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.