such a case!

    Now, you can argue that, at the intro level, you might get students who just sits and watch someone else do the experiment. I can turn around and also argue that who's to check that these students who are watching these MOOC videos and take the tests are doing these by themselves? We already have seen in this forum alone, students who are taking online quizzes trying to get help in doing them.

    There is a difference between "learning physics" and "learning to be a physicist". I will argue that the latter involves significantly more than just reading a book or watching instructional videos. I've described many of these difference in my "So You Want To Be A Physicist" essay.

    And oh, one more thing. I'd love to read what kind of "letter of recommendations" someone who went through an exclusive online program would get. "So-and-so got an "A" in my class. So-and-so got a "B+" and completed her assignment on time". This would be the epitome of "impersonal" letter of recommendation.

    Zz.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2014
  21. Jan 28, 2014 #20

    Choppy

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    IGU, I'm not sure anything is being overlooked.

    Of course things will change. I agree that in the coming years (or decades) it's likely that someone will figure out a way to reliably validate an individual's performance. I could see for example, someone coming up with a system that could replace the GRE with say, a program that you log into at regular intervals over the course of several years, and answer a small number of standard questions each time. This would eliminate the pressure to perform in a single sitting of 170 minutes or less and likely result in a better measure of the candidates' overall abilities.

    But we're not there yet. At least not to my knowledge.

    And I think you're unfairly assuming that Zapper Z is looking ONLY at technical skills. He brought those up because they are a very important component of a greater package - particularly for experimentalists. At present you can't develop those technical skills online.*

    Technical skills are not assessed by a single mark in a single lab course. They're assessed across multiple courses, over multiple years. They're assessed in summer jobs, volunteer postions, and senior projects, by the outcomes of that work, and by the multiple supervisors and mentors who act as references.

    So what you need then is a system that can do the same or better online.


    * I will add an important footnote here however. I think people who want to are actually developing more technical skills these days because of access to information you can get online. It's easy to look up how to solder etc. But you still face the issue of limited resources. Most people can't fund enough projects out of pocket to develop the skill set that should come with a standard undergraduate education. And the only outcome measurement for DIY projects is the result of the final project. And it's hard to mail in a remote-controlled helicopter.
     
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