When I told my department that Hell could freeze over and I STILL wouldn’t teach online, what I meant was that I wouldn’t teach online here because I know I wouldn’t have the freedom, time or technological support in order to do it right. There are enough professors blogging now about creating MOOCs for me to realize that dealing with an outside provider limits their freedom to create their own MOOC even more.
That said, the kind of MOOC that the multi-talented historian and University of Richmond President Ed Ayers writes about here* sounds awesome:
We call this model “generative scholarship”: It is scholarship built to generate, as it is used, new questions, evidence, conclusions, and audiences. Online courses will be ideal environments to further this kind of scholarship. Thousands of people in a MOOC or a dozen in a small class at a liberal-arts college can collaborate as they find and share new patterns and insights. Students from many backgrounds can contribute to conversations about matters of enduring consequence.
Generative scholarship need not be of immense scale and complexity. Its value comes from the meaningful integration of student involvement and the creation of new perspectives. Those goals can be produced by the close analysis of a single text as well as of a full corpus of an author’s work, by a thoughtful examination of a single episode as well as of national or international patterns. Generative scholarship, moreover, can work across all disciplines, in big-data projects in science and social science, as well as in focused humanities projects.
I’d oversee something like that, assuming anybody around here let me. Of course, I’m not holding my breath. In more amenable climes, I believe they call this kind of thing (along with many other fine ideas) the “digital humanities.” The reason the digital humanities interest me is that they wouldn’t replace face-to-face classes. Instead, they could supplement the offerings on campuses everywhere. Use technology to create new kinds of classes that can’t be done face-to-face, I say. Then give students the opportunity to do things the old way AND the new way at the same time.
Yet we could only do this right if the powers that be would let professors run the show. Unfortunately, I think the illusion that we can run the show is one of the necessary enticements to attract superprofessors in the first place. What a shame it will be when many of them gradually discover that they have a lot less power than they think they do. That shame won’t be for them, of course. They’re the “best of the best.” The shame will be for the displaced faculty members who’ll have to pay for other people’s mistakes.
* Yes, the piece was behind the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s evil paywall the first time I tried to read it. However, in a shocking display of practicality, my campus is currently testing a campus-wide online subscription to the Chronicle so I can actually read the whole thing now. Should you be one of the enormous number of “More or Less Bunk” fans at Colorado State University – Pueblo, *cough* Doug and Kristen *cough* please e-mail Rhonda immediately so that they will make this permanent, OK? If you don’t have any way to access the whole article, the national treasure known to most people as “John Fea” has excerpted more of it here.