Divide and conquer: MOOC edition.

19 07 2012

As you all know by now, a couple of days ago Coursera announced that it has expanded to offer more classes with a dozen new research universities acting as homes to those courses. Since then, I’ve been saving links on my Twitter and Instapaper accounts which suggest exactly how this decision came to happen on some of these elite campuses:

1. Rice (via Historianess):

2. Princeton (via Tony Grafton in the comments at Historiann’s place):

But when the university joined Coursera, it was administrators, not faculty, who picked the courses to go on line. Straws show how the wind blows . . .

3. Georgia Tech (in a letter from the Provost posted by Mark Guzdial via Audrey Watters):

Over the past months, I have gathered input from faculty, students, and alumni who have new ideas about online courses and other educational technology.

[Emphasis added]

Notice how he didn’t say “the faculty?” Just “faculty.”

4. And, of course, Virginia (via Siva Vaidhyanathan):

The president and her deans had been working with a select group of faculty (I was not privy to these discussions) for many months to prepare for this move…

Why a “select” group of faculty? Coursera’s “confidentiality policy” explains that. Why would Coursera need a confidentiality policy? Perhaps it’s because faculty less inclined to become super professors might ask inconvenient questions like, “Might we better to use our university’s precious resources somewhere else?,” “How are you going to stop students from cheating?” and especially, “Do super professors get more money than the rest of us?”

Honestly, the entire concept of super professors makes me sick to my stomach. It’s not the money thing. I understand why someone might want to join the online revolution as a means of cashing in, just like I understand why some professors might actually want to become administrators. My problem has more to do with the social stratification that the entirely appropriate name “super professor” so strongly implies.

With the exception a few people who have been brutally honest about the strengths and weaknesses of teaching through MOOCs, to become a super professor demonstrates a disturbing indifference to the effect of their MOOCs on colleagues both at their own universities and elsewhere. For example, here’s Margaret Soltan of University Diaries fame writing in the comments of her own blog in a long exchange which is well worth your time:

That Udemy – like various universities – wants to monetize some of its MOOCs is none of my business.

To be fair, I’ve seen one MOOC enthusiast express much greater hostility to fellow professors in the comments to a post on this very blog. Nonetheless, if we don’t hang together we will all hang separately. If professors everywhere take the stance that MOOCs are our inevitable future and we just have to live with that, then I’m afraid they really will wipe out higher education as we know along with the jobs of most of the people currently teaching in it whether these courses are actually an improvement or not.



One response

22 08 2012

very useful post for me thanks….

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