What Should Online Courses Do With Angry, Suicidal, Oversharing Teenagers?


math is hard!
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If a student threatens to shoot his classmates (or himself) on the online message board for his physics class, does that count as a campus threat? 

That's just one of the many questions purveyors of massively open online courses, or MOOCs, are asking themselves. 

Universities have traditionally been asked to play many roles, and as the functions of those universities are disaggregated, the question of who picks up which pieces is a tough one. In truly massive online courses, like those offered by Coursera, Udacity, and huge public universities experimenting with online learning, teachers are not expected to read all the postings in a class message board. But students still act like students—fighting, falling in love, chattering about emotional problems, and generally acting in ways that would be considered inappropriate in other parts of grown up life.

Inside Higher Ed talked to some experts:

Scott Plous, a psychology professor at Wesleyan University, is preparing to teach more than 70,000 students who signed up for his class through Coursera, one of the popular MOOC providers. Plous, who worked at a Los Angeles suicide hotline before graduate school, is now trying to figure out how to monitor the message boards and deal with students who post hate speech or are threatening violence or suicide….

Plous is partially counting on self-policing by users, something he may talk about in his introductory lecture. For instance, if someone in a remote village in India is talking about suicide, Plous hopes other users from India can suggest places to go for help.

But some students (and parents) want more than that. Can online schools provide traditional student mental health services? Should they?

One thing I'm looking forward to is a disaggregation of the babysitting and educating functions performed by schools at all levels. If parents want someone to step in in loco to keep an eye on their volatile teenager, why not let them pay for that service separately?

For all the same reasons that it seems silly to pay someone with a master's degree $80,000 a year to supervise 5-year-olds at recess, it doesn't make a lot of sense to build psychological supervision into the job of a P.hD. economist trying to impart the principles of supply and demand to tens, hundreds, or millions of students. Why not try a model where 18-year-olds who want to get out the house while they pursue a degree shack up in hostels with cooks and counselors while getting their intellectual jollies from an entirely different purveyor? 

One bonus: Older students who want to enroll will not have to put up with the meddling of traditional campus institutions.

Via Tyler Cowen.