xMOOCs Won’t Be Elite For Long

One of the fundamental differences between OCW and xMOOCs is that xMOOCs can be assessed on quality of instruction. From a longer paper by Sir John Daniel that is well worth the read:

“We also agree with Bates that current xMOOCs pedagogy is pretty old hat but this will now change fast. Even if Coursera gave its partner universities great freedom in course formats in order to sugar the pill of signing the contract, this will quickly produce a great diversity of approaches and much healthy experimentation. By the end of 2012 various actors from the media through student groups to educational research units will be publishing assessments of xMOOC courses. These will quickly be consolidated into league tables that rank the courses – and the participating universities – by the quality of their offerings as perceived by both learners and educational professionals (Uvalić-Trumbić & Daniel, 2011).

This will not please the participating universities. Elite universities in the UK thoroughly disliked the state-approved teaching quality assessment system that operated there between the 1995 and 2004 (Laughton, 2003). Eventually their presidents successfully petitioned the authorities to close it down. My own conclusion was that behind the fog of methodological arguments about the difficulty of assessing teaching quality, the real problem was that some elite universities did poorly and some lesser-known institutions did well. By the time results of teaching quality assessments by discipline had accumulated over ten years a small former teachers’ college ranked in the top ten (out of ~100) and the Open University was in 5th place, one above Oxford. The difference with the xMOOCs assessments and rankings is that no one will be able to abolish them by appealing to authority. Institutions that rate poorly will either have to quit playing xMOOCs or raise their game.”

When OER was just “resources”, it wasn’t really possible to gauge effectiveness, and the prestige associated with materials was indistinguishable from the prestige of the institution. MOOCs change that. As Daniel points out, in this new marketplace many prestigious institutions may find the competition from less elite peers unnerving — and perhaps eventually withdraw.

That’s not guaranteed to happen, of course – there’s obviously a heavy bias that the founders of all these companies will have to tier one offerings – after all, that’s the environment the founders come from. But the thing about markets is if Coursera stays away from less prestigious institutions on principle, some other company will be more than happy to fill that gap. And from there on out, it may be just a matter of time…


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