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As a student, I would like to ask facilitators their perceptions about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). Who does it benefit and how. It is my understanding/experience that technology makes it possible to have portable education. We can now learn what we need to learn, in fragments. How do higher education institutions prepare/modify their teaching methods?



Universities produce two types of alumni, undergraduate and graduate. The learning experiences of undergraduates and graduates differ markedly. For undergraduates, instruction tends to form a smaller component of learning as compared to peer learning, regular and well assessed homeworks, interest in the subject (which is much more variable at the undergraduate level than graduate).

But graduate learning is very different. Here instructors and their expertise in specific areas are absolutely crucial to a compelling learning experience. Whether it be advising, offering specialized courses or projects, research faculty definitely have an edge over purely teaching ones in the graduate arena.

It is very hard to distinguish between undergraduates from top tier and non top tier institutions, especially if their level of academic achievement is similar. It is at the graduate level that the difference really starts showing. A CS graduate who has taken two very advanced courses on machine learning with an active researcher in that field holds a substantial edge over someone who has only learnt more sophisticated versions of CS undergraduate courses.

Lloyd responds: Thanks for your comments. It is certainly the case that there are many important differences between undergrad and grad studies. Advanced expertise is certainly needed for graduate level courses - although some of the most useless and boring grad courses I ever had were taught by Nobel Laureates. Knowing how to teach is critical at every level! Having said that, it is interesting to note that a few recent studies of computer science programs have suggested that many research faculty are not aware of the directions or complexity that the field as practiced in the "outside world" has taken. As a consequence, teachers who are practitioners, rather than research faculty, seem in many cases to be better preparing students to meet the problems that they will face in their jobs. As you point out, the advanced knowledge of the teacher is critical - but research may not be the most important criterion in predicting which teacher will best prepare students

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