Déjà vu.

18 09 2013

“The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will this fall package some of its online courses into more cohesive sequences, just as edX prepares to roll out certificates of completion using identity verification. Seen together, the two announcements may provide a glimpse at what the future holds for the massive open online course provider.

The “XSeries” sequences add a new layer of structure to MITx, the institution’s section of the edX platform. The first of seven courses in the Foundations of Computer Science XSeries will be offered this fall, with one or more new courses being rolled out each semester until the fall of 2015. The Supply Chain Management XSeries, consisting of three courses, will begin in the fall of 2014. The two sequences will target undergraduates and working professionals, respectively.

MIT officials deny that the XSeries sequences are a first step toward students one day being able to combine a set of sequences into something that may resemble a degree.”…

“Students have been asking for certificates that have more verification, more meaning behind them that they can add to their resumes,” the edX spokesman Dan O’Connell said.

Students will pay a fee for the verification service that varies depending on the length of the course. A course lasting only a few weeks that uses the service could cost $25, while a longer course could cost more than $100. Multiplied by however many students — thousands, tens of thousands — who enroll in a massive online course, the revenue generated from the verification service could be one piece of the puzzle toward a sustainable business model for MOOCs.”

– Carl Straumsheim, “Mini MOOC Minors,” Inside Higher Education, September 18, 2013.

“If Columbia’s correspondence courses were genuinely of ‘college grade’ and taught by ‘regular members of the staff,’ as Columbia advertised, then why was no academic credit given for them? If correspondence instruction was superior to that of the traditional classroom, then why did not Columbia sell off its expensive campus and teach all of its courses by mail? ‘The whole thing is business, not education,’ Flexner concluded. ‘Columbia, untaxed because it is an educational institution, is in business: it has education to sell [and] plays a purely commercial game of the merchant whose sole concern is profit.’ Likewise, he bemoaned as ‘scandalous’ the fact that ‘the prestide of the University of Chicago should be used to bamboozle well-meaning but untrained persons…by means of extravagant and misleading advertisements.’ Finally, Flexner pointed out that regular faculty in most institutions remained justifiably skeptical of correspondence and vocational instruction. The ‘administrative professoriate,’ he declared, ‘is a proletariat.'”

– David Noble, summarizing Abraham Flexner, the leading critic of correspondence schools c. 1930 in Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education, 2001, p. 17.




6 responses

18 09 2013
tom abeles

Hi Jonathan,

The HEI’s are changing. Like the Mississippi, which is continually changing; and trying to maintain its manicured path is extremely costly.

Today, the population, by default, is required to obtain post secondary certification of various forms. This:
a) changes dramatically, the makeup of the student population, its needs and wants
b) creates a marketplace like that for automobiles in the US. A student can choose basic transport or a basic certification or s/he can go for more features, like ivy covered halls, branded diploma and extra features from condo accommodations to individualized class experiences. Faculty, whether gray-bearded tenured folk or newly minted ph.d/adjuncts are providers of the experience-click or brick while, the admin’s marketing program package the experiences for sale.

Rather than wail and gnash teeth and write screeds, it would be far better to join the marketing effort of your institution to create an experience that is so outstanding and competitively priced that it attracts a population sufficient for economic survival. As Wordsworth once wrote: … We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind.

You might choose a “classic” approach such as St. Johns in Annapolis/Santa Fe, the McDonald’s path adopted by some of the CC’s and less selective public institutions, or the gourmet approach such as the medallion institutions with selective reservations.

I don’t think that many are in disagreement as to the changes that are occurring, but like David Noble, whom you reference, at best you have only so many digits that you can use to plug the holes in the dikes. That old man river, he just keeps rolling along.


tom abeles

19 09 2013


You realize, of course, that many people don’t actually believe in this particular prognosis? That education is like automobile sales? That students are customers? That the schools are providers, and that their goals is create market share? That this particular brand of analysis knows the future–for sure!–and thus is uniquely prepared to tell us all what to do.

I mean, with all due respect, there’s nothing in your response that replies to the discussion on this forum or many others. It’s not as if you’re announcing some hard, unheard truth, some gospel that has been limited to those with ears to hear. We’ve been told and mansplained this many times. Many of us just don’t believe it, not in the head in the sand kind of way, but in the we kicked the tires and thought about it and actually it’s tendentious and awful kind of way.


19 09 2013
tom abeles

hi john

first, MOOC’s are vehicles for transmitting or obtaining knowledge, like a classroom/campus, textbook, blended learning or social networking. Some think they are the “new kid on the block” and like the first of any technology, will improve or mature. Others see them in a different light.

Whether or not MOOC’s exist or are banished from the world of education, the university, in a global environment is changing, or, as some say, has changed since the first major shift with the Germanic university of Kant and von Humboldt. The population has changed, the focus and demands of students have and are changing.

And, as you realize from your blog, the university has changed. Even with Zemsky’s latest analysis and check list fully implemented, the past cannot be restored any more than an ecosystem can be restored to its former being. It may look the same, but it’s not the same as we know from complexity theory. Change in the real world is not a reversible system and it can only be experienced once.

While one can sound an alarm, the barn door is open. It is better to spend the energy offering a positive direction and alternative. In the 60’s many large public and private universities encouraged alternative paths of study because small experiments were ways to force students/faculty to deal with their ideas with university support. MOOCs at MIT are such an experiment as they have stated.

Given the growth in social media, networking on and off campus and globally, there is a grand opportunity to fly the flag of an alternative (or conservative restorative) path for the future of HEI’s. Having to step up to the plate seems like a positive test of any alternative you could propose and see who “salutes”, as the cliche goes.


tom abeles

19 09 2013


Which ones of the “small experiments” of the 1960’s actually changed HEI’s? For better? For worse? Which were well-meaning but unsustainable? For the permanent changes at least, we should have fifty years of experience and data that can help us discern in our current environment the difference between reforms and fads.

20 09 2013
tom abeles

The issue is not what has changed HEI’s in either direction, good, or bad, but that there were some that challenged the status quo and that they are still remembered. I would suggest that Sir John Daniels’ effort to describe what he called the MegaUniversities around the world is a start. The survival of such institutions as the Open University in the UK, Evergreen College in the US are living influences. Some that have changed might include what was once an open university and is now part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (formerly Metro State). A failed experiment from the start, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay which was ahead of its time in promoting a “green curriculum” (now seen around the world under th rubric of “sustainability”. Like chicken pox or measles they lie beneath the surface until manifest via eruptions. There are others. If you are looking for a catastrophic shift in a complex industry that is impacted by many sectors, you might find this in the current embodiments which are manifest in newer forms.

You might look, not at the HEI’s but at the future students in the P->12 with the rise of alternatives to conventional routes for obtaining post secondary credits including CIS, PSEO, AP and the rest of the options which allow students to advance. As they say in Swahili, Pole Pole. An aircraft carrier does not respond to commands to the rudder like a small speed boat.

19 09 2013
The MOOC hype cycle is older than you think. | More or Less Bunk

[…] you may have noticed, I’ve been going through a David Noble phase lately. You see, last week I was writing an article for a publication that is very close to my […]

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