Invasion of the MOOCs: The promise and perils of massive open online courses



About a year ago, Steven Krause (of Eastern Michigan University) and Charles Lowe (of Grand Valley State University) came up with the idea of a collaborative anthology of essays on MOOCs, twinning an experiment in scholarship with exploration of an experiment in education. The anthology appeared last week, showing the success of the approach to scholarship–but also providing a chronicle of the quick rise and fall of an educational fad. It is called Invasion of the MOOCs: The Promise and Perils of Massive Open Online Courses.

As Krause writes in the concluding essay, “After the Invasion: What’s Next for MOOCs?” in 2013:

The invasion of the MOOCs seemed inevitable: for better or worse, massive online open courses in one form or another were going to be a part of the future of higher education, and the question that most of the writers in this collection consider is what is that inevitable future likely to look like.

But as we go to press in 2014, that future is a little less certain.

A lot less certain, I would say. The MOOC is not going to go away, but it will merely be (like television and all of the other electronic possibilities that were to “save” education) a tool and not a solution.

A great deal more promising than the MOOC, however, is the type of scholarship this book represents. As one of the contributors, I went through the entire process with Krause and Lowe and the crew–and loved it, from both a personal and a professional point-of-view.

The invitation to participate that Krause and Lowe put out last April included this:

This invitation is also a bit of a “modest proposal.” We all know that all of the issues of MOOCs are moving extremely quickly, too quickly for us to operate in the traditional manner and timeline of an edited collection of academic essays. There is a need for a collection like this to enter the discussion now, not in two year’s time. So to make this happen, we’re all going to need to work together with some aggressive deadlines and unconventional approaches to this project.

They had already managed to convince publisher David Blakesley of Parlor Press to take on the project and expedite it. Parlor Press was the perfect home:

It was founded in 2002 to address the need for an alternative scholarly, academic press attentive to emergent ideas and forms while maintaining the highest possible standards of quality, credibility, and integrity. The Press’s primary goal is to publish outstanding writing in a variety of subjects. Because the Press is unencumbered by the bureaucratic machinery of older publishing entities, the stress can be more on excellence and innovation than on marketability or pedigree.

They had also mapped out a process of review and revision using Google Docs and were asking that each contributor commit to providing open peer review for at least two of the other essays. As Krause and Lowe also reviewed each essay, that meant at least four reviewers would comment on each one. For me, the process was extremely productive. The combination of reviewing articles related to what one has recently written and responding to comment by scholars also directly involved in the broader discussion certainly improved my own chapter an increased my knowledge of MOOCs, generally. To me, this was scholarship as it should be, taking the best of both collaborative and individual work. Furthermore, by using Creative Commons licensing, Krause and Lowe have made sure that this book can get broad and immediate distribution. Those wishing it may order a hardbound copy, or a paperback. Those wanting to read the book as a .pdf can do so immediately–and for free.

If the scholarly anthology of the future were to follow this pattern, the traditional academic journal would soon find itself outmoded and ignored, for the anthology, not the journal, would be the nexus of the best written work in almost any field. Scholars would seek each other out to collaborate–not necessarily on particular essays but on the books as a whole.

Though collections of the sort Krause and Lowe have created may be the wave of the future, the MOOC, the subject of this one, certainly is not. As the chapters of the book (and experiences of the past year) demonstrate, the MOOC will never be what its initial enthusiasts insisted it would. Still, all is not lost: newer tools are always welcome and will always be put to use somehow.

This book show that–in two ways.