Both sides



In this corner: MOOC enthusiasts, envisioning how these large, online courses will increase access to higher education, reduce costs, and reinvigorate teaching and learning. In the other corner: MOOC critics, anticipating how MOOCs will eliminate meaningful interaction between faculty and students, reduce the quality of learning, and decimate the professorship.

You’ve probably heard by now that Amherst declined to participate in edX and that San Jose State faculty pushed back on plans for another MOOC in their midst. Recently, there is (seemingly) more press about the potential future impact of these large online courses. In case you missed them, here are a few to note:

• There was an interesting open letter from the President of The Council of University of California Faculty Association (CUCFA) to Coursera’s founder Daphne Koller. I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten more press. In the letter, CUCFA President Robert Meister imagines how MOOC providers will begin to package courses, modules, and data and sell these products and services into the marketplace. The end result: Elite universities generating the content for earn more money and prestige, public higher education becomes more selective and expensive, students pay more – not less – for high quality education, and educational inequality increases.
Dan Ariely, in discussing his experience in teaching a MOOC, said, “I have learned that some students feel that it is their basic human right to get free education (they call it free but of course free in this case is a shorthand for \”someone else should pay for it,\”) while the majority feels privileged to live in a time when such adventures are possible.”
• An initiative at Georgia Tech, in collaboration with Udacity and AT&T, is set to offer a new online master’s degree in computer science for $7,000 by utilizing “mentors” to answer student questions and operating several different tracks for enrolling students, including conditional admission for those that do not take the GRE and must do well in two core classes to enter the degree track.
• A thoughtful New Yorker article that looks at both sides of the MOOC discussion and focuses on a lot of the work being done at Harvard in this area – and the voices of faculty and administrators on both sides of the MOOC debate.

All of these items remind me that we are still in the early stages of a revolution and many of the big questions about the long-term impact of MOOCs have yet to be answered. We just concluded our Strategy and Competition in Higher Education class, where the future of higher education was front-and-center during each class session. And starting this summer, I will be running two two-day programs on Strategy and Competition in Higher Education, where the impact of MOOCs on higher education ecosystem – including your institution – will be the focal point. I hope you will join in the discussions.