Tuesday 12pm, 10 May 2016

Pavel pevzner

Life After MOOCs: Online Science Education Needs a New Revolution

Pavel Pavzner

Professor - UCSD


Universities continue to pack hundreds of students into a single classroom, despite the fact that this “hoarding” approach has little pedagogical value. Hoarding is particularly objectionable in STEM courses, where learning a complex idea is comparable to navigating a labyrinth. In the large classroom, once a student takes a wrong turn, the student has limited opportunities to ask a question, resulting in a learning breakdown, or the inability to progress further without individualized guidance.

A recent revolution in online education has largely focused on making low-cost equivalents of hoarding classes, as many MOOCs are mirror images of their offline counterparts. This is one of the reasons why prominent computer scientist Moshe Vardi published an editorial in the Communications of the ACM expressing concerns about the pedagogical quality of MOOCs and including the sentiment, “If I had my wish, I would wave a wand and make MOOCs disappear”. I share the concerns about the quality of early primitive MOOCs, which have been hyped by many as a cure-all for education. At the same time, I feel that much of the criticism of MOOCs stems from the fact that truly disruptive educational resources have not been developed yet! I thus propose to transform MOOCs into a more efficient educational product called a Massive Adaptive Interactive Text (MAIT) that can prevent individual learning breakdowns and even outperform a professor in a classroom. I argue that computer science is a unique discipline where this transition is about to happen and describe our first steps towards transforming a MOOC into a MAIT that has already outperformed me. I further argue that the future MAIT revolution, in difference from the ongoing MOOC revolution, will profoundly affect the way we all teach.


Pavel Pevzner is Ronald R. Taylor Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and Director of the NIH National Center for Computational Mass Spectrometry at University of California, San Diego. He holds Ph.D. (1988) from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Russia. He was named Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor in 2006. He was elected the ACM Fellow (2010) for "contribution to algorithms for genome rearrangements, DNA sequencing, and proteomics” and International Society for Computational Biology Fellow (2012). He was awarded a Honoris Causa (2011) from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Dr. Pevzner authored textbooks "Computational Molecular Biology: An Algorithmic Approach", "Introduction to Bioinformatics Algorithms" (jointly with Neal Jones) and “Bioinformatics Algorithms: an Active Learning Approach” (jointly with Phillip Compeau). In 2015, jointly with Phillip Compeau, he developed a Bioinformatics specialization on Coursera (a series of 7 courses) that is now being transformed into a MAIT.