Democratizing education? Examining access and usage patterns in massive open online courses

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Science  04 Dec 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6265, pp. 1245-1248
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab3782

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  • Opportunity rather than result RE: Democratizing education?
    • Cedric Fan, Professor, MIT Information Quality Program- Data Quality & Info Security Lab, Nanjing Tech University
    • Other Contributors:
      • Amanda Cao, Visiting Fellow, Wolfson College, The University of Cambridge

    In their Report “Democratizing education? Examining access and usage patterns in MOOCs” (Science 4 December 2015: Vol. 350 no. 6265 pp. 1245-1248), J Hansen and J Reich found that course participants linked with higher SES than the average U.S. resident, and those participants possessing higher socioeconomic resources were more likely to earn a certificate. So they worried about MOOCs can exacerbate education disparities.

    I applaud their findings but hold the view that the first place of Education Democratization is educational opportunity rather than educational result, not only of “access” but also of “usage”.

    In Table 1., Table S3. and Table S4., Hansen and Reich demonstrated two strong relationships, the first one is between MOOCs participation and SES variables, and the second one is between Certification and SES variables. Beyond this kind of global variables, I would like to suggest checking the performance of the low SES students (e.g. the lowest quarter), who still achieved the certifications. These students stood for the “elites” in the low SES group who cherished the opportunity and worked hard. Notice that the odds for Certification decreased rapidly while the Standard Deviation increased also rapidly compared with the odds for Participation (Table 1.).

    In Fig.3., even in the “Rising tide” scenario- “gaps in educational outcomes widen”, the educational opportunities can still stay in the “Closing gaps” scenario. To the high SES students,...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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