“War!…What is it good for?”

27 08 2013

Apparently, when I wrote that “Anti-MOOC really is the new black,” I wasn’t kidding. From Inside Higher Ed (including an interview w/ yours truly):

For all the hype about massive open online courses (or in part perhaps because of the hype), the Inside Higher Ed survey found skepticism among both faculty members and technology administrators about many aspects of MOOCs. Relatively small percentages of faculty members and technology administrators appear to believe the hype or agree with some of the statements made by MOOC proponents.

For example, the proportion of faculty who strongly disagree with the statement, “MOOCs make me excited about the future of academe”: 46%. The proportion of faculty who disagree or strongly disagree with the statement, “Higher education should award credit for MOOCs”: 49%. I knew that things would end up this way eventually, I just didn’t think it would happen quite so fast. Looking at the entire survey, it appears that the hype about MOOCs has actually fed greater hostility among faculty towards online education in generally, which oddly enough makes me kind of sad.

The question then becomes what are administrators going to do about technology moving forward. I’m glad they included my bit about the distinction between MOOC providers and MOOC consumers. If somebody at Duke wants to flip their own classroom with their own lectures, then they know that their administration won’t take that classroom away from them. The same can’t be said for people at the average community college or mid-tier regional state university.

To impose MOOCs upon schools with budget problems is like forcing factory workers to train their own non-union replacements, and this isn’t going to go over very well. When I suggest a “professor-centered technological universe,” what I mean is edtech from the bottom up, not the top down. We use what works for us rather than one size fits all. Michael Feldstein of e-Literate is quoted in this same article:

“I don’t think anyone serious is going to argue that online learning is inherently better than face-to-face learning, nor do I think that anyone is going to argue that online learning is always as good,” he said. “But until we see 50 percent of faculty at least say that online learning can be as effective as face-to-face, I don’t think we can say that we’re seeing the cultural change necessary for institutions to fully embrace the value of technology.”

That culture certainly isn’t going to change wherever MOOCs are imposed by administrations unilaterally. Indeed, I would argue (and this is not a threat, it’s simple human nature) that with these levels of hostility on the part of faculty this might actually start a war. And, as the song says, that’s good for absolutely nothing.

I realize that my last two non-MOOC posts may seem a little extreme to some people, but really my labor politics aren’t radical at all. I simply believe that professors and administrators should sit down in an environment of mutual respect and work out educational issues together. It’s only extreme if you believe that the norm is for universities to be managed by administrative fiat.

Universities can’t run on hype, and they can’t run without faculty either.


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3 responses

27 08 2013
Michael Sparace

Why can’t we take the approach that online education provides a particular experience and in person provides another? This whole conversation of having online education replace traditional in person education or having MOOCs replace traditional education is nonsense to me. Each provides particular strengths and weaknesses (some more than others) to particular individuals or groups of individuals but none of them are a one size fits all.

Online education will never provide the same experience as in person. There are certain flavors that are more similar than others (say synchronous) but none replace it. Maybe, just maybe, when we perfect virtual environments to a degree that allows for full replication of the environment (I’m thinking Holodeck / full 3D virtual space) that might happen.

It really doesn’t surprise me that MOOCs are receiving such a backlash. It feels like they were trying desperately (investor pressure maybe?) to force a square peg in to a round hole. Whereas online education might become entirely equivalent to in person education given the right technology, MOOCs by definition never will be because they’re Massive and they’re Open.

27 08 2013
Michael Sparace

That should read:

Online education will never provide the same experience as in person [with current technology and in the conceivable near future].

I make a point later that perhaps it could be the same with virtual environments but this to me is a good distance off and would really mean that “online” was something different all together.

27 08 2013
Contingent Cassandra

I know someone who recently completed a Doctorate in Education (at my university, in fact, though I know her from church). After a few years with the business training side of a big-name consulting firm, has recently transferred to the higher-ed division. She was absolutely shocked at the amount of resistance/hostility she encountered from faculty on her first on-site consulting job. After talking to her for a few minutes, I began to understand why: she did, indeed, assume that universities run like businesses, and that if the bosses (the administrators) want something done, then the employees (the faculty) will be eager, or at least willing, for guidance/instruction in how to perform the task to the bosses’ satisfaction. I felt bad for her, since she’s on the front lines of a situation she didn’t create, getting flak from both sides. I was also shocked, and disappointed, that she’d made it through a Ph.D. (or perhaps Ed.D., in any case, a big-D degree explicitly focused on higher education) without learning anything about the tradition of faculty governance. I’m sure she’s also making at least half again as much as I make, and I was left wondering whether, rather than introducing her to a few home truths (the faculty with whom she works are probably going to judge her credibility more by her hands-on teaching experience, which is minimal, than by her degree, which faculty in traditional disciplines may not respect much), I should have been networking in hopes of joining her firm.

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