Divide and conquer.

30 10 2012

You probably saw the news yesterday that Antioch College will be paying Coursera so that they can offer MOOCs directly for credit. This makes sense for a school coming back from a near-death experience as it allows them to build academic infrastructure quickly, but what I find more interesting is this paragraph from the IHE story:

If Coursera does manage to make money through content licensing, it could create monetary incentives for professors at the company’s partner universities who might be considering whether adapting their courses as MOOCs would be worth their while. “The faculty member would see a portion of the revenue,” says Lynne O’Brien, director of the center for innovative teaching at Duke. “When Coursera makes money, we’ll make money, and when we make money, the faculty member will make money.”

Sounds great, unless you’re part of the market that Coursera is trying to penetrate. How many positions will Antioch College not be filling because they’ll be borrowing someone else’s superprofessor to teach their students? Imagine that we’re dealing with a public school facing budget cuts. How many humanities departments will end up being outsourced to MOOCs?

As long as higher education remains a dog-eat-dog world, then every dog will eventually go hungry. This is a function of allowing market forces to dictate terms instead of the quality of education. Teach online at a university that charges tuition? How long can you get paid for that if students can take MOOCs for free? If you teach a MOOC now, how long will it be until you get replaced by another superprofessor willing to do it for less, or even by your own tapes if you can’t keep exclusive rights to your material? Even technophiles can be replaced.

In the meantime, those of us who teach the way that universities have always operated fight like cats and dogs over table scraps. Adjunct faculty live this life every day. The tenured and tenure-track among us will soon face straits that dire unless we object to these kinds of arrangements before they become established norms. If you won’t do it for yourself, then think of the future. When MOOCs become the only option for students without means, every American will suffer because only the rich wIll be able to afford the quality education that our universities once provided.




4 responses

30 10 2012
Contingent Cassandra

There’s still the very real question of how (and whether) students will develop the skills traditionally taught in and through humanities courses: writing, critical reading/thinking, etc. Those require practice, and someone skilled to closely guide and evaluate (not just grade) the practice, whether it takes place through formal or informal writing, written or oral discussion, or some other means. The “massive” part of MOOCs seems to preclude that, unless and until someone hires enough skilled labor to provide the guidance/feedback, at which point we’re back where we started, with the recorded lectures (with or without pauses for comprehension-check questions) playing much the same role as a good textbook does in a traditional class.

30 10 2012

Actually I think the universities of today are the problem. Already only the rich can afford a college education (or at least the upper middle class). That is why MOOC’s appear so tempting. They provide a way to educate the other 70% that don’t go to college now. I suspect even more people are giving higher education a pass these days as they don’t want to be in hock for the rest of their lives.

Anyway, no one has yet found a way to stop technology once it gets started and I suspect all education will be computer-based soon enough. If you’ve read any science fiction you will know what is coming. We are going through a period of intense change and that always causes problems for those living through it.

30 10 2012
Barbara Sullivan

Re: Antioch’s “near-death experience”–I think you mean Antioch College, which severed itself completely from Antioch University and reopened last year with thirty-five students and six faculty. The corporate model has propelled Antioch University from the 70s, so this MOOC move doesn’t surprise me; Antioch College alumni bought back the College–its campus, history and values–from the University because of that difference. Or it’s possible that I’m uninformed and the University was/is also in trouble–but I think they were just going to jettison Antioch College’s campus in Ohio, which dates back to Horace Mann, because it didn’t feed the bottom line like the “university without walls” model. In fact, after they closed the College, and before alumni bought it back, the University neglected the campus to the point that buildings were ruined because no one turned the water off in the winter, and they flooded. That they are moving toward a “university without teachers” model seems consistent with the mindset.

30 11 2012
Bubbles, bubbles everywhere. « More or Less Bunk

[…] which would then take a cut of those payments itself, strikes me as a bubble of a different kind. They have to make money somewhere, so they’ll do […]

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