The key word here is “voluntarily.”

4 09 2013

Last night, about two hours after I finished my previous post, a question popped into my mind. I tweeted it:

This morning, I thought I’d write this up formally. I want to find professors with Ph.D.s and tenure track jobs in any discipline who actually want to flip there classrooms with other people’s MOOC content. Even someone who’s tenure-track but not tenured would be a fascinating case study.

The reason I have these caveats is because I think this is all about power. To be certain this is entirely voluntary, the MOOC consumer would have to have complete control over their own classroom, then willingly give some of that control up. I think it’s no coincidence that the first superprofessor conscientious objector is a sociologist. You can say a lot of things about sociologists, but everybody should be in agreement that sociologists understand power.

This is not a “gotcha!” question. If these people are out there, I’d like them to come by and explain their rationales. In the same way that you can learn about labor relations from happy Walmart workers (and there certainly are some), I think we can learn something about academia from voluntary self-unbundlers. If the above description applies to you, please share in the comments below.



7 responses

4 09 2013
David Kernohan (@dkernohan)

There’s a parallel to debates around OER use in classrooms, or even the use of textbooks. Why would an academic want to to use the work of someone else to compliment their own teaching? There are many reasons.

The MOOC issue complicates things because you are beholden to someone else’s timetable – it’s not possible to get your class to watch just one week of a MOOC, or weeks out of order because it fits your course structure better. Because, you know, userdata == $$$ and other related LOLs. But setting accessible alternate sources of information as pre-seminar knowledge-acquisition. is as old as the printing press. We just had more self-respect than to call it things like “flipped” in the old days.

4 09 2013
Jonathan Rees


I heard the textbook parallel last night too on Twitter and it doesn’t work. A text is something that teachers can build upon, analyze or interpret. MOOC lectures, like movies, seem like “The Word of God” because the professor is a superprofessor teaching thousands at once and only the most dedicated students will go back and watch them again in order to catch the nuances.

I also think that Coursera’s intention was to break that sociology MOOC into pieces, rather than license the whole thing.

4 09 2013
Jen (@injenuity)

I mentioned text books on Twitter. Teachers and students can build upon, analyze and interpret recorded lectures. Why would anyone interpret them as ‘The Word of God?’ We should be encouraging students to evaluate and question all media. When my faculty question the quality of YouTube or Wikipedia, I suggest they have students take responsibility for evaluating the validity. We’ve seen many examples of professors correcting KA videos. Why not put students in groups to tear apart superprofessor lectures in Myth Buster-style projects? Ask students to prove whether the lectures hold water. We wouldn’t want them to passively listen to our own lectures. Why would we expect that of MOOC lectures?

4 09 2013
Jim Fowler

Bowen makes a similar point on page 56 of Higher Education in the Digital Age: “No one wants to give someone else’s speech”

Maybe faculty want to write their own speeches, but I doubt they want to write their own word processors. I want more reusable components, like textbooks, video editors, exercise generators, etc. So my MOOCs are open source, and others can, and are already, borrowing pieces from them. Code I wrote for the Calculus MOOC was reused by an English writing MOOC and an urban planning MOOC; our content is being used by high schools and in flipped sections of calculus taught at OSU by other instructors.

It is all about power, but open source technology is hugely empowering. We build our Calculus One MOOC on the reusable work of lots of other people, including Khan Academy’s exercise code, Guichard’s open textbook, MathJax and MathQuill to handle output and input of math, and a ton of ruby code. Even the video editing was done using open source tools.

Everything’s available in repositories on GitHub. Calculus One is available at and Calculus Two is available at

4 09 2013

No takers yet on your offer of a platform to explain their rationales for flipping their classrooms?

What a surprise. But the day is young out here in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, no?

14 09 2013

I actually know more than one, but when I broached them with this offer, they did not want to take you up. The reason is simple– you’ve not exactly come across as neutral on this topic (putting it mildly). They can reply to your post on Twitter or here, but the response they anticipate from you is public ridicule along the lines of “What the **** is wrong with you, and why do you hate your students and colleagues?” From their standpoint, “No thank you.”

You may have better success asking Coursera to ask this question… they’re more likely to get multiple affirmative replies.

14 09 2013
Jonathan Rees

Silence due to fear of derision is hardly a ringing endorsement of any particular teaching technique.

PS I never claimed to be neutral.

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