“If you look at sub-Saharan Africa, the place where education is hardest to achieve – in the Western world, 70 percent of the students of college age are enrolled in either a two-year or a four-year program and the average years of education you can expect if you were born today in the United States is 16 years. If you were born in sub-Saharan Africa, then less than 10 percent of the kids go to any kind of college [or] any kind of post-high school, and your average years of education are eight. So there’s something I think to add to the rest of the world…And that’s a good thing for Stanford to do, it’s a good thing to do for the rest of the world, and then we can do it with relatively little cost associated with us at the end.”
- Stanford President John Hennessey, Stanford Daily, October 30, 2012.
But skeptics say the virtues of MOOCs also are emerging as vices.
“Two words are wrong in ‘MOOC’: massive and open,” Stanford President John Hennessy said in a widely noted interview with the Financial Times.
- Meghan Drake, “Old School rules! Wisdom of massive open online courses now in doubt,” Washington Times, February 9, 2014.
What’s gotten into John Hennessey? Doesn’t he want to educate the people of sub-Saharan Africa anymore? More importantly, how does the leader of the school mostly responsible for pushing MOOC mania on all of us get off being depicted in any major publication as a MOOC skeptic?
You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows and the wind has not been blowing in the direction of MOOCs for some months now. Anti-MOOC really is the new black. That’s why all the alleged “MOOC skeptics” that the Washington Times has interviewed want to mend MOOCs not end them. The MOOC don’t work ’cause the vandals took the handles, they’re essentially telling us. When we put the handles back on, everything will be right with the tsunami again.
Of course, putting the handles back on will take more time and more money. To get both, the MOOC Messiah Squad had to adopt a new tone. While it was once hip to claim that the world of higher education was about to change forever, it’s now hip to claim the exact opposite. Consider Dartmouth:
Dartmouth College recently announced a partnership with edX. Joshua Kim, director of digital learning initiatives at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, said the college is starting to add MOOC courses slowly because it “very consciously did not want to jump on the bandwagon.”
Dartmouth will add four MOOCs in the next couple of semesters, Mr. Kim said, but they will not be substitutes for and will not change regular Dartmouth courses.
“The promise of MOOCs has been overpromised,” he said.
MOOCs have been overhyped. Therefore, Kim tells us, Dartmouth’s MOOCs will be hyped just right:
“Lifelong learners will be able to take part in a Dartmouth course, but they will not receive a Dartmouth education,” he said.
Don’t call it a Dartmouth education, then nobody will get confused and everything will be OK.
You can see the same futile obsession with superficial labeling issues in Coursera’s History and Future of Higher Ed MOOC, which I’m not taking, but have been following in blogland. Here’s Tamson Pietsch and Melonie Fullick describing the assumptions behind that course:
In the framing of the course higher education is cast as something whose features ‘were designed specifically to prepare workers and leaders of the Industrial Age’ – the Fordist era of the Model T. But since public access to the internet was made available in 1993 (on April 22 to be precise) everything – so we learn – about ‘our lives, our work, our occupations, our culture and our entertainments’ has changed. Our education, it is suggested, needs to catch up.
They beat that assumption senseless in the next few paragraphs, but I couldn’t even get that far. Before I ever got there I couldn’t help but wonder how a course devoted to ending educational Fordism could assume the most educationally Fordist structure possible; namely, an xMOOC. Teach one thing. Do another. Perhaps Cathy Davidson wants higher education to evolve beyond MOOCs someday. Sadly, if you carry the hierarchical, every-student-for-themselves assumptions inherent in an xMOOC into the future you will never escape the reasons why so many caring educators oppose MOOCs in the first place.
Let’s try to make this perfectly clear to the people who are sick of the MOOC bandwagon and want to hop on the anti-MOOC bandwagon instead: The problem with MOOCs isn’t the name. Its not even the components of that acronym. The problem with MOOCs is that they’re being designed to create low-quality, hierarchical courses that can be championed by unscrupulous administrators to fire caring professors and leave unsuspecting students to fend entirely for themselves. In short, it’s not the quantity (of students), it’s the quality that’s the problem.
Cosmetic changes will not solve these problems. Only re-thinking the entire xMOOC experience from the ground up will have even the slightest chance of creating something worthwhile. Unfortunately for the get-rich-quick edtech entrepreneur crowd out there, this is unlikely to be all that revolutionary or all that profitable. This, unfortunately, will do nothing to stop them from trying to disrupt the rest of us anyway.