“[T]his fabulous bandwagon.”

30 05 2013

“Somehow,” writes John Maxwell at Publishing@SFU:

the hype around MOOCs has led us to the point where all critical sensibilities about learning, pedagogy, curriculum, student experience, privacy, research, and the role of Universities in democratic society has been thrown out the window, in favour of this fabulous bandwagon.

While this is not an original idea, it is a very well-worded one. Especially after today’s big announcement, it appears that MOOCs are poised to take over the higher education world. This is no accident, because, as Aaron Bady has suggested:

MOOC’s only make sense if you don’t think about it too much, if you’re in too much of a hurry to go deeply into the subject.

The cynical among us do not expect administrators to think too much about remaking their universities for the age of permanent austerity. What has gone less-noticed, however, is that the faculty at the elite universities who aren’t rushing to become superprofessors aren’t supposed to think much about MOOCs either.

Let’s start with Harvard. While I’m not offering Harvard an apology for writing this, I am nonetheless gratified to see that some of my colleagues there think that preying upon other peoples’ livelihoods is at least a subject worthy of discussion. From the Chronicle story about the Harvard faculty letter at that last link:

But, perhaps more immediately, the professors were irked that Harvard had become so deeply involved in MOOCs before consulting with them, said [Professor of German Peter J.] Burgard.

“It was presented to us as a fait accompli in the fall, and the first time we had a chance to ask questions about it was in the winter,” he said.

Questions, of course, might run the risks of slowing down this fabulous bandwagon.

Think it’s just humanities professors who have concerns about MOOCs? Consider the computer scientists at Georgia State who aren’t jumping to make $2500 per course they don’t teach in their new MOOC-like master’s program:

The report also says there were “significant internal disagreements” about whether its new offering was the correct approach for the future of higher education — even though multiple Georgia Tech administrators have tried to portray the decision as having significant faculty support.

That way, the administrators can make it look like Georgia Tech still has shared governance, even if MOOCification tears a giant hole in it. After all, they couldn’t let anything slow down this fabulous bandwagon.

Finally, let’s go to today’s announcement. I actually heard about MOOCs at CU-Boulder from one of my tweeps last night. Since he tweeted it and sent me the early on-campus announcement via-email, I’m going to share the part of that message that actually surprised me:

Coursera’s requirement that universities keep the contract negotiations confidential limited our ability to communicate with you until now.

[emphasis added]

That’s right, shredding shared governance is part of Coursera’s business plan. Sure there might be some faculty involved in negotiations, but if word got out to any of those crazy professors outside of business or CS with their obviously communistic ideas about maintaining educational quality, it might slow down this fabulous bandwagon.

The worst part of all this is that the lack of discussion is only just beginning. If you think MOOCs shredding shared governance is a problem at universities that are producing them, just imagine how bad it’s going to get at the universities that will be using that product. What’s going to happen when your provost starts paying to license Coursera’s content, and you don’t want to use it? Sure, they’ll say that you control your own course, but will your adjuncts and your untenured colleagues be able to withstand the pressure? At San Jose State, they moved a philosophy class to the english department to make sure it gets used. Why? Because they could and because they didn’t want to slow down this fabulous bandwagon.*

The San Jose State philosophy department is the canary in the coal mine. It will die. Most of our leaders will want us to enter the mine anyway. Agreeing to your own obsolescence is professional suicide. Do not let this fabulous bandwagon turn you into roadkill.

* I’ve seen a bunch of people claim that MOOCs are the least of any professor’s problems if there’s no shared governance on their campus. They believe our MOOC future is inevitable. We want to talk about it. If it’s inevitable, then talking about it won’t hurt, will it? Or is talking about it the real threat here?




14 responses

30 05 2013
Cooking with Clio

I imagine the administrators at my university are negotiating secretly as I type…

30 05 2013

NM is in, quoting UNM Today, “it simply gives UNM a seat at the table with other public flagship universities and systems as this fast developing medium grows.” I wonder how many buying in at this table did due diligence first. Are they aware of house odd?

30 05 2013

The “contract offer” that put the University of Bridgeport faculty on the streets in 1990 contained, perhaps primary among its many educational and professional abominations, a “Management Rights” clause that reserved to the “management” the right to “assign teaching methods and materials.” When our negotiating team suggested that principles of academic freedom and shared governance were being shredded in that phrase, we were assured that the administration “would never really interfere in the classroom–it’s just boilerplate.” Oh yeah? MOOCs are is exactly the kind of “opportunity” administrations want to be free to seize, and seize they will. Because, it was also pointed out to us, faculty couldn’t be trusted to make academic judgments because they have a “vested interest in the university,” whereas administrators are, presumably, objective, clear-sighted, and wise.

30 05 2013

Please edit above to assign only one verb to MOOCs. I actually don’t care if you choose “are” or “is”: either can be defended. Clearly I subconsciously wanted it both ways.

30 05 2013
MOOC my day | MOOC Madness

[…] “[T]his fabulous bandwagon.” “Somehow,” writes John Maxwell at Publishing@SFU: the hype around MOOCs has led us to the point where all critical sensibilities about learning, pedagogy, curriculum, student experience, privacy, research, and the role of Universities in democratic society has been thrown out the window, in favour of this fabulous bandwagon. Share […]

31 05 2013
Contingent Cassandra

Given my handle, I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that real faculty governance of curriculum (i.e. determination of said curriculum by the people who teach the majority of sections of a course under average conditions) was already teetering on the windowsill, if not out the window altogether, in the sort of large courses most MOOCs are designed to replace, due to the widespread use of contingent faculty who don’t have service as part of their duties (and in some cases don’t have the right to vote in faculty bodies; in others cases, including my own, we have the right to take part in many such decisions, but little time or structural support for doing so. Protesting/voting against decisions made through much hard work at the committee level when they reach the department/faculty meeting level isn’t really a very effective way to participate in decision-making, nor does it endear one to one’s colleagues). I’m horrified that the San Jose English department agreed to teach a course that belongs in the Philosophy department, but also aware that, if they’d said “no,” the administration might just have created a new entity (honors/innovative learning college, online learning office, whatever) to host the course, and assured that its courses would fulfill a key requirement or two. That is, after all, all it takes — and it only takes a willing Ph.D. or two to serve as administrator(s)/instructors of record, and an army of adjuncts, to get the ball rolling.

As someone who’s never felt that she had a real role in faculty governance/determination of curriculum, this whole thing makes me feel a bit like someone who knew perfectly well that there was a wolf pack threatening my growing corner of the university, but couldn’t get the TT faculty to listen. But/and the fact that there were preexisting conditions making it easier to drive the last few nails in the coffin of faculty governance doesn’t make it any less scary.

(This seems to be my morning for mixed metaphors. So be it.)

31 05 2013
Jonathan Rees


Yeah, I get it. 76% of faculty don’t participate in governance now (with very few exceptions – CU is one of them). Having only 1% of faculty participate in government though would be even worse.

31 05 2013
Contingent Cassandra

True. My solution would be more decent jobs (TT or at least very closely resembling traditional TT job in their salaries, mixes of responsibilities, including service/governance, etc.). But I do increasingly find myself mentally reciting “first they came for the . . . .” when I hear TT colleagues complain about their deteriorating conditions of employment (and deteriorating they are, and not, I fear, only because of the recession). There seems to be very little awareness that they helped create the very positions that are now undermining the worth of their own — often, at least at our school, in exchange for reduced course loads, which were meant to support research, but have also resulted in more administrative duties that eat into that research time, not to mention pressure to find ways to teach courses even more “efficiently” — including, yes, MOOC mania. In the long run, it really doesn’t pay for faculty — especially faculty in disciplines that don’t bring in much in the way of grant money — to devalue teaching, in word or deed. Superprofessors may be somewhat insulated, but only as long as they *are* superprofessors, and a very small number of people can count on maintaining that status throughout a career.

31 05 2013
David Sullivan

It is amazing that thought and discussion are the two things least likely to occur on a college campus today. But there you have it.


Cheers, Jonathan! My reblogging days are almost over.

2 06 2013
Business as usual | Music for Deckchairs

[…] This Fabulous Bandwagon (Jonathan Rees) […]

5 06 2013
This is how MOOCs end… | More or Less Bunk

[…] providers and universities working together. So what’s Coursera doing? Trying its best to cut most faculty members out of the discussion. This actually makes sense as I can’t see any reason why people like me would ever do more […]

15 06 2013
What is “higher education”? | The Solace of Lowered Expectations

[…] are slated to transform it, once corporations like Coursera decide how to “monetize” Massive Open Online Courses and once they figure out how to polish the rough assessment edges on peer review as a way of […]

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