“You tell anyone and we’ll kill you.”

25 03 2013

Many thanks to the Edububble guy for finding the above Saturday Night Live clip. It’s been at the back of mind ever since I started blogging about online education, but I couldn’t remember enough of the details to find it myself. Hit play and you’ll see that it’s about Winston University, “located just 35 miles west of Boulder, Colorado” (which would be on top of a large mountain). Winston University takes parents’ tuition money, splits it fifty-fifty with students and only requires them to come back on Visiting Day, April 12th. The school’s motto: “You tell anyone and we’ll kill you.”

This is the development that inspired that clip’s appearance on Edububble:

It’s official: Colleges can now award federal student aid based on measured “competencies,” not just credit hours.

In a letter sent to colleges on Tuesday, the U.S. Education Department told them they may apply to provide federal student aid to students enrolled in “competency-based” programs and spelled out a process for doing so.

One way to measure these “competencies?” MOOCs, of course. While I’m mostly in agreement with the Edububble critique here, what I do object to is the title for the post, “Ka-Ching! Professors Can Skip Class Too Now!” Like any of this was the faculty’s idea. With shared governance in the state it’s in these days, there’s no way that Winston University would ever share the take with whatever faculty that might show up on Visiting Day. Nowadays, they’d just offer all their fake classes online and get rid of Visiting Day entirely.

Of course, Winston University is just the logic extension of the corporatization of higher education. While money for nothing is every university president/aspiring CEO’s dream, faculty serve as a check on these kinds of abuses. As Katherine D. Harris writes about MOOCs at San Jose State:

Do we want students to simply get through our curriculum? Or do we want them to learn?

The more contact you have with your professor, the better that professor will be able to do their job, which is to make sure that everyone in that classroom is actually learning.

But what about people who don’t care whether they’re learning or not? Aren’t plenty of people taking MOOCs because they just want access to information? Yes they are, but are their narrow interests worth letting greedy administrators destroy higher education entirely? Stephen Downes (no friend of this blog) seems perfectly content to let them do this in the short term:

MOOC success, in other words, is not individual success. We each have our own motivations for participating in a MOOC, and our own rewards, which may be more or less satisfied. But MOOC success emerges as a consequence of individual experiences. It is not a combination or a sum of those experiences – taking a poll won’t tell us about them – but rather a result of how those experiences combined or meshed together.

This may not reflect what institutional funders want to hear. But my thinking and hope is that over th long term MOOCs will be self-sustaining, able to draw participants who can see the value of a MOOC for what it is, without needing to support narrow and specific commercial or personal learning objectives.

This is what we call in American football “moving the goalposts.” If the idea of universal college education doesn’t work for everyone, then claim that that wasn’t the original goal. Or maybe that wasn’t Downes’ original goal, but there are still plenty of universities all around the world who are chomping at the bit to treat “competencies” gained through MOOCs as the exact same thing as having attended college because they are desperate to shed faculty labor costs (even though the faculty they want to shed are what make a college education valuable in the first place). Turning a blind eye to this tragedy, the MOOC Suicide Squad prefers living in a dreamworld in which students can all teach themselves everything that they need to know (and grade each other too!).

As a parent with a daughter in college right now, I can assure you that the vast majority of us will not pay thousands upon thousands of dollars to have their children’s “competencies” tested, nor will employers hire “graduates” whose sole means of demonstrating those supposed skills is a standardized test or a MOOC completion certificate, even if it’s from Harvard lite. At least the people who ran Winston University were smart enough to keep their scam secret. This scam is going to be run in front of everyone, students and parents alike, because MOOC enthusiasts have no sense of shame.

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4 responses

25 03 2013
Historiann

HA! Missed that old SNL clip from back in the day. It’s a good one.

28 03 2013
Steve Mortensen

With the amount of energy you spend decrying and fighting tooth and nail what is economically inevitable, you could actually be trying to make yourself relevant. Obsolescence must certainly be a frightening prospect to consider, especially when someone is too entrenched and myopic to actually do something about it, so I can’t say I blame you for your diatribes, but I sure wish I hadn’t wasted my time reading this.

Also, your claim of moral superiority over university administrators is adorable. Defending your own incompetence in leadership by bringing those who can lead down a notch may help you sleep better at night, so I guess I can’t blame you for that either.

Good luck finding friends in the meantime, though, and finding support when your homelessness could have been prevented by wrenching your head out of your rear end and being willing to adapt to what was obviously coming, rather than just yelling really loud about it. I’m sure, though, that if you ever decided to actually contribute to improving the quality of this online education that you obviously know so much about, your prospects might improve, as well.

4 04 2013
Some MOOCs are more inferior than others. | More or Less Bunk

[…] definitely be the latter option. After all, MOOC students will still probably be able to take a competency test and get credit […]

10 05 2013
“Warning: This is not college.” | More or Less Bunk

[…] that some college somewhere will be delighted to award credit for that certificate – at a price. [Measured "competencies" anyone?] If enough people take MOOCs on the Signature Track, there may even be a movement to demand […]

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