Monday, January 28, 2013

A University without Faculty: The Demise of the University of Phoenix and the Rise of the MOOCs

The University of Phoenix is now the largest university in America, but this may soon change. This mostly online institution is facing an accreditation sanction, which could force it to lose its Pell Grants, student loans, and other federal subsidies. Not only is the stock price taking a major beating, but massive layoffs are underway.

Although we should not take enjoyment in other people’s job losses, it is important to focus on what happens when higher education is taken over by a soulless corporation. As the founder of the university has become a billionaire and has just received a $5 million retirement package, the school is shedding many of its on-the-ground employees. Like many other for-profit schools, the U. of Phoenix receives most of its funding from public monies, and then uses these funds to enrich administrators and shareholders and hire an army of marketers and recruiters in order to turn mostly under-represented minority students into unemployed debt slaves, and they do this by hiring all of their faculty off of the tenure system. In many ways, this school represents the extreme logic of the online education movement: eliminate tenure for the faculty, develop questionable distance education, cater to private corporations, and make students suffer with high debt levels and bogus degrees (actually very few students ever get their degrees, and very few get their promised jobs).

While online course providers like Coursera and Udacity appear to represent a much more progressive version of this high-tech education promotion, let us look at some of the statements that are coming out of the mouths of these not-for-profit, profit-seeking marketers. Here is Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity, from the UCLA forum (these quotes come from the rush transcript on Remaking the University): “Students rarely learn listening . . . or they never learn by listening. The challenge for us is to take this new medium and really bring it to a mode where students do something and learn by doing. And if you look at the broad spectrum of online technology with what happens. It doesn’t really take long time to point to video games. And most of us look down on video games. We’ve also played them. I know there are people in this room who play angry birds. Some people do. Some people don’t admit it. Angry birds is an wonderful learning environment because you get drawn in, you solve the physics problems but the big problem is that it stops at angry birds . . . if the angry birds was good enough to get into the masters students in physics. It would be an amazing experience and you could do this at scale.” The point I want to stress here is the claim that students never learn from listening. Following this logic, most of current education is simply useless, and we should just have students take out their smart phones and play Angry Birds all day.

During Thrun’s presentation at UCLA, this downgrading of traditional learning environments was connected to a downsizing of the faculty: “As we know that higher education is moving at a slower pace compared to the industry moves. We have been funded by a whole bunch of corporations that make the classes with us and there’s a number of classes launching soon on topics to be not covered in academia. If you look at the way the technology turns over, it will be 5-10 years in computer science [and] if you look at the way colleges turn over, it’s much more difficult because [with] tenure they are gonna be with us for 30 years so the national turnover rate for colleges is about 30 years. Industries it’s like 5-10 years. So there’s a disconnect between how the world changes and how colleges are able to keep up. Therefore in computer science it would be hard to find courses that teach technologies that are useful today such as IOS and all the wonderful things that they do. So the industries jumped in and funded us to build these classes.” According to this logic, since tenure requires a thirty-year commitment to the faculty, and industry and technology change at a much faster rate, we need to get rid of the secure faculty and replace them with student mentors and the latest technology.

Thrun’s argument fails to recognize that faculty also develop and change, and most faculty, including his own wife, now teach without tenure. His point of view also pushes the idea that technological change is always for the better, and even if it is not good, there is no way to resist it. As I have previously argued, we need to compare online courses to our best courses and not our worst, and we have to defend and define quality education and push for more funds to be spent on small, interactive classes. However, Thrun and other MOOC celebrators appear to have a disdain for their own teaching: “But in the existing classes, the level of services are often not that great. . . .I talked to numerous instructors and you divide the time the communal time and the personal time you give back to the students in terms of advising and grading . . . you can be lucky as a student for 3 credits class to get 3 hours of personal time. Many people laugh and many say I spend 10 min/student per class and the rest I give to my TAs. Charging $1,000-$4,000 for that to me is gonna be a question going forward.” Although I have often questioned what students are actually paying for in higher education, what Thrun is really questioning is the validity and value of large, impersonal lecture classes, and on this point, we are in agreement; still the question that remains is if large online courses can really provide the quality education they advertise.

At the last Regents meeting, many of these themes were continued as three computer science professors attempted to convince the UC system that online courses would make higher education “better, faster, and cheaper.” In her presentation for Coursera, Daphne Koller insisted that since students now have a very short attention span, the classic lecture has to be broken up into a series of short videos followed by an interactive question and answer system. She argued that this method paradoxically makes mass education personalized as it pushes students to constantly learn and be tested on material before they advance.

Like the other online course providers, in order to differentiate her “product” from the “traditional” model of education, Koller had to constantly put down the current way we educate students. Thus, she derided the “sage on the stage” and the inability of most students to ask questions in their large lecture classes. She also bemoaned the fact that no one wants to read students’ tests with identical questions and answers, and so the whole grading process can be given to computers and fellow students. Once again, this argument not only degrades the value and expertise of faculty, but it also treats students as if they need to be reimagined as programmable machines and free laborers. Yes, let’s have the students’ grade each other’s paper, and while they pay for their education, let us train them to work for free.

Another alarming aspect of the rhetoric of these providers is their constant reference to experimenting on students as they attempt to increase access to higher education. The idea presented at the Regents meeting is that since so many under-represented students cannot find places in the UC system, these students from underfunded high schools should be given an online alternative. Some have called this the Digital Jim Crow because wealthy students will still have access to traditional higher education, while the nonwealthy, under-represented minority students will be sent to an inferior online system. Of course this new form of educational segregation is being pushed under the progressive banner of expanding access.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Udacity of Hope: Leadership in the Age of Austerity

As many are now judging President Yudof’s time as the head of the UC system, what we have to consider is that the biggest effect of austerity is the austerity of our own imagination and policies. In the Age of Austerity, we do not have leaders with a broad vision; what we have are managers who manage a crisis but cannot imagine any real significant changes.

Recently, I have had the opportunity to present my plan to make all public higher education free in America by simply using our current resources in a more effective manner. Although it would cost around $128 billion to fund the total cost of tuition and related expenses for every student currently in public higher ed (80% of all college students), I have shown that if you add up all of the financial aid, institutional aid, tax breaks, tax credits, and tax shelters, we are currently spending over $200 billion. In other words, the only thing stopping us from making all public higher education free is leadership.

When I have made this demonstration, the first response of many people is that while you might be right, this can never happen in America. The reason why people do not think it is doable is because they cannot imagine that any major change is possible. Fortunately, a new group, The Campaign for Higher Education (CHE), is about to start a national movement, and one of their main policy pieces is my plan for making all public higher education free.

In terms of the UC system, Governor Brown is looking at how to make higher education more accessible and affordable, but he is also pushing for online education to be one of the main ways to make the university more efficient. Like President Obama, Brown does appear to be interested in pursuing a more progressive agenda, but he has to be pushed in the right direction.

For the University of California, the academic council and the faculty senates need to take back their leadership roles. At recent regent meetings, the faculty have simply sat back while outside corporations, governmental officials, and educationally clueless regents have bashed and downgraded everything we do. Even though the managers of the online programs argue that any change has to be faculty-driven, it is clear that the distance education agenda is being pushed by outside forces. For instance, in order for the online course providers to show how their new form of education is “better, faster, and cheaper,” they have to constantly attack what they call the out-dated nature of current instruction. They also indirectly argue that we do not need tenure, research, shared governance, or academic freedom in their high-tech version of higher education. Only the faculty can push back against this neoliberal privatizing agenda.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

UC Regents Meeting Report: Rewriting History and Forgetting the Faculty (1/16/13)

President Yudof outlined his big online vision near the start of the Regents Meeting on Wednesday. He argued that since so many students are applying to the UC system, but there is not enough money or classes to enroll them, the system should consider moving many of its high-enrollment gateway courses online. Yudof added that the university is going to have to get used to a higher student-to-faculty ratio for the foreseeable future, and that we must move to a system where students don’t simply memorize information, but rather they engage in a critical relationship with new knowledge.

Yudof stressed that the focus of the Online Pilot Program has never been on enrolling non-UC students, and the media has gotten it wrong on the failure of the UC program to attract students. However, Yudof’s remarks directly contradict UC’s own previous statements regarding the need to attract 3,000 non-UC students this year to pay off the loan it made to itself.

There was a lot of rewriting of history going on throughout the meeting, and it was unfortunate that no one at the table corrected some of these misrepresentations. Also, when the outside course providers were making their presentations, they constantly bashed UC faculty by arguing that nothing has changed in our classrooms during the last fifty years, and the professors need to either rethink how they teach or get out of the way. Once again, no one defended the faculty or the quality of education in the UC system.

Yudof announced that there will be a Spring meeting with faculty to discuss the online programs, and a new set of incentives will be established to get more professors to develop more nontraditional classes. The UC Provost added that one possible goal would be for every student to take at least four online courses during their first two years, but Yudof later angrily insisted that no students would be forced to take online courses.

Governor Brown reiterated his point that the university has to realize that it wants more money from the state than the state can deliver, so the UC system has to find a way to teach more students with less money. He later added that it sounded like the system was headed in the right direction, and he appeared to be pleased with the tenor of the conversation.

At one strange moment, Regent Blum insisted that Dean Edley speak about the online program, and Edley obliged by taking off on a long riff dealing with the need to set up a virtual campus for all of the qualified, under-represented students who can’t find a spot in the UC system. Like so much that was said during the day, Edley’s rhetoric sounded good until you questioned the main theme of the day, which was how can the UC system turn to online education to both save money and improve educational quality.

I tried to address these issues during my public comments, but I felt as though no one was really paying attention. During a break, a TV reporter pulled me aside and asked me to talk about why I hate online education. I said I do not hate it, but I believe that it will increase costs and possibly lower the quality of our “better classes.” I also added that this whole discussion about online education allows the UC to avoid talking about the real cost drivers in the system.

It should be clear from my report that the senate faculty have to get more involved and more vocal about defending their own positions and institution. One place for an intervention would be the Spring summit on online education that Yudof mentioned.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

UC-AFT Public Comment for Regents Meeting (1/16/13)

1. We appreciate the increased funding from the state, but this does not make up for years of reductions; moreover, we are concerned about the push for online education.

2. While many of our faculty members already use digital technologies in different ways, we have not found that the use of high-quality online courses reduces costs; in fact, due to the need for staffing, new equipment, and software, they may drive up costs.

3. Already the UC Online Pilot Program has failed to meet most of its projections. Millions have been spent on marketing and course development, but only a few non-UC students have enrolled.

4. In fact, we have already driven down the costs of undergraduate instruction in the UC system through the use of large classes and non-tenured faculty; moving these classes online will not save money. The stress on online education is a distraction from the real cost drivers: administration, professional education, medical centers, athletics, sponsored research, and amenities.

5. If a professor teaches 4 courses and makes $100,000 a year, the per student direct instructional cost for a class of 250 students is $100; in the case of a non-tenured faculty member, the cost on average is $40; online education will not lower these costs. Even if you eliminate all of the teachers, you still need to pay someone to design the courses, interact with the students, administer the program, and grade the papers. Online education is a recipe for administrative bloat.

6. Students have a hard time graduating on time because they are sometimes unprepared for university-level work, they are weeded out of high-demand majors, they need to work at jobs to pay for the total cost of education, they are alienated in large lecture classes, and courses are graded on a distributed curve (some students have to fail in this system): online education will not help solve these issues.

7. We need a transparent accounting of the real cost drivers in the UC system.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Governor, The UC Budget, and Online Education

This will be a rather long post that will discuss two related topics: Governor Brown’s new budget for the UC system and the Regents coming discussion of online education. In terms of the state budget, Brown proposes the following: “The state’s General Fund contribution to UC, CSU, and Hastings will increase by 5 percent per year in 2013‑14 and 2014‑15 and by 4 percent in each of the subsequent two years.” Although it is a welcomed relief to see increased funding for the UC system, it is not close to the amount that UCOP says the university needs. According to Brown’s budget statement: “UC and CSU have proposed budgets that call for increases in state funding of about 12 percent and 18 percent, respectively, from the preceding year. By comparison, over the past three years, personal income growth in California has averaged slightly less than 4 percent per year. California taxpayers cannot sustain institutions whose cost growth greatly outpaces the state’s income growth. Furthermore, the rapidly growing numbers of college graduates who are unable to repay their student loans is an indication that these costs cannot be forever pushed onto students through tuition and fee increases.” In other words, the universities are asking for too much, and they need to live within their means. Moreover, it is unclear from the budget document if the Governor is basing his increased funding on a future tuition freeze.

What is clear is that Brown feels that the UC can do things in a much more efficient and cost-effective manner: “from 2007‑08 to 2012‑13, when other public agencies were retrenching, UC expenditures increased by 15 percent and CSU expenditures increased by 3 percent. These expenditure increases were funded by approximately $1.4 billion in tuition revenue increases at UC and $1 billion at CSU, a near doubling of tuition and fees from 2007‑08 to the present. Specifically, UC’s tuition and fees increased by $5,556 over that period. CSU’s tuition and fees increased by $2,700 over that same period (see Figure HED‑01). These rapid tuition increases have been a significant hardship for students and their families, particularly middle‑income families who do not qualify for Cal Grants.” Thus, while the governor realizes that tuition increases have been in part the result of state budget funding for higher ed, he also thinks the universities need to do a better job at reducing their expenses.

Brown believes that too many students are not graduating in a timely fashion, and so the UC system has to do several things: stop students from taking extra credits, reduce tuition increases, make more classes available, and make the delivery of instruction less costly. To fix many of these problems, he wants to turn to technology: “All institutions will be expected to use these increases to implement reforms that will make available the courses students need and help them progress through college efficiently, using technology to deliver quality education to greater numbers of students in high‑demand courses, improving course management and planning, using faculty more effectively, and increasing use of summer sessions. With savings achieved in this way, in combination with the General Fund increases and realizing the savings of current efficiency efforts (e.g. UC’s Working Smarter Initiative and CSU’s Systemwide Administrative Efficiencies), the Administration expects the colleges and universities to maintain current tuition and fee levels over the next four years.” Governor Brown is arguing here that due to the combination of increased state funding and the use of new technologies, the UC should not need to raise tuition. In fact, he wants to help fund the UC online program: “the Budget provides UC and CSU $10 million each to increase the number of courses available to matriculated undergraduates through the use of technology, specifically those courses that have the highest demand, fill quickly, and are prerequisites for many different degrees. Priority will be given to the development of courses that can serve greater numbers of students while providing equal or better learning experiences.” Since the UC is already planning to spend $7 million on its failing online pilot program, the governor may be actually bailing out a bad idea and doubling down on the online gamble.

The Governor also extends the online panacea to the community college system, where he envisions the following use of technology: “This initiative will include three key elements: (1) the creation of a “virtual campus” to increase statewide student access to 250 new courses delivered through technology, (2) the creation of a single, common, and centralized delivery and support infrastructure for all courses delivered through technology and for all colleges, and (3) the expansion of options for students to access instruction in other environments and earn college credit for demonstrated knowledge and skills through credit by exam.” This strategy brings together some of the worst ideas circulating in higher education: let’s create virtual campuses for the most disadvantaged students as we continue to replace traditional courses with a wide-range of substitutes.

Once again, I should stress that I am in favor of using new technologies to increase the effectiveness of university education, but there is no proof that this will save money, and it fails to deal with the real cost-drivers, which are administration, construction, sponsored-research and graduate and professional education. This failure to understand the real spending streams in higher ed is also evident in the UC Online project report that has been developed for the next UC Regents meeting. In a virtual copy of the Governor’s own discussion of how new technologies will save higher education, we find the following argument about the UC online program: “Anticipated benefits from for-credit online undergraduate courses include additional opportunities for high-quality instruction throughout the UC system, decreased time-to-degree, increased student success, and decreased costs of instruction. Future directions include streamlining cross-campus and systemwide processes, increasing enrollment in for-credit online undergraduate courses, using innovative learning technology, enrolling non-UC students, and establishing viable long-term financial models and short-term investments.” As we will read later on, the initial discussion of saving money through online education is centered on a call to increase funding for online initiatives: “It is clear now that both the campuses and UCOE would benefit from an infusion of funding on a temporary basis to facilitate continued development. The cross-campus hub needs to be developed, and there is currently no budgeted fund source. Additional instructional designers for UCOE and instructional designers at the campuses would greatly increase the rate of creation of new online courses, the improvement of existing online courses, and the movement of courses to approval for both academic-year and summer offering and then to systemwide approval. Current estimates are that an instructional designer can develop three to four courses per year, provide a major update for three to four courses already offered per year, and provide a minor update to several courses per year. Several campuses, if not all, and to a lesser extent UCOE would also benefit from additional equipment and facilities for the production of online, hybrid, and technology-assisted courses and from a fund for the short-term contracting out of particular development tasks. UC will continue to elaborate on resource needs as campus plans and systemwide goals become clearer.” Let’s see, we are going to save money by finding money to fund course developers, technological hubs, new equipment, new facilities, and outsourced development people. As I have previously written, once you start to take into account all of the expenses related to developing an effective online program, you quickly run up the tab.

Like the expanding sponsored research mission, it is hard for online programs to pay for all of their related costs. It just seems like you never have enough administrators and staff as you push to downsize the faculty. If you think I am being paranoid here, let us look at one of the ideas for replacing current courses taught by regular UC Faculty: “some of the Extension XB, XD, etc. online courses might be considered for approval as courses to be offered during regular terms and systemwide if the course is appropriate and is not currently offered online to UC students.” In other terms, more students will be able to get UC course credit for extension courses that are often taught by non-UC faculty. In fact, the extension teachers do not have benefits, job security, academic freedom, fair compensation, or the same credentials as UC faculty who teach in the “regular” programs.

Moreover, the other way that the UC thinks it can save money is by using new technologies to simply expand the size of classes and eliminate the need for the faculty: “The increased enrollment capacity possible with online for-credit courses could result in a cost-savings to campus departments. An on-ground course that enrolls 100 students may require an instructor and two teaching assistants (TAs). To teach 500 students, the department would have to offer and cover the instructional costs of offering the course five times. An online course could enroll 500 students in one offering; it may still require the same number of TAs, ten in this example, but it will save the department in instructor expenses and time.” Not only might this model save the department money, but it may also eliminate the jobs of most of the faculty members.

The fantasy underlying most of these proposals is a high-tech university staffed with high-paying administrators and exploited graduate students. With large online courses and graduate student assistants, there is no need to hire more faculty members. Furthermore, as I have stressed elsewhere, undergraduate instruction is the most cost-effective part of the university, and so instead of turning their attention to the real causes for increased costs, the administration wants to standardized the curriculum and develop system-wide courses: “UC is developing a mechanism that will easily allow UC students to take courses at campuses other than the one in which they matriculated. This cross-campus enrollment process will allow UC students to take full advantage of one of the key benefits of online courses – the opportunity to learn from experts outside their own campus.” The problem with this notion is that once departments lose their cash cows--lower-division undergrad courses--there is no need to fund these programs.

UC argues that one area of potential savings could come by lowering the need to build more classrooms: “Online courses also allow the university to enroll students without the proportional need for new capital projects. It would cost the University approximately $1.8 billion to build the brick and mortar infrastructure needed to serve 11,000 new full-time equivalent students. The online infrastructure required to support the same number of students would cost approximately $20 million, a savings of over $1.7 billion. Because online courses will not require classroom space, greater adoption of online instruction can alleviate some classroom scheduling constraints and some need for new instructional space.” This seems to make sense, unless you know that during the recent surge in UC enrollments very few new classrooms have been added. Instead, the UC spends its money building medical facilities, research centers, and dorms.

In an apparent nod to the faculty, the report does offer a way for professors to make more money: “UC will undoubtedly continue to identify how it can leverage current and evolving trends in innovative learning technology to benefit UC students and faculty. One aspect of this might be to encourage UC faculty to develop MOOCs with the various for-profit or non-profit groups while simultaneously working to develop ways to provide UC credit for MOOC students either currently at UC or with intentions to enroll at UC. This might be accomplished by developing specific exams for current or future students to take that would certify a competency appropriate for UC credit or by adding additional learning activities and instructor involvement that rounds out the MOOC experience in ways that make the totality eligible for UC course credit.” I read this passage as saying the faculty can make some extra money by selling their courses to other content providers, while the UC saves money by giving course credits for online classes developed by outside providers. So let me get this vision right: UC faculty stop teaching UC courses as UC students start getting credit for courses developed outside of the UC system; meanwhile, the remaining UC faculty could increase their earnings by selling their courses to the highest external bidder as UC courses are outsourced to other providers.

But what about quality? Here is the best line from the whole report: “The Academic Senate has established procedures and criteria at all campuses that consider the unique aspects of online courses, and the Senate’s systemwide University Committee on Educational Policy (UCEP) has established guidelines for extending the approval process to make campus-approved courses available systemwide. Early information from the Senate’s requested UCOE evaluation are that courses are successful, valued, and “high quality curriculum.” Similar evaluations of campus-produced online courses would undoubtedly yield similar results.” According to this circular logic, since the past courses have been deemed high quality, the new classes will “undoubtedly” be high quality. This line of thinking does not increase my faith in the ability of the university to maintain educational quality.

At one point, the report does recognize that virtually all of its previous predictions concerning the pilot online program have failed: “When the original marketing study was done 16 months ago, there were relatively favorable indications of interest in enrolling in UC for-credit, for-fee online courses within California, and many of the online options available now were not in place or even envisioned. For a number of reasons, development of online courses in UCOE is approximately six months behind the original schedule, but the number of course offerings that could enroll non-matriculated students for 2013-14 exceeds the original budget planning assumptions. However, projections as to the market for these courses may turn out to have been overly optimistic.” This is an understatement since we now know that UC has spent $5 million to enroll 5 students and not the planned 3,000 non-UC students. And yet, it looks like the state will bail out the UC online pilot program so they can double down on their delusional bet. We all need to educate the governor and the regents about the realities of this online venture.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Failure of Interaction: A Report from the UCLA Forum on High-Tech Higher Education

On January 8th, I participated in the forum on online education for California at UCLA. First a few ironies: the faculty presenters had to listen to four hours of non-interactive presentations before they could speak and ask questions. In other words, as the “providers” were lecturing us about how online technology allows for true interactive education to occur, they did not leave space for any interaction. Moreover, the high-tech promoters kept on having a hard time getting their PowerPoint slides to work as they criticized traditional institutions for not turning to new technologies to make education “Faster, Cheaper, and Better.” A final irony was that throughout the lectures, I noticed most of the audience, including myself, constantly checking their iPhones. Once again, as the providers were celebrating the role of new technologies in making us more focused and efficient, most of the audience was half-listening and multi-tasking.

For me the major underlying theme was that outside parties want to help make higher ed more efficient and cost-effective by taking apart these institutions. In what they call “debundling,” many of the providers discussed how one person would design a course, another person would present the course, another person would market the course, and none of these people would be involved in research, community service, or shared governance. Furthermore, the emerging business model appears to be centered on re-packaging Great courses from Great professors and selling them to other universities and colleges.

This deconstructing of the traditional institution of higher education helped to shape a possible conflict in my own interventions at the forum. On the one hand, I argued that all of this talk about MOOCs and other forms of online education is a major distraction in relation to the real cost issues facing higher education, like the reduction in state funding, and the increased costs of administration, athletics, amenities, sponsored research, and professional education. On the other hand, I added that the model of education being presented by the online providers destroys the connection between research and teaching, while it also removes universities and colleges from their central role in improving society.

The way to overcome this apparent contradiction is to affirm that we do need a holistic approach to education, but we also have to make the budgets as transparent as possible. For example, by showing how undergraduate courses in the Humanities and Social Sciences often bring in more money in tuition and state funds than they cost, we can help defend these important disciplines. Furthermore, by revealing that many research grants do not pay for the full cost of facilities, staff, and equipment, we can force grant funders to increase their support for overhead. However, if we do not do either of these things, a secret system of cross-subsidization will continue, and this will only hurt these institutions as a whole.

Another major point that I tried to stress when I talked to people at this event was that we should not compare online courses to the worst versions of our traditional courses; instead, we need to define and defend high-quality, in-person classes and hybrid forms of traditional education. In fact, what was so interesting about the forum was that many of the providers would stress that this is all about providing higher quality education, and it has to be faculty driven. When I finally got a chance to speak, I said that I have never been at a faculty meeting where a group of faculty stood up and said, let’s create a new online program and sell courses to other universities. When the providers said this is all about quality and the faculty, I heard, “this is all about reducing costs and making money.”

In a funny coincidence, the day before the forum, a series of articles was published about UC’s own online project. With titles like, “UC spends big to market its online courses — but reaches only one person,” the utter failure of the UC business model is becoming more apparent every day. What I have been told is just as UC started to market its costly online courses for non-UC students, the market was turned upside down by the explosion of free online courses. Now UC has spent $5 million on virtually one student, but we shouldn’t laugh because someone is going to have to pay for this failed experiment, and the bigger question is will UC be able to walk away from the table after it has gambled millions away on its high-tech wager?