“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.
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?