Category: Online learning

A Mook Takes a MOOC

I have opinions about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), but I haven’t actually taken one. Whoops. Well, today that will change when I “attend” the first day of “class” for Cathy N. Davidson’s “meta”-MOOC, “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education.”

Davidson is a professor of English at Duke University, one of the schools that has allowed Coursera to license its MOOCs to Antioch University. But she is also one of my intellectual idols, and has generally said all the right things about labor inequality in academia.

So I was surprised that she hitched her wagon to Coursera’s star, and I told her so on Twitter:

View my story “Cathy N. Davidson, Coursera, and Little Old Me” on Storify.

My thanks to Professor Davidson for engaging with me, and for clarifying that she will not permit Coursera to farm her MOOC out to poorer universities. She is refusing to abdicate responsibility for how her educational materials are used. Let’s hope other “superprofessors,” including her Duke colleagues Roger Barr and Mohamed A. Noor, follow her lead.

Anyway. Consider me ready to (attempt to) learn.

Shoulder Devil / Shoulder Angel

How appropriate that these two articles were published on the same day:

  1. The Amazon of Higher Education: How Tiny, Struggling Southern New Hampshire University Has Become a Behemoth,” Slate (January 2, 2014)
  2. Full-Time, Structured Program at CUNY Yields More Community-College Grads,” Chronicle of Higher Education (January 2, 2014)

Once a small liberal arts school, Southern New Hampshire University recently found success by expanding and corporatizing its online division, and by taking advantage of its non-profit status to undercut for-profit degree mills like the University of Phoenix.

The focus is on graduating students, not on educating them. Instruction is carried out by what Slate calls “a small army of adjuncts hired for as little as $2,200 a class.” These adjuncts aren’t expected to facilitate learning, to shepherd their students toward knowledge of self and other. No, their main task is to “swoop in” when SNHU’s digital watchdog pings them and reports that one of their charges hasn’t logged in lately. “The instructor is just there to deliver the content,” explained the head of the online division to Slate. He apparently did not go on to say, “I know that’s messed up.”


“From the survey results…”

From the survey results, a clear portrait emerges: MOOCs, at least thus far, are serving the world’s haves more than its have-nots. A disproportionate number of MOOC students are already well-educated. Globally, they’re predominately male and currently employed; in this country, they’re also older than you might expect. Far more enrollees view them as a diversion than they do as a means to a college degree or a new job.

~ The New Republic, confirming what Sebastian Thrun has already acknowledged

An Ethics of the Seminar Table

I have a lot to learn. I’m not an expert, and maybe never will be; I’m sure my views will change. But right now, I don’t like what’s happening to teaching and learning in higher education.

Public funding is drying up. Tuition is rising. The tenure track is disappearing. And corporations, backed by venture capital, have smelled blood.

In the past couple of years, Coursera and edX and Udacity have partnered with wealthy institutions and begun to develop MOOCs (massive open online courses), which they are now licensing to less wealthy institutions as cheap replacements for homegrown courses. The end-game: lower instructional costs at public universities, fewer tenured professors, higher percentages of contingent faculty.

Like many other academics, I see this kind of corporatization as a threat to college classrooms. Students without the resources to attend a private school should be able to take courses designed specifically for them – courses conceived and delivered by full-time, on-site researchers and instructors.