“You may say to yourself, ‘My God, what have I done?'”

30 04 2013

The Chronicle of Higher Education has become the trade paper for people who want to carve up the jobs of professors like a Thanksgiving turkey. How do I know this? They published this chart for the same reason that Fortune publishes the Fortune 500: to flatter its most powerful readers.* Thinking about it, I can’t say that I blame them. After all, they’re not going to make any money catering to the interests of professors. We’re a dying breed – dinosaurs in the age of Massive Open Online Courses.

Well, maybe some of us are. This kind of talk, for example, drives me to drink:

MOOCs aren’t trying to replace university education. MOOCs provide additional benefits (in terms of access, low commitment, and teaching practice) that can be used alongside traditional teaching, or as a general education resource.

Yes, MOOCs can be used alongside traditional teaching, but will they? Have you seen that chart I just linked to above? What makes anybody think that any of those giant corporations and VCs are ever going to be content investing millions in just another educational tool? That’s not how capitalism works.

That’s probably why the Chronicle seems Hell-bent on convincing all of us non-super professors that resistance is futile. Most of the writers in their current explosion of MOOC articles take the “let the nice warm water wash over you” approach to getting faculty to let their guard down.** Only Karen Head, an untenured assistant professor and my new hero, explains the possible ramifications of this attitude:

Will you be able to publicly express your concerns if something about your MOOC seems pedagogically unsound? If your university doesn’t have the technological capacity to support you, will you have to solve the problems yourself? Who will pay your video-production costs? (Our MOOC has spent $32,000 on production so far.) Will you be able to challenge administrators who want to control your content? Will you be forced to submit to evaluation schemes that would allow your course to carry credit?***

Now suppose you’re a tenured superprofessor. What are you going to do if you’re unhappy with the MOOC experiment? What if you’re one of the 72% of superprofessors who don’t think your MOOC is worthy of credit, but you don’t have the shared governance arrangements to do what the faculty at Duke just did and say no? What do you do if MOOCs really do turn out to be crappy classes that you’re ashamed to be associated with?

You go back to your elite, tuition-paying students, of course.

But where does that leave the rest of us? I think that’s why the Chronicle is trying to convince us to lay down our arms now. It’s still early enough to sound the alarm in most disciplines before a consensus that an automated education is acceptable forms. [I still know of only two major MOOCs run by historians.] By the time those superprofessors with an ounce of dignity and even the slightest sense of solidarity all say to themselves, “My God, what have I done?,” it really will be too late for the rest of us. We’ll be unemployed, the MOOC providers will simply find another Ph.D. frontperson for whatever they want to call higher education and ordinary students will be left holding the bag.

* Except for Cathy Davidson, whose reaction to being included on that chart is more like, “I don’t support MOOCs. I just enable them.”

** Most of these links are subscription only.

*** Here’s another part of that (subscription only) Karen Head article that I didn’t see excerpted anywhere yesterday:

Days before enrollment opened for our course, one of our IT specialists advised me to change my public e-mail address because there is a good chance that some students may try to reach me outside the course platform. This has the potential of overloading my inbox, making my regular university duties harder to manage. This conversation quickly led to a consideration of other potential privacy issues. Might students call me at work? What if a local student decided to come to my office at Georgia Tech? What about my general privacy and personal safety? Those were questions I had never considered. Suddenly this adventure had a darker element.

I hope the worst outcome is the sobering, hourlong conversation I had with the chief of Georgia Tech’s campus police. The director of security for my building suggested that I temporarily move my office to a more secure location, in a different building on the campus. I had decided that all of this was ridiculous until some unknown person began repeatedly calling me. He refused to leave messages, saying only that the call was in reference to MOOCs, and he pressed my staff to give out my personal mobile number.

Seriously, who wants to be a superprofessor?


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3 responses

30 04 2013
Norm Matloff

CHE is clearly aimed at administrators. (I’m a subscriber in spite of that.)

We had a mini-forum on MOOCs at my university last week, by the way, http://wheel.ucdavis.edu/2013/04/mooc-faculty-panel/ It’s a pro-MOOCs group, but I managed to survive.🙂

1 05 2013
Vanessa Vaile

check #acadmooc tag, starting with yesterday’s twitter chat session ( 7pm MST) with Brian Alexander

6 09 2013
Why Coursera and Udacity are the worst things that ever happened to MOOCs. | More or Less Bunk

[…] at elite institutions and elsewhere. I sometimes question Cathy Davidson’s judgement on this blog, but she’s absolutely right when she argues […]

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