Normally, I have far better things to do than read the comments at Inside Higher Education, but you can’t blame me for looking when the article in question actually quotes me. Oddly enough, I think this seemingly banal complaint is quite telling:
Tom Friedman wrote. 7 educators responded. All negative.
But the topic of the article isn’t MOOCs. It’s educators’ reactions to MOOCs. On that score, the divide is 6-1. Six people (including me) have grave concerns about how they’ll effect the quality of education and conditions of employment for faculty. And then there’s this:
Margaret Soltan, an associate professor of English at George Washington University who was the first at the university to offer a MOOC, said that organizations such as the AAUP might not have any role in the conversation at the moment. “Things are too new – a few universities are only in the last year or two beginning to look into how to incorporate this activity into their professors’ lives,” said Soltan, who is also a blogger for Inside Higher Ed.
As for those professors worrying over MOOCs threatening their livelihoods, she has one word for them: relax. “Online is clearly inferior, even if done very well, [compared to] face-to-face education and to the social rites of growing up which college represents for many, many people,” she said.
Like many of you I’m sure, I’ve been reading University Diaries for a very long time. I don’t think I’d be blogging about what I’ve been blogging in this space about for months now if Margaret Soltan hadn’t gone there first. So I’ve been puzzled about how the woman who coined the term “Click-Thru U.” could be teaching a MOOC for a for-profit company.
Now I know. This can’t possibly last, she’s telling us. No student in their right mind will put up with online ed of any kind because they’ll know it’s a farce. Besides, they’ll miss the beer and football too much to sacrifice it.
But what if that’s wrong?
I understand her position because I used to believe it myself. Here’s why I’ve changed my mind: Even students who want the social aspects of college will have to settle for the online experience when they have no other choice.
Moody’s Investors Service, in a report earlier this year, said it had a favorable outlook for the nation’s most elite private colleges and large state institutions, those with the “strongest market positions” that had multiple ways to generate revenue. Ohio State, for instance, received a stable outlook from Moody’s last fall, though the report cautioned about the school’s debt and reliance on its medical center for revenue.
But Moody’s issued a negative outlook for a majority of colleges and universities heavily dependent on tuition and state revenue.
“Tuition levels are at a tipping point,” Moody’s wrote, adding later, “We anticipate an ongoing bifurcation of student demand favoring the highest quality and most affordable higher education options.”
This explains how Clayton Christensen’s prediction will come true. Students priced out of the face-to-face experience will demand online college because it’s cheaper, not because it’s better. That’s how the bad can easily push out the good.
What happens to the professors who teach students from the put upon middle class face-to-face in this scenario?
Margaret Soltan writes about so many important issues because she wants to make higher education better. I can’t believe that she won’t eventually care about the fate of soon-to-be displaced professors of all kinds too.
I only hope by that time it’s not too late.