Minnesota mooks don’t like MOOCs

Every once in a while, some news comes down from on high that reveals that the people we’re trusting to lead don’t have a clue about what they’re doing. Now Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education has banned online courses, specifically the excellent suite of free online courses from Coursera.

We do have a law on the books that has the goal of shutting down diploma mills — you shouldn’t get to browse a website and be awarded a Ph.D. in quantum neuroscience. But Coursera doesn’t do that: they don’t issue degrees or even credits, they just provide massive open online courses for free. So you can learn stuff. For free. You don’t go there so you can pretend to learn and get a fancy diploma to hang on your wall, it’s just free information.

This ban is utterly unenforceable and absolutely ludicrous. All you Minnesotans should take your laptop or iPad into the bedroom or bathroom or someplace private, turn off the lights, and browse Coursera — I recommend the biology section, obviously. Oh, look: Rosie Redfield has a course on practical genetics. That should be good. Sign up for something.

Now feel the thrill of being an outlaw. Go commit crimes: learn something.

Hey, maybe the Minnesota OHE is trying reverse psychology on us?


  1. carlie says

    I’ve been following @MOOCHULK for awhile on twitter, but turns out there is also a @MOOC Gosling.

    I have my doubts about MOOCs, myself. I think they have immense possibilities for good, but also for being really awful. If anyone is interested in learning more, The Chronicle of Higher Education has a podcast in which they’ve talked quite a bit about them and experiences with them.

  2. Alverant says

    I understand their reasoning. How do you know if the person who said they took an online course actually took the online course? There are websites online that will take such courses in your name for a fee. As for enforceable, just ask for transcripts of all transferred courses and see which ones were taken online, then discount them.

  3. jimmauch says

    I’m ashamed but I have to confess. I am currently dabbling in edu-porn. Through the direction of Coursera’s Dr. Mohamed Noor I am being introduced to genetics and evolution. I would tell all of you what disgusting things we do with genes but I’m sure you don’t want to hear me go through the whole sorted affair.

  4. yoav says

    That concern is relevant for courses that provide a diploma you may later try to present as qualification for a job, which is not the case here.
    Maybe Coursera can title one of the evolution courses physiology of the crocoduck and get Michelle Bachmann help them remove the ban.

  5. Beatrice, anti-imperialist anti-racist Islamophobiaphobic leftist says

    What the fuck?

    I took some of those courses. I got a Statement of Accomplishment when I finished. If I print it out, it’s worth the paper I printed it on. It even says right on it that

    This statement does not affirm that you were
    enrolled as a Stanford student in any way; it does not confer a Stanford grade; it does not confer
    Stanford credit; it does not confer a Stanford degree or a certificate; and it does not verify the
    identity of the individual who took the course.

    What I got was knowledge. For free. What kind of an idiot tries to ban that!?

  6. F says

    All you Minnesotans should take your laptop or iPad into the bedroom or bathroom or someplace private, turn off the lights, camp out at the state legislature and OOHE, and browse Coursera —

  7. Larry says

    Courses from Stanford, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Princeton. A shady cabal of fly-by-night organizations there. I can see why Minnesotans require protection from them.

  8. azportsider says

    Thanks, PZ! Duly bookmarked for future reference. I don’t care about degrees, credits, etc. Just want to learn me some ethology.

  9. keresthanatos says

    Thanks for the link, tell them politicians to send that thar bill to S.C. we need some protections from all them learnins, what would the world bees like if people might better them selves for free ? I don’t like it at all.

  10. bcskeptic says

    Thanks PZ! I signed up for a course. At this point in my life I don’t give a crap about credit…”just” knowledge.

  11. says

    I love those free online courses! I’ve been learning biology 101 from the MIT opencourseware site, and I just started on the NAND to Tetris course, which is totally awesome. I got the textbook for the biology course at an Amazon affiliate for $1.56. New, the book was something like $170.

  12. Air says

    Sounds like it’s time for an online ‘learn-in’ in the State Capitol. Conspiracy to commit critical thinking! Felony theorem proving!! Mass civil disobedience!!!

    Wish I could be there….

  13. viajera says

    That’s ridiculous – what a shame. I’m taking the Writing in the Sciences course from Coursera right now, and it’s amazing. Far better than any instruction I received on writing during the course of my Ph.D. It counts for nothing, professionally, and will never go on my CV, but d@$n if it isn’t improving my science writing dramatically!

  14. watry says

    I’m taking the same course as jimmauch @4, and I’m signed up for another in reasoning and argument starting next month. It makes a nice break from my undergrad courses. I do love bioanthropology, but course after course gets old.

  15. radpumpkin says

    Bah, who cares about biology?! Go sign up for the “Exploring Quantum Physics” course instead. Look, there are tunneling cats on the logo!

  16. jefferylanam says

    iTunes U also has an extensive set of courses, although there is no testing or certificate. I’ve been watching an excellent series of lectures on the Early Middle Ages by Paul Freedman of Yale. iTunes supplies the recorded videos and the transcripts, along with the reading list and some of the readings.

  17. rwgate says

    I’ve gone through a number of courses from The Teaching Company, and these look like a great addition. Thanks for the link. I just signed up for a course on Greek History and another on Climate Change. I think that it’s fantastic that we can get college level courses on most any subject. It looks like they’re adding new courses all the time.

  18. Nicole Introvert says

    I was just about to shoot you a link to this story because it has me so livid. Thanks for covering it.

    I am currently enrolled in Intro to Genetics & Evolution thru Coursera and it is amazing. This is absolutely perfect for someone like me who cannot afford and has no desire to go back to school. I’m not looking to change my career or enter the sciences. However, I can still learn topics that interest me. Especially things that I wished I could have studied more in high school and college but needed to complete other classes to obtain my diploma.

  19. adobo says

    This is incrediawsome!! Thanks PZ for letting me know of this! Free Knowledge. My brain is going to mop a lot of it up. I will also tell all my friends about it.

  20. cry4turtles says

    I tried to sign up for some of these courses a year or so ago, but my only access was mobile and they required a pc. I’ve enjoyed some excellent YouTube physics lectures instead. Gotta love free learnin’!

  21. geoffreybrent says

    Alverant: the course certificates already state that they don’t verify participant IDs. Presumably any sensible employer is capable of looking at that and deciding for themselves how much weight they want to give to such things.

    Even if we suppose that employers are too stupid to check credentials, this law is a bad way of dealing with the situation, because it doesn’t stop people from doing a course outside MN and then applying for MN jobs.

  22. says

    From Ars Technica:

    Roedler explained that Minnesota’s state law requires that educational institutions serving Minnesotans must be registered with the state

    So if you live in Luverne, Minnesota, and commute across the border to take classes at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Augustana has to pay this fee to Minnesota?

    He added that the law had been around for decades

    Yeah, there’s a shock.

  23. Rodney Nelson says

    bcskeptic #14

    At this point in my life I don’t give a crap about credit…”just” knowledge.

    Same for me. I’ve been looking at the Coursera offerings. I’m having a hard time deciding which one I want to take first.

  24. Rich Woods says

    That’s me signed up for an astronomy course. I don’t care whether or not it contributes to an accredited award; I’m just happy to deal with it as knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

    I keep telling myself that one day I’ll just throw dice to pick a course, but in reality I keep getting distracted by stuff which actually interests me.

  25. lokicleo says

    In contrast to Minnesota, Maine is encouraging its public schools to consider offering credit for coursera classes.

    Coursera is awesome. I just finished my 1st coursera class, Statistics 1, offered by Princeton, for free. I think they said 75,000 signed up for it, all over the world. Isn’t it amazing that one 6 week class can reach so many?

    There’s a wide range of subjects, but a couple that may be of particular interest to skeptics are: “Think Again: How to Reason and Argue”, “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior”, and “Science from SuperHeroes to Global Warming”.

    My next class doesn’t start until the end of November, and I can’t wait.

  26. says

    I’m in the middle of a course on Greek and Romand Mythology through Coursera right now. (I am probably an oddball among atheists, in that I find religion to be an interesting subject to study, from an academic perspective.) I absolutely love it. I’m enrolled in an Operations Management course, but sadly I missed the homework deadline for that course due to insomnia and being unable to concentrate enough to wrap my head around the material. I’m also signed up for Astronomy; see you there, Rich Woods!

    Glad Minnesota saw reason with regards to Coursera and other free online learning.

  27. davem says

    Add me to the astronomy class; I feel I probably know most of it, but I thought I’d dip my toes in the water gently. And many thanks to the Minnesota legislators who serendipitously caused me to sign up.

  28. Pyra says

    Thanks for this. How I didn’t pay attention to this before, I’ll never know. Already started. Great use of my free time as I wait for the next semester to start so I can truly get myself back into Real World use courses.

  29. says

    Coursera is going to sap all my free time – I’ve already signed up for four courses. It’s all for the knowledge, couldn’t give a shit about any “qualifications” that stem from it.

  30. says

    For those here doing the Evolution and Genetics course, how many have looked at / participated on the forum for the course? It’s quite frustrating to see the flood of topics and comments directed at discussion on theism rather than on understanding evolution.

  31. pixelfish says

    I didn’t really look at the forums. I came in a week late so I’m scrambling to catch up on the vids. But I can imagine that it would be very annoying to see all the god-botting when they’ve already laid out why evolution doesn’t tackle religious questions intrinsically, but faiths may be hostile if they promote ideas disproved by evolution.

    Is there a pharyngula thread at all? Roll call? :)

  32. pixelfish says

    PS. Also signed up for the Think Again Reason and Logic course, because I feel I could always use some brushing up on that front. I had some basic logic courses at my extremely religious college, and looking back at my A paper, I cringe at what the teacher did NOT challenge.