Brooklyn College Online (The Can-Do College That Just May Not)

News to no one is that Brooklyn College is online for the Fall 2020 semester due COVID-19.  Yeah, so was Spring 2020, but we didn’t know that coming into it. This time we do. 

Now going totally online probably wasn’t the worst idea considering that as of September 3rd, there were 51,000+ COVID-19 cases in 1,020+ colleges, according to a New York Times survey. 


If we are going to be learning remotely anyway, we must remember that we have more options than an online version of a brick and mortar institution. There have been online institutions offering coursework for years now, with online curriculums designed for virtual learners. Compare that with Brooklyn College, which seems to be making it up as they go along. So what should we do?


In his book, Feynman’s Tips on Physics, Richard Feynman writes: “This is a matter of fact, the way you start on any complicated or unfamiliar problem: You first get a rough idea; then you go back when you understand it better and do it more carefully.” So with that in mind, let’s see how a few of these online offerings compare with our Harvard of Flatbush.


Some of the more famous online learning institutions are Coursera, M.I.T. OpenCourseWare (OCW), Skillshare, Udacity, and Udemy. These places are known as MOOCs, which stands for “massive open online courses.”


MOOCs are a relatively recent phenomenon. It started when Stanford University opened up some of its most popular computer science courses online in the summer 2011. The year 2012 was proclaimed the year of the MOOC by the New York Times. Some of those Stanford professors would start for-profit MOOCs with venture capital. Sebastian Thrum started Udacity and Andrew Ng and Daphne Keller started Coursera.


Many of you are probably familiar with M.I.T. OCW, if only to supplement our own Brooklyn College lectures. Most colleges have a thing called “recitation,” where there is an opportunity to ask a teaching assistant questions and there are further explanations of the lecture material. It’s not like recitations don’t exist here at BC, but they seem to be far and few between. Most students I have met are using YouTube channels to break down course material and not all professors appreciate that.


If you are using a MOOC in some way already, why pay for Brooklyn College tuition and why take four years to complete it? Why not take that a step further and do your semester or even your major with M.I.T. OCW?  As John Mulaney put it: “I paid someone $120,000 to tell me to read Jane Austin, then I didn’t.” Brooklyn College isn’t quite that expensive but you get the point.


Scott H.Young conducted what he referred to as “the M.I.T Challenge,” in which he completed the entire four year M.I.T. Computer Science curriculum in 12 months and for none of the cost.
He vlogged the entire process on YouTube. Scott was successful and detailed exactly how to do it.  


M.I.T. OCW offers more than computer science, including music, theatre, political science, and women’s and gender studies. 


Of course, we don’t all have the resources of Scott H. Young to rent a big apartment for a year in Vancouver, quit our jobs, and just focus on video courses while doing all the homework.  Some of us, you know, have lives and responsibilities. Computer science might not be the greatest example either, as it is a career in which people can get jobs so long as they demonstrate that they can do the work, unlike working as a teacher with the New York City Board of Education, where there is a long list of milestones needed to be fully incorporated into the system.


Over the summer, I had the opportunity to take a Udacity course. This one is different from OCW because it is designed to help the student along the process of self learning. There were supposed to be mentors and help channels to get you through the rough patches. They offer free courses but they also offer nano-degree courses that give you a certificate stating you passed. The nano-degree courses prices are on par with CUNY pricing. 


They try to put up a veneer that this is a serious course by making you take a prerequisite test. I took a math exam that stretched over material from Calc 2, linear algebra, and abstract algebra. I was certain I failed this test, but was told that I had one of the highest scores of the set people taking the test at the same time. I have my doubts on their integrity and I think, like any business, they just wanted to get paid. 


They gave a sweet intro, stating how safe and forward thinking their approach is. I was excited. I logged on to the course and there were more links that I could count to, which signified the duration of the course. The course content was presented by short YouTube videos and Wiki pages. Sometimes the YouTube instructor spoke so fast that I had to listen to it several times to get the content of a less than two minute video.  


Once I got into the meat of the course, it became impossible. I would have needed a few perquisites to understand what they were teaching. So much of the content was predicated on previous knowledge that I have never touched. I found myself scouring the internet, looking to fill in the missing pieces. I tried to read a chapter of a textbook to try to bolster the flimsiest definitions of concepts presented by Udacity. I couldn’t get a hold of a mentor and no one ever answered my plea for help on the chat lines. It felt like the courses were designed for people who already knew the material and not for a person seeing the material for the first time. In the end, I never finished it.   


For the same money, I really do appreciate Brooklyn College for the simplest reasons. They assign a textbook, there are physical instructors, and departments. There is a support system and other students taking the class at the time that you can leverage.  Actual deadlines such as class schedules and test dates motivate learning as well.


I think in-person classes are far superior than remote learning, but if you are going to be paying hard cash, our little college just might work.