Martin Snyder of the AAUP said something about Coursera-style MOOCs I agree with recently:
“If this kind of a system takes off, you might have a situation where the very wealthy students go to a campus to interact with real professors, while the rest of the world takes online courses…what appears to be a democratization process might be more aristocratic than democratic.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. The Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) at its best is a MAssively Networked Internet Course (MANIC).
In other words, there are two futures we can move towards.One is the massively central brand-name future Snyder describes. The other is to supercharge our existing classes not by destroying them, but by breaking down the walls around them, allowing them to reap the benefits of Massive Networking. In this world, the relationship of the students to the local face-to-face class stays, but it is supplemented and enlarged by the shared multi-institutional network it engages with.
[For those long-time friends in this space, I’m having an ISA/HASA/LMS moment here — what if instead of the class containing the student, the student contained part of the class…]
Why is this so hard to do? Why has the other version of MOOCdom lapped the MANIC so fast? Surely a lot of it is that there is money to be made in Coursera and Udacity style experiments. And moneyed interest brings press people, press releases and press.
But even in my sphere of influence I notice we’ve made little progress on this at my institution, despite an innovative and experiment-friendly administration. I am working on a multi-institutional Psych 101 class with a faculty member, but it has been slow-going. Elsewhere, Ds106 and the Change MOOCs are great examples of massively networked courses and (via the Downes/Cormier/Siemens parnership) multi-institutional endeavors, but it is telling that these giant leaps have come about by edtech people getting into the classroom, not from traditional faculty.
And I think that’s the rub — this stuff takes a ton of commitment, a ton of time, and many of the benefits are difficult to quantify. MANICs solve problems faculty don’t know they have yet. For the edtech people that see this as a battle for the future we want to have vs. the future we are being sold it is well worth the effort. For most faculty members it’s an inconceivable amount of chaos to introduce into a semester. But ultimately, without the faculty on board, this goes nowhere.
Hopefully the AAUP and others will see the fork in the road clearly. There is a very real possibility of Coursera-style MOOCs being the future. The alternative to that is the Massively Networked course, which builds on the infrastructure we already have, making it more effective, humane, and maybe a bit cheaper as well.
There’s not an option to stay where we are. So why not join up with us?