“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”
– Attributed to American financier Jay Gould, 1886.
One of the really awesome things about being an academic is that we all share information with each other about how to do our jobs better. Some call it mentoring. Some call it the scholarship of teaching and learning. I like to think of it as the natural side effect of not working with a bunch of assholes.
Cathy Davidson tries to do this all the time over at the HASTAC blog, including online peer review of the peer-grading assignment for what would be her first MOOC. Now, I’ve already explained my attitude toward peer-grading elsewhere so I won’t pick on her again here. Besides, what I find more interesting about this post is how she hints at the Coursera superprofessor selection process. Davidson begins the post with, “I’m a finalist for teaching a Coursera MOOC next year on “The History and Future of Higher Education.” It continues later with, “If Coursera accepts the course, it will run next Spring.” This kind of competition among the “best of the best” must feel like trying to get into Yale for grad school all over again.
One of the very rude questions I keep asking about MOOCs is, “How much do superprofessors get paid?” If the ability to run your own Coursera MOOC is indeed a competition, the answer to that question is almost certainly zero. Superprofessors could still receive financial incentives from their home campuses in order to teach MOOCs, but try bargaining with a private employer when there’s a line of people waiting to get the same job. They’d have more in common with Walmart workers than they do with other professors.
If superprofessors really do work for free, why isn’t Coursera having recruitment problems? In a word: ego. Margaret Soltan has stated this flat out. For added evidence, there’s this is from yesterday’s NYT:
“I’m 70, and frankly, at my age, to reach more students in one course than I have in decades is astonishing, and I love it,” Dr. Nagy said.
That’s from an article about Harvard asking its alumni to serve as unpaid teaching assistants for an edX MOOC on the Ancient Greek Hero.
Who benefits when the professor and the teaching assistants all work for free? The MOOC provider, of course. It’s digital sharecropping at its exploitive best. Who suffers when everyone in higher education works for free? A new study offers a possible answer:
Michael A. Cusumano, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T., raises a different issue in an essay published this week: the economics of MOOCs and the implications.
His article appears in Communications of the ACM, the monthly magazine of the Association for Computing Machinery, and he had circulated a version of it earlier to his M.I.T. colleagues. After reading it, L. Rafael Rief, M.I.T.’s president, asked Mr. Cusumano to serve on a task force on the “residential university” of the future, including online initiatives.
“My fear is that we’re plunging forward with these massively free online education resources and we’re not thinking much about the economics,” Mr. Cusumano said in an interview.
The MOOC champions, Mr. Cusumano said, are well-intentioned people who “think it’s a social good to distribute education for free.”
But Mr. Cusumano questions that assumption. “Free is actually very elitist,” he said. The long-term future of university education along the MOOC path, he said, could be a “few large, well-off survivors” and a wasteland of casualties.
In other words, while a few already well-paid superprofessors get their egos stroked conducting experiments that are doomed to fail, “second- and third-tier universities and colleges, and community colleges” risk closing because Coursera and its ilk have sent higher education price expectations through the floor and systematically devalued everybody else’s work. And they get to do all this while dispensing a produuct that they know is inferior! Jay Gould would be proud.
In the meantime, thanks for nothing, superprofessors. I may not work with a bunch of assholes on my campus, but MOOCmania is starting to look like a pretty good test of whether Academia in general has enough assholes in it in order to destroy itself.
At least there’s still time for most of them to see the error of their ways.