One Meta-MOOC to Rule Them All

Cathy Davidson, a professor at Duke, has a great idea:

In January 2014, I will offer a six-week Coursera class, “The History and Future of Higher Education,” free and open to anyone. I’d like to turn the class’ weekly forums into an opportunity for a massive, global, collaborative, constructive, peer dialogue about how higher education got to its current dilemma. And from there, I hope we can come up with some creative, innovative, and workable ideas to make a better future.

A MOOC about MOOCs seems to make a great deal of sense for a few reasons.

For one, it provides a forum for investigating just what a MOOC is, what it can and cannot be, whether and to what extent it does indeed enhance learning, and whether and to what extent and in what ways this can be measured.  If it turns out that such an experiment yields a more nuanced and useful picture of the ontology and application of the MOOC, then this itself would be evidence that the MOOC is a sound design and delivery mechanism.

Second, as Cathy notes,

In the present mood of high polemic, hyperbolic promise, and hysterical panic, it is almost impossible to sort out the questions, let alone the answers to these questions, on either a national or international level: Is now the time to reject or embrace massive online learning? Do MOOCs yield improved learning and free and open access to those who have been excluded from higher education—or are they yet another cynical attempt to defund the public and extract profits from tax payers and diminish the value of what virtually all universally claim to be the public good of higher education?

Crisis rhetoric is seductive but does not have a great signal-to-noise ratio.  A MOOC that took a, well, academic approach to MOOCs might help to dispel the fervor over the MOOC-ment and help people think clearly about just what it is and what it means.

Third and related, much of the chatter about MOOCs is so focused on the “disruption” of the status quo, but sometimes the storied history of that status quo is not sufficiently excavated.  An inquiry into MOOCs in the context of the history of higher ed might help us see that the notion of Higher Education enshrined in our social imaginary is a historical anomaly made possible by a set of specific events, notably World War II and the G.I. Bill.  The Chronicle of Higher Ed just ran a piece along these lines (though it is paywalled).

I have finally decided to take the plunge:  I have signed up for Coursera’s “Internet History, Technology, and Security” course.  It’s not quite Christopher Hitchens voluntary trying out water boarding in order to do his subject justice, but I figure it only makes sense to walk the walk.  Reports forthcoming.

2 Replies to “One Meta-MOOC to Rule Them All”

  1. Good on you for signing up. It seems very few critics take an experimental approach. I look forward to the reports on your MOOC experience.

    Btw, have you come across this post:

    It’s a decidedly unbalanced look at MOOCs that exemplifies the ‘crisis rhetoric’ you mention. Although she has a few legitimate points, they’re overstated and generally swamped by the ‘signal-to-noise ratio.’

    Nevertheless, I’d be interested in your take on it.

    1. Dan,

      Thanks for linking to that article. I posted an extensive comment on the website, friendly but critical. As a former adjunct, I know how hard it is not to let your emotions and the grind of relative poverty skew your judgment, and I can’t help but read that post and think that some of that is going on; too many “global” assertions and the whiff of conspiracy theory thinking and radical politics. I know how this feels: higher education becomes a tyrannical Death Star, and you become the Rebellion…it’s the only way you can justify the state of affairs. This is the kind of psychology and culture that is generated when you have a dysfunctional system: the different actors and parties start distorting and blaming each other, when in fact they are just behaving rationally given the structure of the system into which they are thrown.

      Btw, Lanier’s new book is just breathtaking.

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