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UC Irvine professor stops teaching online course in dispute

The UC Irvine professor stopped teaching a massive online course in microeconomics offered through Coursera over disagreements on how to conduct the free class.

February 19, 2013|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times

A UC Irvine professor has stopped teaching midway through a massive online course in microeconomics offered through the Coursera organization, saying he had disagreements on how to conduct the free class for thousands of students around the world.

The action by Richard A. McKenzie, an emeritus professor in the UC Irvine business school, highlights the uncertainties faculty face in adapting traditional face-to-face classes to the emerging universe of massive open online courses, known as MOOCs.

In his statements posted to the class website over the weekend, McKenzie appeared to be frustrated over his attempts to get the students to obtain and read as much of the textbook as possible.

"I will not cave on my standards. If I did, any statement of accomplishment will not be worth the digits they are printed on," he wrote.

The course, midway through its 10-week schedule, will continue since its lectures are already videotaped. But in chat room postings, students said they were confused over whether to stick with the non-credit Microeconomics for Managers course, one of six the UC Irvine online extension has in operation through the Coursera group.

McKenzie responded to an email inquiry Monday that the matter has been "a drain" on him and involves serious issues. In his message to the class, he wrote: "Because of disagreements over how best to conduct this course, I've agreed to disengage from it, with regret."

Gary Matkin, UC Irvine's dean of Continuing Education, Distance Learning and Summer Session, said in a statement that McKenzie is "not accustomed [as few are] in teaching university-level material to an open, large and quite diverse audience, including those who were not seriously committed to achieving the learning objectives of the course or who decided not to or could not gain access to supplemental learning materials."

Future lessons and assignments, as developed by McKenzie, will continue to be presented, Matkin said.

McKenzie, who retired from his regular faculty position in 2011, said that students "will not be left hanging" and that all assignments and discussion problems are ready to be posted as scheduled.

Under the Coursera model, much of the grading is automatic or performed by fellow students. Professors videotape lectures in advance and often comment in general on message boards without answering questions. Although enrollment is free, Coursera charges students $30 to $99 for a completion certificate.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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