Friday, August 30, 2013

MOOCs and Books: Spanning the Digital Divide

As those of you who have followed my blog for awhile know, I post just before the start of a new semester about my upcoming classes and ways in which you can, if you so desire, be part of the experience.  In just under a week, on September 4, I will start the fifty first iteration of my valuation class to the second year MBAs at the Stern School of Business at New York University.  I am just as excited today, as I was when I taught my first version of this class in the 1980s, and I have learned and continue to learn about valuation, each time I teach this class.

Looking back, though, I am struck by both how little and how much technology has changed my classes over the last three decades. The place where there has been the least change is in the classroom, where, as an old fashioned lecturer, my requirements have remained constant: a podium (though I hardly ever stand behind one), a working microphone and a willing/curious audience. I still prepare for classes, exactly the way I did for my very first class, running through the lecture in my head and getting my narrative in place. The slides I use may look slightly more polished than the hand written slides I used twenty five years ago and the projectors may be brighter & sleeker, but they remain props that I can live without. It is true that I have to compete for the attention of my stiudents against more powerful distractions (as tablets, smartphones and computers stay propped open), but that is a challenge I relish (and sometimes lose).  

So, what has technology changed? First, it has given me richer ways of explaining the nuts and bolts of number crunching to those who are interested. Last semester, I put a series of webcasts on valuation/corporate finance practice (from creating trailing 12-month financials, converting leases to debt, computing implied equity risk premiums). Second, it has allowed me to roam the world without leaving the confines of my office. Today, I used Skype Premium to give a two-hour live talk on teaching to a group of freshly minted doctoral students in Hyderbad, India, where they were able to see me (and my presentation) and interact. Third, it has allowed me to package the classroom experience and offer it to a much wider audience. This semester, as in the last few, I will be putting my valuation class online, with nothing held back. In the 26 sessions, starting September 4 and ending December 13, I will try to package and present through everything I know or have learned about valuation, while also revealing to you the great deal that I have left to learn. The class is meant for second year MBAs but if you have the basics of accounting, like working in the numbers and are willing to put in the time, you should not find it too steep a climb. If you so desire, you can watch every lecture, review every slide, do every exam/project and even read every email I send the class. There are three forums you can use:

My site: 
Entry requirements: None. There should be no password required to watch the webcasts or download material. 
Description: If you have a computer and a decent broadband connection, you can use the link above to access all of the resources that my regular class has access to. The slides are posted at the top of the page (and are downloadable) and the sessions will be posted sequentially as I teach them. You can watch them in one of three ways:
  1. If you don't want large video files (125-200 MB) inhabiting your computer, you can stream them from the NYU server. (Warning: The files are big and can hang up, if your connection is slow).
  2. If you don't mind downloading the files on to your computer, you can download the video file (usually in mp3 format) and watch it either in your browser or later on your media player of choice. 
  3. If you prefer just an audio file, you can download the lecture in just audio format and then use the slides that you have downloaded to supplement the lectures.
With each session, I will list (and you can download) the slides that I used for the session, the pre-class test that I usually start each session with and a post-class test that you can take, if you want to see if you "get" the material from the session.

Entry requirements: Once on the site, click on Join your course, and enter the code DMR44Z. It will let you audit the class.
Description: Lore is an online education company that I have used for more than two years now which marshals what is on my website into more bite-sized and organized pieces. As with the website, you will be able to watch the lectures through Lore and download the slides. One advantage that Lore has is that is has a discussion board where you can can post questions (or answer them) and articles/news for discussion.

iTunes U: (Link works only from Apple device, not computer).
Entry requirements: An Apple iPad or iPhone with the iTunes U app (free) installed, An Android tablet/phone with the Tunesviewer app (free). First, download the iTunes U app on to your device. Then, click on the link above from your device. Alternative, click on Catalog, and then click on the ENROLL button at the bottom of the Catalog page and enter J7R-DK5-BM3 when prompted.
Description: This is the latest addition to my online choices and it has the smoothest interface. The lectures open up on your iPad and the lecture notes and tests can be viewed on the device as well. The best (and worst) feature of the iTunes U version is that it sends you a notification when something is added to the class; this can of course be irritating and you can turn it off.

I know that some of you are wondering why I am not using Udacity, Coursera or EdX to put my lectures online, but there are two impediments. The first is that will require agreement at the university level, which I cannot (and have no desire to) force. The second is that these entities have their own long term interests to think about (which I respect) but those interests may not be congruent with yours and mine.

I know that some of you have started on my class, in earlier semesters, with the intent of finishing but life has got in the way. If you feel up to it, give it another shot and see if you can get a little further this time. Remember also that while the classes will be posted as they occur, the webcasts and material will stay online for a year and you can catch up over time. In fact, for those of you who prefer to see the complete packaged version of the entire class, my classes on corporate finance and valuation from the spring are on iTunes U as well in archived form:
Archived Corporate Finance class (Spring 2013)
Archived Valuation class (Spring 2013)

In my other avatar, I like writing about what I teach, and just as technology is delivering change (often disruptive) to the education business, it is starting to make itself felt in the publishing business. A few months ago, I finished my second edition of one of my books on investments (Investment Philosophies) and as I readied the e-Book version, I realized how little I was using the power of technology, since the eBook was nothing more than the onscreen version of my physical book. Consequently, my publisher (John Wiley & Sons), Symynd (a company that carried my valuation class online last semester) and I got together a few months ago on new project, where we tried to expand the digital reach for the book by combining it with the key aspects of an online class. Since I have always wanted to teach the investment philosophies class (and have never had a chance to do so), I was on board, and created 38 webcasts (about 15 minutes apiece), tied to chapters in the book. The bundled product, containing the book, webcasts, slides and post-class exercises, is now available on Symynd's website. The book/course costs $75, but you can get it for $45 until September 16, 2013, if you enter the promo code PROMO75.  Since the book alone costs about the same, you can think of the course as being icing on the cake for free. In the next few months, Symynd/Wiley/I are planning to do the same with my applied corporate finance and valuation books. If you are budget constrained and are unable to spend the $45, I have created both an online version and an iTunes U course around the webcasts, slides and exercises. It is not as polished as the Wiley/Symynd version and it does not come with the book, but it does provide the essence of the class.

I consider myself lucky to be in two businesses, education and publishing, that are in the midst of disruptive change. For those in both businesses who are defenders of the status quo, the change that is coming will threaten many long standing (and indefensible) privileges including tenure, bundling and lack of accountability. For the rest of the world, though, who have have had to shell out outlandish amounts of money as college tuition and to pay absurd sums for "new" editions of college text books, I hope that the change delivers much needed good news (and power).