SJSU, edX, and Getting it Right/Wrong on MOOCs

The Chronicle have published an extremely articulate and well thought-through letter written by professors in the philosophy department at San Jose State University in response to their being encouraged to “adopt” an edX course on Justice. I’ve embedded the letter below, which I strongly encourage you to read in full.

The one section of the letter that absolutely breaks my heart is the top of page 4:

Good quality online courses and blended courses (to which we have no objections) do not save money, but purchased-pre-packaged ones do, and a lot. With prepackaged MOOCs and blended courses, faculty are ultimately not needed.

Oh, MOOCs. How thoroughly, completely, and profoundly you have failed us.

The SJSU faculty’s last statement is true if and only if one underlying assumption is met – that the content of the pre-packaged course is traditionally, fully copyrighted. So with regard to this particular edX course, whose YouTube videos all say “Standard YouTube License” for example, the SJSU criticism is accurate. This fully copyrighted, pre-packaged MOOC is clearly meant to run as is, and is not meant to be taken apart, adapted, localized, and customized by local faculty. If edX intended for those things to happen, they would take down their silly registration barrier and put a proper license on the course.

(Don’t even get me started on how edX oh-so-deceivingly puts “Some Rights Reserved” in their footer without ever specifying which rights those are. “Some Rights Reserved” is, obviously, a nod to Creative Commons licenses – but the site does not use one. Check their Terms. When you don’t use a Creative Commons license, why try to hoodwink us into thinking you’re “one of the good guys” by putting that language in the footer of EVERY page?!? And this is how the one NON-profit in the space behaves. No wonder people are suspicious…)

If entities like edX and Coursera and Udacity would simply be open – meaning, use an open license for their materials – the concerns of SJSU faculty and others could be assuaged. Rather than pre-packaged, teach-as-you-receive-it collections of material meant to undermine faculty, openly licensed course frameworks empower faculty to tweak and customize and modify while still saving money. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You can have your cake and eat it, too, when you use open licenses. The either/or presented by the SJSU faculty is only true when purchased-pre-packaged courses are copyrighted – like the edX course is.

Come on, MOOCs. There’s no innovation in allowing open enrollment. The OU/UK has had that for decades. There’s not even innovation left in open licensing – we’ve been doing that for over a decade, too. What exactly is it you’re doing that we’re supposed to be so impressed by?


(Grab the letter as a PDF or as plain text.

5 thoughts on “SJSU, edX, and Getting it Right/Wrong on MOOCs”

    • Clearly the word “open” has been accepted as “open access” not “open source”. There’s no changing that the term MOOC will be used for closed content.

      Is there another term that would signify open _content_? Libre MOOC is explicit, but lMOOC can look like capital-i MOOC. oMOOC?

  1. It’s not MOOCs that are failing you, it’s those variants on MOOCs coming out of places like Stanford.

  2. We used to get the same arguments about OER “replacing” lecturing staff, in that case it was easy enough to convince people that resources were no more teachers than textbooks are.

    But I’m not sure it’s the lack of open that is the issue in this case. MOOCs (xMOOCs at least) are designed as an experiment in scaling education. And I read scaling as a euphemism for employing less staff.

    If EdX, Udacity, Coursera and the like can convince the world that an active, accessible, educator is not required for high-level learning to occur….

  3. Astounding! This quote sums it up.
    ‘We shall not try to make these people, or any of their children, into philosophers, or men of science. We have not to raise up from them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for great artists, painters, musicians nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen – of whom we have an ample supply. The task is simple. We will organize children and teach them in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.”– John D. Rockefeller General Education Board (1906)

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