MOOC – Heralding the Future or Taking a Step Back in Time?

Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) has gained popularity in recent times with the rise of various platforms like Coursera, edX, Udacity among several others. Looking back, MOOCs’ were first introduced in 20061 with the aim of providing access to education materials to interested learners all over the globe. One of the primary aims of MOOC was to enable individuals, who were unable to access higher education materials, economic difficulties or otherwise, to acquire educational training comparable with the best educational institutions.

Having been part of the Pfp courses for about three months now, I realize that my understanding of MOOC’s has grown. Let’s talk about the positives of MOOC’s to begin with and how it adheres to some aspects of critical pedagogy. To begin with, the structure of most MOOC’s is geared towards learning through experiences (I will talk about my experience in taking classes on Marketing, Economics and Statistics. I’m sure others will talk about their fields). Although, these “experiences” tend to be online and self paced, they do teach one the merits of problem based learning. Since MOOC’s condense a semester’s worth of materials in a few weeks, participants are set strict deadlines to learn statistical techniques and are provided various resources to make their expedite their learning. Furthermore, MOOC’s also utilize the power of the crowd by encouraging students to “crowdsource their learning”. The existence of student forums not only makes learning fun, but it also teaches one the need to collaborate in an increasingly competitive world.

Having said this, we must now talk about the limitations of MOOCs. The limitations of MOOCs arise partly from its advantages. With unlimited access, one bears the cost of low or zero personal interaction with the instructor. Students are mostly forced to seek help from Teaching Assistants. Do not get me wrong. I think that TA’s do a wonderful job, but the lack of interaction with the interaction may be undesirable. In a world where educators talk about the need to tailor educational experiences according to each student’s learning style, MOOC’s appear to have taken a step back in time.

At the time MOOC’s started, the problem that it wanted to address was to enable learners to access educational resources. MOOCs have achieved part of their goals. Society has undoubtedly gained from the increased access to educational resources. However, the way forward for MOOCs would is to focus on the quality of training specifically, trying to include elements of critical pedagogy in order to benefit individual learners and thereby the society as a whole.





An Analysis of “Open” Data

During the class on Open Access, I was greatly interested by the data on open access journals. I had a question which I took the liberty to answer by myself.

My question was: Is the open access movement driven by the fact that the majority of journals are concentrated in a few countries (Or with scholars from a few countries)?

A quick search on the number  of journals by county of origin yields the following results:

The top ten countries includes 5 from Europe, 3 from Asia and 2 from North America with USA, China and the United Kingdom leading the pack.

Capture1.PNGFig.1 Number of Journals by Country of Origin


It’s no wonder then that this trend is not reflected  when we look at the top 20 countries by open journal publications (Fig. 2). Although the list contains seven of the top ten countries by all publications, their standings are vastly different. UK leads the pack among the top ten publishers in this case, followed by Spain and USA. To my surprise Brazil and Indonesia leads the pack with the most number of open access journals. Also note the absence of China from this list. India comes in at 16th on this list.


Fig.2 Number of Open Access Journals by Country of Origin\

(Data Source:

To me, these numbers reflect the fact that the representation of students from different countries in American institutions is disproportionate. Students from China and India (my home) are the largest two groups. I believe that this leads to a disproportionate access to top journals for some. Whereas others have limited access. The frustrations of scholars from countries that do not have access to “publishing circles” are then, in my opinion, addressed by open access journals. Thus in a way, Open Access Journals are in a way empowering countries with limited access to  publishing opportunities in top journals.Capture1.PNG

Fig. 3 Top 5 countries by number of students in USA in 2015/16


Do not get me wrong. I am not suggesting that there is a difference in quality among researchers. Researchers in so called 3rd world countries (including India) have “stepped their game up” in recent times. Remember when India sent a Mars probe at a fraction of cost to that of NASA’s program or when we launched 104 satellites at one time (a world record). However, the ground reality is that the majority of the so called “A” journals are cooncentrated in a few countries which limits publishing opportunities for researchers worldwide. The open access movement among other things, has provided an outlet for researchers to showcase their research.


P.S. I will explore the Open Access Data further in subsequent posts.

Who Knows How to Use a Screw Driver?

A not so long time ago.

In a small classroom somewhere near us.

Brandon : How many of you know how to use a screwdriver?

Students thinking: (Refer to the image that follows)

Without peeling it, poke 2 holes into the onion using your screwdriver -- one on the left, and one on the right.

After about 3 people in a class of 30, raised their hands, Brandon realized the enormity of the task at hand. He also found out the answer to the question – How many engineers does it take to use a screwdriver? (You would not be incorrect if you said 10%.)


Live scenes of Brandon from his class (not!)

Our group (We had the Best Group Ever!!) acknowledges the limitations of the banking form of education. Simply trying to transfer our knowledge unto students is an outdated method of instruction.


Teachers as Depositors

The banking form of education assumes instructors and teachers as being the single source of all information. We would like to disagree. We understand that students bring their own experiences and viewpoints to the classroom, and they can also impart valuable information to both their teachers and their peers.

Me when I started teaching

However, at the same time, we realize that teaching is not a “one-way street” (Quoting Poets of the Fall). Learning to think critically requires simultaneous participation of teachers as well as students. One can obviously argue that current incentive structures hinders critical thought. A system  with primary focus on grades is detrimental to critical thinking. Students essentially minimize thought in an effort to maximize grades.


The drawbacks of the prevalent incentive structures

In an effort to wean students away from existing methods of learning, we should focus on incremental learning, like in cooking, where you reuse fundamental skills over and over, occasionally adding trying a new method or step to create something new.

Critical Pedagogy is like cooking

Additionally, forming relationships leads to engagement in the learning process by the students. Educators and students can establish mutual teaching and learning relationships. Active listening as well as active silence are necessary to establish a successful learning environment.

Doing things differently

Finally, we as educators, must impress upon students that education is an ongoing pursuit for democracy, freedom, equity, deep critical thinking, and diversity. We should promote ways to overcome barriers that hold some students back from developing their deep potential.


Balancing Lives




Ethan –

Jyotsana :

Miguel Andres (



Source of Gif and Images in the order they appear:

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Ethics is an Open World

The term Open Access in academia, refers to the publication, primarily online otherwise, of research materials generated in the course of an academician’s life. The includes among other things data, questionnaires, pre-publication version of articles among others. Although much talked about and discussed in academic circles as well as mainstream media, Open Access has led to the rise of multiple concerns which we will discuss in this post.

First and foremost, the critics the Open Access argue that this may lead to an increase in the cases of plagiarism. Research materials that are not copyrighted may be subject to being plagiarized. Existing research shows that this may not be necessarily true (Ocholla and Ocholla, 2016). Rice (2014) argues that open access may in fact prevent self plagiarism (this was an open piece and not a peer reviewed article). The solution to this is quite simple and and straightforward to me. Academicians should be taught about the existence of creative common licensing which would in a way, recognize a content as the individual’s property. What is counter-intuitive to me is that not all researchers are aware of the creative commons licensing. We, as a field, must do more to educate ourselves more in order to further promote human knowledge.

A second concern arising out of Open Access and cases of plagiarism involves the presence of stereotypes in western society. It is commonly viewed that foreign students are more prone to cases of plagiarism (Furedi, 2017). This tendency to blame others and not acknowledge the problems inherent in academia, publish-or-perish attitude and present incentive structures, is highly concerning. We as responsible academicians must look inwards and attempt to fix the existing systems which encourage plagiarism. This appears to me as the best step forward rather than shifting blame on others.

The rise of Open Access, in my opinion, will greatly benefit human society, although I do acknowledge that at present, there exists certain issues which must be addressed. However my appeal to my fellow students is not to treat Open Access as Frankenstein’s Monster (Frankenstein was the Doctor, ya’ll) and try to undermine it. Rather help it grow and become a global movement so that we, both individually and as a society, benefit from it.


  1. Ocholla, D. N., & Ocholla, L. (2016). Does open access prevent plagiarism in Higher Education. African Journal of Library, Archives and Information Science26(2), 189-202.
  2. Rice, C. (2014, September 30). Whaddaya mean plagiarism? I wrote it myself! How open access can eliminate self-plagiarism. Retrieved October 28, 2017, from
  3. Furedi, F. (2017, February 27). Universities blame others for plagiarism. They need to look at themselves. Retrieved October 28, 2017, from

P.S. Also Happy Halloween everyone.


Whose Fault is it Anyway?

Image result for whose fault is it anyways


The current week’s reading made me think critically about critical thinking (Citation: anyone in the class who used this line in their blogs. I will find your blog and cite you). Well not that critically to be perfectly honest. I cannot hold a thought together for more than five minutes. But here are my two cents anyways.

Critical thinking is a pretty rare commodity nowadays. This is “disciplined” out of us early on in school. The majority of my school years were spent mugging up anything and everything that was placed in front of me. I blame the incentive structure. The only thing that mattered at the end of a school year was how much I had scored overall and where my ranking relative to others. I did what I had to do. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Fast forward to my college days where I spent countless hours (mostly the hours on deadline days), working on projects and assignments. Nobody told me the purpose of these. Although I must admit that I learned more through the projects, yet the primary purpose of it went largely unnoticed. I had assignments to submit and grades to get and people to compare myself to (To those who are completely bewildered: Final grades of a class are publicly available to all the students in India).

Image result for I'm better than you


Fast forward a few more years and I end up taking classes at Virginia Tech. I learn the hard way that Problem Based Learning (PBL) doesn’t seem to always work (Also a shoutout to Alex: It couldn’t be my fault, could it? Had the blamer really become the blame-ee (I know! I know! it not a word. Cut me some slack)?

Hooks (2010, Chp 2) address various pre-requisites that are essential in order to encourage critical thinking. Firstly, students must learn how to enjoy thinking. A thing easier said than done thanks to the rigid schooling system and the incentive structures in place. Can we not destroy people’s critical thinking in school? That’d be great. Thanks ya’ll (Did you think I’ll stop blaming others? You were wrong). In colleges, there has to be a conscious effort on our (graduate students and faculties) part to focus more on the journey (how much students learn along the way) rather than the the solution (aka: Final project submission). This is somewhat similar to what Dr. Fowler’s recommendation of  “Using PBL that encourages not just problem-solving, but problem-posing”.

The need of the day is for all of us to change. However the onus lies on us, the educators, to bring about changes in the current systems in order for students to change for the better.

Image links and citations (in the order they appear):

  3. Bell Hooks. (2010). Teaching critical thinking: Practical wisdom. Routledge.

Suppressing Heuristics

The idea of human beings using heuristics isn’t a new concept. Our brain processes information either analytically or affectively (Refer to Epstein 19931). While the former is deliberate and slow, the latter is faster and relies on heuristics. The same heuristics that Shankar Vedantam refers to in the excerpt from the Hidden Brain. I actually want to get this off my chest early on. The excerpt from the Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam and was darker than my previous post about students with suicide plans. That was depressing. Geez!

Coming back to the topic at hand, heuristics help us respond faster in unfamiliar circumstances. Can’t decide on something? Let’s pick the middle most option available (Saini and Monga 20082 ). Human beings are prone to use heuristics in a variety of situations. Except when it is used on them. I am from India (read: I am brown) and am growing a beard (Abe Lincoln’s excuse: I have a weak chin). Many a times have I been told in restaurants that they serve halal meat. On the outside, I thank the host and the hostess, while I actually want to tell them to stop trying to use heuristics. This is when one realizes that heuristics are not all good.

An episode from my class further showed me that heuristics are not always correct. My early experiences with students from University sports teams have shown me that I need to spend more time with them on all aspects of the class. Talking about class, exams and keeping them on track with their final projects. And so in my last class I was pleasantly surprised when a student from the sports team turned out to be the best student in class. The student received the best grades in the midterms and finals and ended up having the best final project. That was when I decided to throw that heuristic out of the window. The thing about heuristics that people do not realize is that it is born out of experiences. It undergoes modifications throughout one’s life. In my case, I opted for the extreme case of totally over ruling my heuristic. And I intend for it to stay that way.


  1. Epstein, S. (1993). Implications of cognitive-experiential self-theory for personality and developmental psychology.
  2. Saini, R., & Monga, A. (2008). How I decide depends on what I spend: use of heuristics is greater for time than for money. Journal of Consumer Research34(6), 914-922.

P.S. For those of you wondering, I do know that Wladimir Klitschko has a doctorate and he could knock me and my heuristic, out, in the blink of an eye.




Disincentivizing Lives

Warning: The Post takes a dark turn so turn away now if you cannot handle Statistics

This week’s readings along with the two Dan Pink videos made me think about the role of incentives in human life and specifically its applications in education. It is widely accepted in Economics literature that incentives leads to a positive impact of performance (See Note 1). The authors show that the impact of monetary incentives lead to a positive impact on performance. Recent research has, however shown that this does not hold in all cases. The negative impact of incentives has been demonstrated in pro-social behavior (Note 2), online communities (Note 3) among others. A variety of explanations have been forwarded to explain the negative impacts of incentives including signaling, types of markets, driving out of intrinsic motivations etc. In light of this evidence, Dan Pink revisits a study conducted by Ariely et. al. (2009) (Note 4 for anyone who wants to take a look at the study). Participants of the field experiments conducted in India were assigned to tasks that involved creativity, memory or motor and skills. Participants in the low and mid incentives were found to perform better than those in the high incentive condition. The authors also established that a propensity to choke was not the causal factor behind this phenomenon (Shout out to Carlos Mantilla who brought this up in class).

At this point I want to point out the two key takeaways from this study. Firstly, the authors show that there is a non-monotonic relationship between performance and reward (specifically very high rewards leads to diminished performance). Secondly, for tasks involving cognitive skills, high levels of incentive does not guarantee increased performance.

Taking the lessons of this study and applying it directly to classrooms is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion. My personal experience with grades is that they have to be used appropriately. On one hand, I do not like to be reminded daily about my grades and my rank in the class (a system prevalent in most Asian countries). On the other hand I have taken classes where the grading scheme was insufficient in motivating me to work hard. In such classes, I have typically found myself learning less and slacking from time to time. A case of no incentive and very high incentive in my opinion, are equally bad.

Being an ex-student of economics, I cannot argue with doing away with all forms of incentives. Grades in the classroom is the most prevalent incentive in place. However what I would argue for is to make people and organizations less dependent on numbers generated through tests as a measure of quality. A quality of a student cannot be gauged simply through a number assigned to him/her. Not everything you take away from a class can be quantified for eg. learning html and how to create a website or a statistical tool.

Grades assigned to us students stay with us throughout our lives and in many cases have a larger impact than we realize. Do you want to land the job at ABC org, well too bad, you do not meet the cutoff grade. Take a L and move on. Failure in class leads to life threatening consequences for some. In India, student suicide claimed the life of over 48,000 individuals between 2010-2015 (Note 5). Academic failure was one of the primary reasons. Data collected from American students suggest that, about one-third suffered from depression (Disclosure: the study does not specifically point to grades as a causal factor) (Note 6) and about 1 in 12 create a suicide plan (Note 7). Academia must use all it has to avoid disincentivizing people’s lives in an effort to provide incentives.




The need to change the present incentive scheme in academia is a must, in the long run. However society also needs to move away from using grades as a tool of valuing a student. This in my opinion is the need of the day. Grades will exist in one form or another. However grades must be used as a tool for students to measure self progress. This is the only valid use of a grading system in my opinion. To help improve oneself.


  1. Ehrenberg, R. G., & Bognanno, M. L. (1990). Do tournaments have incentive effects? Journal of Political Economy, 98(6), 1307-1324. doi:10.1086/261736
  2. Ariely, D., Bracha, A., & Meier, S. (2009). Doing good or doing well? Image motivation and monetary incentives in behaving prosocially. The American economic review99(1), 544-555.
  3. Sun, Y., Dong, X., & McIntyre, S. (2017). Motivation of User-Generated Content: Social Connectedness Moderates the Effects of Monetary Rewards. Marketing Science.
  4. Ariely, D., Gneezy, U., Loewenstein, G., & Mazar, N. (2009). Large stakes and big mistakes. The Review of Economic Studies76(2), 451-469.


P.S. This was a late post worthy of a red card.