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Leaking out of the MOOC

A month or so ago I signed up for a basic course on how to play guitar offered by the Berklee music school.

The course was to include six lessons taught by a professor at the school.

It was offered online. And it was free of charge.

I attended exactly two of the classes, then walked away.

Why?

Well, I knew the material. I've been playing guitar since I was a sophomore in high school.

Second, I was going to have to play some music, then send it to the professor via the Internet, and I didn't want to mess with doing that.

I have no idea how many other people signed up for the Berklee course and no idea how many dropped out.

But, I am betting that I was not alone by a long shot.

Turns out that research shows that MOOCs are hugely popular -- at the outset.

Just recently, six professors from MIT and Harvard published a report in "Research & Practice in Assessment," a professional journal, in which they state that at least one MOOC that they studied was a massive flop.

The course, called "Circuits and Electronics," began in March 2012, the first MOOC developed by edX, the online consortium led by MIT and Harvard. The course ended in June 2012. More than 154,000 students signed up to take this course online.

Of that number 24,000 tried the first problem set. About 10,000 made it to the mid-term exam. And 7,-000 finished the course and earned certificates.

That is a completion rate of less than 5 percent.

Whoa!

The researchers indicate that this is a problem for all MOOCs.

Makes me feel better. A little.

And some have way more than one

My grandsons and my daughter spent the weekend with my wife and me.

At least their bodies were at our house in Wimberley.

Their minds were far, far away.

Both spent most of their time on the couch doing things on their iPads.

The boys are 14 and 9.

That's right, each one has an iPad.

And their mom has an iPhone.

She doesn't have an iPad or a Kindle ... yet. But, she will. She has returned to college, and she anticipates needing one to download texts and other materials.

The oldest grandson says he will use his in the fall because the school district is going to e-textbooks.

Wow. How the world has changed in just the last three years.

Back in those dark days of 2010, only 3 percent of American adults owned a tablet computer.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project reported today that right now about 34 percent of adults own a tablet.

Doesn't say how many kids, a lot of whom are getting iPads or Kindles through their schools. (My daughters says the Clear Lake school district patrons approved a bond issue to help buy iPads for every child.)

I'm not complaining, actually. If the boys hadn't been on their iPads, they would have been gone anyway -- playing outside, watching TV, reading. They don't suffer their grandparents kindly.

That's just kids.

--Carroll Wilson, circulation librarian

Trial will tell

The American-Statesman is reporting today that an anti-trust trial is starting in New York against Apple, among others.

The government contends Apple conspired with publishers of e-books to set prices.

No doubt.

I don't know whether Apple was an instigator, but I do know that there's something very funny about e-book pricing, especially how high those prices are.

I've written about my dismay over the cost of an e-book in this space before, but did not know at the time about this lawsuit.

The government is right to go after the big boys in publishing and Apple, if the evidence points in that direction, because the reading public has definitely been and continues to be ripped off.

Amazon started setting prices at $9.99 for e-books. That was certainly not low, given the cost of "publishing" an e-book. But, now a lot of e-books offered by Amazon and others are priced at much higher rates than that.

There's just no justification for those prices.

That's not what the government case is about, but maybe it should be.

Who's calling whom?

Since all of my children were under our wings before anyone ever heard of a smartphone, I wasn't faced with THAT challege.

So I have wondered how parents of children handle today's communications devices.

I found out last weekend as I spent time with my grandchildren in the Houston area.

My 13-year-old, seventh-grade granddaughter has a smartphone, one far more expensive to operate than anything I own. She got it, according to her mother, with the understandintg that every once in awhile my daughter or her husband would go through the cell phone and look at what had been sent, received and texted. My daughter told me that's the arrangement most of her friends have with their kids.

She has carried through with the threat, too, and has found that seventh-grade boys will say and do the most alarming things, something I could have told her right up-front. Boys of all ages do quite alarming things.

Nevertheless, I'm glad this arrangement has been worked out amicably.

But, it is so very disconcerting that our government doesn't trust its adult citizens enough to refrain from being Mommy and Daddy and violating our constitutional rights while at it.

Wacky pricing

Just in general, I don't understand how books are priced by publishers.

I haven't a clue why a hardback version of a best-seller might cost $30 at the store and online, but the e-book version is $10. How do they come up with that?

We just received the new Bernan catalog. Bernan publishes government books, like "The Social Security Handbook" and the CIA's "World Factbook."

And I really have a hard time understanding Bernan's pricing.

That "Social Security Handbook," for example, is priced at $69, and it is 715 pages. That is about 10 cents a page. The "World Factbook" is also 10 cents a page or $83 for 850 pages.

But, get this: "The Almanac of the Unelected 2013: Staff of the U.S. Congress" is 49 cents a page or $299 for 715 pages. What?

"The Budget of the U.S. Government Fiscal Year 2014," whch is what the president proposes, is 232 pages in length with a price tag of $39 or 17 cents a page.

And "Washington Representatives Spring 2013," which is the "pre-eminent source for information on the individuals and firms in the Washington, D.C., area," is 13 cents a page or $269 for 2,014 pages.

The "Social Security Handbook" is available in an e-book version. But the price is $68.99, compared to, as I mentioned above, $69 for the paperback.

Does any of this make sense?

-- Carroll Wilson

Circulation Librarian