I am no longer anti-MOOC.

6 06 2014

You may have noticed my general failure to avoid discussing MOOCs lately. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” Actually, that’s not an entirely accurate assessment. There’s my latest for Chronicle Vitae, which is entirely MOOC-free. And sometimes instead of writing exclusively about MOOCs these days, I find myself writing about things that are MOOC-ish (MOCs, POCs, XOCs, etc.) or, like that Academe article of mine, I write about MOOCs in a wider context of technological threats to faculty prerogatives.

The more I think about it, the more I think that this last subject is where the real battle for the future of higher education will occur. While Coursera might love to stuff MOOCs down our throats, administrators of ill will are much more likely to use a wide range of technological tools to change higher education for the worse by making most faculty irrelevant. After all, the vast majority of us are too busy or too old school to follow every little twist and turn in education technology. That’s why it should be easy to slip something by us.

Which is why I’m making this announcement: I am no longer anti-MOOC (and not just because I like DS106). Anti-MOOC is so 2013. I am now anti- “the misuse of technology to destroy higher education by usurping faculty prerogatives.” Of course, that INCLUDES the vast majority of MOOCs, but really the threat we face is so much bigger than MOOCs and their ilk.

In order to spread the word about what’s going on, I’ve decided to get my act together and take it on the road. Yes, I’ve just started working up a presentation for interested faculty everywhere (and am teaching myself Keynote in order to do it) which I’m tentatively calling, “Educational Technology, Budgetary Priorities and Academic Freedom.” Anybody interested in booking me to present this analysis for their event need only contact me at the e-mail address here on the right.

Does this mean I’m selling out? The answer to that question is, “Sort of.” If you happen to have money to pay for my services, I will accept it. However, if you are an impoverished faculty group (and of course I know the vast majority of faculty groups are very impoverished), I’ll go anywhere and speak just for expenses, just like all the speakers I know through AAUP do all the time.

PS If you need a reference, contact the nice people at the Connecticut AAUP. I had more fun speaking there last year than I ever thought possible, and all they gave me was a personalized poster (which I will treasure for the rest of my life or until I get replaced by a robot, whichever comes first).

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7 responses

6 06 2014
tom abeles

Hi Jonathan

It may be too late. The recent article in the New York Times on the internal debate at Harvard as to whether the B-school should use MOOC’s had a quote from the dean of the B-school at University of Wisconsin-Madison which lamented that the best profs were being hired by MOOC platforms. He suggested that to teach calculus you needed 4 prof’s. Three would teach in different languages and one was a “spare”. He also indicated that promotion and tenure would be rebalanced to favor teaching over pub/perish.

We need to step back understanding that this power was eroding with faculty agreement for a while. In recent times the example was when faculty willingly gave up such functions as review of students admitted to the institution and classes to administration. Next came the use of graduate students as teaching assistants (need experience) with mission creep by adding outside experts called adjuncts. Frees up time for more important academics like pub/perish. Give up a little power in exchange for “?” and so the process continues. MOOC;s are just the latest loss of power. What makes this painful is that there is a growing loss of faculty sinecure as the number of faculty needed diminishes and value of pub/perish shifts to teaching The pattern of loss has already been accepted. Clever academics!

One might also consider that many secondary school teachers have Ph.D.’s and that the administration is accepting secondary school credit towards university degrees. That, of course frees faculty from having to teach all those core freshman/sophomore courses- the ones that subsidize the higher level courses. And the State loves those dual credit programs reducing the need to support the HEI’s. Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh, My!

Some wise person once said that when you give up power it is hard to get it back.

7 06 2014
RAB

Good idea, Jonathan.
Anybody out there: DO invite Prof. Rees to speak. He has important things to say that you need to hear; he’s a good speaker; he is gracious in Q&A (I know; I’m in Connecticut…)
Tom, you are also very right. But although the “adjuncts” you describe have always been university resources, it’s the “new” adjuncts (creeping into a program near you since 1980 or so) that have changed things so deeply, the ones who carry the huge burden of the intro-level courses the specialist faculty don’t want to be stuck with (and so lay the foundation of the BA and BS without actually being part of the program). Fewer fts means fewer faculty to work in departmental or institutional governance (=loss of voice and vision in shaping the degree), fewer faculty to advise (which means at some schools the invention of non-faculty “academic advisors” who thus direct students without actually knowing them AS students in programs without actually knowing the programs or courses), an easier route to what the administration calls “flexibility” and faculty consider sudden and ill-advised shifts in structure and mission, and certainly a less effective faculty voice in contract or handbook negotiation because the administration has so many other instructional options. And yes, the ft faculty let this happen, sometimes lamenting its impact on a single semester or a single program but not, until VERY recently, taking said impact seriously as a threat to higher education as an educational enterprise.

10 06 2014
Every man his own superprofessor? | More or Less Bunk

[…] the spirit of my new anti- “the misuse of technology to destroy higher education by usurping faculty prerogatives” position, I want to discuss this Joshua Kim post about “the end of courses.” He gets […]

10 06 2014
anonymous

I think there’s a point to be made about the “why do we need more than 4 calculus teachers” argument. Both in terms of pedagogy, and in terms of learning and developing as a culture, we need knowledge to be a community–a field–rather than a preserve of a couple of experts, no matter how good they are. College education has never been about distributing ‘content’ per se; it’s always been about teaching how to create new knowledge. And you can’t do that in a field that is not, itself, developing. The loss of large numbers of jobs would be devastating to the teaching and research missions of the universities for that reason: even the ‘superprofs’ can’t be super without lots of other people grinding out new discoveries on a daily basis. Anyone who would argue otherwise simply doesn’t really care about knowledge. All they care about is selling content.

11 06 2014
dkernohan

Seems legit. Crappy MOOCs (and there are good big online open course too, as you rightly point out) are a symptom of what is happening in HE, not the cause. If you’ve not read it yet, I think you’d enjoy Brian Lamb and Jim Groom’s piece in the Educause Review which is on similar lines.

11 06 2014
“I don’t need no beast of burden.” | More or Less Bunk

[…] Consider, for example, education technology. This is where the second great article I read this morning comes into the picture. While I normally wouldn’t be caught dead reading the Educause Review (since David Noble called them out as corporate stooges about fifteen years ago), they might actually be getting better as they published this remarkable article by Jim Groom and Brian Lamb called “Reclaiming Innovation,” [h/t David Kernohan]. […]

16 06 2014
A Facebook education? | More or Less Bunk

[…] few days ago, my friend Jill suggested that I come up with a catchy acronym for my new position on MOOCs. She […]

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