Giving Too Much Credit

Stephen comments on the “Great Rebranding” of MOOCs:

MOOCs were not designed to serve the missions of the elite colleges and universities. They were designed to undermine them, and make those missions obsolete…. There has been a great rebranding and co-option of the concept of the MOOC over the last couple of years. The near-instant response from the elites, almost unprecedented in my experience, is a recognition of the deeply subversive intent and design of the original MOOCs (which they would like very much to erase from history).

In summary, Stephen sees the rapid adoption of MOOCs among prestigious universities as a proactive attempt to co-opt their potentially subversive nature.

I think this is giving these schools WAY too much credit. As we saw with OpenCourseWare a decade ago, there is a HUGE amount of public relations benefit from being involved in these initiatives. As we saw in the early 2000s, every single school that launched an OCW initiative garned an incredible amount of press and praise – until the new car smell wore off. If you were one of the first schools out of the chute, you were showered with media coverage. But after OCW “got old,” additional OCW launches received no press coverage whatsoever.

Coursera has done an incredibly effective job harnessing this Presidential passion for press. Coursera – ‘the platform for offering “open” courses’ – has been very noisy about the fact that they only work with prestigious universities. What school doesn’t want to join the Stanford / Tecnológico de Monterrey / Princeton / École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne club? For the cost of offering one class in a new format, a President can officially put his or her institution in the same category as these “prestigious” schools. What Board of Trustees doesn’t want that?

Don’t mistake lust for fame with forethought. The current mania around MOOCs has nothing to do with strategic neutralization of a potential threat to higher education’s business model and everything to do with needing to be in the New York Times. Assuming the prior gives way too much credit where it isn’t due – twice. First, to the leadership of schools who have jumped speedily on the MOOC bandwagon. And second, to the creators of the MOOC approach who by implication have supposedly devised a method so brilliant as to be capable of destroying formal higher education (which, apparently, is to be lauded).

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  • Great points, and I wish more people would link to the very recent history tied to EdTech/online learning movements. But I feel like there is more to the equation than “Don’t mistake lust for fame with forethought.” I agree with that statement. But the fame feels like the driver of this beast…Sebastian Thrun’s experiment in distributed learning is now a private company working with government agencies and government financing, all established just as the ink dries on the first scholarly research of the model. This feels less like a beast feeding on media and more like a beast created by media. I know EdTech folks love to quote McLuhan’s medium is the message/massage, but I feel like Baudrillard is more appropriate here — the MOOC is a simulacrum. The “education is broken” narrative found an ally in this MOOC iteration. Unlike OpenCourseware, though, the real policy developed behind such EdTech initiatives has grown to a point to support the MOOC once the hype dies down.

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